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132 Will Tjernlund on Selling to Amazon Directly – Part 1 of 3

Today, we have one of the giants in Amazon, Will Tjernlund. He’s a man that is always ahead of the curve and is always willing to help the rest of us catch up. This isn’t Will’s first time on the show, you can find his last interview in episode 45, and episode 46.

The big trend coming to 2017 will be selling to Amazon directly using Vendor Express, Vendor Seller, AMS, and all these other buzzwords we have to learn now. 

First off, why is it a good idea to sell to Amazon directly?

Will says that it’s inevitable. Eventually, Amazon does want to source and sell themselves. If you can get ahead of the curve and get on their side early, it will only help you in the future. It’s one of those things that you know you’re going to do it three years from now, and you’re going to ramp up three years from now, why not go ahead and do it today. Will’s of the mindset that if you’re going to have to do it in three years, then do it now and be the expert in three years when everyone has to do it.

What’s behind the statement that it’s inevitable?

Because it’s their game plan. If you read The Everything Store, Jeff Bezos’ biography, he talks about it being the game plan to make it easier for third-party sellers to sell on their marketplace, take care of the annoying aspects like fulfillment, customer service, storage, and marketing.

Then, all they need is us third party sellers, essentially, glorified sourcing agents, to find the best SKUs and see what sells the best. Then they start from the top and decide if this product is easy enough to manufacture that they just want to come out with their own Amazon Basics version of it, or if they want to work with the biggest brands in that category and source their products directly.

So, if you’re not selling directly to Amazon, eventually they are just going to try to squeeze you out.

Third-party sales are becoming a bigger part of Amazon, something like 50% of sales were from third-party sellers this past Christmas season, but from the different advantages Vendor Seller gives you and the heads up if gives you, and also that it works better with Amazon’s business model, it’s for sure, the way of the future.

What you’re saying is that you want to be one of these big brands that Amazon goes to for sourcing, because it’s easier to source from you than from the Chinese, is that correct?

Right. Just think of a general catalogue, think of kitchen knives. Like a block with 10 knives in it for $29.99. Amazon can come out with that knife block for $29.99 and then there will be, like German manufacturers with brand names.

The customer has to decide if they want to get those cheap Amazon knives, do they want to get the expensive German knives, or something in between. That’s were you, as a third-party seller, has the advantage. You can offer that middle product that better than Amazon’s version, but not as expensive as the German brand. You make sure it’s good quality and all your packaging looks good, and Amazon buys directly from you because you’re filling a gap in the market.

Are you trying to find those mid-points in the market between Amazon basics and the expensive brands? Is that the general strategy?

It’s different for every category. For that category, that may be the best route taken. Also, think of it this way, when you jump on Vendor Express and get upgraded to Vendor Central in six months and you’re selling directly to Amazon, then everyone else who is selling those mid-level knives will get blown out of the water because yours are going to be shipped and sold by Amazon.

Two or three years down the line you’re going to have a lot more reviews than everyone because you’re shipped and sold by Amazon. They do different sales and they do different marketing things to push your products. Then, when these other mid-level sellers try to jump on Vendor Central, Amazon doesn’t want to work with them because you’ve got them covered.

How do you find these gaps in the market that works with this business model?

Will’s been taking a roundabout way by looking for big brand names that have terrible accounts and I go and consult with those companies. He will offer to run their Amazon accounts. He will then optimize their listings, fix violations, and get everything back in stock. From their, he’s been using these big brand companies as his private label arm. He will suggest new products. If they’re selling a bunch of kitchen accessories, he will suggest another one, which is smart for them since they own their own factories. They then will fly to China to get samples, and then buy every product on the first page of Amazon as comparison.

Right now, Will is looking for niches of these companies that he is already consulting for, let them handle the research and development, and he looks for products that are within their wheelhouse, but not being manufactured yet.

Let’s say they sell 40 different types of ladles, he will suggest a slotted spoon. He’ll look up that product on Jungle Scout, and find their review-to-revenue ratio. Check the revenue to review ratio: Let’s say slotted spoons have 10,000 reviews and $100,000 revenue a month, so $100 revenue to review ratio is good. He takes that information to the company and shows them that there isn’t much competition, it has proven sales, and it’s in the category they are already selling in.

Will uses the review-to-revenue ratio as a way to quickly gauge the lifecycle of a product and it’s maturity. Determine if it’s easy to ship. If every listing on the first page is being sold by Amazon, then you’re probably too late. From there you look at every facet and see if will work, and if you can’t find anything wrong with it, it’s worth a shot.

Do you have any other criteria you use to judge a product?

Will likes to find products that you have to explain what it is. It’s that niched down. 

Would that not lead to negative reviews, if you have to explain it to the customers?

It wouldn’t be unusual within the niche. For example, a little tool that is only used for cutting fly fishing rod lines. Yeah, it’s a weird product. It’s a small piece of metal with a blade. It’s costs $.50 to make and the guy is buying it for $10. Not much by the way of sales, but there’s no competition and it’s $8 profit.

It also has to have a very specific keyword that the customer searches for. A woman recently came up to Will talking about her product that was a wireless bluetooth headset that you can sleep in. When asked how a customer would search for that, she replied with “bluetooth sleeping headphones that are wireless.” The problem with that is it’s too specific, no one will search for that, and you can’t rank with “bluetooth headphones” or with “wireless headphones” as as that’s too general/generic. Since she didn’t have a keyword in mind, she could even do a revenue-to-review ratio because she did know where to start.

First, we’re searching for keyword niches and then finding products to fit, is that right?

Exactly. Will recently started climbing and there is a tool called a grigri. Now, no ones knows what a grigri is, but if you’re in mountain climbing, everyone know what it is. Plus, how easy is it to rank for this very specific word, grigri? No one else is going for it. Anyone who searches for it, knows what it is and wants to buy, and if someone doesn’t know what it is, they wouldn’t need it anyway. Also, if no one know to search for it, then there isn’t any private labelers nipping at my ankles, looking it up on Jungle Scout.

That’s a really good strategy since there’s no competition, and I would imagine conversion rates are really high since the only people searching for it know exactly what they want.

Yep, and it works really well with US brands. Will contacts these climbing brands that have been in the niche for years, and they’re selling these harnesses for $140 when they sell them wholesale for $40 because they have this established brand. So, no one knows who Black Diamond Climbing is, but every mountain climber knows who they are. So when someone searches for them on Amazon, they are astounded that they can get the entire cataloge because no one else carries as much. From Will’s perspective, it’s amazing. There is high demand, he doesn’t have to do any research and development, and he can still make huge margins, and he only has to place an order once a month with a U.S. based distributor.

How do you begin to develop the relationships with these wholesalers and distributors? And what kind of capital do you need to get started?

Many of these distributors have very small minimum-order quantities. One particular company said their average yearly order volume from one of their distributors is $2500.

Will finds them by searching through Amazon. As he’s looking for climbing stuff, he notices that these major brands have three of the five bullet points filled out, their out of stock, or they have one of the five images. All sorts of these red flags exist and they tell you that these Amazon accounts are being managed poorly and they don’t understand the Amazon ecosystem.

It’s easy enough to contact these companies, become a distributor, and send them a message. Tell them who you are and that you were looking to buy one of their products on Amazon and saw that it was a mess. Let them know about the issues you found and that you can help them get their account in order. Ask them to make you the only distributor on Amazon, you won’t screw over the brick-and-mortar store by selling their product too low, you’ll pay up front, and keep their product in stock. All the things you can promise them that their distributors can’t promise them. These other sellers are only using them and not adding any value whereas you can actually add value to their company. You can be this A+ consultant, but you’re paying them instead of them paying you.

Another selling point is that it’s in their best interest to work exclusively with you. You can make sure to keep their listing looking good and their prices at the right level. They wouldn’t let big-box stores carry their products if they didn’t know who was selling it, at what price, or what the packaging looked like.

It really seems like these companies don’t understand e-commerce, or at least Amazon.

Imagine you’re a big mountain climbing company that specializes in making the best carabiner. You have been in business since 1975, you have 10 people working in manufacturing, 1 person in accounting, 1 person in HR, and 5 people in sales. Each salesperson has their region in the U.S. and they call up local shops asking if they want to place an order. Their whole job is to get as many accounts under their belt as possible. Then, all of these distributors start selling out the backdoor, and now they have 40 people selling on Amazon. This puts the company in a tough situation. They told these stores that they can only sell in the store. They can’t cut them off because they have been doing business for 40 years and they want as many accounts as possible. However, the Amazon market is hurting their brand.

These old-school companies will gladly sell to you because they still have the mentality of “sell to everyone,” but some will question the sale if you are selling it on Amazon because of this issue.

What do you say to those companies that are hesitant?

A lot of these companies don’t know the first thing about Amazon. They will contact seller support and demand they stop sellers from selling their products.

How do you deal with that? My understanding is that you can sell any product on Amazon.

There are some gated brands like Nike or Louis Vuitton, and there is no way you can sell their stuff on Amazon. You can go onto Amazon and gate your brand. If you explain that customers are getting hurt by counterfeits, then they will likely approve it. Make sure to put in the customer first mentality and use the word counterfeit and you’ll have a better chance.

Would you do that yourself, or would you persuade the brand to do it?

It depends on the company. When Will calls up these companies, he just feels them out on how they want to go about it. They might just want him to be a distributor, that’s fine. Or they might want him to be a distributor only if he can keep the price high, that’s a different conversation. Or they might want him to run their Amazon account, but it’s all going to be under their brand. Each time a company will ask for something different, and usually he will say yes because they are simple things. You just have to feel the company out.

If they’re making $20 million in sales on Amazon, then they’re making enough money to go and hire a whole team. Until they get to that point, it’s better to hire a someone like Will to handle it. It’s not worth it to take six months to hire and train a team when they don’t even know what to train them on. 

Basically, you’re offering to be their Amazon front-end allowing them to focus on what they best.

Exactly. Amazon is like this big scary monster in retail. Instead of them trying to deal with it, Will is like the band-aid on the wound. They are sick of dealing with it, it’s not working with their business model. Just hand over that part of the business to an expert that will take care of everything. All they have to do is deposit a check.

#100 Adam Hudson on Amazon Basics Pt. 4

To find out more of Adam’s own strategies and tactics, CLICK HERE

Reviews are a major part of any strategy and you mentioned earlier that you want enough reviews to seem viable. Is that correct and could you expand on that?

Yes. It hard to seem credible if you have five reviews and everyone else has 100, so you have to work for those reviews.

How much is enough? And what do you do now that incentivised reviews have been removed?

How many depends on the product. It depends on what page one looks like for you products’ search terms. There is still opportunity out there. There are a lot of products with low reviews that are still dominating. Adam would use ilovetoreview.com, which he also owns, to get 25 reviews for products in the UK and 50 in the US.

Find out more of Adam’s latest thinking HERE

It’s only in the US that incentivised reviews are gone and it’s only compulsory reviews. There are other services that never guarantee the review but would push out your products at a discounted rate or for free. It’s not clear how it works, but it seem that after you get around 25 or 30 sales in a day then you products get a jump start and the sales keep rolling in. So even if you’re not getting a guaranteed review, there is still value in pushing your products out at a discounted rate.

Adam can only speak to his community at ilovetoreview.com, but the reviewers have been doing this for three years where they use the coupon, get the product, and write the review. So, they will probably continue to do so even though it can no longer be required.

Companies will continue to do this even if the review rate drops in half. Adam’s company has a review rate of 87% meaning 87% of products that were pushed out came back as a review. With these new rules, that will likely drop. And if it drops in half that means you will just have to send out twice as many products. This is a one-time investment for something that can generate income for life.

Another tip from Adam is to follow up with you customers via email. Especially in the UK, they are very responsive to this. Zonguru (which Adam also own) has this automation built in.

Every time you make a sale it can send an email when it ships, six days later following up with any issues,and 14 days later asking for a review.

Not only will this help in getting reviews, but it allows you to get ahead of any issues with the product, say if the box was damaged or the product wasn’t right, allowing you to take care of the issue without before going through Amazon’s return system.

Adam tries to casual in his style in his emails. Just a quick “Hey, how are you doing? Just wanted to make sure everything is good with the product.” He doesn’t try to sound like a big company with huge copy in the email, just a quick message like you would send to an acquaintance. 

The bogeyman in all this, as Adam puts it, is that Amazon can change this against this type of thing. They have already sued a bunch a review companies last year. All they have to do is make a change in the algorithm that scrutinizes those reviews that have reviewed an above average amount of products, and out of those, how many used a coupon and just wipe out those reviews. They can just remove reviews of people who are just reviewers.

No one knows how things will work out, but sellers will just have to adjust. They will still have to do product launches, just like every company in the world when they launch a new product. You just have to follow up and encourage your customers to leave a review. You only need 25 – 50 –  if you need more than that you’ve gone into the wrong niche.

As you say-  Amazon has the ability to wipe out these reviews if it chooses. It just drives the point, that at the end of the day it comes down to organic reviews and organic sales.

Yes. Just make great products that people like. It’s that simple. And don’t be impatient. Adam likes the way this is because it knocks out all the people that think they can get rich quick on terrible products. It’s about putting in the work. Putting in the effort. That gives him the freedom to sit around all day, and look at his seller account and see that he made $3,000 in  a day.

You mentioned earlier that you teach this stuff. How do you do that? Is it live webinars, live courses, group training?

He has a company called Reliable Education. The aim is to give people a realistic expectation going in and tell them the truth.

On the website, you can enroll in a free training program that is four videos where he shows you his home and drives you around where he lives in Australia.

He educates you on what the Amazon opportunity is, how to find products and his criteria for that. He teaches you about “Velicity Retailing” which is how to compound your capital over time.

All this leads to a paid programme which is an online course where you get access to about 90 videos that show you Chinese factories and how a 3D printer is made and a lot of very cool stuff.

It includes a private Facebook community and will link you with a mastermind group that they cap at seven people. Everyone signs a NDA so they can freely talk about what their companies are doing and talk on Google Hangouts or in person, and they’re all trained with the same philosophy of not being opportunistic, not get rich quick. They are solid people that want to build solid businesses.

They also have 12 coaching webinars with each member of the course. They have an onboarding program for every new member. There are two guys whose job it is to call every new member and talk to them and get a feel for them. They also have a program where they loan money to a 3rd-world entrepreneur, interest-free, and gets paid back over time. People seem to find a lot of value since their refund rate is less than 5%.

How do listeners get hold of you or find out more about you?

Just at reliable.education. Adam doesn’t really use Twitter etc. so you can’t catch him there – sounds like he’s more likely to be on his boat!

#99 Adam Hudson on Amazon Basics Pt. 3

So you mentioned you started with $20,000 when you started your first company and I often tell people that you need at least $5,000 to start, which is a manageable figure for many people, but is that a viable number for people to start out with?

It is. You just need to do a lot of research. Adam uses Zonguru, which he owns, which is similar to AMZ Tracker and Jungle Scout if they had Feedback Genius built in. You need to track something like 100 – 200 products.

Spend hours tracking products and going to Amazon and Alibaba.com Use Pinterest, that is a great resource. If you want to sell coffee cups, just do a search for cool coffee cups, and people have built boards with all these designs they like. They are literally giving you the products they want to buy.

Adam isn’t interested in tracking the number 1 product. He’s is looking at the number 4 or 5 listing and he sometimes goes to the second page. He doesn’t like tracking products with a lot of reviews. He prefers niche products where if you were to count all the reviews for every product on page one, he wants the average to be below 60 or 70.

You can LOOK HERE For more detailed training from Adam. 

In the UK, you would probably adjust those numbers down. Simply put, it’s not worth it to go into the huge niches with a lot of competition and products are doing $20,000 or $30,000 a month. He is more interested in a smaller portfolio of products where each product is doing $5,000 or $10,000 a month. He’s happy having ten products doing $3,000 a month. A more stable business with lower, but consistent sales day in and day out.

Some sellers in the US have found their products have a life cycle of about three to six months. Have you found similar results? And how do you defend against competitors coming in, driving the prices down and advertising costs up?

Adam hasn’t found that in his experience. Most people want quick success and they aren’t willing to do the labour that he does. He will labour over a logo and package design and he will take a month to get another sample and other people just aren’t willing to put in that kind of work.

One unique thing he does when he gets a quote from a supplier is to offer them more money. If they tell him that it’ll be $4 if will ask if they can do it for $5 and explain that he wants the best possible product. The best quality control and the best possible outcome. No cutting corners. Taking that extra step to make the product the best it can possibly be.

The response he gets is remarkable because that extra dollar could double their margin and it’s only a dollar that he has to get back on the retail end, and he could get $10 because of the superior quality.

One thing you have to be wary of with these gurus is their ability to misrepresent their earnings. They could talk about how much of a margin they’re making but leave out the cost of acquiring new customers. Sometimes they may be losing money whenever the get a sale from an ad because the ad costs are so high.

Find out more about how Adam gets these results.

In the US many sellers aren’t making any money from sales that come from ads, and it seems like the only money they’re making is coming from their organic sales. So, tell us about what needs to be measured, and once you measure it, how do you deal with it?

The first step, with any business, is to write down what kind of life you want to have. You may want to make as much money as you can. But that means you will be working as much as you can.

Adam made his decision early on that he didn’t want hundreds of products because it’s too much stress. He also didn’t want hundreds of keywords that he was bidding on in PPC because he didn’t want to spend his day going through PPC reports and optimizing his keywords. For his products, he bids on 10 words, exact match. He doesn’t do any broad match advertising.

He is aware that he is missing sales but he doesn’t care because it will be eating into why he got into the business. Because of that, his ACoS is really low he hardly spends anything. Be sure to read Adam’s blog post about how advertising costs can eat into your margin.

You cut off everything that doesn’t make a profit, so how do you drive sales volume? How do you drive traffic to your listing?
Amazon does it. He has twice the conversion as everyone else because he only does exact match keywords, so if someone sees his listing they are looking for that exact product. Lke he mentioned before, he is charging twice as much as he next competitor. Therefore, it is better for Amazon to drive traffic to him because they can send have the amount of customers and get the same conversion and make the same amount of  money per sale. It all comes back to having the best product.

(More of Adam’s insights are at reliable.education)

#98 Adam Hudson of Reliable Education on Amazon Basics Pt. 2

Get Adam’s Latest thoughts HERE

So, the first thing is to have a great product, what’s the next thing?

The next thing is to have great photography. Not good photos, not the best you can do, but great photography.

The best that you can possibly get. If you look at AirBnB for example, one of the decisions they made early on was to send professional photographers to the homes to take photos. In the beginning, people weren’t booking because the photos weren’t good enough. As soon as they started offering that to the AirBnB hosts, their business took off.

Another flaw in the course gurus is that they sold Amazon short. They said you can come in with $1000 and be making $30,000 a month in six months and that’s just not true. What Adam tells people is that is you can start with $5,000 and in the first year you can rotate that money at 30% margin in a year, that’s a win.

CLICK HERE for more details on Adam’s approach to Amazon on his “Reliable Education” site.

Warren Buffett is the greatest investor in the world and one of the richest men in the world. If you look at his record he is trading at 20% a year. If you’re doing it at 30% then you’re doing better than Warren Buffett. As you get better you’ll be able to rotate that twice in a year then you’re doing 60%.

If you sit down with a compounding calculator and do the math on if you start with $5,000 or $10,000 you can see that you have an amazing vehicle at your disposal.

However, a lot of these “gurus” are telling people they’re failures if you’re not making $20,000 or $30,000 a month in your first year.

You mentioned that you started with 6 products and turned that into a million dollars a year, so I would assume that you put substantial capital into that.

In fact, it’s at $1,000,000 a year “run rate”, ie, it now turns over about $83,000 a month.

Adam figures that he started that business with about $60,000. This was a different company. He has a completely different brand that he’s been running for about three years and he started that one with $20,000. At this point, he hasn’t taken any money from it. Except for a $20,000 loan from Amazon that he accepted just to see what it was about, he has been compounding that initial capital. Right now he has hundreds of thousands of dollars in inventory paid for in distribution center around the world.

The only other person I’ve talked to about compounding your money is Will Tjernlund. If you took that $60,000 and after a year turned it into $80,000 a month that clearly is a tremendous success. How on earth did you manage that?

Adam is experienced at this point, with his numerous business adventures, and experience comes from activity and time and anybody can learn to do that if you stick with it (learn more from Adam here at Reliable Education)

The difference, according to Adam, is that Will farms a product. He’ll throw 20 or 30 products out there and two or three will be a hit. He clears the rest out and starts over.

Adam wanted to build a brand with a small number of products. He currently has six products with an average cost of $8 and retails for $40 with one about $129. Adam’s strategy is to build his brand around a few products and get them to page one and keep them there. Last time he checked, Will had around 1700 SKUs. He didn’t want to think about what that was like, to wake up and have to monitor 1700 SKUs.

How do you find potential products?

To be successful, it’s about paying attention to the details and being objective. If you look at AirBnB and everything that makes it successful, then reverse engineer that and unpack it to find every component, that kinda what you have to do with Amazon. For example, AirBnB hired pro photographers to go every single place listed on the site!

Too many sellers go in with the wrong mentality. They go in think they need to make this product in this price range and that’s all wrong because you’re building a product around your limitations and needs rather than the wants and the desires of the customer.

Adam as two or three products that are on page one for the biggest term they’re on. Now, the top couple spots are taken up by his products and he sells them two in a box while his competitors sell it four or six to a box. His product is $40, the next person is $20, and everyone else is cheaper than that. He is at least twice as much as his competitors and is selling half as many.

For more details, CLICK HERE

This almost mirrors Kevin King in regards to the ideas behind the photos and going against conventional wisdom. How did you find these products in the first place?

Some people will misunderstand what he is saying, and you can find out more in his course at reliable.education. They think they just need to charge more. However, you must have a clear reason that a customer will give you more money. It’s more than headlines or you saying it’s better.

Many of these products are bought as a gift. The person is intending to gift the item to someone. Like with a ring from Tiffany’s, you paying for the box as much as you are the ring. So every aspect needs to be thought about. Don’t get on Fiverr and pay someone $15 for a logo. His philosophy is pay once for the best.

Write amazing briefs for everything from accounts to designers. Articulate exactly what you expect from them. If you hire a designer, the work is only going to be as good as the brief you give them. If you spend a little extra on the packaging, you can really impress your customers and all this goes to building a brand.
Sellers make the wrong assumption that no one has money and are looking for the cheapest product and that’s just incorrect. Now, this doesn’t apply to all products, not all products need to go to the extent, but at least make sure your logo is top notch.

(To get more training from Adam, go to reliable.education )

#86 The Amazon Reviewer’s Perspective with Augustas Kligys – Part 1

Augustas’s Background

Augustas is originally from Lithuania and moved to Germany because that is where his wife is from. He has moved around a lot and is quite the digital nomad.

For access to the European Summit with special bonuses for Amazing FBA listeners, click here.

About a year ago he learned that he could get free stuff from Amazon sellers after looking into doing FBA. He never started his Amazon business, instead he got into doing reviews. He found Facebook groups for German products and decided to give it a shot. He saw one seller looking offering a hands-free bluetooth device for cars and applied for it and got it. After that he started looking for other items that he needed around the house. He began to realize how much value he was giving to the sellers after they began messaging him, thanking him for his reviews and asking him if he wanted to review another product for him. He is a top 400 reviewer in Germany, currently 320 and organizer of the European Private Label Summit!

For access to the summit, with special bonuses for Amazing FBA listeners, click here

Has it changed now that you’re more established?

Since Augustas is a top 400 reviewer, he is able to make his email public and sellers can contact him for reviews. Whereas before he would have to hunt for products to review. When he first got started he didn’t have any reviews in his profile so sellers weren’t as interested in working with him. He would started leaving reviews for any product he bought so that he could start building his profile. He would hunt for any product he could review and as he ranked higher and higher he began receiving emails to review products. Now, on average, he gets about 8 emails a day.

What kind of products turn you off?
What are the best kinds of products that attract you to review them?

Each reviewer has different things they look for. Some will end up selling the item on eBay whereas Augustas will see if he needs it around the house or if he can give them as presents. Though if it’s an expensive item, he might consider reviewing it even though he doesn’t need it with the intention of selling it.

Another thing to consider is the price. Since Augustas puts so much effort into his reviews, he reserves an hour for each one. If it’s a less expensive product, maybe €10, he is more likely to just buy the product outright. If you have a lower priced item, you might get better results from looking in reviewer clubs and Facebook pages rather than the top reviewers. However, some top reviewers will do lower priced items, so it’s always a good idea to check out their reviews to get an idea of how the operate.

What are the big turn-offs in emails?

Augustas prefers emails with direct links to the products. Also, make sure they are short. Sometimes the URL is very long and goes for several lines in the email which could get cut off or mishandled by the software. So use a shortening service if you need to. Add a picture of the product so he doesn’t have to go to the URL to see what it is.

Some sellers write longs emails talking about how they saw he was a top seller and how they saw his reviews and going on and on. Leave that off. For Augustas, receiving as many emails as he does, doesn’t read them. He will quickly scan the email, mainly looking for the link. Don’t waste your time and his by writing long emails. Make it short and sweet and have your listing make the sell to him. This goes back to making sure you have a strong listing.

What is the best email approach that you respond to?

For Augustas, it really comes down to the link. He doesn’t really read the email. Since some of the information he needs get lost in the text, he might miss it.

What he is looking for is:

  1. Title of the products
  2. A shortened link directly to the products
  3. A picture
  4. The discount information and coupon code

If you are contacting a reviewer in another country, add a sentence at the bottom of the email apologizing for you poor language skills and note that you are a native speaker. It might not always be useful, but it is for someone like Augustas. He is not a fluent German speaker who writes reviews for the German market. For him it is easier to communicate in English. So by adding the note in the email, he will know that he can contact you in English instead of both of you struggling in attempting to communicate in German, which neither party is fluent. You are more likely to find people that can speak English rather well.

Are there particular review clubs/services that you like as a reviewer?

When Augustas started out, there weren’t any well-established review clubs in Germany so he joined a Facebook group. Then one-by-one the clubs began popping up and he started joining them. The one he likes is amzreviews.co.uk or amzreviewtrader.com in the US. It’s a global platform and you can choose your market. It has a great search feature, big pictures, and it lists how much it will cost. You can apply to be a reviewer and if the seller approves you, you will get an email. Then you go back to the platform and get the coupon code, order the products, and submit the review link.

The problem with this platform is there are thousands of products, so if you know what you want it’s easy to find. However, there is a good chance that you are missing out on some great products.

What about red flags/warning signs?

The only thing Augustas really warns against is spam email. Sometimes you can get that with some of these review clubs since you are putting your email out there. Just make sure you protect yourself.

On a sidenote, Augustas made sure it was known that you need to treat the reviewers like customers. Listen to their feedback. Augustas mentioned that he was dealing with a seller who sent a product without the necessary adapter to make it work and expect him to solve the issue. On the reverse side, he was reviewing a tote bag that had a hole in it when it arrived and within hours the seller had gotten back to him and shipped a new one. As a seller, do not treat your reviewers like the first example. These people are putting a lot of effort into reviewing your product so please respect their time. Also, you run the risk getting a negative review from them.

How do you deal with Amazon ToS? Have you ever had a review removed because you got it for free?

Augustas has over 200 reviews and has never had an issue with one getting removed or any seller coming to him after the fact about a review. Augustas uses ARAT software to monitor his reviews and those of other top sellers and hasn’t noticed any issues with his reviews.

Sometimes the reviews get stuck in Amazon’s system. In the US and UK, reviews will be published within 6 hours, in Germany it’s a bit longer. So if he notices his reviews haven’t been published he has to contact Amazon or else they will never be published. He also noticed that some of his reviews weren’t listed as verified purchase. He mostly saw this when he ordered from the UK market rather than the German. But after the market was released, it showed up as verified.

Keep that in mind when working with the reviewers. Make sure to approach them respectfully if it appears they haven’t left a review because it would be a glitch in Amazon’s system. SO if they say they left a review but you don’t see it, ask them to contact Amazon directly because they may be a reason the reviews got stuck. For example, Augustas had a review get stuck because two of the pictures were too dark. Another got stuck because he showed the website address in his video.

For access to the European Summit with special bonuses for Amazing FBA listeners, click here.

#80 How to prep for Amazon UK with Greg Jones – Part 2

What are the major freight paperwork and how do we overcome those?

If you are using a courier or one of the freight professionals, they do all that for you. You don’t have to worry about the various paperwork, custom claims, etc. This is a skill these guys have been working on for years, they can do it better and more efficiently than you, so let them do it. UPS is around £11 per shipment for customs clearance. DHL is right around there as are most of the others. Since you’re importing the product, most of the paperwork is done by the exporter and you’ll end up with the VAT and the duty. Both of these are calculate off the commercial invoice.

One thing the Chinese like to do to be nice, is send the shipment as samples. If they are a sample, that’s fine. However, if you’re shipment is 500 units, that clearly isn’t a sample. At some point, the guys at HMRC are going to catch on and you may end up with penalties as well as your future shipments getting more scrutiny causing delays.

You have a proper business, so you want to make sure you do things by the book. It may cost you more in duties, but you want to build your business on solid ground.

Another they offer is to lower the cost of the invoice to stay under a certain value at which point things become more complicated. Is that something to avoid as well?

At the end of the day you’re evading taxes, which simply put, is wrong. Also, if you get caught you may end up getting put on a list which will further delay you in the future. If one of the customs officials gets to digging around and realizes your products are valued at more than what was declared, they will put you on a watchlist. Ongoing shipments will be inspected and paperwork will be scrutinized which will hold up your shipment.

Do you need to instruct your suppliers about commercial invoices or will that be checked by DHL or UPS?

A commercial invoice is just like any other invoice. It will detail the value of what your purchased, the goods you purchased, the delivery address, the importer on record’s address, and the commodity code. That is a global code that details what the product is classified as which you can find on the HMRC website. So when the shipment comes in they can charge import duties.

Is that something the Chinese supplier will automatically put on the invoice and get right?

Well… they’ll put it on the invoice. It may not always be right and there is no way of going back and saying this is wrong, so you’ll just have to double-check it and next time you order tell your supplier that they put the wrong commodity code on it. Which could save yourself some money since the import duties can vary depending on this code. It can range from 0-12% on top of VAT.

How is VAT calculated? Is it the value of the goods only? So if I have 500 units that cost $2 a piece, is VAT calculated on that $1000?

It is the commercial invoice value + freight + duty. VAT is calculated on the total of all three.

Is there anything else we need to get on the commercial invoice? Say I order a shipment, sent to your prep company, do I need to make sure all that is on the invoice and how do I communicate that to DHL or whoever?

It does need to be on there, but in Greg’s experience if doesn’t matter. It seems to be a daily battle with FedEx, or DHL trying to get the person on the commercial invoice or airway bill. It doesn’t matte who the consignee is, Greg seems to always get the bill sent to FBA Pep UK at his address. If you look at the paperwork that comes with it, it clearly states the correct customer but they seem to ignore that.

How do you handle that, when you get the invoice in stead of your customer?

It depends on the customer. Some will just pay it which is fine. Even though it’s FBA Prep UK on the bill, they can’t sort it out. The customer has to contact them and tell them that they will accept that invoice.

The biggest takeaway seems to be that it’s best to just use a freight forwarder or use your courier and make sure that your name and the company name is on the paperwork.

Those guys are the professionals. They are doing this day in and day out. Sure you can learn it, but that’s time better spend on your company and sourcing more profitable products.

Another thing you have to worry about is your EORI (Economic Operator Registration and Identification scheme) number. Which is a number supplied by the HMRC (Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs). You can’t apply for one unless you have a shipment coming, and you can’t get your shipment into Europe until you have it. It takes about 3 or 4 days to get it, so as soon as your supplier gives you all the detail on when the shipment is coming from, where it’s going to land, the size of it, the vessel number, take that information and you can apply for your EORI number online.

Small samples should be ok, your couriers can take care of it. Once you start getting bigger shipments coming in, you’ll want to get your own number. It simply for statistical purposes of what come in and goes out of Europe.

On a side not, outsourcing is vital! It’s a waste of time trying to do everything yourself. Some of the simpler tasks, or task that need expertise can be outsourced freeing you up to focus on growing your business. Here is just one example:

This is a 15×15 grid of everything that needs to be done with products. This is why you shouldn’t order 15 different things from AliExpress and why you need help with prep.

For more ambitious sellers what are the biggest challenges when trying to scale up?

What about people who want to import a lot of one product?

Factoring time scales. If your coming by air now, you’re looking at 7-10 days from China to yours or your prep company’s hands. As you scale up you’ll have to start coming by sea which is about 35 days from China to the UK. Then the ship has to be unpacked which is another 5 days. It’s about 40 days from the time the supplier delivers it to the time you take delivery. Obviously, this is something you have to consider. If you’re doing you analysis to determine when you will need more product, you’ll have to add another 30-40 days onto that or risk running out by the time the ship arrives.

If you’re used to doing your own prep, as you scale up the deliveries will get bigger. You’ll start getting them in pallets rather than loose boxes. If you plan on continuing to do it at home, you have to consider how you’re going to offload the truck. It’s no longer going to be a van or small truck, it’ll be coming in artics so access becomes an issue. Also, you have to request a truck with a taillift if you don’t have a forklift. That will cost another £40.

What about those who want to go from a few SKUs to say 10 or 20 but not a huge quantity of each one?

This is common with things like pencils. Where you have one type of product, but 5 or 10 variations. i.e. different colors which Amazon treats as completely different products. Having the product description on the boxes is a huge help. That way if there is a problem with a particular SKU, it’s easier to identify which ones they are without having to open every box.

Whether you’re ordering 500 unit of one product, or 50 units of 10, the challenges are the same. Where the challenges would come and the cost would rise, is if your importing products from different suppliers. Now, there are services that will consolidate for you. You can have four or five different suppliers send everything to these consolidation warehouses. They will consolidate those and export them as one shipment saving you money.

What do you see coming up in the Prep side of Amazon as a problem?

Amazon will start requesting detailed contents of boxes. You can do it now, as an option, and in the US they have started requiring it. Usually if it happens in the US it will happen in the UK. So you will have to communicate that with your supplies to be more clear about what’s in each box especially of you ship directly. They will also requiring packing notes, so when they open the box, they know what’s in it to speed things up on their end.

Brexit will likely have an impact on shipping in Europe.

Amazon announce recently that they will have an air fleet of about 40 planes to ship products themselves. It’s unknown if freight will change much since it’s a fairly stable and established system. However, Amazon will likely try to takeover that.

How can people get hold of you?

Facebook Group
Email: greg@fbaprepuk.com
FBAPrepUK.com

#78 Selling an ecommerce business with Coran Woodmass – Part 2

Who would buy my business?

Typically, from about $20k to $2.5mil, you’re looking at individual investors. Above that, from $2.5 to $5 million there is a bit of a black hole because individual investors don’t have that kind of capital. Some do, but it’s rare. Above that $5 million mark your are looking at private equity firms and larger businesses.

Let’s talk about the $20k to $2.5 million. These individual investors’  primary driver is fear of loss. They don’t want to lose their investment. So they are looking for an ROI better that what they would get if they left it in a bank or mutual fund. Within this groups of investors, you have a few different types.

Retirees

Many of the buyers Coran worked with early this year, didn’t know anything about Amazon. They were former business people that have retired and got bored with brick-and-mortar businesses so they started buying up FBA businesses. This type of buyer has business experience, but may not be tech-savvy or have and understanding of online business. They will typically look for a business that have been around longer.

You may need to educate them on how easy it is to run an FBA business compared to something with staff, overhead, or property. You can offer support and virtual hand-holding until they can run the business themselves. You will also want to upfront about everything, good and bad, about your business because if they find something down the road, they will bolt faster than other types of investors. Like we said, they have that fear of loss.


Another thing you’ll want to do is create procedures. Write them out as if it’s for your grandmother. Stuff like writing out how to log in to seller central. If you have staff or contractors that can transfer to the new owners, that would be awesome. Also, if there is opportunity for discounts from your suppliers for larger purchases, have that as well.

Executives

You also have high-paid executives make $100-200k a year and are looking to replace their income so they can live a life of leisure.

Online Entrepreneurs

Another is actual online entrepreneurs and other FBA businesses that may have rolled other businesses for profit. They have a large pool of capital and are looking for a competitive advantage. They will be looking for ways to boost the business’ profit. Not only are they looking to get a better return than the bank, but are also looking to add value.

Should you have an idea of what kind of buyer you want when you start the business?

Keep the buyer types in mind, but don’t build your business around it. You would limit your buyer pool to one particular type. However, it would be very difficult to build your business so narrow as to limit it to one buyer type unless you built a massive business to appeal to private equity.

What are the main things that you would need across all buyers?

Writing procedures will always be a big help. Have your spouse of a friend, that doesn’t know anything about selling on Amazon, follow your procedure and see if they can do it. Get your staff to write procedures about what their doing.

Let’s say you have a business that’s a year old and you need to sell it, what is the best way to go about it? Should you sell to another Amazon business?

We discussed the gold standard before and how you need to have so many products, be defensible, diverse traffic, and age. As you fall short in different categories, that narrows the pool of buyers as well as lowers the value of your business.

As far as selling to another Amazon business, Coran hasn’t done that yet but it’s an interesting idea. Typically a strategic buyer will be willing to pay a premium because they will be looking to apply their expertise to the business and add value. However, most of the FBA businesses Coran deals with tend to struggle with cash-flow and have a hard time keeping up with inventory. So an Amazon business will have to be fairly large in order to have the capital need to make that purchase.

Also, if you open your business up to your competitors, it will give them an inside look into your business with could hurt you in the long-run.

How do you build a sensible barrier so you don’t give inside information to a competitor?

Coran only works with a handful of qualified buyers and sellers at a time. The buyers are legitimate. They have the cash and have typically bought before and if he brings them the right business then he knows they are buying.

The next level down depends on how you advertise your business. If you’re using a broker, you’ll need to talk to them. For Coran, if that initial buyer pool isn’t interested, but it’s still a good business, he go wider and tap into his network of classified sites and other brokers that may have buyers. In that case, they will talk among themselves trying to find buyers for that business. They keep the information out of the public space as much as possible.

How do you make a product more defensible?

One thing that’s helpful is to add more products to a packet. A recent sale he did was where they had twice the amount of items to package, their packaging was great. If you don’t skimp on the packaging and your brand is strong, it adds a layer of protection that someone will have to get past if they want to compete.

Is brand strength important when trying to sell a business?

Absolutely. Unless you can build out 50 or 100 products, which would take a ton of capital, you’ll need every advantage you can get.

Is intellectual property valuable when trying to sell?

Yes. Brand registry on Amazon is great. Having a patent or registered trademarks is very good. A patent is good because while expensive, and won’t increase the multiple that an investor is willing to go for, it will make it more attractive compared to other businesses. If a buyer is looking at three or four businesses they are trying to decide between, this may give you an edge to sway them towards your business.

Pro tip:

Research existing patents on your private label items. Coran spoke of someone that is looking to expand their product line but is now caught up in a patent lawsuit over a very basic item. If you sell your business, the buyer will be liable for the history of every item so they will definitely be looking into any patent infringements prior to buying. Also, if there is a lawsuit while your selling, any possible sales will be over. If is shortly after a sale and there is an earn-out deal, it will complicate things.

Earn-out deal:

When your selling a business with ongoing income, the multiple they paid is linked to that income. Often, to reduce the risk for the buyer, they will offer you 70% or 80% of the purchase price upfront. Then there will be an earn-out, which could mean different things. It might include 90 days of support, in which you help them run the business until they get a handle on it. Sometimes it will be linked to income, which is something Coran tries to avoid. He has seen earn-outs of up to 12 months. They might leave 10% to you in equity in order to keep you involved in running it.

Since you are, potentially, legally involved in the company for 3 to 12 months following the sale, you don’t want to sell something that violates patent laws.

What are the best ways to protect yourself and avoid having patent issues?

Considering the complexity of patents, and patent laws, the best thing you can do would be to hire an attorney that specializes in patents. It will cost money, but when it’s time to sell your business this is the best way to do it.

As an ongoing business there are some tools that can help you do a quick patent search, but noting can compare to hiring an expert.

How do I find a buyer?

The important thing, if you find a buyer, hire a lawyer. You’ll want to protect yourself from any issues.

You can use services like escrow.com. It’s a very popular service when dealing with these types of transactions.

Flippa.com – The downside is that all transactions are public. So you don’t want to use this with an indefensible private label business. Definitely not recommended. They do have a service called deal flow, which is semi-brokerage. The listings can be confidential and you have access to more buyers.

Empireflippers.com – Coran has worked with them in the past and is highly recommended.

There are individual brokers out there. There are websites that have websites listings, but only if you have a lot of time to invest in it.

Coran, admits he may be biased, but he says the best way to go is with a broker. The deal structures can get complicated and you want someone who is going to be personally vested in achieving a successful sale.

Let’s say I have a business that is doing $5000 in EBITDA profit, it’s got 5 customized products but not original design, and had been in business for two years. What kind of multiple will that get?

As far as any FBA sales is concerned, they range from 1-3x EBITDA. With this situation, err on the lower side of things. Probably expect 2x, and you can move up or down from there. Let’s say the products are equal in revenue and you’re getting sales from somewhere other than Amazon. In this scenario you’re looking at 2-2.5x EBITDA; that would translate to about $120,000 – $150,000. In this. we’re talking about USD since most buyers use the US dollar.

How does it work when selling a UK based company to someone in the US?

We only deal in asset sales. So the company is on top of that and what we’re selling is everything underneath that. That would be your products, your brand, you website, your actual inventory, the central seller account, etc.

A sidenote about the seller central account, you can’t sell it outright. What you can do is transfer it to a new owner. Amazon doesn’t like it if you claim to be selling the account. So you just transfer business information, addresses, in the US it would be the EIN etc.

Things can get difficult if it’s a UK seller. Many in the US will be out automatically so it’s easier to just sell it to a buyer in the UK. However, since it’s an asset sell, you can definitely sell to someone in the US. The one thing that can be affected by selling to someone in another country are your suppliers and contractors. You will need to make sure they are comfortable working with someone in a different country. Some may have terms, like 60-90 day terms that might not be transferable. So you will need to work that out with your supplier. This is can be avoided if your selling within the same country. If your supplier is in China or other parts of Asian, they’re used to dealing with foreign companies.

Since it’s more difficult to sell a UK based company, is it viable to build up a UK based business?

Coran is currently speculating in the UK, he’s trying to build connections with buyers in the UK. In his experience, it is very limited since most buyers are in the US. If you want to build a UK business to sell, it will be difficult.

If you have a business that sells in the US and the UK, can you sell all of it or would you need to split it and sell the US business to a US buyer and hang on to the UK wing?

If you have a foothold in the US, even if it’s not the bulk of your sales, it will attract more US buyers so you would want to sell it all together.

What’s working well right now with Amazon businesses that are selling well?

Coran refers back to the gold standard. Being more defensible, have more products that are unique. People are becoming more familiar with the business model and are looking for where you are beyond Amazon.

How do listeners get hold of you or find out more about you?

thefbabroker.com

Make sure to get the toolbox Coran set up exclusively for Amazing FBA listeners at thefbabroker.com/amazing. Also, take advantage of his off to have a one-on-one chat that is only available via this link.

Do you have any parting words of advice for anyone who is considering selling their Amazon business or building one to sell?

Read The Snowball. It’s about Warren Buffet and talks about business and who’s buying and how to be defensible.

#59 Kevin King Part 3 of 3: Expanding your business and the future of Amazon

Kevin King part 3 of 3 show notes 

What’s working best in your business now?

Kevin encourages people to focus on Amazon. It is the biggest platform for online shopping and if you focus on maximizing on Amazon first, it will pay off. People are already there with their credit cards out wanting to buy. Since Amazon is always changing things, you need to keep tweaking your listings to keep up with the changes. You can’t just post your products, sit back, and watch the money roll in. It doesn’t work like that.

Once you maximize on Amazon, what do you do to expand off Amazon?

Kevin is working on getting into some big-box retailers as well has having his own Shopify site. Kevin has also found success using JoeLister. Using this tool is Amazon items are automatically submitted to eBay. Any sales from eBay are sent to Amazon for shipping and sends the customer the tracking number. It’s all automated. It does a relatively small amount of sales, roughly $1000-2000 a month. However, since it is all automated he doesn’t require any additional time and effort to get those sales. It’s free for the first couple listings and after that it’s only $29 a month.

He also has his own branded site to go along with his Shopify site to add legitimacy to his brand. That way if first-time buyers try to look him up they will see that his are valid products. However, these are just tools that support his Amazon business. Again, the main focus should be Amazon.

Another great tool is Amazon Assistant for Firefox.   This is a plug-in for Firefox that allows you to download your reviews from Amazon as well as the video reviews. He then takes those videos and puts them on his YouTube channel and links those back to the product listing.

Kevin has found that Amazon is a great way to refine and improve your products for another stage. He is looking into getting into big-box stores like Sears or Wal-Mart and has been taking feedback from his Amazon customers to make sure his products are at the highest level. The last thing you would want is to get into a big store like Wal-Mart and have a low quality product. You are going to have a lot of returns and the stores aren’t going to want to carry your products anymore. So use the feedback you get from Amazon and tweak and improve your products.

His long-term goals is to create a strong brand in these big-box stores so that he is covered if something happens with Amazon. If you’re looking to make this a full-time job then at some point you will need to expand beyond Amazon because at anytime Amazon could decide to unlist you. Therefore, in order to survive elsewhere, it is important to build a strong brand. Kevin is looking to take his brand to $10 million a year by the end of 2018 and he is well on his way to reaching that goal.

Kevin explained that he doesn’t want to have a huge business with a lot of employees. He tries to take care of as much as he can by himself because bringing on other people will really eat into his bottom-line. So he isn’t a big fan of outsourcing too early. However, many people don’t have the same background and might need help with shipping and freight and will need to rely on outside help.

Kevin is also looking to expand his business into the UK. Once he gets his VAT number he will be ready to test the waters in Europe. Europeans have very similar cultures to that of the US and are just as willing to spend money. The UK has the highest ratio of online shopping to income in the world. That means that they spend more of their money online than anyone else. Plus there are 60-70 million people buying that have similar cultures and buy similar products, so the UK is a great opportunity for expansion.

A big advantage to selling in the UK is that it will be much easier to expand into other parts of Europe. Customers in, let’s say France or Germany, will have the opportunity to have their products shipped from the UK. When his sales reach a certain point, he will have to open accounts in each of these countries, but until that point he can base it all out of the UK.

A word of warning is that you need to make sure that your products can have a high enough margins because your costs may be higher when selling in other countries due to regulation cost, but more importantly, currency exchange rates. For Kevin, he will be buying everything in USD, but selling them in the UK with GBP. If he has a slow moving product and ships 1000 units, it may take him a year to sell through them. In the meantime the pound gets stronger against the dollar and now he’s losing money. For UK sellers, certain political events are having an effect on pricing, e.g. the Brexit.

What can listeners do if they want to get a hold of you, or find out more about you?

Kevin has considered consulting but doesn’t feel strongly about continuing that. He recently offered a free 15 minutes session and got about 30-40 hits on it from all over the world. Over a few days he worked with each of them, looked over their listings and helped them improve. He quickly realized that you can’t do both. You can’t do consulting as well as selling. For Kevin, consulting isn’t scalable. He can’t make money while sleeping unless he makes a course. At the rate Amazon is changing the course will quickly go out of date so he will focus on that. He is considering starting a mastermind group in the future where people can come in for a four hour session but that would be it.

Other than that you can find him on several of the American Amazon FBA groups on Facebook or just look him up on Facebook, Kevin King in Austin, Texas.

What do you see coming in 2016 and 2017 in the future of Amazon?

  • An increase in the cost of pay-per-clicks as more and more people and brands begin to see the value in it.
  • Amazon will likely clean up the catalogue. This has already begun with limitations on titles and bullet points. Kevin believes it will go even further by cracking down on images. You’ll probably see fewer banner ads and such and a heavier enforcement of guidelines.
  • Part of the problem is private-sellers who are both good and bad. Third-party sellers make up more than half of the sales on Amazon which means more money for Amazon. However, you have a lot of products that are the exact same thing just under different names. To address that you might see higher barrier to entry.
  • One such barrier could be a crackdown on UPCs. Rather than buying official UPCs from GS1, sellers are buying duplicates on eBay. So rather than being another seller on the same listing, they put it under a different UPC and have its own listing. So one thing you might see to combat this is to unlist the product if the UPC doesn’t match the database.
  • Another prediction from Kevin is an increase of big brands. Right now these small private sellers are able to compete because the big brands don’t have much focus on Amazon. They have some low-level employee putting generic information on the online store just so they have a presence. One change could be the brands putting more focus on Amazon and having a stronger presence. This could be an opportunity for some sellers. If things aren’t working under their own brand, they could approach these big companies with their experience and offer to handle their Amazon business.

Do you have any final words for Amazon sellers?

If you are willing to work hard, put in the time and dedication, and have a little money to play with, you will succeed. Just stay positive. take your failures as they come; learn from them and get better.

1

#55 Amazon Private Label Strategies: Kevin King Interview Part 1 of 3

**WARNING: Contains a bit of swearing &  A Lot of Truth!**  

How did you come to be selling on Amazon?

Entrepreneur since age 4 when resold bubble gum to friends! Not had a job as an employee since age 17.  Direct marketing background not SEO. Sells calendars directly to consumers, also wholesale.

Been selling on Amazon since late 1990s – e.g. old CDs, DVDs etc.

Also in calendar business signed up for Amazon Advantage – media only e.g. CDs, DVDs

In Q4 gets purchase orders. Start of season 3-4 a week; end of season say 1000 a week.

That alone pulls in six figures – and everything else on top of Amazon orders is 100% profit.

So Kevin has seen the power of Amazon grow.

2 years ago he looked into the PL model but didn’t jump on it, which he regrets.

Started doing it May last year – doing some Retail Arbitrage – see how shipping and systems work. He realised RA is too much work and not scaleable. Race to the bottom.

Why do PL?

Calendars are seasonal. He had pay-per-view TV revenue stream but the internet had killed that off. Plus Kevin’s Background matched all the skills needed, including:

developing packaging, product development, online marketing -plus sourcing from China and Korea. So he went for it.

Kevin’s philosophy is to prove a product on Amazon then take them into retail on other channels.

Amazon is the bulk of his revenue. This is problematic long term because they could in theory shut your account down or suspend your best selling product at any point.

Recent example: Amazon wrote to Kevin saying they’re suspending his best selling product because of an image violation. They didn’t even tell Kevin what the violation was!

Kevin worked out it could be cartoons or extra elements in the images that he had put in. So he was able to deal with the issue. But it was a reminder that you’re vulnerable to some robots or some employee doing things by the book.

Where would you get started as a newbie with Product Selection?

How much money do you need to start in Amazon PL?

Product selection depends on how much money you have to start with.

Even Scott Voelker and other people say unrealistic things about how much you need to start. Kevin says you need a lot of money. There are stories of someone who started with $300 and made a lot of money. Some of the stories are untrue, some are true. But what’s missing: five days later that person took a loan from the uncle for $10,000 & 10 days later put $20,000 on the credit card. etc.

It paints a false picture. Some people get lucky, but it’s very rare. It takes a lot of work and a lot of money. If you just want a bit of extra holiday money you could do one of two products. But to make a living demands serious money, determination and hard work. Even Kevin didn’t realise how much money it takes even with his product.

Do you believe in staying in one Amazon category and building a brand? Or do you pick each product on its own merits/just follow the numbers?

In Kevin’s case, he started five brands because he came from a product background so he was a aware  one might not work. So he wanted to increase odds of success.

Launching second product won’t double sales unless it’s just an add-on or extremely complementary. So he’s not so worried about potential complementary sales.

However, if you can, do get them. An example is that Kevin started in the makeup category. The problem was  massive competition because it was easy to get into. Now for example he sells makeup tools instead of makeup itself, and many of those are complementary [cross sales potential].

How do you go about picking products? If you had $5000 to start out but potentially use credit card later?

If it’s capital intensive, what’s your approach to finance?

Kevin will make use of available credits. For example at bankrate.com you can get find credit cards listed. Like City and Chase which will give you know percent balance transfer and also wash purchases for about 15 months

If you have good credit and some good history, there’re other places like a deal struck on deck etc. If you have a pro seller account for a year and the metrics look good, Amazon will offer you a decent rate on loans as well.

How do you differentiate your products on the competition?

In some cases, Kevin sources products that are straight up private label from Ali Baba. But he makes a few changes. Every product has retail packaging.

A lot of people will take the brown box that is given by manufacturer, but customers care about the look of packaging.

Kevin doesn’t do an initial order under 1000 units – if he doesn’t have confidence in the product he won’t buy it. He believes he can sell out over time if it was a dud product. It may take a year and tie up cash but you can sell anything on Amazon in time. So the risk is not that great.

Kevin picked his first product in May 2015 it took two months to get products out but that was okay because he used for long photo shoots and made a really beautiful products and packaging.

Three Product Examples.

Example 1: Product for dogs, just wanted to do it, the research tool said no but Kevin wants to do it anyway. It’s doing well because it’s a great positioning and marketing.

He went to www.upwork.com for CAD design in Argentina which he had sketched on paper.

He went to one factory that messed it up; 2nd factory  however made new moulds.

Kevin rarely has a hijacker because they are original. The only time that ever happens to him is when you sell the products for $0.99 to people who have accounts on review groups. So they probably have 10 accounts and they basically use it today bit of retail arbitrage..

Example 2: Kevin spent $30,000 dollars on creating a mould and tooling. But where the best seller is selling a product for $10, Kevin is doing it for $100. BSR doesn’t matter to Kevin for that reason.

The competitor is making only $1 a sale, Kevin is making $20-$30. Because Kevin has differentiation against the high end to compete, BSR does not matter to him, also at the high end of product quality and price there is less competition.

Example 3: Kevin recently launched another product in the dog space. He did use tools like: ASIN Inspector, Jungle Scout, other tools including Merchant Words and UberSuggest. However, all these tools are just guesses. The only numbers you can totally trust are Amazon ads results.

Again, most of the competition were playing at the low end. They were the equivalent of McDonald’s, whereas he wanted to create a product that was equivalent of the best steak house in town/French chef. It’s a smaller market but enough to make it work.  They were using cheap packaging, where is Kevin created a  kind of cigar box type packaging.

Kevin’s product is twice as expensive as the main competition, and has half the number of products e.g. five treats instead of 20. On Friday it was put up with no promotion. He had 3 sales with no reviews. He started PPC (one sale) but it is already selling at a high price point without it.

Differentiation and going for the High End

Kevin makes sure to be different and go for the high end of the market [less crowded/more profit].

Kevin may sometimes go to Alibaba and source an existing product. However he will add pieces to it change things so it is different.That might be thought of as bundling, but Kevin things it’s bigger than that.  It is about changing things so it is different from the existing products.

He does not go into the model of getting it in fast and then get it shipped. He is in for the long haul, not “get rich quick”. People preach that model but Kevin doesn’t buy that.

Differentiation and building a brand is an end to end process. It is no good skimping on the product or if you have issues, even if the packaging is good, it will still go wrong!

Building on email list from your Amazon customers

If you use a manage by stats, they will take your Amazon customer’s postal address is match them up email addresses. This is not perfect, but 30 to 40% should match up. 

Testing your market and their views on products

Kevin recently send out an email to 100 people on his email list. He had 20 responses and he email he sent out 20 units from his competitors, In plain packaging.

He got great feedback on the pros and cons of different models. He also got the sales copy for his bullet and title. And he knew what was a good product.

Those who raved, he went back to and asked them for reviews. He had up a dead listing for the product said that it could have reviews on. So it actually had eight reviews on it before the product went live.

Reviews – numbers and discounts

It is a myth that you need 50 or hundred or 500 reviews. However, now you really need verified reviews. If you sell it out over 50% discount, it won’t be a “verified” review. Customers are also getting savvy.

Kevin now sorts by verified reviews when he is searching on Amazon, and other Amazon customers are probably starting to do the same.

An example of this is that Kevin got a product that got five stars reviews across the board from giveaways. But after it was used for real, the real reviews went down fast.

How to maximize positive reviews – Email followup tip

Kevin has the first email which does not even offer anything, it contains tips and suggestions and checks. For example if it is a potentially dangerous product, it tells the consumer to be careful when opening it.

The timing of this email is crucial. Assuming that most customers use Prime, they will receive the product two days after ordering. So Kevin times this email to arrive one day off to the order. In other words it is after the order but before they receive the actual product.

He puts the question in the PS: “Why did you choose us?” And offers a free gift if they onto this question. Always put something in the PS if you want someone to read it.

This gives an important psychological insight before they have a product in their hands. From this he can change the listing, bullet points etc. and he gets a lot of verified reviews. About 10% respond. It gives great insight into why they hit the buy button. The product itself can negatively or positively influence them.

You start to see patterns here.

Optimising listing

What are your main points? Photos? Title? Bullet points?

The title is really important. The reviews the second most important thing including a video on page 20 possible. Images are also very important. If somebody’s shopping for a well-known brand, the images not so important. But for private label, they are crucial.

Packaging is also very very important. If you have great packaging, it can help you make sales with the photo of the packaging itself.

An example of improving packaging:  Kevin started with a $1 box. The new box cost $2.20 but he was able to raise the price to $40- $50, his customers didn’t feel ripped off, they felt they were getting a good deal. This is what to aim for.

If you look at high-end products like Apple Samsung, the packaging is absolutely critical especially somewhere as competitive as Amazon. It gives the customer confidence even if it’s not fancy, it can be a couple bucks but the spelling must be good and it must look like something they can get in a retail store. In a retail store if you think about the people by based on packaging anyway.

You can use great packaging in your photos to catch the eye and differentiate your product.

Careful who you listen to

The figure of “ 50% of full price figure to get verified reviews” comes from Kevin’s own testing and people who know what they are saying. 

Kevin warns that some people don’t have a clue are giving advice, in Facebook groups and even some podcasters. Some give great value but a lot of the podcasters don’t have a lot of experience selling. It varies a lot. It’s best to trust the guests are doing the numbers.

[Michael does not claim to be an expert in doing big numbers, which is why these days he focuses more on more on getting in guests who are doing big numbers, and focusing on what they have to say]

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

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For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right away.

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For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of this page.

If you have any queries, just go to www.amazingfba.com/ask

 

2

#53 China Sourcing for Amazon: Keep money safe, Quality Control and Freight – with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo – Part 2 of 2

(Part 1 of this interview for more from Manuel)

#53 Manuel Becvar interview – part 2 of 2:

How do you keep your money safe?

When you place order, tell them you’ll send an inspection team when 80% of production is finished, you’ll have to redo the goods and pay for the reinspection, and you’re not getting the rest of the money until the inspection is passed.

So never do 100% upfront payments; always pay 30% upfront, 70% when the goods are passed. 

Even if you just order $1000, please get an inspection; there are companies that will do an inspection with a 20 page report for $100 for one man-day, eg Trigo  if it’s simple. They send someone to factory and send report. 

Others are more like $300 for one man day eg Asian inspection for difficult products like electronics. But no use for say a comb or a brush.

How do you approach Quality Control for electronics particularly? The advice famously is to avoid electronics from China. [I had about 10% defect rate]

Manuel has 17 years’ experience in electronics, knows what certificates are needed and which components to inspect. He doesn’t recommend it as 1st or 2nd product.
But just get certificates, experts in electronics inspection. There is a higher defect rate – Manuel’s is about 4%. Lots of customers just don’t know how to deal with electronics, so they often send it back even though it’s working perfectly.

Is there a way to reduce defect rates?
Take reviews and customer complaints – Speak to supplier – 5/10 of reviews have this issue, can you improve on this? Also speak to inspection company and have them focus on those issues in future inspections.  

But Manuel does all this and still has 4% defect rate. Anything below 5% is okay  in electronics. Above that, consider abandoning the product.

FREIGHT

Air freight vs air courier -what’s the difference?

Air courier means someone like DHL, UPS, Fedex etc. They have special customs clearance channel and they handle the whole process for you. So it’s more expensive. An “All in” solution – where to pick up, where to deliver.

Air freight is same process but it’s usually a logistics company that works with big airlines e.g. China Airlines. There is more paperwork involved and you need to be involved. You need a customs bond, you are the ultimate consignee. You need to know the process.

Manuel has had rates for air courier of $4 /kg and for air freight of $2.30/kg so it can be a $2 difference.

Simplest solution is to ask the supplier about air courier or freight. Or ask their freight forwarder. Give them USA/UK address, tell them you need duties/import taxes upfront.
If supplier has no Freight Forwarder, just look on Alibaba or Google.

If you have to do DDU [Delivered Duty Unpaid], how do you avoid problems?

Suppliers usually have no idea how to deal with freight etc. – they are experts at manufacturing. Manuel works with a Freight Forwarding company DDP [Delivered Duty Paid]-it’s all in. They pick up at factory, they ship it direct to Amazon. He doesn’t get involved in customers clearance or amazon pickup appointments.

In the beginning he had to explain how to book appointments with Amazon.

So you ship direct to Amazon?

Yes. Always directly from China to Amazon warehouse.

What do you do about damage to packaging from Air Freight?

It’s a small %age. Always put a label saying “Fragile, handle with care” – this helps.

How did you train your Freight Forwarder?
They are based in Shenzhen head office. They knew how to deliver to USA -but they had never delivered to Amazon. Manuel chose based on price and helpfulness but had to train them in delivering to Amazon.  He gave them a clear workflow. After 2nd order, no more hiccups. 

So you don’t want someone who doesn’t know about exporting to USA?

True. If you can find someone with great price and knows about delivery to Amazon, even better.  Manuel recommends Dolphin Logistics, based in Shenzhen. Reach out to Manuel if you want more info.

How did you get $2.30/kg air freight price?

$6 for air courier is average. Manuel gets good prices because he ships 28 m3 a month!

To make it simple, give your air freight forwarders a clear business process. Tell them they need to deal with Customs brokers and make appointments with Amazon.

They can set up a Vendor Express account with Amazon to set up appointments (they can’t just turn up at an Amazon warehouse!)

How do you send inventory direct to Amazon from China? I guess you save money with intermediate steps but what are the risks and how to you mitigate them?
Manuel thinks  it can all be done cheaper in China. Get them to put FNSKU barcode on inner packaging, prepare cartons according Amazon requirements e.g. size, send them the shipping labels from Amazon seller central and you’re good to go.

If you have more than 20 cartons, the supplier needs to palletise the boxes in China, otherwise Amazon will give you a hard time!  If you have fewer, it’s okay for Floor Loading.

How else can you speed up your supply chain?

Don’t take care of the details yourself. If you have 10-15 products and have customer service, taking photos, etc etc – outsource everything you can to inexpensive VAs.

Focus on growing your business:  

  • New products
  • Optimising listings. 
  • New eCommerce Channels
  • Retail! Go to local store and ask if they want say 50 units.

Tell us more about expanding business – selling to retailers

Manuel actually started own business selling to retailers (through his time in HK) because he just thought Amazon was another eBay. It’s easier to start on Amazon, built a brand, built a reputation for products then reach out to retailers, DIY stores etc etc to sell wholesale.

Any other tips on the best way to approach retailers?

Start locally. Look into smaller importers that set to big brands at an exhibition & approach local distributors. If you can’t go physically go to exhibitions, go to exhibition websites and check then names of companies that exhibit, check them out and email them!

“My name is X, this is my brand, I’m importing direct from China, are you interested in buying?”
  

Are there other ways other than unique products and high quality to protect your brand against competition?

One thing is to have Amazon brand registry. Other than that, be better in terms of quality. Don’t give the competition grounds to attack you – quality, customer service – try to be an awesome company. Even if first few months not highly profitable, eventually it will pay off.

What is your prediction for competition in the next year or two? How do we protect ourselves?
Manuel had 6 enquiries last month in his sourcing company for a product that everyone is selling! Nobody has any imagination, it seems!

Be unique, have expertise in your product and be creative. Yes, competition is increasing but so is the market – Amazon has 51% of the (USA) online sales. There will always be a customer for [good] products. The USA population is about 300 million people!

CONTACT

How can listeners find out more about you or learn more from you?

Go to importdojo.com – there is a contact us page – or email mail@importdojo.com.

HOW TO SUBSCRIBE TO THIS PODCAST

A podcast is a free downloadable audio show that enables you to learn while you’re on the go.  To subscribe to my podcast for free, you’ll need an app to listen to the show from.

For iPhone/iPad/iPod listeners – Grab your phone or device and go to the iTunes store and search “Amazing FBA”.

This will help you to download the free Podcasts App (produced by Apple) and then subscribe to the show from within that app.  Every time I produce a new episode, you’ll get it downloaded right away.

For podcast enthusiasts – If you already listen to podcasts and have a podcatcher that you prefer, the feed you’ll need to add is: http:// amazingfba.com/feed/podcast.

For those who don’t have a mobile device – You can always listen to the show by clicking the audio file at the top of this page.

If you have any queries, just go to www.amazingfba.com/ask