David Wilfong E-Commerce and Business Entrepreneur
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The David S. Wilfong Story
As a young boy, like most others, I played cops and robbers.
I was always the cop. I never grew out of that and wanted to be a police officer from a very young age.
This experience set my personality and defined my thoughts and actions throughout my formative years.
It also gave me a strict sense of right and wrong.
I stayed out of trouble, hang out with the ‘good kids’, and did not drink, do drugs, smoke, or anything that would imperil that trajectory.
I was the typical nerd, except for my Mötley Crüe t-shirts and Jordache jeans.
My Grade School Years
I joined 4-H when I was 9 and was actively involved throughout my High School years.
Unlike the most common activities associated with that organization, I did photography.
I developed black and white photographs, color photographs, color slides, and enlarged images beyond reasonable.
In Middle School I was often found in the process of taping photo paper to the wall and aiming the enlarger at from the opposite end of the school darkroom.
I was lucky enough that my parents allowed my grandfather and me to build a complete darkroom in my bedroom and encouraged my hobby.
My High School Years: Computer Introduction
In 10th grade, I was exposed to my first computer. the first programming language I mastered was Basic and I was hooked on programming forever.
That year I also got my first computer, a Franklin Ace 1000 (a clone of the popular Apple II Plus computer).
In 11th grade, our school started to offer a new Advanced Placement computer programming class that taught Pascal.
One of the requirements was to be in 12th grade, so I had to get special permission to take the course a year early. At the end of the year, our teacher asked if anyone wanted to take the AP test for computer science.
No one knew what it was, but two buddies and I opted in. My score on that test gave me 8 college math credits.
I was also the first and only person in the school at that time to take the AP Biology test.
Since it was well above the non-AP class structure, even though I did extra studying, I did not fare as well with that one, But I tried.
My College Years: Triple Major? Why Not!
Since our local college had a reputable Criminal Justice Administration program and Computer program, I flowed right in after High School.
The computer program was new and was a small part of the Math Department.
There were only two additional math courses required to get a math degree after completing the computer degree, So I entered college with a triple major.
After my freshman year, although I excelled in my machine language class (yes, I can program in 0’s and 1’s) however, I was unable to conquer the computer science required math class Calculus…. and that killed my computer science major.
I completed my 4-year tour with a B.S. in Criminal Justice Administration with a minor in American Sign Language.
My Short Police ‘Career’:
After completing college and finally getting to the required age for law enforcement of 21, I was off to apply for a well-trained job.
I had done all the right things, had the degree, always planned on it, and got nowhere.
Finally, at the end of an interview with the California Highway Patrol, the three-panel review board enlightened me.
I was told that I would be their top recommendation for inclusion in the next academy class and that I would not be hired.
I was sure I did not hear that correctly and asked for clarification.
They politely explained that the CHP was required to correct their current racial mix of recruits and that it would be at least 5 years before I had a chance of getting in.
Although my last name sounds asian, it is german, and I am about as milk toast as they come.
Life After Law Enforcement:
Since most of my jobs had been in retail, I fell back on that for the next few years.
For one company I was working for, where we were importing captive breed exotic marine life, the owner wanted to start selling on the Internet.
This was in 1994 and I had never heard of it.
But I loved the idea and started programming away.
I built the website and custom ordering, accounting, and inventory system.
I constantly tweaked it, even when it did not need it.
I could not stop.
After a year and a half of this, I decided that the company was not going anywhere and that I should start my own online business.
I can remember on the last day of that job calling my cell phone service provider and canceling my plan, not knowing when my next paycheck would be.
My E-Commerce Journey, The Beginning:
After some thought, I realized that I wanted to combine my interest in collecting limited edition art with programming.
I created one of the first online galleries.
I did all the custom programming along with all of the aspects of running the business, hiring, marketing, inventory, product selection, customer service, and so on.
I mastered one of the first dynamic languages developed for the Internet (WebDNA, now mostly sunset) and was the first in my industry to have a dynamic, database-driven site.
For years we were the only online gallery to offer online custom framing, all designed, developed, and programmed by me.
For the first couple of years, the site ran on a co-hosted server about an hour from the business location.
This caused too many issues with access, uptime, and management.
After installing a high-speed line at the retail location, I set up my server.
That produced a faster environment for our customers, better management, and another advantage over our competition.
This fact proved itself…
In the middle of 2012, one of our most popular artists suddenly passed away.
It was late on a Friday that the news of his passing hit the media cycle for the weekend.
Within a few hours, his publishers’ site and many of our competition sites went offline due to the number of requests the servers were getting.
However, our server never slowed.
We processed the same number of sales that weekend that we would have in a regular Christmas season.
The Beginning of the End:
Since all the programming, design, and maintenance were done by me, that left the business vulnerable.
This began a journey to replace our proprietary site with another platform.
I scoped out many e-commerce options (Shopify, Magento now Adobe Commerce, BigCommerce, X-Cart, and others).
Over the next year development was stated on a few different selections.
Twice we hit an impasse, so we dropped that product and moved to the next.
We finally settled on Magento Enterprise.
It was a bit more than we needed but was the only one able to handle our requirements.
A year and a half later, and after 3 development partners, we transitioned from our old site to our new Magneto site.
The new Magento Enterprise site allowed us to use some of the advanced options that we were using with our old platform.
We integrated with eBay and Amazon using a Magento Extension called M2E Pro.
We were able to integrate Listrak’s Cross-Channel Marketing Automation Platform for email automation and other on-site marketing.
We integrated ShipStation to allow us to streamline our shipping process even further.
This integrated, like our old system, with FedEx, UPS, and USPS for multiple options when shipping domestically and Internationally.
After 24 years in business, and seeing changes in the limited edition art industry that I no longer wished to fight, I decided to close the business at the end of 2019.
Like the rest of the world, I did not see what would be coming in a couple of months…
Loss, COVID-19, and Essential Workers:
2020 started with me liquidating the last of the items from the business and taking care of my two boys, while my wife aided my mother-in-law with the end of her cancer journey.
One week before the COVID lockdown, we lost her.
That week was spent consoling my wife and being the stay-at-home dad caring for our boys.
On Friday I broke the news to my wife that I did not think it would be safe for the boys to go to school on Monday.
She had no idea, she had been solely focused on the care of her mom for months.
On Sunday the school district, along with the rest of the US, informed us that the boys would start distance learning the next day.
However, my wife is an essential worker for our local city. She would still be working 40 hours a week, some remotely, some in the office, and some in the field.
For the next year, like the rest of the world, things continued in this fashion.
The Return to ‘Normal’: After over a year
The world started opening up and the boys slowly worked back to semi-normal lives.
But, I needed to be their caregiver, since that was the role of my mother-in-law.
I needed something that I could do and still be available at odd hours and times to transport and handle any of the boys’ needs.
So, with my background, I started offering my services as a freelancer on platforms like Upwork and Fiverr.
I got freelance jobs for, systems integration, website administration and optimization, and SEO on platforms like Shopify, Etsy, WordPress, and such.
I truly enjoyed this work but realized that I was always at the whim of someone else. Not how the last 25 years of my life had gone.
During the lockdown, I looked into different careers.
My background was mostly in retail sales and customer service.
I needed something flexible that allowed me to continue supporting my boys while my wife continued her career.
My freelance work in e-commerce, combined with my skills in that are eventually blended into this blog. And, as they say, the rest is history.