Monday, December 9, 2013

Hammacher Schlemmer: “About Us” Evaluation by Corporate

Hammacher Schlemmer’s roots are a high-quality hardware store that opened on New York’s Bowery in 1841. In 1926, the store moved uptown to 147 East 57th Street, where it began to focus on the unique, innovative merchandise that it’s famous for today. (The landmark store is still there, currently under renovation.) The family sold the business in 1953; it’s now owned by the heirs of the man who founded the Bradford Exchange. The main About Us page (“America’s Oldest Catalogue” in the footer, “165 Years of History” on the page itself) is here.


Products/Services: A+++
There are only two Hammacher Schlemmer About Us pages, and both are excellent. 165 Years of History is a one-page description of the company’s evolution from a hardware store to a purveyor of unusual products of high quality. The story is told with a flowing style and enough pertinent details and anecdotes to make it fascinating: e.g., the fact that Hammacher Schlemmer issued a catalogue of over 1,000 pages in 1912 and sold the world’s first pop-up toaster (1930) and electric razor (1948). The pictures are perfect: one of the original hardware store with serried ranks of employees; one of the Motorist Touring Kit for early automobiles; one of the pop-up toaster.

Our Commandment 5 of About Us pages is “Honor thy readers and their attention spans.” Few timelines do this. Most expect us to click a lot of buttons and somehow to retain reams of minutiae while trying desperately to get a big-picture view.

If we gave an award for best corporate timeline, Hammacher Schlemmer’s timeline would be the reigning champion. Its content and layout are stellar. The years run across the top. In rows below are Hammacher History, U.S. History, Extraordinary Items, Media (mentions in the press), and Catalogs. The illustrations are, hands down, the best use we have seen on a website of archival material. They range throughout the company’s long history and are categorized so the context is always clear. They’re accompanied by terse but informative text—just the kind of corporate storytelling that works best these days.

Hammacher Schlemmer’s two About Us pages are an unbeatable combination: a well-written overview that stresses the company’s products and goals, with a well-designed timeline with substantive visual and verbal content.

Personality: A
The About Us pages offer no information about the company’s owners. That’s OK, since the company’s mission – to find innovative, unique products – is clear. In fact, since the owners are associated with the Bradford Exchange, whose mission is quite different, it’s a wise choice not to broadcast the connection. Millions of Facebook denizens notwithstanding, not everyone needs to know everything about you.

Accessibility: A
The Contact Us page is very thorough, with several options for reaching Customer Service, Product Help, Corporate Gifts, and the New York store, plus contacts for press inquiries and inventors. We particularly appreciate the fact that the online contact form asks whether we’d like a response via email, mail, or phone.

If you’re going to include a timeline, emulate Hammacher Schlemmer: hone it until its content (text and visuals) is substantive and engaging, and make sure the context is always clear from the layout.

Does your Web site’s “About Us” section accurately convey your organization’s history and capabilities? Every two weeks we evaluate one example, grading it in three areas that are key to potential customers: Personality (Who are you?), Products/Services (What can you do for us?), and Accessibility (How can we reach you?). To talk about your About Us page, contact us!
Today’s example was chosen at random; has no ties to this company.