TL; DR: TONIC, founded in 2013, serves up beautiful, professional designs without the agency price tag. The company empowers users to customize their sites with zero coding knowledge via a clever combination of the Showit site-builder and WordPress. TONIC’s ultimate goal is to provide customers with stylish and functional websites crafted to give customers their best shot at online success.
If you’ve ever tried your hand at drag-and-drop website building, you know that the process is exhilarating at first — but the outcome can be downright sobering.
Maybe you’ve spent hours tooling around only to realize you’ve created something utterly boring. Or you’re ready to publish but can’t get that one graphic to align properly with the text beside it. As a result, you end up frustrated, burned out, and uninspired.
Much like good bartenders, the folks at TONIC are helping customers kick things up a notch — in this case, with a menu of fully customizable cocktail-themed websites.
“It helps people get an idea of the vibe and style of a website,” said Jen Olmstead, Co-Founder at TONIC. “When you see a template called Margarita, you know it’s going to be fun, vibrant, delicious. The response we’ve had has been immediate and huge.”
Jen creates all templates in tandem with design partner Jeff Shipley: She begins with type, he with photo curation, and they meet somewhere in between.
Together, they’ve created an entire collection of high-end website designs. The Manhattan, for example, is described as “editorial, confident, sexy;” the Vodka Soda as “clean, minimalist, cool.” Fitting to the brand, there’s something to suit almost every taste.
Getting started is simple. Users can get an idea of what’s right for them with TONIC’s brand cocktail quiz, a bubbly, 60-second exercise that helps users zero in on an appropriate online aesthetic and strategy.
A Cure for Website-Induced Embarrassment
Jen and Jeff, both custom website designers, met online after frequenting some of the same online social circles. Realizing they were an exquisite pairing, the two joined forces in business just a month or so after they first met in person at a West Coast design retreat.
“We always joke that this is the best worst idea that we’ve ever had — we barely knew each other, but we jumped into a long-term partnership,” she said. “One of us could have been an ax murderer!”
Still, the two forged ahead with a plan to redefine the website template. Back then, DIY website solutions were still in their infancy in terms of sophistication — as Jen put it, “the website template industry was kind of a barren wasteland.” While that meant business was booming for Jen and Jeff, the duo recognized it wasn’t a sustainable arrangement for customers.
“We were both getting an overflow of work,” Jen said. “And as a people pleaser, I hate saying no. There were all these talented creatives, and if they couldn’t afford a website, or if they couldn’t find the right website designer, they were saddled with these boring template websites that did nothing to showcase them at their best or attract their ideal client.”
Jen and Jeff sought to strike a balance between custom websites in the $20,000 range and the cheap, rigid WordPress templates with which the internet was rife.
“We knew there had to be a middle ground between beautiful custom websites and those that you’re ashamed of and don’t want to send people to,” she said. “So we set out to eradicate website shame.”
A Spirited Take on Website-Building Technology
Today, TONIC delivers customizable sites created to scale with your businesses at an entrepreneur-friendly price point. The technology behind the platform makes it easy to do so, layering the drag-and-drop site builder Showit over WordPress to form a unique website infrastructure.
Jen told us this technology has evolved in step with the web industry over the years.
“From the beginning, we were designing for Showit, a little-known platform that was primarily Flash-based at the time,” she said. “After Google stopped supporting Flash, Showit had to pivot, which meant we had to pivot. And so we did, and they’ve now built an incredibly complex and super powerful HTML5 platform that’s powered by WordPress. It basically does everything — and does it all well.”
Integration with the Showit website builder allows users to manage their domain and host their sites with Amazon Web Services (AWS) servers. Jen said the process is straightforward and intuitive. “About 91% of our clients do it all themselves,” she said.
That ease of use proves helpful for TONIC’s audience of entrepreneurs.
“We increasingly see agencies using our designs, but we primarily serve entrepreneurs,” Jen told us. “We also have clients who have become affiliates of ours, and to some extent, we’ve been able to serve their audiences as well.”
Jen said TONIC worked closely with its growing client base as many entrepreneurs moved their businesses online at the start of the pandemic.
“You may not be able to control all aspects of your business, you may not be able to control the economy, but you can control what your client finds when they look for you online,” she said. “That’s one of the aspects we love the most — putting website design control in the consumer’s hands.”
Removing Barriers to Online Success
TONIC currently offers several attractive features, from customizable designer templates to no-code drag-and-drop building and responsive, SEO-focused designs. But Jen said underlying all these features is a strong focus on creating opportunity.
“With TONIC, you have limitless potential in an industry that’s always felt limited,” she said. “Maybe you’ve been limited by your knowledge, or you’ve been limited by what your website can do functionally. In most cases, like with Squarespace, you’re designing in a box. We thought, ‘What if that box didn’t exist and you could do anything that you wanted to do?’”
A customer recently reached out to the TONIC team to express how the platform has eliminated roadblocks to business growth.
“She’d been in business for 10 years and was going to shut her doors this year,” Jen said. “She had lost her passion for it and felt limited by the fact that with Shopify, she couldn’t achieve the vision she had in her mind.”
Purchasing a TONIC site bolstered her business confidence.
“She said, ‘This is the first time that I feel like my potential as a business is limitless, that I can grow, I can scale, I can do anything that I want to do. What I’m showing people online matches that vision. And I can make it match the vision I have in another year from now, not just right now.’”
New: A Refreshed Template Collection
Jen and Jeff update TONIC’s template collection twice a year.
The latest collection launched June 13 and features many additions based on customer feedback.
“We’re including a lot of smaller add-on pages,” she said. “Some people wanted a quiz results page. Others needed a beautiful proposal template. People want to stay on-brand so that every client touchpoint feels cohesive. And so that’s something that we’re really focused on creating.”