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Harponline - the technical and economical contexts

This website is meant to be an example of the development of Internet marketing and business, using HARPONLINE.DE as an example.

This webpage shall show, how Internet launches in the year of 2015 are implemented, using html5, php, mysql, jQuery und Javascript, Webdesign, product fotography and image processing.

If you take some time for a walk through this offer, you will get an idea on how the requirements to CRM-, ERP- and shopsystems along with product and customer management, business adminitration and taxes have been growing into a professional environment, that meanwhile hardly can be connected to its first ''wild'' beginnings back in 2000.

In case there are still some old customers from Harponline stumbling into this page: You are cordially invited to do a nostalgia tour through the Historic Harponline Webshop .



Harponline Memorial Page - CMS

This webpage is embedded inside the OpenSource Projekt Concrete5.

An advantage is the front editor which makes creating or exchanging content very easy, especially, if the user doesn''t do this too often. Even after weeks, the intuitive GUI makes accessing the pages a walk in the park.

As a webdesigner, the PHP framework allows countless individual modifications, comes along with modern techiques, using own templates without too much compromise, but all standards for SEO and fast page reproduction already included.


Harponline Memorial Page - Usability

One thing that has changed dramatically during the years is computer''s screen size and resolution.
This enables the use of high resolution pictures inside webpages. This feature is demonstrated in the default page of this project as a scrolling page. Different screens in size and resolution are getting different layouts that way. For example all fonts have different sizes. The big pictures'' sizes do not change. Depending on the screen resolution, every user will see another clipping.

Mobiles and handhelds will be detcted by software. The big resolution pictures will not appear any more. Only written information and the small pictures will remain visible.

The Navigation (yellow bar on the left) is an off-canvas, designed using JQuery.

The informational pages (f.e. this one) are created by using Twitter Bootstrap Framework and therefore are infinitely variable, no matter which resultion is used.

To Startpage


The Harponline Shopsoftware

Harponline Shopsoftware was developed during 2003/2004 by Dieter Raber as a PHP reference project. At that time, professional shop software wasn''t availableas affordable OpenSource. Moreover, the possibility to order single harmonica reeds in Harponline Webshop needed a specific program code and lots of skills about harmonica technical design. Crucial point: Harmonicas seem to be very simple instruments, however the insides are much more complicated as it looks like.

In 2006, Jochen Pollex built the shop into a CMS-kind of framework, which enabled a integrated design and navigation for all parts of the Webpage (Blog, Workshops, Newsletter, Customers presentation, etc.). From now on it was possible to link from the informational parts of the page directly into product selling, which boosted the conversion rates dramatically. At the same time, telephone requests got reduced, which helped to increase the at all times tight resources.

As of 2007 all further software developments were continued by the owner himself.
At that time the Harponline Tuning Designer came into being. A tool, that takes orders of individually tuned instruments, put in by the customer himself. This feature reduced the error rate to almost zero, because it designed a production sheet automatically in real time directly from the customers inpu.

Visit the Tuning Designer


Infotainment as a Distribution Tool

Harponline was a radical cut regarding the mindset of harmonica marketing until the years around the millenium:

  • The harmonica is regarded as a cheap, nailed up throw away instrument:
    A black box.
  • The harmonica is a widely spread, however not established as a ''real'' instrument in a philharmonic sense, more a toy.
  • Challenging musical performance can not be demanded.

The manufacturers had totally missed the following more or less silent evaluations inside the harmonica market:

  • Increasing labour costs had made the harmonicas quite expensive.
  • Harmonicas had been deeply rooted with Blues, Rock and electronic music and were firmly established in the most musical styles since the Golden Sixties, an almost classical instrument.
  • The introduction and implementation of new playing technics by harmonica players like Franz Chmel and Howard Levy had put the instrument on a significant higher level. According, the market demands in technical quality had been increased and the complaints in internet newsgroups were all of a sudden a business relevant public topic. Especially the notorious early breaks of harmonica reeds and the totally missing service concepts made an overkill of the quality harmonica market imminent.

This ''service hole'' was the obstetrician of a marketing idea:

  • Harmonicas should be constructed in a way that they can be dismantled and reassembled without quality dammage.
  • For the harmonica industry obviously isn''t capable to produce good instruments combined with an appropriate price, players and customers have to accept the follow ups:
    • The product a player buys in a shop is not an instrument yet: It''s a green body.
    • t
    • The product has to be modified by the player to his individual playing styles.
    • Only after this modification process, the instriument is fully usable and even worth some upgrade fees.

Triggering an online campaign including promoting all technical skills was the first step of Harponline. In 2001, the first Harponline labeled page went online, featuring the Harponline Harmonica Service Workshops.


Harponline and the Social Network

During the late 1990ties the number of Internet accounts exploded.

  • 1995 Germany -> 1,8 m accounts
  • 2005 Germany -> 69 m accounts

Worldwide the year 2000 counted 27 m Internet servers.

The active members of the small niche market of about 2 Million active harmonica players worldwide (1 person per 30.000 inhabitants) all of a sudden could communicate in real time as if they where living in one community.

This communication took place

  • per email
  • per newsgroups
  • per mailinglista
  • inside forums

Inside the growing english and german speaking online harmonica scene, soon three opinion leaders established.

Fired by the immediate communication possibilties all of a sudden all experiences and informations regarding playing skills and instrument technology were available to everyone.
Very soon, the following evaluation happened:

  • Customers expressed their demands regarding harmonicas very clear.
  • Solutions for existing problems and challenges werern
    • drafted
    • discussed
    • and mainstream demands got spotlighted.

Harponline consequently took up these social media mainstream demands and transferred them into its product management.
At Harponline, the customers could find latest trends first on an informational base, later as items in a web shop. The company was listening to its customers needs without any compromises.

The strategy paid: In 2003 Harponline was already informational leader among static webpages. The year 2010 left Harponline with more than 7000 customers. 50% outside Germany, 25% overseas, outside Europe.
This correlates to a market of 210 m people.

Harponline never invested a remarkable amount into print advertising. The partaking in the Social Harmonica Networks online made Harponline the market leader among the pure harmonica traders since 2003. In Germany, Harponline was the top-selling company behind the European market leader, Thomann Company.


Harponline - a economical experiment

Harponline employed only one human resource: the owner.

What ever had to be done: Human resource was the tightest merchandise in the company.
The close and friendly relationship between the owners, his family and the customers, triggered by the social networks and the intimate feelings to be part of a new age of harmonica development, it became part of the company philosophy to include customers into ordering and manufacturing processes as much as possible.

  • The customers provided via web shop commissioning and acceptance of orders automatically.
  • The FAQ and workshop section in the Internet handled the basic product advices.
  • Advertising is done by newsletter campaigns, the Harponline Blog and the steady communication in newsgroups and forums.
  • Repairmen are the customers in first place.
    Top-selling spare parts were available directly beneath the new instruments offered in the web shop.
  • Very few warranty and returns, because the typical Harponline customer had a do it yourself attitude anyway.
    Otherwise, a profitable worldwide distribution would not have been possible.

This extremely slim marketing concept however had some barbs that heavily pressed the business success: The comparability of prices in the Internet made it hard not to sell on price and lifting up the profits into a kind of comfort zone to invest into employees and business infrastructure.

In 2010 the Harponline marketing concept seems to have reached its limits, facing a sales growth of 20% annually. Michael Timler, the owner of Harponline, joins harmonica manufacturer and world market leader, Hohner company in Trossingen/Germany.

The Hohner management had realized the signs of times!