May 28, 2009, 12:00 AM

How does one operate a million stores on one system? Keep things simple

A simple web site template has been one key to launching more than 1 million online stores on a single back end at Prep Sportswear.

A simple web site template has been one key to launching more than 1 million online stores on a single back end at Prep Sportswear, a retailer of high school and team sports apparel and merchandise. Prep Sportswear, which produces and sells athletic apparel printed on demand, says that’s the number of stores team organizers have created on its platform since it launched in 2005.

The platform allows schools, parents and other team organizers to create an online store offering customizable T-shirts, hats and other gear. The team-specific stores are collectively producing an average of more than 5,000 pieces of customized apparel per week, the retailer says.

Because the platform must serve the merchandising needs of many teams, its store template design has evolved based on customer feedback to make it easy for both store operators and customers. For example, Prep Sportswear has moved away from requiring buyers of customized products to select every element of the product, and now pre-populates each store with products in colors appropriate to that team. Customers can then add their name, logo, and number, creating a shorter route to completing a personalized product.

Beyond using a simple template, Prep Sportswear has changed a few site elements to help boost sales. The site has moved from static to dynamic product imagery that shows shoppers how their customized selection will look instantly. “The wow factor of seeing an image that is directly connected is much more powerful than a generic picture of a T-shirt or jersey,” says CEO Chad Hartvigson. “The more targeted we are with our imagery, the higher our conversion rate becomes.”

Prep Sportswear didn’t disclose revenue but says it’s grown 1,943% over the past three years. The company projects it will have 1.75 million online stores on its platform in 2010. Store operators using Prep Sportswear’s platform can keep up to 17% of the revenue associated with each sale if they participate in the site’s fundraising program by posting banners and other content in their stores and sending promotional e-mails supplied by Prep Sportswear.

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