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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.

#61 The Canton Fair – Lessons Learned – with Danny McMillan – Part 1 of 2

Danny - remind us of your background in 2 minutes or fewer!

Danny first got his start in the music industry selling vinyls years ago. That where he first got to work with products and marketing and all that. In 2008 he began working online with different startups which led him to Amazon last year. He was able to consolidate the knowledge he gained from those two industries and put them to use with FBA.

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#51 Using Amazon Suppliers & Building Quality products with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo – Part 1 of 2

   This episode, #51, is the first of two parts of the interview with Manuel Becvar of Import Dojo. Manuel has 11 years’ experience of sourcing in Hong Kong and China and also is an Amazon seller with several product lines live and selling well. 

EPISODE 51 SHOW NOTES

What took you to Hong Kong?

Went there for a 6 month internship  for an Austrian electronics firm in 2005. He was handling sourcing from suppliers. He fell in love with the city and a woman and never left!

He loved the drive and opportunities of Hong Kong. Very expensive but great place to live.

Do you also sell on Amazon?

Yes since August 2014. Also documented launching a whole brand. He currently has 7 products and 10 more coming in the next few months.

He’s focussed on getting after 3-5 categories in different categories. He launched then stopped a few more.  He has several businesses which were more of a priority till now.

What are they?

  1. Selling on amazon
  2. Sourcing company in hong kong for amazon sellers.
  3. A consulting and import course, step by step guide to import from china and sell on amazon but also sell to retail.

He started out with a consumer electronics brand, selling to retailers in Europe under own brand and their own brand, but also now on Amazon. Now Manuel is focussing on his own Amazon business as it is really picking up.

Tell me about stopping a product?

He used to sell smart phone accessories but then the prices got so low there was not much profit. Electronics can be very competitive.

What’s your process for selecting products? What are your selection criteria? Do you go by the numbers of individual products? Or build a brand in a niche?

Manuel is more old fashioned, doesn’t use Jungle Scout or ASIN inspection so much. He subscribes to relevant product websites. newsletters, goes to trade shows. Also looks at Kickstarter and Indigogo for product concepts.

Manuel doesn’t look into creating a huge brand in one category. Tries out one product in a niche e.g. coffee press. If that takes off, build into that niche. If not, don’t go into say grinders, filters etc. 

Coffee press now selling about 20 a day.

How do you  beat the competition?

you need to stand out to beat the competition.  Tries not to copy the competition. This is his approach. Will Tjernlund does copy the competition, but Manuel is more interested in creating unique products and building a brand.

How can we make a product unique in a simple way?

Example 1: Blue tooth speaker-

The sample looked bad, plastic finish, bad sound, packaging horrible. 

The finish rubber instead of plastic was 20 cents more but immediately looked better.  Then looked at components, sound was bad, different driver sounded much better and cost just 50 cents more.  Used photographer to get better photos. 

He turned a $10  product into a $30 product but only cost him $2 more.

Focus on finish, minor improvements etc.

Example 2 – Coffee Press

There are  lots of stainless steel finishes, but no copper finish.  So Manuel had that done and added in extra filters etc.

Look at the little things you can change.

Tell us about working with suppliers. What’s the best way to approach your supplier about this?

Introduce yourself including company presentation –

Create an excel file or word doc about the product- include bullet points, this is where it’s at, this is what i want instead. 

Also point out that if you improve the product, they will make more sales with other customers as well. so they are more willing to make changes with costs.

So you’re not trying to get an exclusive deal with them?

Amazon sellers are mostly a small part of a suppliers’ business. if Manuel does say $10,000 a year he’s a very small fish. that may be 0.5% of their turnover if you work with a big factory (this is true for his own coffee press. They also work with Tesco’s who order $1m a year)

How do you get an exclusive deal for amazon rights?

He has set up an agreement with the Purchase Order which says – “My plan is to order 10,000 units. Are you willing to give me exclusivity for a year. If I don’t reach 5000 units within 6 months, we can cancel this agreement. “

This give Manuel 6 months to figure out if he wants to place more orders and it means the supplier can make more profit too after 6 months. 

Manuel is okay with that because he would have a head start, maybe 100-200 reviews already. It’s okay to have competition. It’s not all about one item only.

Manuel is happy if he can do 6 months of excellent sales on one product. That repays the time and money invested already. 

Greg Mercer was saying if you get 6 months’ head start, you can defend your product against competition. So you agree with that?

Yes, that does work.

Where do you go to look for suppliers?

Manuel has collected over 1000 business cards for suppliers from previous job being a product manager, when he went to China every 2 weeks.

Manuel also works with a lot of trading companies. He will sometimes be willing to pay say 50 cents more and use a trading company, similar to agent. Some of them work as if you are working with factory, for example if factory doesn’t speak English, don’t know about country requirements eg CE (European Union), FCC (USA), FDA (Food & Drug Administration, USA) approval, doesn’t have experience exporting to a country, etc., etc.

So working with a trading company can make a lot of sense.

Alibaba and Global Sources Manuel does use if he can’t find anyone through his network – you can verify and vet the suppliers. You can still vet them by checking their certificates, asking who they work with,  Which markets they export to etc.

For example, If Manuel asks “where do you export to?” and they say, “Middle East” and you want to export to USA, don’t bother. He wants a supplier

It’s also good to know a few names in the industry eg small supermarket or worked with an Amazon seller before. Check business certificate.

What are the big does and don’ts for selecting a supplier? Assuming Alibaba, Global Sources or HKTDC and someone who is new to the process.

There is a lot of filtering you can do. e.g. a microwave on Alibaba, filter by Gold Supplier, trade assurance, 3rd party verification.

You can also filter by region – say 10 different provinces of China.

Let’s say Guangdong have 5000 suppliers and another has just 10. That shows you where the main factories are for this kind of product.

If a region specialises in making those products, they have the resources and the infrastructure.

Say in Jeijung province, with 10 supplier results, they probably don’t specialise in that.

There are many other filters you can use.

Send out enquiries to 10 suppliers. 3 or 4 get back to Manuel with and answer all his to Qs

Email out “vendor profile”,  asking for:

  • 2 customer references for customers
  • markets. Has he exported to this country before?
  • business certificates, and certificates for prods
  • no workers; when company established; annual turnover.
  • do they do R & D? Have their own engineers? how many product lines?

You get a gut feeling after a while.

This is included in import dojo ebook as a downloadable document.

Import Dojo is actually a 60-page book which is a bestseller on Amazon! It is free at the company’s site. 

 What’s next in your process?

Get a soft copy of any certificates needed – prove he has it!

IF that’s okay, then ask for a sample from at least 2-3 suppliers. Same process with all suppliers.  If all samples are equal, go with most responsive/proactive and helpful supplier, even if price is a little higher. Then place an order. 

So you’re okay with higher prices?

They need to make profit too, they work hard. The factory will be business partner, it should be a fair biz relationship. As long as profit is built into your price, it’s fine to pay a little bit more.

If you have individualised products and with good product price, you can afford
If you’re building a brand, if you squeeze in cheap products, it won’t help. 

I guess it depends on whether you have customised products vs. commoditised products sold en masse?

Yes, I’m building a brand, so selling cheap products to make a quick buck is not part of my strategy.

What is the best tip for negotiating on product price once you have verified that the quoted price is in the fair region? Should simple customisations really cost that much more?

There shouldn’t really be a big difference. Unless the supplier has to invest money into a new tool or a new mould. If it’s just a colour difference, it shouldn’t be much.

To find if it’s reasonable, ask at least 3 suppliers for a quote. IF one is way off on price, he’s either incompetent or trying to rip you off!

To contact Manuel, click here for the Import Dojo contact page.

NEXT EPISODE

In Episode #52, Manuel gives details on keeping your money safe, getting quality control for Electronic Products, simple ways to start with Freight, overall process and predictions for the future of Amazon. Stay tuned!

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 on your iDevice.

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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.

#43: Amazon Supplier Negotiation & The Future of Amazon with Greg Mercer – PART 2 of 2)

Episode #43: Greg Mercer of Jungle Scout Interview  (Suppliers & Predictions – PART TWO)

Suppliers

Does negotiating on price ever work much with suppliers or do you have to increase the numbers to get the discount or try to add in extras to get lower prices per unit?

Greg doesn’t worry so much about this now. 10 cents off doesn’t add much to your profit.

But if you keep asking for lower price, the Chinese person at the other end feels more inclined to cut corners, e.g., use worse materials, leading to Quality issues. Or it will get put to back of the queue etc. etc.  If you get moved back to the back of the line so you’re out of stock for several weeks, you could be losing $100 a day in lost profit! This doesn’t compare to 10 cents a unit!

Don’t get hung up on low price if it’s profitable. If there’s something left in it for the factory, they’ll be more inclined to be helpful.  (This ties in with Peter Zapf’s advice – Global Sources).

Actually factories do have rising costs. Going out there has given Greg a perspective.  Your suppliers are a crucial part of your business so treat them well. 

Apart from Chinese new year are there any other times of the year that slow down the manufacturing rate such as the Canton Fair?

Gearing up to 4th quarter in Sept, Oct means longer queues. Seasonal items like patio products would be even worse because that involves Chinese New Year.

Just say to your supplier, I’m planning the year out (and they will like this!) so can you let me know when you will need longer to manufacture? This actually sends great signals: a. you’re organised b. you are planning to order regularly.

Is there any way of ensuring that once you have differentiated a product from a supplier (by colour or design) that the supplier won’t then send your differentiated product out to other customers as samples and then they will just order the same differentiated product (just with their logo on it)?

Short answer: not really! You can try to work with your supplier on this – you can try to get them to sign something which could possibly work. But if you tore them apart about saving 6 cents on something, they probably won’t do it! Talk to them about it. You have the most negotiating power BEFORE you place your first order. Or first large order.

However, even if your factory does that, there are probably 7 other factories making the same product. Don’t get too hung up on that.

So how do you build a defensive wall around your products?

It’s almost impossible to do fully with a private Label product. But if you go into a newish market or you are the first into a market with a modification, you can use the time that buys you (say 3-6 months) to build reviews and sales rank to get a solid head start on the competition.

 An example from Greg: first person to sell a product with metal instead of plastic buckles. For 6 months he was the only one; now there are 15 others doing it.  even though there is tons of competition, he has top rank, 400 reviews, the best pictures etc. So he hasn’t really seen sales decrease.

When I looked on Aliexpress at getting just a few items of the product I was interested in, they seemed quite expensive (like the same amount as similar products were selling for on amazon) and I would be making quite a big loss once I included import duties and FBA fees.

Do people just take this loss to test if a product sells or is there any negotiating on price on aliexpress rather than alibaba?

Greg has never used AliExpress – but it is bound to more expensive because there are no economies of scale! Just treat it is as a market and supplier test. Or to be more cost effective,  you could just place an order for say 100 units with an Alibaba supplier. 

Would Greg recommend going the route of getting an agent to source products from different suppliers, rather than contacting different suppliers individually through something like Alibaba?  If so what is the best way of finding a trustworthy Agent?

Greg for the first year or so just went direct to suppliers. He found an agent as someone he already worked with at a factory. Everyone Greg knows who uses an agent met them through an established relationship. [Same is true for Michael]. In China it’s all about relationships anyway.

There are small advantages to having an agent, such as factories not on Alibaba,  but you do have to pay them a cut!  It’s really  more about outsourcing than money saving.  

How do people find out more about you and Jungle Scout?

Greg writes a solid blog post each week. There’s a cool product case study (“Jungle Stix”). Just comment on the blog or Tweet: @mercer_greg

What are your views and thoughts on trends you see happening on Amazon? What are the most successful sellers doing right now?

One thing successful sellers have in common: if you can make a small improvement on a product, it works really well. Find a product with mostly 3 star reviews. Read the 1 and 2 star reviews; if it’s something simple you can fix, make the improvement they ask for. You can both take away sales and charge a premium for it. 

For example the product with metal buckle vs plastic buckles – Greg sold his for $29 and the competition was selling for $14.95 , and the cost difference to Greg was about 50 cents!

Also larger/oversized items, although there are still opportunities with smaller, unmodified products.

What’s new and what do you see coming in terms of changes that we should be thinking about adapting to?

If looking at 2016, & probably 2017, there will still be lots of good opportunities in the .com store especially with modifications and larger/oversized items. Realistically it probably will start  to get really competitive by say 2018. By then a lot of other marketplaces like UK, Germany, Japan and India will be maturing with more demand, which Greg will be entering in due course. 

Parting Advice:
If you’ve been listening to the podcast and researching for a while, it’s time to get started. A lot of people seem to be worrying about things they don’t need to worry about. You’ll hit little roadblocks but it’s important to keep pushing forward, get your 1st product up for sale. It’s probably not as complex as you think!

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 on yt sentence.

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

 

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#35 Amazon Sourcing – Big Picture Strategies with Peter Zapf of Global Sources (interview part 2 of 2)

 Peter Zapf of Global Sources has 15 years’ experience of sourcing from his hot seat in the action in Hong Kong.  He spoke with me at the end of March about all things China Sourcing related. In Episode 34, he discusses tactics. But in this half of the interview, he discusses some big picture strategies with huge implications. Required listening for the ambitious Amazon Entrepreneur!

SHOW NOTES FOR EPISODE #35

1)      Product strategies: 

a.       commoditized light vs. differentiated heavy 

Many people are using the same Criteria for product selection,  e.g., light, small, can be air freighted, etc.

The problem is that if everyone uses the same product criteria, you end up with huge competition.  Yes, they’re easy products to start with, but the space ends up crowded.

There is  nothing wrong with starting with RA (retail Arbitrage)  or commoditized products – it’s a great way to learn about importing, working with Chinese suppliers, creating a product listing, PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising etc.  It just doesn’t seem like a long term business to Peter.

If for example you choose large, heavy products, you have to use ocean shipping, which means there currently is a lot less competition.

You’ll order need to place a larger order to make the logistics make sense.  So there is more capital needed upfront and it is tied up for longer sitting on the ocean.

These are problems to solve but they are also barriers to entry.

  Your own design is the next step as an even bigger barrier to entry.

In retail Arbitrage, you’re competing for the buy box with the exact same product.

With private labelling, at least you are not competing for the buy box. But If the supplier designs the product, you are competing for ranking with essentially a commoditised product that others can sell.

Your design will protect you more from the competition if it is harder to copy. For example, a longer or thicker yoga mat is not a very hard difference to copy.  Often this depends on the amount of money you have or are prepared to invest.

If you need for example to use a designer, get regulatory compliance checks done, use lawyers and legal contracts with manufacturer, the supplier needs to make a new mould…this all adds to the cost and complexity and makes it harder to duplicate.

This then becomes more about how to minimize your upfront risk. Say if you create 8 new products, how can you set things up such that you only need 4 to succeed to break even, rather than say 5?

There was a famous example of a company called “Quirky” which went out of business recently.  They spent $400,000 ( http://www.theverge.com/2015/4/24/8488531/quirky-invention-powered-by-quirky) designing a blue tooth speaker – and then sold 30 units!!

Trademarking and Patent protection can be complex.

But Trademarking is much easier, faster and cheaper than patents. It might be that you can get a U.S. trademark something for a few hundred dollars. Worth checking with a company like Legal Zoom

How to minimize your risk/reduce costs

Think about reducing supply chain costs:

  Logistics:  use ocean shipping to improve your price competitiveness (or have more margin to put into advertising).

How can you fill a container to make the max use of the space?

Can you spend $200 to have the pallets of goods delivered from US port to an Amazon warehouse in California rather than $hundreds to go across the US?

Reducing supply chain costs by removing a step:

Flexport recently explained to Peter there are two options:

Option 1: Have freight forwarder take freight all the way to a specific Amazon warehouse (so set up on Seller Central BEFORE setting up freight from CHina) or

Option 2: Freight Forwarder will usually have own warehouse, so get it sent there rather than FBA Inspection etc. then on to the various Amazon Warehouses.

Ocean shipping: If Amazon asks you to send products to say 3 different USA warehouses, if you set that up before finalising your freight/shipping, you can get your supplier to break it into the right number of pre-packed pallets. This means your consignment won’t need reworking inthe USA.

This saves a step/time but also reduces costs: Your supplier is likely to do this at no/low cost.

Order quantity: Order large enough quantities to get a reduced price per unit and economies of scale in the supply chain.

Packaging – can you reduce the costs?

3)      China Suppliers competing with you on Amazon:

There are manufacturers already selling on Amazon. That’s the bad news. The good news is that most of them don’t always want to commit a lot of money and energy to it because they are used to getting paid upfront; on Amazon, they have to wait a longer time for their money! Also, they are not usually so good at listing copy and photos, custom service and the other marketing functions.

HOWEVER there are a lot of domestic China Private Label Sellers (not manufacturers) selling from China.

Peter has talked to them and they say their disadvantage is that they don’t understand consumer needs.

BUT they are very good at commoditized products e.g. Power Banks for mobile/cell phones. So be wary of commoditized products!

Some are creating their own brands and competing on price.

You advantage is understanding your local (national) consumers better, so you know what product changes are needed. To the extent you can take advantage of that, you have an advantage.

Knowing your own customers helps greatly with product selection.

Also you have native speaker language skills, knowledge of good product listings, photography etc.

4)     Differentiating your  products: 

Basically you may need to make some kind of upfront investment to really differentiate your product (time and/or money). Then the key becomes mitigating risk.

Here’s a possible strategy:

1. Crowdfunding- get a design then post it up in Kickstarter or Indiegogo. This validates the idea and you can get the money upfront for an initial production run.

2. Make sales on Amazon to prove product acceptance, margins, sales volume and customer response (reviews)

3. Sell to brick and mortar retailers, leveraging feedback from Amazon volume, revenues and reviews to convince the retailer it’s a great product.

Retailers will also need to know you can replenish inventory within say two weeks. So you would need local warehousing (as your supplier would probably need about 3 months to manufacture and deliver a new consignment of product if you are shipping by ocean).

Parting words:

Don’t let setbacks hold you back. Learn from them, then move on.

For example, an “incorrect” product selection can be frustrating.

But  you’ve still learnt so many skills: product research and selection, finding suppliers, communicating with suppliers, setting up supply chain, creating Amazon listings, PPC marketing, keywords etc., etc., etc. So you can take those skills and move on to the next product.

If looking for products, try Global Sources!

For more help with the sourcing process: go to www.smartchinasourcing.com, which is another website run by  Global Sources.

Global Sources is also running a Smart China Sourcing Summit co-located with their Hong Kong trade shows.  Danny McMillan will also be speaking there.  Information at http://www.globalsources.com/summit

There are many guest posts – look at the links to the authors and follow them, to get more info on particular topics.

For actionable tactics from this first half of this interview, go to Episode 34.

To ask Questions for Peter for his follow-up interview,  go to our Facebook Group.

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.

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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 on yt sentence.

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.

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 on yt sentence.

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.

1

#34 Amazon China Product Sourcing -Peter Zapf of Global Sources (part 1 of 2)

   This episode, #34, is the first of two parts of the interview with Peter Zapf of Global Sources. Peter has a huge background in working with Asian (mostly Chinese) suppliers and the whole supply chain. He has a fantastic ability to bring common sense and  simplicity to these complex issues.  

Show notes for Episode 34 (Tactics/Qs)

Peter has been working in Hong Kong for Global Sources for about 15 years.

Global sources has existed for about 40 years. It exists to help sellers/retailers find manufacturers and vice versa. They started off with magazines; since 1996, they have a website (http://www.globalsources.com); since the early 2000’s, they have run Trade shows twice a year (in April and October), in Hong Kong (http://www.globalsources.com/exhibitions).  They’re also running a Smart China Sourcing Summit for FBA sellers at their trade show (http://www.globalsources.com/summit)   

Tactical Qs (FB group) RECENT POLL/EMAIL & from recent FB group posts:

What are the pros and cons of using a sourcing agent?

The pros: often they will get you a lower price so they will pay for themselves.  And they provide feet on the ground.

Cons: Agents have a reputation for taking a cut from both sides – it could be an extra cost because you’re not going direct to factory.  Also, It’s an extra layer of communication which may be a hinderance, especially with a complex product.

Is travel to China, to source products, necessary to grow your business? 

Not really. Email and Skype work well for people starting out.

If you go Full time with your business, it’s very worth considering.

Travel “Lite” is to visit the Trade shows.

“Full” version is to go face to face and travel to meet the suppliers in the factory.

How do you work out what a “good” price is [for a product]?

The best thing is to get multiple quotes from different suppliers. Then go back to your preferred supplier and say “We’d love to work with you but can you match this price?”

However, low price is not the only factor! Consider also:

1. If you squeeze the price, the manufacturer will have to cut corners. This will lead to Quality Control (QC) issues. “You get what you pay for.”  Think about how you want to balance cost and quality. 

2. If you have say a 5% defect rate, that will lose any financial gains you make.

3.  If your product costs are about 25% of your Amazon selling price, a 10% rise in your buying costs only add about 2% to your selling price.

Other ways to save money than just product cost:

Ordering bigger quantities.

Going to directly to the factory vs. using an intermediary.

Using sea vs. air freight.

Shipping direct to Amazon warehouse vs. stopping somewhere in-between.

How your whole supply chain is set up is important for price.

How do you know if you are dealing with a factory rather than an intermediary?

Look at the Global Sources site and look at the Business Licence and see if it includes a word like “manufacturer”.  This works reasonably well in China.

But be aware they may manufacture some things but trade others!

The only way to really know if they manufacture your desired item, is to hire someone to visit the factory or do it yourself. (Compare name on business card, paperwork, factory itself, etc.)

Inspection and Quality Control (QC)- what are your basic recommendations?

It depends on the product but this works well for most categories.

1.    Get several samples. 

2.    Write down everything you don’t like about them.e.g. batteries don’t go in easily; doesn’t turn on; scratches, dents etc.

3. Make an objective list of QC criteria.

4.   Include this list with your Purchase Order. Your supplier may say “No, we can’t deliver at this level.” but it’s much better to know that up front!

5.   Make an initial payment of 30%. Never pay 100% at this point.

6.   Bring in a 3rd party inspector to do a Pre-Shipment Inspection. They should use your QC criteria from your Purchase Order (plus whatever you feel is also relevant).

7.  They will then send you an inspection report.

8. Only then, if you accept the shipment, do you release the remaining 70% of the funds.

By telling the supplier upfront that you’re having a 3rd party inspection done, you’ll get lower defects.  You are signaling to the supplier that you care about quality.

Inspection costs about 300 USD per man-day (for a 1st/2nd tier level Inspection company), and one man day is enough for a typical Amazon buyer shipment. 

How to set up the quality control level?

AQL (Acceptable Quality Limit) is the main [internationally standardised] way to set quality control level and the statistics depending on order size.

Define in your QC criteria if a  problem is =1. critical defect; or 2. major defect; or 3.  minor defect.

Minor=> customer won’t return product eg box folded wrong

Major=> product still works but customer may return

Critical=> product doesn’t really work.

Set how many critical/major/minor defects are allowed:

AQL level Big Box retailers use is 0/2.5/4 (critical defects/major defects/minor defects)

Higher quality: 0/1/2.5

A lot of shipments actually do not pass inspection but the buyer still okays the shipment the buyer may be okay with the minor defects and request improvement for the next shipment. 

Get advice on these topics from your inspection company. 

Overview of the inspection process in this multi-part article (Part 2 is my favorite): http://www.smartchinasourcing.com/home/china-product-quality/2485-managing-qc-inspectors-part-1-the-hiring-process.html 

Description of AQL here: http://www.smartchinasourcing.com/home/china-product-quality/354-back-to-basics-what-is-the-aql.html

How do you set an appropriate quality level? 

If the customer isn’t going to return the product, give negative reviews or negative feedback, then it’s probably fine. So that’s probably the main criterion for rejecting or accepting a batch.

This is another reason for not beating the supplier down too high on price!

Ocean Shipping

Do you recommend shipping insurance?

Like all insurance, it’s easy to get cover but it’s hard to get a payout if needed!

The actual probability of a loss is mathematically low. It comes down to risk tolerance.

If you can afford to lose the money, it’s may not be necessary. If it would bankrupt the company, that’s when to get insurance!

What is the cost difference between ocean and air freight?

There was a recent study on a product that was medium small sized, and they calculated a cost per unit of $6 by air and about $1 by ocean.

There are fixed port costs either end. A very broad rule of thumb is that above 150 kg or 3 cubic metres, sea shipping makes more sense. Also very bulky items need to go by sea (because of volumetric weight)

Customs clearance

How do you handle customs clearance at a US port? (also: What is the cost of customs clearance for sea shipping? How do you select a customs clearance agent for SS?)

Answer to all of these: let your freight forwarder handle it! Peter has talked to the folks at Flexport (based in the USA), but the industry is fragmented and there are many, many freight forwarders.

The Freight Forwarder will ask :

1.    Do you want

a. EXW (Ex works) (pick up straight from factory gates?) or 

b. FOB (Free On Board) (the supplier will get the products on board ship then the Freight Forwarder takes over)?

2. Where do you want it delivered to?

3. What are the dimensions and weight of the product?

They’ll handle port fees and inland freight fees. And they may or my not include duty in the quote but if not included in quote, and they will bill you for it.  When Sea shipping, always use a freight forwarder!

Do you need a freight forwarder for air freight?

Be clear about the difference between Air Freight or Air Courier service.  Here is a good article: http://www.thesourcingblog.com/air-freight-from-china-explained/

The latter is eg DHL, Fedex, UPS. [You may get away without a freight forwarder for this. I have several times. But it’s not foolproof- I also got burnt once! – Michael]

For air freight proper, you probably need a freight forwarder.  If in doubt – ask a freight forwarder if you need to use them!

Do you need a separate customs broker?

The Freight Forwarder will usually either have that in-house or have a relationship with one. So basically they take care of it.

When making initial contact with Chinese suppliers, should I act as if [I am] the buyer and have to OK prices with my boss?                     Peter doesn’t recommend starting a relationship with “untruths”! Mostly the reason for this is for price negotiations. That leads back to price vs. quality trade off (plus the time and aggravation spent on negotiating for small price differences)

If you do want to negotiate on price, you can focus on getting multiple quotes and then compare. (Traditional retailers also figure out the costs of materials and labour and add on margin for the supplier, but this is more complex)

Is it true that Chinese factories generally give you a price that is close to the cost of production?

It can be. Chinese factories often get their profit margin from the VAT rebate of say 9-17%.  If you are getting a good quote, the price can be close to cost – depends on how good your price is!

Any advice on Sourcing from US, UK and European Manufacturers?

This is not something that Global Sources focusses on although the issues may be mostly the same.

Is using a gmail address OK for contacting suppliers? (because of spam from would-be suppliers)

Suppliers are also getting more sophisticated – they will often look up you and your company in eg Linked-In. Good suppliers are capacity constrained. The new suppliers and ones that will work with anybody may not be the ones you want to work with!

To convince the good suppliers to work with you, you want to come across as well as possible (although some of the buyers from the larger retailers do use Gmail to avoid spam).

Try to have a company domain, a company website. Give background about you that sells you as a legitimate and experienced buyer or at least an experienced business person. 

NEXT EPISODE

In Episode #35, Peter gives his strategic big-picture thinking about how to develop a long-term sustainable Product business. Amazing thinking that I have not heard anywhere else. Stay tuned!

NEXT EPISODE

In Episode #35, Peter gives his strategic big-picture thinking about how to develop a long-term sustainable Product business. Amazing thinking that I have not heard anywhere else. Stay tuned!

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 on your iDevice.

For Android listeners – Download the Stitcher Radio app (free) and search for “Amazing FBA Podcast.”  Or, if you have already downloaded a podcasting client, follow the directions in the next sentence.

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.

2

#20 Amazon Private Label Sourcing Mistakes – Part 2 of 2

This Episode, #20 ,  is continuation from episode #18 of my personal Sourcing Mistakes and the solutions I’ve found.

Choosing Suppliers, Communication, handling Financial Arrangements, and  Quality Control and Freight/US Customs can be some of the scariest things for a newcomer to a product-based business. They are also  the source of many of the frustrations and blocks to progress for any Amazon FBA business owner, however experienced.

Here I continue to share with you all the mistakes I personally have made, and the solutions I had to find!

If you have similar stories to tell, please share them with your fellow Amazon sellers, either here, or in our Facebook Group. Let’s help each other!

For a detailed step by step guide to the  sourcing process, listen to Episodes #6-#10, which  are part of the 10-step Amazing FBA Startup System.

SHOW NOTES FOR EPISODE #20 -Sourcing Mistakes

            1. Going to the same place as everyone else to find suppliers
              1. HKTDC
        1. Getting exactly  the same kind of product!
        2. Not verifying supplier hard enough- solutions- checklist
        3. Not checking about details of product
        4. Not getting samples
        5. Not ordering exact model (eg blue vs. black colour) with total clarity
        6. Address errors (continent!!)
        7. Over-long or native-speaker only english
        8. Having only one possible supplier ready to go
        9. Letting supplier change carrier to non-standard.
        10. Not allowing for random delays eg typhoon, suppliers’ supplier (boxes!) delay, customs, supplier gets big order from big customer, hazmat
        11. Picking a product needing or including batteries!
          1. not understanding the technical info for batteries
          2. not getting technical info from supplier upfront
        12. Not getting products inspected in China
              1. At the very least, get them inpsected in the USA
              2. NEVER send in uninspected products to Amazon!
        13. HAZMAT (“Hazardous Material”) or other Amazon technical delays
          1. Not preparing MSDS exemption doc
          2. Not allowing for Hazmat delays
        14. Not allowing for delays by Amazon in receiving goods or Hazmat issues
        15. Not moving other parts of the business forward when sourcing isn’t going to plan
        16. Expecting the Chinese to give a straight answer to a confrontational question
        17. Getting angry about things outside your control. Remember the ideal:

The Serenity (calm) to accept the things you cannot change; The Courage to change the things you can; and The Wisdom to know the difference.

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 on your iDevice.

For Android listeners – Download the Stitcher Radio app (free) and search for “Amazing FBA Podcast.”  Or, if you have already downloaded a podcasting client, follow the directions in the next sentence.

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.