It’s time for another WordPress Theme Shop interview with Mike McAlister. He has been building beautiful and easy to use themes for a long time. And he knows about theme business. First I encourage you to listen Matt Report’s interview how to start WordPress Theme business.
Then come back to read insights of Array Themes.
Who is behind Array Themes and what is the history about Array Themes?
Array Themes is an independent theme shop focused on finely-crafted WordPress themes that solve problems for all kinds of creative folks. We value quality over quantity,
In 2009, I transitioned from client work into creating commercial WordPress themes and started a little theme shop called Okay Themes. For the first couple years, I sold my WordPress themes through ThemeForest, which was still new and thriving at the time. Selling on such a large marketplace taught me how to create products for a mass market and how to work with customers to find solutions for their website needs.
Selling on a marketplace like ThemeForest also has its drawbacks. There’s a lot more direct competition, it’s harder to set yourself apart, and you have to operate within the conditions of the marketplace, which can be confining. It was clear, even in 2014, that theme marketplaces were changing quickly and all-in-one WordPress themes were sweeping the industry.
I had no intentions (and still have no intentions) of making these kinds of themes, as they go against my ethos of creating products that solve more problems than they create.
I decided to focus on relaunching Okay Themes as Array Themes, an independent theme shop dedicated to finely-crafted, well-designed WordPress themes. This rebrand helped us distinguish Array as it’s own brand and open up our collection to a wider audience with more opportunities. At the same time, I started working with the folks at WordPress.com to provide Array Themes to their massive audience.
What kind of themes you build?
In general, we try to make themes that are incredibly easy to use. Themes have grown to be monstrous in features and plugin-territory functionality, but we’re dedicated to keeping site creation very simple for our users, as it should be.
Instead of requiring the user to build the site themselves with page builders that never quite deliver what they promise, we do the heavy lifting by designing the theme inside and out, making sure everything is pixel perfect.
The end result is a theme that works out of the box, where you can simply plug in your content and get a beautiful website.
As far as the style of our themes, we make themes for creative folks of all kinds. Whether you’re an artist, a photographer, a writer, a designer or a small business, we have themes that will get you up and running with an awesome website in no time.
Personally, I’m inspired by photography and typography, so Array’s theme designs tend to focus on those elements. With our latest theme, Lenscap, we’ve started working with WooCommerce, so you can expect to see some more WooCommerce themes soon.
Showcase 2-3 of your themes that you are most proud of. Why they are cool themes?
Lenscap is our latest magazine and eCommerce theme. Lenscap makes it super easy to create a stunning WordPress-powered magazine and online store with slick content discovery features, gallery and video post styles, smart customization options and WooCommerce support.
Baseline is a minimal, magazine-style theme with support for large, beautiful featured images. We’ve combined some next-level design, pixel-perfect typography and slick content discovery features in Baseline. With multiple layouts and smart customization options, you can create a stunning magazine or digital content website in minutes.
Checkout is a theme that integrates closely with EasyDigitalDownloads, allowing you to create your own digital goods shop or start a vendor marketplace. Because Checkout is optimized to work with many of the EasyDigitalDownloads plugins, this theme is a powerful turn-key solution to selling your goods online.
Where do you get inspiration for design and code?
I’ve found that my inspiration often comes from more abstract sources like colors, architecture, photography, typography and industrial design. Fortunately, I have no shortage of ideas for themes and other product designs I’d like to make, the problem is not having enough time to make everything!
I have lots of little bits of design floating around in my head, so when the time comes to create a new design, I just grab inspiration from what’s going on around me and try to put those elements into a cohesive design.
What is your business and marketing strategy?
Our themes can currently be found at Array, WordPress.com and ThemeForest. On our site, customers have the option of buying a single theme for $49, or they can get a Theme Club membership, which unlocks all of our themes for only $89 per year.
This is the most popular option and we’ve created several opportunities, both pre-purchase and post-purchase, for customers to upgrade into the Theme Club.
Customers can also download our free Theme Pack, which is a mini bundle of five of our themes. This is a good way to get a feel for the quality and ease-of-use of our themes before you join the Theme Club.
We also have a theme on WordPress.org called Editor, which continues to be one of our top ten sources for traffic to Array.
How is your theme business doing and do you have other business? Any numbers to give?
Since we launched Array as an independent theme shop, we’ve seen healthy and consistent growth (~30%) from year to year. Sales on our site are now the biggest source of income for the business, beating out both WordPress.com and ThemeForest (most months). We’ll continue to build on this growth and look for more opportunities to reach more folks with our theme collection.
Changing to a subscription model last year has made a significant impact on recurring revenue, adding a ~25% increase to our monthly revenue. I only wish I had done it a few years earlier!
Any specific workflow how you build themes? What kind of development tools you use?
I don’t have a go-to base theme that I use for starting new themes, rather I build off of a theme that’s recently been coded, reviewed and released. This cuts down development time and let’s us focus on the design and how it should function.
Generally, I have an idea of what the next theme is going to be, so I’m always thinking ahead about the design. I’ll do a little sketching here and there, mock-up a page or two in Photoshop and then hit the ground running with code.
Both John and I use Sublime as our main code editor. We use Grunt to handle several tasks during development, such as compiling Sass, cleaning up CSS and adding prefixes when necessary. We’ve created a few custom tools to help with theme management and deployment.
What are your future plans? Do you see themes changing in some direction?
Array is going to continue cranking away at making themes, branching out into a few different niches. There’s a ton of opportunity in a platform that powers a quarter of the web, and we plan on exploring a few different avenues that are not theme related. And we’re going to eat a lot of pizza, too.
I don’t really see themes changing drastically in the near future. The REST API will be a great tool for custom applications, but there’s a lot of work to do before themes can responsibly take advantage of the API and have a broad commercial appeal.
Any other tips and tricks you want to share for users and for other theme developers?
Earlier this year, Array ran a survey to gain feedback about our upcoming redesign and to generally see where our customers’ needs were. When we asked our users what was most important to them when looking for a new WordPress theme, Design was the overwhelming response over Code Quality, Theme Options and Ease of Use.
Personally, I expected to see a lot of votes for Theme Options, but perhaps users are seeking simpler solutions again.
Personally, I’d love to see more theme developers focus on design, or employ those who have an appreciation and skill for design. It’s easy to offloaded the responsibility of making design decisions by replacing them with theme options or support for site builders, but this is only solving half the problem for your customers. WordPress is at its best when you can fire it up, put your content in the post editor, hit publish and get back to life.
WordPress theme developers are responsible for the appearance of so many websites on the internet, approximately 26.6% of the web! This is a great opportunity to shape, or rather reshape, the aesthetic that is associated with WordPress-based products.