How International Military Antiques Broke Every Holiday Record After Migrating

How International Military Antiques Broke Every Holiday Record After Migrating

After enduring a costly security breach and being told it must make an expensive platform upgrade, International Military Antiques — the world’s largest seller of military collectibles and antique guns — migrated to Shopify Plus and notched record Black Friday sales:

  • Holiday conversion rates increased 19.16% YoY
  • Black Friday Cyber Monday AOV increased by 24.2%
  • Holiday sales increased 35.85% YoY fueling $6M in 2017 revenue

“Shopify Plus wasn’t even on our radar at first,” says Alex Cranmer, Vice President of IMA. “We thought Shopify was for teenagers selling stuff out of their parents’ basements, not for multimillion-dollar enterprises like us.

“But once we did our homework we realized Shopify is actually a behemoth with seemingly unlimited resources.”

Editor’s Note: Update

This post originally appeared in January of 2018. Since then IMA has continued its upward trajectory. Year-over-year comparisons from IMA — before and after the replatform — reinforce this, including increases in:

  • Ecommerce conversion rate by 11.39%
  • Average order value by 13.09%
  • Revenue by 24.94%
IMA 2016 vs 2017 YoY Google Analytics
Google Analytics dashboard courtesy of Alex Cranmer (IMA)

A killer, a dirty cop, and a backstabbing liar …

Alex Cranmer has been all three.

Not even Cranmer’s chiseled features, good looks, or distinctive voice could make you fall in love with him. And that’s the point. Cranmer sincerely wants you to hate him when he’s starring in roles opposite the likes of Tom Selleck in Blue Bloods, Showtime’s hit show Billions, or primetime dramas like Law and Order: SVU, CSI: New York, and The Good Wife.

“I’m often the bad guy in these shows,” Cranmer explains.

But don’t expect Cranmer, who is as engaging as he is modest, to talk up his silver screen success. “No one’s waiting for the next Alex Cranmer movie,” he says.

It’s Hollywood’s loss when you consider that the self-proclaimed “bad guy” on the big screen is actually …

A hero who works behind the scenes of the world’s largest military collectibles and antique gun business in the world.

Yes, you’ll soon be able to buy a ticket and see Cranmer sharing the big screen — it’s a small role Cranmer insists — with actor and comedian Adam Sandler.

But who has time for projects with the acting world’s biggest stars when you’re constantly fulfilling online orders for British cannons, World War II helmets, and muskets from the 1800s that your father unearthed on a $5 million trip to a 16th-century palace in Kathmandu?

Your best ever Black Friday Cyber Monday

IMA isn’t the only high-growth business breaking records. Our exclusive new guide highlights a host of brands and can help you …

  • Run 3-5 times more revenue-generating campaigns without additional time or resources
  • Automatically customize your shopping experience to increase conversions and average order value
  • Track and reward top customers for better retention during, and after, the holiday rush

Sample pages on using automation as a holiday ecommerce strategy

Sample pages from the new guide Black Friday on Autopilot

Four Hundred Year Old Inventory

In a story that seems tailor-made for Hollywood …

It was Christian Cranmer, Alex’s father, who found himself in the lead role struggling to push open the massive double doors of a palace in Nepal that had been closed for nearly two hundred years.

But as Cranmer peered inside under the watch of armed guards — Nepal was in the midst of a Civil War in 2003 — he saw the treasure trove he had always heard existed.

The palace had been turned into an armory to store the weapons and put up for sale to the highest bidder. With many of the rifles worth more than $3,000, the find was a business coup for Cranmer, who founded International Military Antiques (IMA) 22-years earlier after inheriting his father’s collection of antique weapons.

IMA was founded in 1965

The inheritance prompted Cranmer to begin investigating where other big stashes of old military munitions were laid to rest after conflicts.

After locating and purchasing military antiques and selling them to collectors all over Europe, Cranmer began traveling the world in search of much larger caches like the one in Nepal. Cranmer made major acquisitions in places like Egypt, Uruguay, and the Balkans.

With unique mail order advertising and a creatively designed print catalog, the stashes IMA routinely uncovered made it the premier destination for military collectibles and antique guns.

Unfortunately, over time the company’s mail-order advertising stopped generating sufficient ROI, and IMA’s two-page website wasn’t sophisticated enough to power another decade of growth.

How A Hollywood Bad Guys Antique Weapons Broke Every Holiday Record After Migrating From Magento

Image via The Wayback Machine

It was 2003, by either chance or divine intervention, the company’s New Jersey headquarters was just 45 minutes from New York City where Alex dreamed of launching his acting career.

The younger Cranmer simply wasn’t cut out to wait tables or tend bar while auditioning for acting roles. So, he set his sights on something that would ultimately tip much better: the IMA website.

All Is Not Fair in Love and War Memorabilia

“Dad was really skeptical,” Cranmer says. “It was a lot of money at the time so I knew it had to work. The site was what we needed to bridge the gap between the old business and its digital future.”

How A Hollywood Bad Guys Antique Weapons Broke Every Holiday Record After Migrating From Magento

It didn’t take long to turn the skeptic into a believer.

Gone were the secretaries and their sisters taking orders by phone, jotting down credit card numbers on carbon paper, and walking orders to the warehouse for fulfillment. The new website — designed to turn the heads of even the most discerning in the fashion industry — doubled IMA’s revenue in one year.

“Dad became a believer,” Cranmer says with a laugh. “We might take an order by phone every now and then but we became an all-in ecommerce company almost overnight.”

For six years, IMA grew, regularly as much as 300% YoY, and transformed itself from a seller of surplus vintage military items into the world’s largest seller of military collectibles and antique guns.

“We were in love with Magento,” Cranmer says. Then, two things happened …

(1) The Hack

IMA’s site was hacked with a piece of javascript in the footer that was scraping credit cards.

Cranmer recalls frantically searching for the cause of the hack while simultaneously enduring the prospect of being fined by Visa unless the vulnerability was fixed immediately. The stress and the costs quickly mounted and Cranmer found himself desperately wishing he had been notified of the breach sooner.

“We spent $50,000 and three months of sleepless nights trying to secure the site,” Cranmer says.

(2) The Upgrade

Shortly after new investors took over, Cranmer says their previous ecommerce platform announced it would no longer support the version powering IMA. This meant, according to Cranmer, that IMA would have to upgrade to a new more expensive version that would likely cost IMA six-figures and take months to complete.

“It wasn’t really an upgrade, it was a replatform,” Cranmer says. “We were being rushed to make a decision and I just didn’t feel very good about it.”

Breaking Records, Paying Less

With security, cost, and the ability to grow at the forefront of their minds, IMA migrated in August 2017.

“Shopify Plus wasn’t even on our radar at first. We thought Shopify was for teenagers selling stuff out of their parents’ basements, not for multimillion-dollar enterprises like us.

But once we did our homework we realized Shopify is actually a behemoth with seemingly unlimited resources.

Alex Cranmer, International Military Antiques

Not only did Shopify Plus’ new ecommerce automation products like Flow and Launchpad convince Cranmer he had made the right move, Cranmer also saw IMA’s margins improve after moving to Plus.

Specifically, IMA’s all-in cost on Plus is actually $300 a month less than what IMA paid for server space.

When you take into account their previous platform’s fees and the development work necessary to build and maintain the old site, Cranmer says IMA’s monthly operating costs have been slashed in half.

“I couldn’t be happier with our choice to move to Shopify Plus,” Cranmer says. “Almost every aspect of Shopify Plus is better and many things have far exceeded my expectations.”

IMA after migrating from Magento

There’s plenty of data to support that smile on Cranmer’s face.

The company did more than $6 million in revenue in 2017. That’s a record for IMA and compliments what Cranmer calls the best Black Friday Cyber Monday performance in IMA’s history as measured by the following KPIs.

Compared to Q4 2016, Q4 of 2017 broke every holiday record IMA had, including a …
  • 19.16% increase in YOY conversion rates
  • 24.20% increase in YOY average order value
  • 35.85% increase in YOY revenue

“Switching to Shopify Plus,” says Cranmer, “is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my business career. The record fourth quarter is very validating after having been on Magento almost seven years.”

Importantly, Cranmer credits the company’s partners and technology stack for helping it achieve monthly, quarterly, and yearly sales records. In particular, Cranmer calls attention to …

Navigational mega menu:

IMA now divides their diverse and extensive offerings into easy to find categories complete with select-product previews.

IMA navigational mega menu

Product description pages:

The new look features reviews, monthly payment options, and special “Hand Select” and “Certificate Of Authenticity” add-ons.

IMA product description page example

Payment and shipping customizations:

During purchase, IMA’s mobile-optimized payment methods include traditional checkouts and instant options, like PayPal or Amazon. Their shipping options have also been upgraded.

IMA mobile checkout

Rewind for backing up their site:

“Like Time Machine for a Mac, but in ecommerce. It’s amazing and has saved us more than once from some pretty big mistakes, like deleting all our content pages 20 minutes before launch! It’s truly a lifesaver.”

Yotpo for reviews, ratings, user-generated photos, and Q&A:

“This was a totally new feature for us, and in the first two weeks provided over 2,000 additional product reviews from our customers. The Q&A feature is also perfect for our customers as what we sell tends to lead to questions.”

Listrak for marketing automation:

Listrak leverages AI and predictive analytics to unify, interpret, and personalize data so IMA can better engage customers across channels and devices.

InstantSearch+ for onsite search:

“This includes a kick-ass autocomplete window with full product images as well as a drag-and-drop merchandising feature that allows us to visually build search-result pages for specific terms in a matter of minutes.”

IMA onsite search

With a catalog of over 7,500 products, unique attributes such as type, time period, and nationality, and some products needing to be listed under multiple names and descriptions … onsite search was a looming challenge.

With InstantSearch+, IMA created detailed rules that fit their shoppers’ behavior and requirements. That way customers have the best chance to find what they want to buy.

“We really love the Visual Merchandising feature as it provides the most flexibility in how our items are displayed,” says Alex. “Many of the products we carry can be identified by more than one name and this allows us drag-and-drop products into a specific order for a given search term, creating a customized search results page. This really helps our users find what they want more quickly.”

The impact of InstantSearch+ speaks volumes: conversion rates from visitors who use IMA’s custom search engine are 7 times higher than who browse.

I attribute a lot of our success to Shopify Plus and our partners. Honestly, there’s nothing we can’t do on Plus with the team we have. I’m really impressed.

Memorabilia, Movies, and Dreams

When he’s not selling millions of dollars of military collectibles, outfitting Hollywood with movie props, or supplying renowned museums like the National WWII Museum, Cranmer still finds time to audition for acting roles once a week.

Recently, he landed that small role we mentioned earlier in the next Adam Sandler movie, with Chris Rock and Steve Buscemi. “I’m really excited,” Cranmer says. “It doesn’t pay the mortgage but it’s fun to do a few projects a year.”

What about combining the two: acting in a movie in which IMA’s memorabilia is also featured?

“That’s totally something I dream about,” Cranmer says. And he almost did it, simultaneously auditioning for a regular role in The Pacific, a 10-part series set during WWII and told through the eyes of three young Marines, while also shipping pallets of IMA memorabilia for the series shoot in Australia.

“I didn’t get the role, but I was really close,” Cranmer says.

Thankfully, dreaming is something both Cranmer and IMA can do in peace:

I smile on my pillow at night knowing I never have to perform another ‘critical security patch’ or pay the equivalent of a mortgage on a small beachside vacation home each year for server space.

About the Author

Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog and founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best-known brands, businesses, and marketers. Get more from Nick here.