Hakone Estate & Gardens
Hakone Estate and Gardens is the oldest Asian estate and garden in the Western Hemisphere. Sprawling across eighteen acres, Hakone Estate and Gardens is a 1915 replica of a Japanese Samurai or Shogun’s estate garden and is located in the hills of Saratoga, California, overlooking Silicon Valley.
The estate is run by the Hakone Foundation, which has a small core staff and a large number of volunteers.
"The Hakone Foundation had a website that was, at the time, about 7 or 8 years old," Tanya Candia, the volunteer in charge of Hakone's recent site redesign, tells us.
The old website was sophisticated but dated and was maintained using Dreamweaver. "It was difficult to update and to navigate," Candia says.
There had been an internal push to redesign the website for around 3 years. The arguments against starting the redesign had always been that it would be a slow and expensive endeavour, requiring lots of fundraising, as well as extensive work with designers and developers.
Any new site for Hakone would have to meet three requirements.
It would have to be extremely easy to update and maintain. "Most of this work is done either by a volunteer or by someone who already has a different job, or both. So this has to be simple, quick and easy," Candia says.
The new site would have to have gorgeous slide shows that would show off the beauty of the Hakone location — a location that is used for weddings, classes and other events.
Lastly, the new site would also have to have an easy e-commerce solution so Hakone could integrate event registration into its website.
Besides her work with Hakone, Candia also runs her own marketing consultancy agency, through which she had gotten to know SiteKreator. Based on what she had seen, Candia was convinced that SiteKreator was the right tool for the job.
In a matter of days, Candia created what she thought the new Hakone site should more or less look like, something she still refers to as a "site mock-up," using SiteKreator.
"When I showed this site mockup to Hakone's marketing group, the reply was that there was nothing mockup about this."This should be our new site!" was the reaction of the group," Candia says.
Candia is modest about her design skills, saying that all she had done was change the background color and adjust the layout. "I knew I could make it look sort of good, but I wanted it to be really elegant," she tells us.
Hakone signed up for SiteKreator's Deluxe package and, with the help of SiteKreator's designers, created a jawdroppingly elegant website.
The homepage image gallery was given depth by adding a shadow effect to the outside frame of the gallery. Different visualization styles were used for different photo galleries throughout the site, each visualization style carefully chosen to accommodate that particular set of photos.
The sign up page was created, using a combination of sign up forms and PayPal buttons. The event manager and the CEO of the Foundation are automatically notified when website visitors sign up for events and payments are received.
Hakone's announcement of the launch of their website in June 2011 sparked great interest. "We normally have about a 30% open rate of our emails. The email announcement of the new site was opened by more than half the subscribers of our 1000-address mailing list," Candia tells us.
"In the days that followed, we received emails from people around the world, telling us how beautiful they thought the new site was," she says.
“We received emails from people around the world,
telling us how beautiful they thought the new site was.”
About a month after the site went live, the first event was announced. "We first put information about the event and the sign up forms up on the site. Before we could send out the announcement email, people were already signing up," Candia says.
Candia describes herself as a difficult client. "I'm not sure you want more clients like me" she says. "I sent lots of questions by email while we were designing and building the site. But SiteKreator's support team has always been great at getting back to me quickly and with very helpful answers," she adds.
All in all, Hakone's team couldn't be happier with the new website. Quoting the event manager currently in charge of updating Hakone's website, Candia says "Thank you, thank you, thank you for making it so easy to manage."