The world of product licensing can be a murky place, but licensing a piece of intellectual property can bring credibility and prosperity to your brand. Our guest today is Paul Miller of Next Level Licensing and CozyPhones. He’s an incredibly experienced Amazon seller and one of the industry’s foremost experts on product licensing. Paul has made millions using licensing as an integral piece of his business model.
Today I’m back at it again with the second half of my three-part interview with “Mr. Amazon” Chris Green of Merch Dojo, and it’s time to dive back into the nitty gritty of Merch by Amazon.
Today we have CJ Rosenbaum with us to do answer some listen submitted answers. I recently sent out a newsletter requesting the listeners to submit their Amazon questions. Be sure to subscribe to the newsletter so you don’t miss the next opportunity.
A lot of us sellers do while label existing products. It’s important that you don’t inadvertently break IP laws and get into Amazon legal issues. Continue reading
Today’s show is something that I feel is long overdue. I am always getting legal questions when it comes to selling on Amazon. We have with us CJ Rosenbaum, the founder of Amazon Sellers Lawyer, to help answer some questions about Amazon account suspension.
Just over 3 years ago, Coran and his wife left Australia and their corporate jobs and began traveling. They had online businesses at the time and soon began buying and selling websites to fund their traveling. He liked the process of building a company to sell it rather than building to for the income. He struggled to keep his attention on one thing.
For this interview Coran create a package of tools for Amazing FBA listeners at http://thefbabroker.com/amazing. So do check that out.
About a year ago he got into the brokerage side of things after people began asking him to review and vet websites that were for sale and help negotiate the sales. As of about a month ago he has been dealing exclusively with FBA businesses.
Most people do this backwards. They build up a business and it’s making money and then they decide they want to sell it. Maybe they want to focus on something else, maybe they want to cash out and pay off the investment. That’s a terrible time to sell. Odds are, you won’t be structured in a way that is attractive to sellers. The first thing you need to think about is who you are going to sell to and what they are looking for.
Let’s say you have a private label business that’s been operation for an year and half to two years. So you have a bit of history and you beginning to think about exiting. Reasons that Coran decided to sell his companies were that he might need the cash flow for something else or he was getting bored with the business.
Coran breaks Amazon businesses down into three types, retail arbitrage/wholesaling, private label, and unique or proprietary.
For retail arbitrage/wholesaling, unless you have exclusive rights to selling on Amazon, the chances of your income being taken away is very high. What an investor is looking for is a return on investment. They will pay a certain multiple for a business with the intention of getting that money back first. So with wholesaling, for almost all cases, your only asset is your inventory, so if you lose your means of selling it, you’re just stuck with a load of stock.
Private label is the most popular way to sell on Amazon. There is a barrier of entry so your products have a shelf life of 6-12 months. That means that if you have one product that you haven’t differentiated, you just stuck your label on a product and built the brand, it’s not super defensible. So it will sell at a lower multiple. You can definitely sell these companies, you just have to put a little work into it.
Unique or proprietary products are much more defensible. You may have taken negative comments on your products and tweaked them. So you might have a unique mold or something that makes your product unique, that will sell at a higher multiple. The more you can make a private label product better or unique, the better it will be when it comes time to sell.
For example, Greg Mercer at Jungle Scout ran a case study where he made his chop sticks a little longer. While not super defensible, it is unique, and if you build your brand around that it sets you up in a better position.
There is a debate among brokers as to what the minimum amount of time is. For Coran, a year is still young. You certainly want 12 months of history. There are a few reasons for this. One, you want to see if there is any seasonality involved. An investor wants to work out their return on the longest history possible. There is also something to be said for a product that takes time to gain traction. Seems a bit counter-intuitive but an investor will look at a product and think, “What’s to stop me from doing this myself?”, so a product that takes time to get established show the investor that this company is worth buying because it will take that much more time to get it going if he/she wanted to start from scratch.
Most importantly, when it come to age of a company, you want the company to be established. For online companies, that typically means 3 years. Compared to offline, like brick and mortar businesses, 10 years is a long time.
Even if you’re not thinking of selling your company soon, now is the time to start preparing for it. A year, year and a half out, you want to make sure your products are defensible and that you have products that will add value to your company when it comes time to sell.
Coran is working on two businesses, trying to get them ready to be listed. One business is completely private labeled, very little in the way of differentiation. It’s just brand. He has 20 products. That business is attractive because of the wide range of products. Out of the 20 products, most of the income comes from three products. It is all on Amazon and bringing in a million in sales a year.
The other company has only one product that is unique. It’s is their own formulation and their own brand. 70% of their income is coming from Amazon. They also sell on Amazon US and Amazon UK. 30% of their income is coming from their Shopify store. So they have several layers of defensibility.
The gold standard, according to Coran, is a third company he is working with. They have 10+ uniquely formulated products. Multiple sales channel. 70% through their e-commerce channel, 30% on Amazon.
The less reliant you are on one thing, the better. Multiple products, multiple sales channels, multiple traffic sources. So if you have a private label and don’t want to focus on unique products, focus on finding sales channels outside Amazon. That way, if one thing takes a hit you have hedged your bets.
You need to look at it from an investors perspective, they are looking for a return on investment (ROI). Their in for $1,000,000 and their making $200,000 a year on it, that’s the ROI. They way we value Amazon businesses is net profit. The best way to look at this is: what is your annual net profit. If your business has been around a year and making decent profit, that’s not as attractive to these kinds of buyers. The important thing to consider I: what is your profit right now? When working with clients, Coran finds that most people over-estimate their profits. Oftentimes it’s as much as half of what they thought it was once they put in their numbers. If you want to find out what your business is worth, use Coran’s tool for that.
The longer your business has been around, the better
The more profit you’re bringing in, the more attractive your business will be
Diversified traffic sources
The strong the competition, the more wary investors will be
Profit and Loss Template – Use this spreadsheet to help determine how much money your are actually making.
It starts with your total sales and revenue. From there it takes out the cost of sales. This is your Amazon fees, packaging, shipping, etc. All the costs associated with selling that item. Then it takes your operational costs out. The is refunds, ads, web hosting, salaries and other drawings, etc. All the costs that are associated with running your business. In the end you’re left with your net revenue.
In regards to salaries and other drawing from your business, when it comes to selling the business you can add that back into your profits. The reason is that your investor might not want to draw anything from the business. So you want to present them with the profits including what you are drawing from it. Then they can decide what they want from it. If they are looking for an income, they can look at the net revenue and determine how much they can draw. If they are looking for growth, they might want to leave everything in and use that to grow the company.
If you don’t add back your salary, it makes it much more difficult for them to find it. You want to make it as easy as possible for your buyer.
We have Greg Mercer on the show again. You can listen to our previous interview on product research, as well as one on supplier negotiations. Greg studied civil engineering at university and had a corporate job that he hated. He began selling on Amazon as a break from his day job. He managed to quit his day job and just do FBA full-time. He did that for about two years when he was frustrated by trying to find products to add. The best way to scale your Amazon business is by adding more products. Greg didn’t have a lot of capital to throw around so he wanted to find ones. Out of this need, Jungle Scout was born. Now he joins us to help us find the best products to sell on Amazon.
Today, Greg is still selling on Amazon. He has released a few products in the last few months. He’s been working on Jungle Scout, and that has expanded into a quite a tool for Amazon sellers. There is Jungle Scout, which a research tool. Jump Send is a deal site to get you additional sales, as well as a follow-up sequence. Splitly is an AB testing tool for Amazon sellers. Fetcher, which is profit analytics. It calculates what you’re really making after refunds, promos, etc. All the numbers Amazon likes to hide from you.
That’s a common issue. Everyone knows how good of an opportunity Amazon is, but it’s finding products to sell that is a struggle. The best products to sell on Amazon are ones that have existing demand, that means Amazon customers are already searching for it. You want products that have low competition and that have good margins. Those are the main things. Other things you may want to consider are whether they may infringe on any patents, and they don’t need to be licensed. Think of liability; if a person can hurt themselves with it, you may want to steer clear. Lighter, smaller items are generally less complicated. They are easy to ship and you don’t have to worry about oversize storage limits.
Jungle Scout was created to solve that issue, but you can look on the Amazon’s best sellers page. You can get ideas from Pinterest, look at what people pin a lot. You can hang out in big cities where trends start first. Once you do that, make a list of product ideas and go to Amazon. There is actually a free way to find out how well a product sells. You can click on a listing, then look at the best sellers rank under the product description. Then you can go to junglescout.com/estimator. It’s a totally free tool, you don’t even have to put in your email. You put in that sales rank and it will give you an estimated amount of units that product sells on a monthly basis and see what the demand is.
For demand, you want to look for products that are already selling on Amazon. A beginner mistake is that people “know” that a product will do well if it gets on Amazon. A small percentage of the time, that might be true, but more often than not people are wrong. It’s much safer and less risky to go with something that is already selling.
I want to see 2000 units a month, being sold on Amazon. Let’s use a coffee cup as an example. If you search “coffee cup” on Amazon. Then take the top 10 listings, or however many are relevant. Let’s say 8 are selling coffee cups. Then click on each of the listings, get the best sellers rank. This is helpful because it tell us how well this product is selling. This number, by itself, is very difficult to interpret. However, at Jungle Scout, they have come up with an algorithm that can estimate how many units are sold based on that number. It changes on a daily basis and they have a full-time data scientist that is always updating this. So, get that number for each listing, find the units sold on Jungle Scout and add them up. If it’s more than about 2000, then the demand is there.
The first thing is to look out how they drive these algorithms to estimate the sales. Depending on the category, they collect between 200,000 and 500,000 data points every month for that category. This is the relationship between the unit sales and the ranking number for that day. Then they run a regression analysis and they come up with a line of best fit to estimate the sales based on the rank.
The best sellers rank changes on an hourly basis. The way they estimate sales is that if a product continues to sell as well or as poorly as it has for the past few days, this is how many units will sell in a month. If, last week, your product was selling 10 units a day, but this week is selling 1 unit a day, Jungle Scout will estimate based on the 1 unit per day. So you’re sales might be 60 units that month, but Jungle Scout will only estimate 30. It’s the best they can do with the limited data Amazon gives out.
Some people will get on there and see their products are 10% more than Jungle Scout’s estimate and will conclude that you need to add 10%. That’s not true. If you look at the regression analysis, there are some points that run above the line, and some below. They’re taking the average of hundreds of thousands of products in a particular category. So, your 1 product may not fall on that line, but if you average the whole category, it will be on that line.
Exactly. People get caught up, too much, in the tools. Keep in mind this is still just an estimate. You’re using this tool to determine a ballpark range on a product’s sales. Jungle Scout may estimate that a product does 900 units a month. In reality, it might be 800 a month, or 1000 a month, but you know it’s in that range. It helps with forecast and it help determine if there is good demand in there.
This is difficult. One tool that helps is Google Trends. This tool allow you to see how a search term has trended over the years and seasons. This is a fairly good gauge of how items will sell on Amazon. As many people know, Greg has done public case study selling bamboo marshmallow sticks called Jungle Sticks. Based on Google Trends, you can see how the sales have changed based on the seasons. January to February are the slowest times. July and August were the highest times. And if you look at the sales, you can see that matches up. So can look on Google Trends to determine if this is a high season or a low.
The reason I like to use the 2000 or 3000 units, is because people like to answer “It depends”. It’s too arbitrary if you’re a beginner. At the end of the day you’re looking for the item with the biggest spread between demand and competition.
If I was a complete beginner looking to sell my first product on Amazon, I wouldn’t worry about that. That’s more higher level strategy. Focus on getting your first product up on Amazon and learn the rest later.
If you’re already have your products on Amazon, and you’re trying to figure out forecasting, that is a good idea. Two good resources are Google Trends, and Keepa. Keepa has a really nice, free database of how sales rank has trended. A lot of products have two years or so of data. You can look at the and see how the sales rank has trended over the months and seasons. You can try to start estimating how well your product is going to sell.
Some products you can tell by common sense. If you’re selling lawn products, then the summer months are going to be the best. Other products, like the marshmallow sticks, it’s not as clear when they’ll sell well and Google Trends can help with that. If Google Trends shows there is twice as much searching for marshmallow sticks in the summer months, then you know to order a little extra inventory.
Reviews are a great indicator of competition. That’s probably the biggest thing to look at. On top of that, the quality of your competitors listings. If they have a poor listing, like one picture, a really crappy title, than that is someone that would be much easier to outrank. As opposed to someone with a really good listing.
The first thing to look for is how many reviews they have. Older, more mature products that have been selling consistently well, are harder to outrank.One way to tell how mature a product is, is how many reviews it has. An older product that sells well, is going to have more reviews. A product with 1000 reviews is going to be much harder to outrank than one with 15. A rule of thumb is to look for something, where 3 or 4 of the top reviews have under 50 reviews. That signifies that it’s probably a young niche.
One thing to understand is how Amazon ranks the listing. They use keyword relevance. The sales velocity probably makes up about 50% of the algorithm. That would be the number of sales per day. Another factor is the conversion rate of your product. Now the sales velocity and the conversion rate depends on a number of factors. Those including the quality of your pictures, the price, the social proof, the average star rating. If you competing against other listings that have a lower rating, then you’re probably have better conversions and more social proof. People would much rather buy a product with a higher average rating than one with more reviews.
Yeah. Visually, if you have a 4.9 average,Amazon displays 5 stars. But a 4.7, they show 4 and a half stars.
#52 Q and A Tuesday no. 5
Q1 : ANILA: For products coming from China to UK, how do you work out the duty value to put on the boxes to estimate for the taxes? Not a VATable product
MICHAEL: Basis for duty is Commercial invoice value = Manufacture cost plus freight (if your supplier is handling freight, it will probably be on the same document). AKA Total Landed Cost (TLC). Then put that value into the dutycalculator website.
Any freight experts here, please feel free to correct and or refine this statement.
If you are using a Freight Forwarder or even just a Customs broker, obviously ask them how it works and check any nuances for your own product.
Q2: BEN: Hi gang! Thanks for your help with my previous question. Here’s another one. I’ll shortly be sending my first delivery to Amazon. I haven’t finished the ‘send/replenish inventory’ section on seller central yet (as I’m not ready to send yet), but when i am, I presume I’ll end up on a page that tells me how to organise delivery with one of Amazon’s preferred carriers?
Otherwise…the Amazon help pages aren’t very helpful in detailing how I actually get my stuff from my house to their warehouse! I understand that amazon’s preferred carriers offer discounts for going to amazon…which I presume I book through seller central, rather than parceforce.com, for example.
MICHAEL: Yes that’s right. Amazon’s preferred carrier is just the one, UPS. They give Amazon amazing shipping rates. Something like £1 a kg or less. Get a quote at the Post office or from a courier yourself and you’ll realise how cheap they are.
STUART: Unless, I have missed something but my experience of using Amazon’s preffered carrier, UPS, only applies when shipping from within a particular country.
For example, rates are fantastic when shipping from UK to FBA in the UK. However, when shipping from UK to FBA in the US, there are no special rates. I have found using Transglobalexpress to be very competitive, and they use UPS as well as other carriers.
MICHAEL: Thanks for the hint, Stuart. May I ask why you’re shipping UK to US in the first place? Is it sending stock from UK you already have here in order to test the market for that product in the US?
STUART: That’s correct. I merchant fulfill in UK, and have sent stock to US FBA to test market.
Q. 3 BEN: Guys, I’d be interested in your take on this idea. Especially MICHAEL: after the last two podcasts… I have heard some stories of people sending off their branding to suppliers to get branded samples, and then when they choose another supplier, the un successful suppliers have gone and made stuff with heir branding and sold it on to other people, or just gone ahead and stuck it on Amazon themselves.
What are your thoughts on getting samples made with ‘test’ branding. e.g. my branding with watermarks over the top. That way I can still see the quality of the printing/branding process and can still see roughly what my branding looks like, but I’m protected…
MICHAEL: thanks for raising this point. A few thoughts:
yes that is a danger. It does happen.
Firstly, short-term, nobody really cares about your brand yet. So I wouldn’t over worry about it yet.
However, I like your idea in that you are testing the quality of printing but protecting your brand.
For that matter, if all you want to see is the quality of printing, you could use a different brand altogether!
But The only thing I would say is that by doing this, if you decide to go ahead with a supplier, you probably should get another sample done with your actual logo. Which will delay the process.
You could just trust them to do it well and get it done, I guess.
Overall, I’m basically in favour of your approach.
However, I would say this: I’m not sure how much back and forth you’re doing with Suppliers with samples. But it is really important in the PL market now it’s so crowded to move fast when you spot an opportunity in the market.
SO for speed, I would get my 2-3 samples from suppliers upfront without worrying about branding. Just check out the quality of the product. That should take max 7 days from order to having it in your hand.
Then choose a supplier on the back of that.
If you want to then check the quality of the printing of logos etc from your chosen supplier at THAT point, I would then order a proper sample with your real logo. Unless they really mess that up, I’m going to place an order. If there are minor defects, I’ll have them correct it and then send me photos of the corrected sample.
Then get the order placed and in manufacture
Please understand: There is nearly ALWAYS a trade off between speed and quality.
Yes, it’s good to have a professional process in place and yes you should protect your brand (reputation) and IP (Intellectual Property).
However, if it takes you 6 months to get to market with a good, but not amazing product, which is frankly pretty much the same as everyone else’s, the competition will often have killed off the profit in that market.
You’re better off getting your good but not great product to market, learn about the realities of trying to sell, listing optimization, handling Adwords etc etc and get some feedback from customers.
You may then simply choose
3, or if quality and sales and profit are all good, just go back and reorder!
Either way, you get MOMENTUM. Do not underestimate the importance of this.
“Money Loves Speed”. Quality, sadly, does not.
An eternal conundrum. My advice (as a perfectionist): “The Perfect is the Enemy of the Good”
Good luck .
Thanks for the excellent and in depth response – it really is appreciated.
I have decided that this week I’ll be sending a ‘test’ version of my branding to three suppliers for samples. I expect to get them in 7-10 days, and then I’ll trust the best one to go ahead with the first full order using the real branding.
My ‘test’ version is close enough to my ‘real’ version that I’ll know what it looks like from the sample (it’s basically my branding with a ‘test’ watermark over the top, but in such a way that they can’t remove it’.
MICHAEL: Sounds perfect, good process. I like the thinking.
BEN: Only issue now is finding the guy who is going to design my packaging…wink emoticon
MICHAEL: By the way, don’t assume that the Chinese will care about the watermark. If they spot a product that will sell, they will be interested. Period. Part of doing business in China. Yes protect your IP to a degree, plus make it clear in your paperwork that they are not allowed to use it. But then you’ve done what you can in practice. Then move on!
Also don’t spend much money on design before you know if the products are worth selling.
First check the sample quality before you invest time money or energy in it.
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