I’m delighted today to welcome 10k Collective member Ashley Pearce. Ashley is one of the most active members of the 10k Collective mastermind, and he’s here to talk about selling on Amazon; specifically, the first 18 months. He’s not a billionaire Amazon seller or revolutionary startup software company CEO. Ashley is merely a guy who heard about the Fulfilment by Amazon program on the Entrepreneur on Fire Podcast, cobbled together about £8,000, and jumped into selling on Amazon.
Last time on Amazing FBA, we talked about startup businesses. Today, in part two of my discussion with Penny Lowe, owner of Wellington Consulting, we’re focusing on accounting for companies that would qualify for the 10k collective. In a nutshell, today we’re going to be talking about scaling from an accounting perspective.
We are back with another great episode. Apologizes for the absence. I’ve been hard at work creating some great mastermind programs to help improve your business. I’ve got the Zero-to-Hero Mastermind directed at those that are starting from scratch or are earning just a few thousand a month. I also have the $10k Collective Mastermind for those that have an Amazon turnover of $10,000 a month or more. If you’re interested in being a part of a group of some great minds, check out these great mastermind programs.
Want to start selling on Amazon? Where to start?
The standard answer for a few years has been – by plunging straight into private label.
As that’s how I started myself – and eventually succeeded, until recently I taught that myself.
I’m no longer convinced
But after 18 months of mentoring people trying to start selling on amazon, and a year of masterminds mostly focussed on those, I’ve seen the struggles up close. I’ve seen inside too many businesses and too many minds. It’s a hard way to start.
All business has challenges starting. That’s a given. You need a tough mindset. I just happen to think that in late 2017, the old model just isn’t cutting for those who are trying to start selling on Amazon now.
Are you still focussed on Private Label?
Yes I am. I believe private label on Amazon is still a big opportunity. I have many friends making loads more money than me to back that up. It’s not theory.
So I believe that Private label – and even better, developing unique products -works on Amazon.
However, when it comes to how to start selling on Amazon, that’s a different kettle of fish.
I think the irony is that by prematurely plunging into private label, many sellers actually miss out on properly executed private label. How can that be true?
It’s simple really. They blow their budget on the first budget. They bust their confidence in the business model, and indeed in themselves. And then they quit too early – and miss out on $10s or even hundreds of thousands of dollars of revenue per month
I’m not talking about what the overall goal is – rather, it’s about how we GET there!
Also I’m increasingly happy with whatever WORKS rather than being puritanical about business models.
As I’ve talked over the past two years to many Amazon experts, it’s clear from the sharper people (especially the master himself, Will Tjernlund ) that there are several models that can work. And you don’t have to start with private label.
Focus is good and learning a particular set of skills- but so is PROGRESSION:
from simple to advanced; from low-risk to higher risk; from quick wins to projects that take months to come to fruition.
There is a natural progression in terms of risk in the various business models available to ecommerce sellers in general, and ways to start selling on Amazon in particular.
It’s like my old job of piano teaching.
Sure, I can teach little Johnny to seem like an accomplished pianist by teaching him or her three specific pieces and about 10 scales. You get a certificate, you look good, the parents are happy.
Trouble is, he doesn’t know his way round a piano, he can’t read the music, he can’t play by ear, he doesn’t understand what he’s playing or why…in short, he’s not becoming any kind of real musician. Or any kind of real pianist.
He’s aping the real thing. But he’s basically little more than a trained monkey.
Put him in any situation that demands real understanding of music, or real control of a piano, and he is finished.
My experience with Amazon sellers who try to learn how to start selling on Amazon with Private label is remarkably similar.
Indeed, it mirrors my own journey as an Amazon seller myself. And it also mirrors my journey as a piano student/musician to a frighteningly similar degree too.
That’s not surprising. There are a lot of vested interests in trying to “pre-package” business building skills and mindset. Same as there were in pretending you can become a pianist, with 20 minutes’ practice a day and three pieces at a time, with some bullshit “grades” scale.
(By the way, I have 7 years’ higher education in classical music, I’m engaged to a pianist – so this is not the ranting of an amateur. On the contrary. It’s the ranting of an ex-professional).
Both things, I’m afraid, while much better than doing nothing in terms of progressing, are basically based on a totally false premise. The false premise being that you can learn the piano by aping much better pianists’ external results – or by aping the actions of advanced Amazon sellers.
Instead, what I’ve seen overwhelmingly is that all of us entrepreneurs need to develop the right mindset and skills. And those come from experience.
The truth is that there is no substitute for learning overall business strategies and tactics. Nor is a substitute for learning by experience.
You need to learn to understand what you see in the data; to READ the data. You need to learn the landscape of a marketplace. Everyone has to learn how the mechanics of production, freight and amazon work. You need to get familiar with Amazon’s internal processes.
All this takes time and practice. It doesn’t need however to be a painful, high-risk, uncertain gain experience, like that of the big private label approach.
Practice makes you better. Planning for months, selling nothing, then sending half your life savings across the world suddenly…well, that is NOT such a great way to practise becoming a better online seller. Nor to start selling on Amazon specifically.
Am I saying private label is dead then? Is it true that nobody should start a private label business on Amazon? Is private label only for the rich or the super-experienced online maverick?
No, no and no.
That is NOT what I’m saying. I want to be super clear. I think the opportunities to make a ton of cash and have the satisfaction of becoming a real entrepreneur (and mastering a tricky but addictive craft) are very real with private label. And even better with original tweaks to a product.
But both models take serious investment of money, time and energy into each product line.
That is fine, even very important at the right point in your development as an Amazon seller, or as an entrepreneur.
But you don’t have to START learning to mountain climb by training in a gym for 3 months, studying maps and theory incredibly hard, then attempting the Himalayas as your first set of mountains.
Sure it’s been done – I read about exactly that in the news a while ago.
There’s a clue here. It’s news – because it’s the exception to the rule!
You don’t have to START selling on Amazon by scaling a private label mountain either.
Again, yes there are exceptions. Again, we read about them and the buzz goes around. Because it is NEWS. Because -I’m sad to say, after trying this way for so long with newcomers – it’s unusual to succeed that way.
So is this a reason to be depressed and quit?
Maybe – if you are the sort of person who quits easily. In which case, please don’t attempt to become an entrepreneur.
Most people shouldn’t scale the Himalayas and most people probably shouldn’t be entrepreneurs either. And that is absolutely fine.
Most people don’t have the mindset, stamina or sheer hunger of an entrepreneur, and there is nothing wrong with that. I’m not a rugby player – despite being forced to play it (very badly) at school. Yes, I admire good players – but I don’t feel a failure because it doesn’t suit me (my sports teachers at school had a go of course…)
Most people who are a right for a profession build skill, fitness and experience one hill, one mountain at a time. If they get on well, they move to the next natural level.
Business is no different – and Amazon is no different to business. Just because Amazon has built the world’s most amazing traffic and conversion machine shouldn’t blind us to the fact that normal business rules still apply.
The economics and business principles are the usual:
Supply and demand. Risk-reward ratios. Opportunity cost.
The mindset and skills needed are the usual ones too:
The skills of assessing the supply and demand balance in a market; assessing risk vs reward; weighing up opportunity cost (if you go for one opportunity, you tie up the money and time that could go into another);
The mindset of a blend of vision and opportunism; pragmatism with some theory and imagination; discipline with flair and improvisation……and so on…
I personally think anyone wants to have a serious crack at building a business and becoming an entrepreneur has never had such opportunity at their feet. And if you want to go for it, I think you should go for it.
There is no reason for anyone to exclude themselves from becoming an entrepreneur.
But wait – isn’t that against everything I’ve been saying in this post?
I want you to have the maximum chance of success, not to exclude you from the club.
What I am saying is that starting an Amazon business with private label does not maximise your chances of succeeding.
Instead, what you should do is read my next post and consider a much lower-risk way to learn your craft as an Amazon seller!
(Now there’s a cliff-hanger…!)
Thanks for reading.
(By the way – well done for reading to the end. Now there’s a hint that you have some stamina. You’ve passed the first test, oh Jedi. If you’re British, Click here – I think you may have what it takes to join the real business builders.)
(Sorry, I couldn’t resist putting a little teaser at the end too! I’ve got to have fun too, you know…)
Today We learn more about how to sell your eCommerce business with Coran. Continue reading
This is one of the biggest issues with Amazon inventory management. It’s something everyone deals with. Sometimes a product doesn’t as well as you expected. Once again, there is no crystal ball solution.
It might seem obvious, but one thing you can do is to look at it from a marketing perspective. Take a look at what you can do to improve the conversion rate. Can you improve your images or other aspects of your listing? Pay-per-click ads. It’s an investment. It will take time to perfect it. Is there anything else you can do as a last ditch effort to recoup your investment in the stock?
If you have already considered the marketing aspect, you could try a completely different route. You can wholesale it or sell it on a different channel. You’d be surprised how many people will buy lots of inventory on eBay other sites that will help you with that. There are sites that help you with bulk sales. You can work with a service that does flash sales, like touchofmodern.com. They will flash sales household products that are high-quality. If you want to leave it on Amazon, you could lower your price. Even if you take a loss on the sales, at least you’re putting money back into your pocket.
Proper Amazon inventory management is very difficult. You have to think long and hard and it really comes down to a plan. In the case of excess inventory, many sellers just go on a whim. One seller is dealing with excess inventory because they bought 3000 units of a product they’ve never sold before. Their main reason was that they got a good cost on them at 300 units.
The cost isn’t as important on that first order. You’re really trying to prove the product is viable. Then on your second order, you can get the cost right once you know the product will sell. It might be difficult for a first-time seller since your money is tied up but you’re not making much profit. However, you are lowering the risk if the product doesn’t take off.
One tactic that you might consider is ordering small amounts of several different products knowing you are likely to run out. Then you can see which one takes off. This isn’t a great strategy. If you find a good product that takes off, you will jump in the sales rank. Now you have a high ranking product with no inventory. Let’s say it sells out in a week but you have a 45 day lead time. Now you’re going to be out of stock for 45 days unless you can negotiate with your supplier and spend more money to have it expedited.
One issue you might run into is a minimum order quantity (MOQ), where suppliers will require a large order otherwise they won’t accept it. You can try to negotiate with them saying that you will be ordering from them for awhile, but it’s company policy that the initial is smaller.
Amazon inventory is a crucial but neglected area for all Amazon sellers. We have Jeremy Biron with us today. He’s the founder of Forecastly. He has been selling on Amazon for over 10 years so he has a really deep understanding of the marketplace and of Amazon inventory management and the issues that can involve.
He was one of the first FBA sellers in the office supply space running a multi-million dollar operation. Jeremy has a strong knowledge of Amazon and what it takes to maintain your Amazon inventory.
Coming out of college about 15 years ago, Jeremy was working in the corporate world doing marketing and sales. Quickly realized that the corporate life wasn’t for him. He got into selling Amazon inventory part-time while working the corporate job. He happened upon office supplies. Not the sexiest products but he found a place. He realized that he could make more money selling on Amazon than in his full-time job and he enjoyed it much more.
He started selling full-time 8 years ago. Then, about 2 years ago, the office supply space wasn’t going in the right direction. He heard from a lot of other FBA sellers about their Amazon inventory issues. Jeremy had the answer. He had custom software they used in-house. He decided to take this software, improve it so it could be mass-distributed, and began Forecastly.
It was a combination of stock-outs and excess Amazon inventory. At first, they were just using the reports you get from seller central. It shows how much you have in stock and how much you sold in the past, like 30 days. It would be 30 days later, after he had placed all those orders, and looked at his profit and loss and think that he should have sold more. As it turns out their estimations were off. He knew from the beginning that using the inventory reports from Amazon wouldn’t cut it.
A lot of the time, those aren’t accurate. Looking at your current Amazon inventory and your inbound numbers. You inventory is usually right, but your inbounds number aren’t. They didn’t know exactly what was going into Amazon. What status was it in. Even looking at your existing Amazon inventory, you can’t tell if it’s being labeled, is it moving around the country, or is it reserved because it’s already been sold. If I have 100 units, and 10% has already been sold, I really have 90.
The other piece of it is figuring out your sales velocity. That’s not as easy as many people think it is. Let’s say you sold 50 units last month. If you don’t know if you were in stock the entire time, your don’t know your true sales velocity. If you sold 50 in the last 30 days, but you were out of stock half that time, you should have sold 100. However, those reports are saying you sold 50, and if you want a 30 day supply, you should buy 50 more.
The last piece to this is taking that demand forecast and building a replenishment strategy off it. Knowing when you’re going to run out of stock.There isn’t an Excel spreadsheet that will tell you if you’re going to have a spike in sales. The only way to do that is by using a database and running some crazy statistical calculations.
This is something Jeremy sees a lot of mistakes with. Even if you’re an experienced private label seller and you’re bringing out a new product. It’s tough trying to figure out how much to order. Some things you want to think about when releasing a new product
You want to consider payment processing. Your money doesn’t show up immediately. Sometimes it takes a couple days to process your payment with the bank. The suppliers won’t do anything until that payment processes.
How long will it take for the factory to actually make the product. Is it going to be reliable? Will it take the length of time they quote you.
Preparation of shipping. If you’re placing a large order, it’s going to take time to process that shipment. Then sea or air time. Then is has to come through customs. There can be a lot of delays here. Then is has to be sent to Amazon where it will sit on their dock until they can receive it. If you send it to your house first, or a third-party preparer, all that takes time.
People will underestimate their lead time, and throw off the whole process. That goes for existing products as well.
Just to underline how important this is, it will always take longer than you expect. If a factory quotes you 2 weeks, it will likely take longer. They will tell you what you want to hear. If you send it to a prep facility, it could sit there for 3 weeks. Don’t underestimate receiving time at Amazon if it’s around Christmas or other holidays.
In terms of reality, it’s going to come down to you putting some pressure on them. Communication is key. Contact them saying that you’re going with them. You like the communication so far. How likely do you think we’re going to hit that three week mark? Should I account for an extra week in there? They’re people too. It will put them at ease knowing that they got the order and don’t have to tell you what they think you want to hear. There really isn’t a magic formula because each supplier is different.
You can add in a late delivery penalty. Let them know that it’s your company’s policy that there is a 10% penalty for every week past the deadline. You see this difference between new and veteran sellers. If you ship an order to Amazon and it’s late, you’re going to be hit with a charge-back. This is also dependent on your payment agreement. If you pay everything up front, you can’t go and take that back. Whereas if you make a partial payment before delivery, it’s a bit different.
The main point is to get a straight answer out of them. They are likely to be more honest if they will get less money if they try to be overly-optimistic. Most terms I recommend is 70% up front, and 30% balance.
One point Jeremy wanted to make sure to hit on is about new product and why lead time matters. It’s not lead time for your first initial order. It’s thinking ahead to your next order. Let’s say your very first order arrives today and you have a 45 day lead time. Now you have to think about your next order. If you didn’t order enough units to get through 45 days, you will run out of product. Even if you place a PO today.
You don’t want to place another order for 30 days. If you have a 45 day lead time, you have to order enough for 75 days of inventory. You don’t want to over-order inventory, but you really don’t want to run out. There are a lot of sellers that always order 100 units, or 1000 units. They’re just making up a number. Jeremy recommends looking at JungleScout. If you’re shooting for a rank of 10,000 in the office products category, you can look on JungleScout and estimate how many units you’ll sell in a day.
Exactly. They have a free Excel spreadsheet that you can get at forecast.ly/amazingfba. It’s a simple sheet that tells you what your lead time is, and when you’ll want to place your next order. The last piece on top of that is safety stock. That is a complicated thing so we won’t go into too much detail. Essentially, it’s insurance against a stock-out. If you think you’ll sell 10 units a day for those 75 days, then you’ll buy 750 units as your initial order. Depending on your level of cash, you’ll bump that up. You may want 10% safety stock. So you’ll add 75 units, just in case sales are higher than expected.
Buying wholesale from a brand owner is still viable for sure; someone which owns one brand. As far as a wholesaler, that distributes several brands, it depends. They have to make their profit too, and there might not be enough margin to go around. They are also likely to be selling to other Amazon sellers which would cut into your sales.
If you go to Back Country, they would carry the Black Diamond brand, as well as many others. Will wouldn’t buy from them but rather buy directly from Black Diamond.
One of the big reasons Will got into Vendor Central is that he hates launching products. It’s much easier to start with a product that already has 10,000 reviews. His philosophy is not to do something that’s hard just because it’s hard. So many people are worried about building a brand and launching products from scratch. It’s a lot easy to just make money first. Then, when you want a challenge, build your brand.
One recent product launch Will and his team did, was they got ping pong accessories from China. Got them in, slapped labels on them, no real packaging to them. They sent them into Amazon. There was four different types that they bundled in two and four packs. They’ve sold about 357 units in a month in a half and they just got their first review.
They spent $1000 on PPC to make $4000 so their A-cost is about 25% which is about break-even but gets them some traffic. It’s selling about seven units a day at $6 or $7 and he did nothing more than throw it up on Amazon. It’s all because he picked the right niche with the right keywords. He knew he could compete only on price.
If you are trying to go after a product that has 1500 reviews, then you will need 1500 reviews just to compete. What’s your strategy for getting 1500 reviews? If you do 1500 giveaways, that’s not sustainable. If someone wants to sell dog leashes because they love dogs, what can you do with that? You can’t put your love of dogs in the title. You can’t work with that. However, if you want to sell leashes because you see a gap in the market of seeing-eye dog leashes. They’re all 20ft long which makes no sense if the person is blind. It needs to be 4ft long. Great! You found a gap in the market. You found a specific keyword. There is a way to differentiate yourself and add value. Also, you didn’t need to do some crazy manufacturing. Just make a shorter leash.
No. No one really has that app on their phone. A lot of people will go out of their way to avoid shopping at Wal-Mart. Just Google “people of Wal-Mart”. There is a negative stigma. Much like eBay. Will they take a portion of the market? Yeah, but they won’t be a major competitor. People like the simple Amazon experience. Plus, if you’re going to buy something from walmart.com, why not just drive down the road and get it right now? The only real benefit Will sees from walmart.com is that if your product does well on their website, they might try to sell it in the stores and then you’ll be able to sell it in all the big-box stores.
Will was recently talking with a hedge-fund manager that owns a part of eBay who said that eBay looks good compared to other retailers. Who are the competitors? Macy’s who’s closing thousands of stores. Sears who is closing thousands of stores. Of course their going to look good in comparison when the competition is about to go bankrupt. They may grow 3.5% year after year, but the S&P average was 18%. 3% isn’t that cool. The numbers of people that get online in America grows at 3%. So eBay is growing at the rate of the internet and slower than GDP.
You will want to find a product in a category that Amazon isn’t sourcing and selling already. Then they will want to get their hands on it. Plus, if you have sales history on top of that, Amazon will love it. If you find that Amazon isn’t selling in climbing ropes, but they are selling 9 of the 10 dog leashes, then they’re not too excited to get anymore dog leases. Buying wholesale is a good way to start this.
It really depends on a lot of factors. It depends on how much cash flow you have, what kind of distributor you have, what the competition is like. Let’s say you have one Chinese supplier that you buy iPhone cases from. They’re the only ones that are waterproof and you buy 10,000 at a time and you have $100,000 in the bank. From they, maybe you build momentum in Seller Central, then move it to Vendor Central so they see the momentum. In Seller Central, you might be ranked in the thousands for iPhone cases, but in Vendor Central you might be rank 1 for waterproof cases.
There is a company in Hong Kong that does Vendor Central so they don’t have to pay taxes in each state whenever they sell in Seller Central. There is all sorts of different scenarios that will affect the decision. Amazon pays for inbound shipping when they order from you in Vendor Central. So if you have a large product that is expensive to ship, you can save a lot of money by using Vendor Central.
So 2017, third-party sales will still grow from 2016. However, at the same time, Amazon will condense. If you look at their earnings report, the number of items offered for sale has gone down; the number of items fulfilled have gone up. Amazon is clearing up a lot of junk sellers. You have people like Will going through and condensing their listings. Once they get rid of the riff-raff, it’ll be much more simple, and you can tell who the private labelers are that care, and who’s selling junk. Eventually, the junk ones will phase out. The sales of third-party sellers will go up, but the amount of third-party sellers and third-party products may fall over time. So, by the time 2018 rolls around, everyone will try to find a way to differentiate themselves because the third-party selling will become a thing of the past.