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A Review Of Customer Service And Support Models Of Premium WordPress Shops

The WordPress eco-system has changed so much in the past few years that keeping up with all of it has become a challenge! It’s been so encouraging not only to see WordPress themes1 and plug-ins increase in quality and use, but to see the overall appeal and acceptance in the worldwide marketplace grow as well.

For example, you know that an application is gaining a lot of steam when some of the largest organizations in the world (including many Fortune 50 businesses) are starting to use it for both their internal and external properties.

Naturally, as the quality of products surrounding WordPress grows in stature, so will the organizations and individuals that create and profit from them. With this increased demand comes a much greater focus on how to create a sustainable business involving WordPress. One area in particular is customer service.

A significant reason for this increase of focus on customer support in many theme shops is the GPL2. More and more WordPress theme shop owners are honoring the spirit and letter of the open-source license and are finding that their biggest value proposition is based not solely on the product, but rather on the services surrounding the sale—customer support being one of them.

This makes sense, because anyone could take any old theme and profit from it once; but to do it again (and again) requires something a bit more than shipping capability. A trustworthy brand backed by a dedicated team of customer service and support is usually much more attractive to the end user than a copy of a premium theme obtained from a random torrent website. It’s also much safer, too.

But is it viable? Is it profitable? Here’s the challenge in a nutshell:

Can a model that focuses on customer support and service produce the returns necessary to keep the business profitable (if not afloat)?

Why would one care to answer such a question? First, the results could help feed the momentum necessary for current and future entrepreneurs who are interested in building a successful business around WordPress.

Secondly, I know the challenges of growing a WordPress theme shop, and I wanted to make sure that having a robust service and support system for the business was both wise and financially sound. In other words, if I was going to “make it” in this business, I wanted to make sure that it would be a smart move to model my efforts after the major players that seem to be doing it right.

What did I find? The answer appears to be a resounding “Yes,” and this article shares some of the research I came up with on the strategies, methods and implementations of top theme shops, and it looks briefly at the premium plug-in marketplace.

Let’s start by looking at some of the top WordPress theme shops to see whether service and support are not only part of their business model but integral to their brands.

A Look At The Top WordPress Businesses And Their Service and Support Models Link

At one point, identifying the top players in the WordPress theme marketplace was fairly easy, even for casual customers. This is no longer the case; drawing them out requires a bit of historical knowledge.

Although this list might come under heavy fire from nearly every angle, the goal is not to be comprehensive, but rather to be historically fair, providing as accurate a depiction as possible of the current WordPress theme marketplace with regards to service and support.

Generally speaking, the four theme shops below are well respected in the industry and have long been recognized as leaders in the space.

1. WooThemes Link

3

WooThemes4 is arguably the best known WordPress theme shop out there, and it even has even adapted its model to other platforms, such as ExpressionEngine, Drupal and the e-commerce platform Magento. However, it recently returned to its roots to concentrate on WordPress exclusively.

At the time of writing, WooThemes had nearly 90 WordPress-related themes, and more in the pipeline. But what of its service model?

5

It has some key areas of support:

  • Documentation,
  • FAQ,
  • Support forum,
  • Tutorials.

The area with the most client interaction is the support forum, which is closed to the general public but viewable by paying customers. The forum is a lightly customized version of the popular bbPress6 forum software, also made by the creators of WordPress (Automattic7):

8

WooThemes’ support is widely regarded as superb. Full-time staff manage the boards daily, and some core developers who build the products even engage with customers.

Needless to say, customer support is part of the WooTheme way. Many newer theme shops have copied its approach to support.

But how well has it fared with this model so far? Over $2 million in sales9 a year, according to Adii Pienaar, one of the founders of WooThemes. Could its support system be said to be the biggest contributing factor? Perhaps. But service and support were obviously in Adii’s blood to begin with; for example, he makes a point of answering every single email in his inbox. Now that’s customer support.

I spend a lot of time on email, and I do respond to every single email that I get. … I just commit the time. First thing in the morning and last thing before I go home for the day is spent doing emails, spent connecting with people.

– Adii Pienaar

It shows. His business, beyond the great themes, is support and service. It is one of the hallmarks of his business and brand, and I applaud him for it.

2. Thesis Theme Link

10

Thesis Theme11 is also one of the best-known players in the space, for the right reasons and (at times) the wrong ones. Witness, for example, the very public dispute12 over GPL licensing between Chris Pearson (the founder of Thesis) and Matt Mullenweg (the founder of WordPress).

Whatever your opinion, Thesis deserves its due as one of the most consistently prominent premium theme shops out there.

So, how does its service and support compare? “Mysterious” is one way to put it. At first pass, finding any explicit mention of support is hard. Searching for the keyword “forums” returns only four results, two of which are testimonials and two of which explain how Thesis, like WooThemes, is members only:

And if you need a helping hand along the way, you’ll be able to cash in on the most valuable part of your Thesis purchase: our expert support staff and members-only forums!

As with WooThemes, the forum isn’t publicly accessible from the home page. You have to log in to see it:

13

The forum is a lightly modified version of vBulletin14, a paid self-hosted forum solution. And Thesis uses aMember15, a PHP script, for its support and authentication system:

16

What’s interesting as you dig into this “service” model is that it’s unclear what exactly is supported by actual staff members (a “Shelley” is mentioned on the home page) and what is provided by regular paid users:

17

As you can see, the top three posters are miles ahead of any other users, and there is no “Shelley” to be seen (although there is a user named Shelley who has four posts to date). It’s quite apparent that this is really a community-led support system, with little to no guidance or support staff to be seen. Quality assurance of solutions is hit and miss, and moderation is hard to find. Lastly, finding Chris Pearson in the forum is hard as well, and he’s the one behind it all.

Does this mean that support and service are lacking? Not necessarily, because a dedicated support team community (and power users in particular) seem to be picking up the slack, and the democratic and open nature of the system seems to be working.

Note that, unlike WooThemes, there is no obvious user guide or FAQ. You have to either log into the system (whereupon you would see it in the header) or jump over to the blog to find it in a drop-down menu:

18

What does this mean for end users or potential customers? Perhaps that the core product is the focus of this business, and not customer support.

Has it hurt the bottom line? From Chris’ mouth, not really. He’s been known to share his numbers19, openly citing over $400,000 in affiliate sales, for at least a total gross of $1.2 million. And he added that it is “obvious” he has made more than that.

One could say that despite the lack of support as a core part of Thesis’ model (compared to WooThemes), it has still been successful. But remember that Thesis was in many ways the first to market, and the forum system was a part of this move. Chris provided a support system, and the community rallied around it, taking up the banner, thus creating an internal culture of usefulness.

Update: Chris Pearson has clarified a couple of issues in the comments to this article and on Twitter: “We have two full-time and two part-time support people, not to mention an appointed moderator from within the community (with more to come). In fact, I would be willing to bet that we spend more on support than any other premium theme provider.

Our support forums are intended to be an exclusive benefit to our members, and that’s why they are not visible to site visitors who are not logged in. New customers receive a welcome email detailing where they can find our support forums, so we are very clear about the assistance that we provide (and where to get it). […] Like the forums, the User’s Guide is linked from the navigation bar for logged-in users. We also link to it in our welcome email to new customers.”

3. StudioPress Link

20

StudioPress21 has been around for a while, although the name wasn’t always the same. Brian Gardner, the founder of the business, first called his theme line “Revolution.” It was eventually rebranded22 in February 2009.

Today it is known as one of the top theme shops out there, providing over 30 WordPress themes and a number of WordPress plug-ins to boot. But that’s certainly not all: StudioPress has partnered with some of the bigger names in the industry and is a part of CopyBlogger Media23, which offers much more than WordPress themes.

But has all of this extra business weakened its support and service model? Hardly. Like Thesis, StudioPress uses a lightly customized installation of vBulletin for its support systems. It offers an in-depth developer-friendly overview (with tutorials, how-to’s and more). And it has a general FAQ.

Saying that service and support is integral to its business would not be overstating it in the least.

24

If you dig in further, you will see that it has more than 25 legitimate moderators and super-users who help control, manage and support the community at large:

25

Needless to say, support and service is a significant part of its online model and figures largely in its business and brand. This comes as no surprise; Brian had the idea for the forum right out of the gate. After racking up a whopping $10,000 worth of sales in the first month, he knew that his growing business26 needed some sort of forum software:

And it got so big so quick, I realized this is more than just a few bucks. I need to build something around this. That’s when I started looking into forum software, because I knew that I’d have to provide support. So I set up this support forum. I have no business background, or a degree in business, this was all fly-by-the-seat-of-my-shorts at that point, and so I just did what felt right.

And it has proven to be right. With the forum software in place and a solid product offering, StudioPress continues to grow.

Where does it stand now? In the same interview, Brian mentions that it has at least 35,000 paying customers. The most conservative estimate would put the company’s revenue at an excess of $2 million. But the real figure is probably much further north.

StudioPress is headed in the right direction, and it will almost certainly continue to grow, because its model is not only effective but competitive and sharp.

4. ThemeForest Link

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There’s no escaping this behemoth. Most developers and designers are already aware of ThemeForest28’s growing number of WordPress themes at cut-rate prices. It offers products not only for WordPress but for Magento, Joomla, ExpressionEngine and Drupal, as well as a slew of options for e-commerce-related apps.

As of the time of writing, this marketplace had 923 WordPress themes, and growing daily. Compared to other theme shops, this number is simply staggering. It makes sense, though, when you see the difference in its model and strategy: premium themes from many contributors instead of a single source.

How does this affect support and service for the themes themselves? In a word, it’s “different.” Envato, the parent company of ThemeForest, has a service agreement, but it’s limited and pretty much passes on the responsibility to customers and their relationship with vendors. There is a support forum, but it’s general in nature and definitely not a place to find support for a particular theme:

29

What can you expect from the vendors? Mixed results at best. For starters, see what some of the top sellers offer:

30

The number-one selling WordPress theme has sold over 5,000 copies. At $35 a pop, that’s a total gross of $175,000. ThemeForest has a sliding scale for payment31, and at this tier, the author would pocket 70% of the earnings, for a net take of $122,000. Not bad, right? That’s assuming the theme sold exclusively through ThemeForest.

But the question remains, does this top seller provide support? A quick look at the theme reveals that it does, with a link to a forum separate from ThemeForest:

32

As you can see, it uses its own forum software, running on its own server:

33

But support is not required of all theme authors. A quick scan of the lower-selling themes reveals that the vast majority do not self-host any support systems outside of ThemeForest. And what support there is mostly happens in the comment layer of the theme itself:

34

What does this mean for service and support for WordPress themes on ThemeForest? It means Caveat emptor (“buyer beware”)!

Responsibility ultimately rests with the buyer, who should check whether the author has a history of providing robust support or whether there is off-site support that addresses their needs.

Only the best-selling themes seem to provide the level of support offered by other premium theme shops (such as WooThemes, Genesis and Thesis). Perhaps this makes good business sense, because the time, energy and capital required to create a self-hosted off-site system would be warranted if sales are strong to begin with.

Does this happen all the time? Not necessarily, and this puts Envato and its ThemeForest system in a different field with regard to service and support. How has this affected business for Envato and its respective contributors? Quite positively, in fact, especially for the strong sellers. The others have varied results, and a quick Google search shows that there’s much debate on whether being a seller on Envato is worthwhile in the long run, when you could just as easily set up shop and sell to customers directly.

But that’s a discussion for another blog post.

Typical Support Models Link

From looking at these four services (and a vast sampling of many other commercial WordPress theme shops), one could conclude the following:

  1. Premium theme shops typically have a support system;
  2. FAQs are common;
  3. Documentation is generally offered;
  4. Support forums are also prevalent.

Does this mean that a theme shop without these elements is guaranteed to fail? Certainly not, because many commercial theme shops do not offer the full range of support seen with the four above.

But you would be wise to heed their success and either spin your own contextual business model or simply adopt the one that works. “Don’t fix what ain’t broke,” right?

To say that these four WordPress theme shops are representative of the eco-system of commercial WordPress themes would be a stretch. The support models are as diverse as the themes themselves. Generally speaking, though, the ones seen above are found throughout the WordPress business culture.

Finally, note the lack of the support element that’s a fixture of brick-and-mortar stores: phone support. This makes sense because these are Web-based businesses, and most engagement is done online. Still, there may be room for innovation for theme shops that want to distinguish themselves (and make a market play) by offering something different like this.

What About Premium WordPress Plug-In Shops? Link

As a good researcher and business strategist, you should consider alternative business models that are similar in scope and product. The growing eco-system of premium WordPress plug-in shops is one such area. They may not have the depth or breadth of market coverage, but they are without question growing rapidly. Many believe that they’ll become a serious area of WordPress business soon enough.

Here are some of the better-known plug-in shops for your consideration.

1. Gravity Forms Link

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Gravity Forms36 offers an advanced form builder that does some fairly incredible stuff. With deep integration with enterprise-grade Web services like FreshBooks, MailChimp, PayPal, Campaign Monitor and more, one could use it as more than a simple contact form.

Getting started will cost you at least $39, and the price goes up to $199. This plug-in at the high end costs more than nearly every WordPress theme in existence (even the most expensive ones). So, what do you get at this level? For starters, you get access to a support forum:

37

This, as well as a general FAQ and documentation, is available to all license holders. If you have the highest support license (“Developer”), then you get access to what’s called “Priority support,” which gives you the following:

  • Automatic upgrades,
  • Documentation,
  • Online support,
  • Priority support,
  • Add-ons.

These value-adds could hold appeal, especially for teams or individuals that have shelled out nearly $200 for the product. Generally, Gravity Forms has support mechanisms that are similar to many of the premium WordPress theme shops out there.

2. GetShopped Link

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Another commercial plug-in is GetShopped39, which is a free download to start, but then you can purchase some advanced features and add-ons, ranging from $10 to $195. It’s one of the best-known e-commerce plug-in solutions out there, and some of the customizations that people have created with it are truly world class.

The following support mechanisms are in place for customers:

  • Support forums,
  • Videos,
  • FAQs,
  • Documentation,
  • Premium support via a token system.

The support is similar to that of Gravity Forms as well as many other WordPress theme shops.

3. Code Canyon, via Envato and WPPlugins Link

40

Code Canyon’s premium WordPress plug-in directory41 has the exact same support system as ThemeForest. In other words, the customer could be purchasing a plug-in that comes with very little support or that comes with a robust system provided directly by the author.

This particular website is growing fast, with more and more authors using this platform to sell their creations, so the buyer should research carefully before making a purchase.

An alternative to Code Canyon is WPPlugins42, which has a similar directory:

43

The website itself does not guarantee support and instead lays responsibility directly on the authors. Instructions for installation are sometimes provided, but some cover little more than the simple process of installing the plug-in. In other words, support runs the gamut from great to non-existent.

4. VaultPress Link

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VaultPress45 is a project developed by WordPress and Automattic directly, and I think it’s one of the best WordPress plug-ins out there, especially among back-up systems for WordPress (there are a number of free alternatives). The system is similar to the enterprise-grade back-up solution that runs the gigantic WordPress.com network of blogs, and it can be used by both personal bloggers and Fortune 500 companies.

VaultPress offers “Premium support” for paying customers (currently $15 to $40), as well as a “Concierge Service” to assist new customers with new installations. There is also a robust support section with FAQs, video tutorials and screencasts, plus general information for custom configurations of the plug-in. Above all else is the peace of mind you’ve purchased, knowing that 20 million+ blogs are using it with success.

5. OIO Publisher Link

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OIO Publisher47 is a popular advertising management system that you can install quickly on a self-hosted WordPress blog and use off the shelf to sell advertising to partner companies and interested individuals.

Paying customers ($47) get access to forums, FAQs and documentation that cover installation and usage. The content is typical fare and might very well suit your needs. All in all, nothing is too different about this approach to support.

6. Scribe Link

48

Scribe49 is one of the newer players out there and is quickly gaining attention through its high-profile marketers and partners. It is described as an advanced SEO optimization plug-in that can optimize your blog posts for search engines.

You get access to its support system (“myScribe System”), which has forums, video tutorials and a troubleshooting ticketing system, as well as email support. Occasional educational resources are sent out via a newsletter as well.

The cost? Up to $97 per month. This service could end up costing you over $1,000 per year if you opt for the biggest subscription. Hopefully, the additional traffic you generate will more than make up for it.

The Bottom Line Link

All in all, WordPress theme and plug-in providers are working not only to attract new customers but to retain them. And not only in small quantities either. Some major theme shops attract tens of thousands of happy customers, who then refer new business every day.

For some, service and support are not only a part of business, but make up their foundational philosophy. These companies do not just tack on service and support at the end of the purchase, but rather integrate it as a core feature of the product. It’s a great model and extremely profitable, even for small shops.

If you’re serious about entering the WordPress theme market and being a serious contender, then you’ll want to seriously consider offering ongoing service and support for a kick-butt Web product. (Just make sure the product truly kicks butt.)

Finally, you may be interested in how I used this research to launch my WordPress theme, Standard Theme, and how this has affected my business’ bottom line. Here are some quick insights:

  1. Offering support gave our marketing that extra oomph and factored into the service being listed by Mashable50 as one of the top premium themes out there.
  2. The community and support system that we use, Zendesk51, is a paid service, but we saw it as an investment in our community and product. It has since provided an exceptional ROI, and the community is now giving back resources, tutorials and help to other members alongside our dedicated staff. We started with vBulletin, but we weren’t satisfied with how it functioned. It was also heavy on our servers.
  3. Our support system is, in fact, one of our strongest value propositions, and customers talk this up on Facebook and Twitter regularly.

The bottom line is that, although we pay four figures a year for Zendesk, we’ve made that investment back in spades in terms of community engagement and product sales. The point is this: service and support should be seriously considered by WordPress theme shops not only for business growth but to remain competitive.

Other Resources Link

To round out your own research, have a look at some of these resources and links, and gather as much info as you can on service and support for WordPress businesses:

What’s Your Take? Link

How have you seen the WordPress premium marketplace change? Is it a good or bad thing? We’d love to hear your thoughts, and if you have any additional resources, feel free to list them for everyone’s benefit!

(al)

Footnotes Link

  1. 1 https://www.smashingmagazine.com/tag/themes/
  2. 2 http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html
  3. 3 http://woothemes.com
  4. 4 http://woothemes.com
  5. 5 http://www.woothemes.com/support/
  6. 6 http://bbpress.org
  7. 7 http://automattic.com
  8. 8 http://bbpress.org
  9. 9 http://mixergy.com/adii-rockstar-interview/
  10. 10 http://diythemes.com/
  11. 11 http://diythemes.com/
  12. 12 http://wordpress.tv/2010/07/15/mixergy-interview-pearson-mullenweg/
  13. 13 http://diythemes.com/forums/thesis-theme/
  14. 14 http://vbulletin.com
  15. 15 http://amember.com/
  16. 16 http://vbulletin.com
  17. 17 http://diythemes.com/forums/thesis-theme/
  18. 18 http://diythemes.com/thesis/rtfm/
  19. 19 http://mixergy.com/chris-pearson-thesis-interview/
  20. 20 http://www.studiopress.com
  21. 21 http://www.studiopress.com
  22. 22 http://www.studiopress.com/announcements/revolution-rebrands-as-studiopress.htm
  23. 23 http://www.studiopress.com/announcements/studiopress-merges-into-copyblogger-media-llc.htm
  24. 24 http://www.studiopress.com/support/
  25. 25 http://www.studiopress.com/support/
  26. 26 http://mixergy.com/brian-gardner-interview/
  27. 27 http://themeforest.net
  28. 28 http://themeforest.net
  29. 29 http://themeforest.net/forums
  30. 30 http://themeforest.net/category/wordpress?sort_by=sales_count&type=files&categories=wordpress&page=1
  31. 31 http://themeforest.net/wiki/selling/getting-paid/payment-rates/
  32. 32 http://themeforest.net/item/infocus-powerful-professional-wordpress-theme/85486
  33. 33 http://mysitemyway.com/support/
  34. 34 http://themeforest.net/item/infocus-powerful-professional-wordpress-theme/85486
  35. 35 http://www.gravityforms.com/
  36. 36 http://www.gravityforms.com/
  37. 37 http://www.gravityhelp.com/forums/
  38. 38 http://getshopped.org/extend/premium-upgrades/
  39. 39 http://getshopped.org/extend/premium-upgrades/
  40. 40 http://codecanyon.net/category/plugins/wordpress
  41. 41 http://codecanyon.net/category/plugins/wordpress
  42. 42 http://wpplugins.com/
  43. 43 http://wpplugins.com/
  44. 44 http://vaultpress.com/
  45. 45 http://vaultpress.com
  46. 46 http://www.oiopublisher.com/
  47. 47 http://www.oiopublisher.com/
  48. 48 http://scribeseo.com/
  49. 49 http://scribeseo.com/
  50. 50 http://mashable.com/2010/09/24/best-premium-wordpress-themes/
  51. 51 http://zendesk.com
  52. 52 http://wordpress.org/extend/themes/commercial/
  53. 53 http://smashingmagazine.com//tag/wordpress/
  54. 54 http://smashingmagazine.com/2010/08/05/craft-an-irresistible-price-by-focusing-on-your-users/
  55. 55 http://smashingmagazine.com/2008/01/11/premium-wordpress-themes-are-they-here-to-stay/
  56. 56 http://www.deliveringhappinessbook.com/
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John is a professional blogger and helps lead a passionate team of video game loving web developers and designers called 8BIT. He loves all things WordPress and passionately works on what he considers to be the best blogging theme out there!

  1. 1

    I’m glad no-one mentioned Template Monster. That’s the worst template service ever to exist.

    1
    • 2

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:42 am

      glad i cause you any pain today by having to visit that site. ;)

      0
  2. 3

    Bill Robbins

    June 15, 2011 6:44 am

    Great research John. Without killer support, no theme or plugin company will survive. This encourages all of us to keep at it and improve our offerings to our customers. Thanks.

    0
    • 4

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:43 am

      bill,

      you speak truth here. every single one of these shops have identified a key component via support in their success. it behooves anyone to follow them to seriously consider doing the same!

      0
  3. 5

    Brian Gardner

    June 15, 2011 6:52 am

    John, excellent post with all kinds of great bits of information. Thanks for including StudioPress in this post, and appreciate what you had to say.

    0
    • 6

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:43 am

      you’re one of the obvious front-runners and a lot of theme shops are looking toward you for inspiration and better business practices! keep up the good work over there brian!

      0
  4. 7

    To clarify, Shelly, Godhammer, and PBarron are fulltime employees of DIYthemes.com. Additionally, we just hired another support rep to create more step-by-step tutorials that show people how to implement specific things into Thesis (we currently have over 100 tutorials in the Thesis Theme User’s Guide, including a Getting Started Guide). If you could please update the post, that would be greatly appreciated.

    0
    • 8

      Also, Shelly’s user name is Girlie.

      Other than that, thank you for including us in the roundup.

      0
      • 9

        John (TentBlogger)

        June 15, 2011 8:46 am

        for sure derek, thanks for this clarification. the point of the post is to show what it looks like from a new customer’s perspective. there’s no way to know what you just shared without 1) logging in and 2) having these be explicit on the site. to the best of my knowledge at the writing of the post your full time employees were not mentioned explicitly in the marketing material on the homepage or accessible secondary pages.

        thanks for the feedback derek!

        0
        • 10

          John,
          That’s exactly it, great points (and great article!).

          I cautioned someone against buying Thesis a couple days ago, because any mention of support was vague, and in my experience that means you try your luck with a forum, and if no one happens to have idle free time, you’re screwed. It doesn’t matter at all if that’s not true; if you have no way of knowing, you tend to speculate, and possibly vote with your feet.

          Sounding defensive, rather than being able to accept constructive criticism – also a bad sign, to me.

          And stuff like “Big Ass Submit Button”. That’s just SO cute, but it looks very puerile and juvenile. Again, not a confidence builder, unless their intended audience is all between 16 and 23.

          They may very well have a killer product. But their site is too opaque to tell, particularly regarding support, and of course this will breed suspicion. OK, now I expect to get flamed for expressing an honest opinion. :-)

          And of course, that will make me even less likely to try their product, which I actually was considering.

          0
          • 11

            Thesis forum and document support has been great, at least for me.

            0
  5. 12

    An interesting and well written article – it’s clear that, like anything, support comes in many guises, but the themes/plugin creators with the most appreciative community are the ones who provide the most well rounded support – pre-emptive (FAQs, tutorials, documentation) and reactive (forums).

    For the Thesis section, Shelley’s username is girlie. I believe godhammer and Phil (pbarron) also have / had official roles in handling support with DIYThemes (but I may be wrong), and kingdomgeek used to be a code contributor, which is why they all have lots of posts.

    Your StudioPress screenshots are out of date as they’ve changed their design since then.

    Interesting that I still appear in the top 10 contributors by number of posts for Thesis, and if your StudioPress screenshot had been a bit further down, it would show I’m a Senior Moderator there as well :-)

    0
    • 13

      My guess is that out of date screenshots are indicative of how long it takes an article to get published from the time it is approved.

      0
    • 14

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:46 am

      gary,

      definitely. the post was written 2 months ago! it took a bit to get it out of editorial!

      0
  6. 15

    Andrew Mason

    June 15, 2011 7:55 am

    Excellent article….good stuff!

    0
    • 16

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:47 am

      thanks andrew! took a bit of time to work through it all!

      0
  7. 17

    Chris Pearson

    June 15, 2011 7:56 am

    I’d like to clarify the misinformation that was presented for DIYthemes and Thesis, and hopefully, you’ll adjust the post so that your readers do not come away with a false impression of our business.

    First, Godhammer and Girlie (the two top posters in our forums) have been full-time support personnel since March 2009. Thesis customers are well aware that these two run the forums, as they respond within minutes to

    Next, pbarron has been a part-time contributor (though he gives us nearly full-time hours with his commendable efforts) since February 2010. Also, kingdomgeek was our first part-time employee, and he stayed with us from July 2008 through August 2009.

    At the beginning of this year, we launched an initiative to cull even more moderators from within the Thesis community. We’re blessed to have quite a few extremely active contributors, and we are reaching out to some of them to make them official moderators. Out first community moderator is rickandersonaia.

    Now that I’ve covered our highly skilled and responsive support staff, there is nothing mysterious about our forums. If you’re a DIYthemes customer, you have access to a “Support Forum” link in the navigation bar after logging into the website.

    Our support forums are intended to be an exclusive benefit to our members, and that’s why they are not visible to site visitors who are not logged in. Oh, and new customers receive a welcome email detailing where they can find our support forums, so we are VERY clear about the assistance that we provide (and where to get it).

    Next, your comments about the User’s Guide are also factually inaccurate. Like the forums, the User’s Guide is linked from the navigation bar for logged-in users. We also link to it in our welcome email to new customers.

    Best of all, we have really cranked up our efforts in the User’s Guide, and now we’re adding extremely high-quality and in-depth tutorials every week!

    The bottom line here is that we have different viewports for people who are just visiting the site and for customers who are logged in. This serves a twofold purpose: [1] it cuts down on visual clutter for potential customers (this avoids analysis paralysis and helps them focus on learning about Thesis), and [2] it allows customers to have a concise, clear list of links to the helpful items they need the most—like the Support Forums and the User’s Guide.

    Finally, your statement that “despite the lack of support as a core part of Thesis’ model” is flat out wrong and should be retracted. Indeed, support is a CENTRAL part of our business model, and without our industry-leading staff, we would not have a business.

    My staff is the highest-paid support staff in the premium theme market, and I hold them to the same high standard that I hold myself. We are DAMN SERIOUS about customer support at DIYthemes, and that’s why I took the time to compose this comment in response to your article.

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    • 18

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:48 am

      thanks chris for this comment and clarification. as i mentioned to derek above you really answered the points by stating yourself that many of these features are available only to current customers who have to log-in to see them. the perspective that was taken was from a new customer’s vantage and much of what you stated is buyers-only-info.

      thanks and hope you get a few sales today!

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    • 19

      Vitaly Friedman

      June 15, 2011 9:00 am

      Thanks, Chris. I will ask the author to update the article.

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    • 20

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 9:31 am

      Chris,

      Updated a few things! Thanks for your comments!

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  8. 21

    A must-read before dropping down any money on WordPress premium themes and plugins.

    Thank you!

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    • 22

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:49 am

      eric,

      thanks for your comments. caveat emptor… as i always say! it pays to do your research for sure!

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  9. 23

    Michael Martine, Blog Alchemist

    June 15, 2011 8:00 am

    I’m kinda surprised you didn’t include Headway, which is not only one of the top commercial theme frameworks, but offers support via Twitter, Email, and a forum staffed nearly round-the-clock by professional moderators.

    1
    • 24

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:50 am

      michael,

      this would be a great addition in a follow-up. thanks for the comment!

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      • 25

        Michael Martine, Blog Alchemist

        June 15, 2011 8:52 am

        Awesome, looking forward to that. Thanks for responding. :)

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  10. 26

    How does a website like Elegant Themes compare to these? I purchased the $36/year membership and couldn’t be happier :)

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    • 27

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:51 am

      elegant themes is definitely a player and nick over there has done a great job of carving himself out a niche. he’s got some great designs and the support looks good. I don’t have too much experience with it though (i was an early buyer though, haven’t been back recently).

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      • 28

        Georgia Gibbs

        June 15, 2011 10:31 am

        One of the things that attracted me to Elegant Themes was that it is always touted for great customer support all over the web. I was also told by someone who’s word and knowledge I trust that they write clean code. I have done two installs: one had no issues and small questions were answered, sometimes. Then I did a second install with a different theme that was giving me lots of issues on a new install of WordPress. Not simple and not much support. There are moderators on boards who may or may not answer your question, will ask you a question and on follow through never reply again, or ignore you. Many of them have a note that they are available for hire as part of their signature. I even wrote Customer Support directly because I was having such huge issues with the theme and later, the theme on a new server, and was never replied to. When you have a basic problem they may have some useful information but anything more than that and they are invisible. It is not just me. Having had to spend a lot of time in their boards searching for answers I found a lot of frustrated customers having issues and little or not response from anyone there.

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        • 29

          John (TentBlogger)

          June 18, 2011 10:37 am

          was the 2nd theme from elegantthemes as well or another shop?

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  11. 30

    Lynn Currie

    June 15, 2011 8:26 am

    Great article, thanks for the round-up.

    I’ve used a couple of the sites you mention to buy both themes and scripts. In the end, Thesis is always my favorite theme to use, not only because it has a kick ass framework, but also because of the support and the community.

    I think the bottom line with any of these products is that you simply want them to be able to do what you need/want. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting a plug-in or wanting to customize a theme and not being able to.

    The thing about Thesis is that there are two ways you can quickly find your solution:
    – The forums. Not only do my questions get answered quickly, but the thoroughness of the solutions already documented if you search for what you’re trying to achieve is incredible. There are many step-by-step tutorials that the staff, and some community members, have written. It’s also worth pointing out that the attitude in the forums is good. If you’re using a plug-in that doesn’t work, they help you trouble shoot.
    – The web. Want to customize something? Pop in some some search terms in Google and chances are you’ll find a step-by-step tutorial on it.

    As an end user, it’s really all about experience and the ability to get the info you need/want quickly and making your customer’s lives easier. Any of these companies that offer that, along with a good product of course, are going to be successful.

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    • 31

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:51 am

      lynn,

      a very fair comment indeed! your experience with thesis proves that the support model is working!

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  12. 32

    Daniel Dessinger

    June 15, 2011 8:40 am

    It always amuses me to see how the authors/owners respond to posts mentioning their brands and their business models. Thanks for the entertainment. :)

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    • 33

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:52 am

      glad we could provide some entertainment during your busy “hump day”….!

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  13. 34

    Daniel Dessinger

    June 15, 2011 8:42 am

    I guess I should mention that I’ve used Thesis, Headway, ThemeForest, WooThemes, and StudioPress in the past. Customer support was never my biggest concern, as the real question was whether I could modify these themes easily without the help of a developer. Ultimately, I’ve found that my favorite approach is to pick the theme that does most of what I want to do with a blog/site and then make the minor customizations necessary to give it a unique personality.

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    • 35

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:52 am

      daniel,

      i don’t think you’re alone here… many people purchase a “close fit” and then tweak as they see necessary. do you design for others as well?

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    • 36

      This is essentially true, up to the point where amateur users begin to have any problem, after which the support forums tend to become their 2nd. home!!

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  14. 37

    Stéphane Bergeron

    June 15, 2011 8:44 am

    I’m with Michael and don’t understand why. Not only do they have the best premium theme out there IMO (I own Thesis and tried others), but their support is top notch as is the community around the theme, including some amazing add-on developers that do an incredible job at making Headway even more powerful and flexible than it already is out of the box.

    As for plugin developers, the people at PluginBuddy as well as the Shopp guys (shopplugin.net) also have outstanding products and support and deserved a mention IMO.

    My $0.02…

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    • 38

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 8:53 am

      Stéphane,

      as i mentioned to michael that would be a fair addition in a follow-up post. great theme for sure!

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      • 39

        Chris Howard

        June 15, 2011 4:14 pm

        John, you really opened a can of worms. iThemes is another that’s missing. Maybe this whole topic deserves its own dedicated blog!

        @stéph – thanks for the rap!

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        • 40

          John (TentBlogger)

          June 18, 2011 10:36 am

          you’re right. ithemes is another great shop out there that could have been included. i was ready for the can of worms though as i mentioned:

          [quote]
          Although this list might come under heavy fire from nearly every angle, the goal is not to be comprehensive, but rather to be historically fair, providing as accurate a depiction as possible of the current WordPress theme marketplace with regards to service and support.
          [/quote]

          :)

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  15. 41

    I’ve been a casual blogger for quite a few years now, never really having the time to get more serious about it. I’ve always used free themes but haven’t been happy unless I devoted much time to tweaking the code, which really gets old if the theme base isn’t well done. I’ve been shopping around the places you’ve mentioned and have to agree about the customer service aspect.
    I’m SO willing to spend some cash for some peace of mind and stability. Not to mention, there is so much that can be learned in these forums.
    Thanks Smashing.

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  16. 43

    tubby tockley

    June 15, 2011 9:40 am

    SmashingMag don’t have the nuts to post my last comment even though it was truthful.

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  17. 44

    tubby tockley

    June 15, 2011 9:42 am

    Ok wrong mobile browser lol – here tis again:

    Thesis is the shit foo’s, any smart dev OR educated user knows. Headway, and it’s faggy drag-n-drop interface Equals slow-ass Pos. Brian Gardner lost the plot after he lost thesis. And FFS: Themeforest – looks good on the outside but try to get support? it’s aptly named, might as be lost in the forest fucken. WebDev FullThruths#23

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    • 45

      John (TentBlogger)

      June 15, 2011 9:57 am

      certainly you’re welcome to your own particular perspective! heck, at least you’re honest. :)

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      • 46

        tubby tockley

        June 15, 2011 10:04 am

        Thnx Johnny! Good to see someone man-up and *agree* with my WebDevFullTruths.

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        • 47

          Brian Gardner

          June 15, 2011 10:21 am

          I think you meant Brian Clark in your comment.

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          • 48

            tubby tockley

            June 16, 2011 1:43 am

            Brian Gardner I stand corrected, you’re right I meant Brian Clark. Thanks for setting me straight homie – keep it real ;)

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    • 49

      Can someone please translate this into English?

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  18. 50

    tubby tockley

    June 15, 2011 9:59 am

    WebDev FullThruths #41 – even I’ve handcoded 80+ sites, I know f##k-all CSS. This is the power of wp frameworks with smart mods especially thesis forums. They routinely put up with all my shit and serve it with a smile fucken: ga ga haa ha ha!

    Stay tuned for more FullThruths.

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  19. 51

    Thanks for this great post John. I’m enjoying reading all these comments too!

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  20. 53

    Dewitt Robinson

    June 15, 2011 11:31 am

    Great post John! Very exhaustive!

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