Case Study: Solhem Companies
Website Refresh - Making It Easy to Decide on Apartments from Afar
Solhem Companies develops, owns and manages award-winning residential and office properties in Minneapolis, Minnesota’s most desirable neighborhoods. TEN7 has been working with Solhem since the beginning. We built their first Drupal site in 2009, and as they added buildings, the site soon evolved into a multi-site installation for their portfolio of boutique apartment properties. The Solhem websites, for existing properties as well as websites for properties under development, are managed with a single theme. In addition to providing cohesive visual branding for all the sites, this approach results in reduced support and maintenance costs, since updates are performed in one place and changes are propagated to all sites. Additionally, it spreads out the investment being made over multiple sites.
Solhem approached TEN7 in 2016, with a wish list that included developing a new theme that would differentiate them from their competitors' sites, that generally use a standard real estate website template, the one that’s provided from their property management software and usually can be quite boring. CLient's goal was to visually identify their buildings as belonging to the Solhem group of properties, by embarking on a theme redesign that would match the Scandinavian ambiance of their buildings, sunny and light, friendly, modern and sustainable.
The design process went through a few iterations, until all of the client stakeholders were satisfied. Both teams were able to collaborate using InVision, a design prototyping platform. Eva, our UX designer, brought their vision to life in digital form, and our talented front-end team implemented the designs with great care. This project is a perfect example of how the design phase can take longer than planned, and how that extra time contributes to a more considered, user-focused site.
Meeting Client's Goals
Solhem said, “One of our goals is to get our websites to the point where someone who lives in LA can get enough information from the site to confidently apply for a unit, without ever visiting us in person.” One feature that helps them fulfill that goal is the custom floor plans page we built for the sites. All sites have both 2D and 3D plans, with photos and virtual tours. On some sites, you can even select a floor and see which floor plan types are available on that floor.
A Guide to the Neighborhood
Knowledge of the buildings' surrounding neighborhoods is vital. Solhem wanted to feature Instagram content from neighborhood amenities like attractions, food & drink, recreation and shopping. They also wanted to highlight selected Instagram content from the community of residents from each building on an updated version of their blog page. Obtaining these images required getting permissions from the content creators, a sensitive issue that we reviewed carefully with the client.
A Valuable Editing Tool
In order for the Solhem staff to curate and update Instagram posts, Jason Cote, our front-end developer, created a custom Drupal module that allows site administrators to retrieve and display Instagram images (including information about the Instagram account owner) from within the site’s administration pages. “It was a farfetched idea in the design phase, and I had no idea that could be brought to life! But Jason figured out how to do it,” said Megan Glover, Solhem Companies’ Marketing Manager. “I’m already seeing other people steal this idea from us.” It took a little extra development time upfront to make it work, but it will save Solhem time and money in the long run.
“We have a lot of awesome residents who are good at Instagram, as well as neighborhood businesses with great content. To be able to present this content keeps us totally on-brand, and it’s a WIN-WIN for everyone. We get fresh beautiful content and get to promote people’s Instagram accounts, and get them new followers!” —Megan Glover, Marketing Manager, Solhem Companies
TEN7 completed the Solhem redesign project on time and within budget, despite some unanticipated complications. It takes a surprising amount of work to render a clean, minimalist and elegant theme that works for multiple websites, while still being fully responsive!
The work was well worth it.
“Conversion rates and SEO have all been improved with the new design, and I can’t tell you the number of people who have said, ‘I LOVE your website, and it’s so easy to use!’ Oftentimes people come in to tour, and say they made up their mind by just viewing the website.”
So what’s next for Solhem? Tastes and design trends change quickly. We have been working working on a new theme design with updated fonts featuring more vibrant color, just in time for their new Nordeast Minneapolis location, coming in 2020. Stay tuned.