Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Moving Forward From Amazon

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

Moving Forward From Amazon

In the previous blog post, Manuel went over some great strategy and techniques on how you can pitch your products to retailers and wholesalers across the world.

Today’s blog post marks the final blog post of this great series. This post will be all about thinking forward and expanding your business into other areas.

Expand Into The Other Amazon Global Markets

Amazon is still the number one E-commerce marketplace in the world, and it will be for a long time. Although we believe that Amazon has some disadvantages for sellers who wish to have complete control over their business, you should always list your product there. Currently, the markets which we recommend expanding to, are:

  • Amazon EU(UK & Germany should be a priority).
  • Amazon Japan

These marketplaces have a much lower volume than their US counterpart, however, the traffic and sales are increasing year-on-year and Amazon has been investing heavily to attract buyers & sellers to their marketplaces outside the US.

Expand Into Other E-Commerce Marketplaces

There are a number of ECommerce marketplaces that allow you to list your products, some also have a similar fulfillment service like Amazon FBA. While not all ECommerce marketplaces are ideal(some have very low sales volume), this will allow you to increase your brand visibility and target markets which your competition is unlikely to target.

In my opinion, the marketplaces that make the most sense to register a seller account are:

  • Walmart & JET
  • Newegg
  • Sears
  • Ebay
  • Rakuten

Focus On Growing Your Online Store

Having your own ECommerce store is only to have complete control over your brand & pricing. One of the things I like about having an ECommerce store is that I have complete freedom when it comes to:

  • Creating special offers/giveaways.
  • Store Design & Branding
  • Customized Packaging
  • Control over Customer Service & Experience

However, the best thing about having your own store is that it’s a challenge! While Amazon definitely needs some mastering – all the buyer traffic is already there! With your own store, you need to spend an enormous amount of time dedicated to bringing traffic to your website.

While this requires a lot of hard work and testing, in my opinion, it’s more rewarding and it can be scaled significantly once you have a working formula

Outsourcing

We feel this step is the most important part of any business. A successful business is a scaleable business. While you should always retain control over the key tasks of your business, it is important to delegate tasks, especially those tasks that are time-consuming or you have no expertise in.

With the rise of freelancing and outsourcing websites, it is very easy to find very skilled freelancers or companies for your business. In my opinion, these are the tasks that you should definitely outsource:

Importing

  • Product & Packaging Design
  • Product Inspection
  • Logistics(Freight Forwarder, Warehousing etc)
  • Product Sourcing

Business

  • Legal & Accounting
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Company Branding
  • Graphic Design

Of course, what tasks you outsource depends entirely on you, however, if you want to scale your business and achieve freedom, you need to delegate tasks.

Conclusion

This blog post concludes our Zero To Hero: Building a Brand series, we hope that this series proved helpful in your efforts to build a truly successful and global brand.

Building a brand takes a lot of effort, however with the right strategy in place, you will have a company that has great products and it’s loved by its customers.

We would appreciate any feedback you have on this series and if there is anything we can help you with, kindly leave a comment below.

All the best & happy selling,

Duncan & Manuel

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series –moving to Retail & Wholesale

My background is actually retail, so I naturally started out with retail before moving onto Amazon. When a friend told me about FBA I didn’t even know that Amazon let’s third parties sell on Amazon. 

I thought they only sell their own product. I am glad that friend pointed me to FBA, otherwise it would have been a lot more difficult to get my brand off the ground. 

It has been nearly 3 years since I started my own business and as I said I started in retail. I had collected many contacts in retail and that was the natural way to go for me. 

Looking back I am happy I started out in retail as it helped my brand immensely to get exposure while creating a second income trough Amazon.

The ultimate goal of any brand or company is to get their products in front of as many customers as possible. The only way to do this is by listing your products through all the sales channels that are available to brands.

The most powerful or “rewarding” sales channel is retail and wholesaling. Retail has the power to move your product quickly, thus getting huge exposure for your brand and products.

The Challenge

Retail is notoriously one of the hardest sales channels to get into. Your products must not only be appealing to consumers, but also packaging and marketing materials have to be of a higher standard than E-commerce.

However, one of the hardest challenges is finding retailers who are willing to take on a new brand and its products. Retailers often don’t take huge risks with their capital and prefer to invest in brands that are already established or brands that carry really unique products. So the key is to have unique products rather than generic.

Selling a Garlic Press that has some accessory doesn’t make you unique. The retailer will buy this product from his trusted source. 

Larger items also have the issue of shelf space; which in retail is limited. On top of that you can’t just knock on a retailers door and expect a smooth and fast process.

Retailers have decision maker hierarchies and it is often difficult to get to the right decision maker. Often times retailers already have their suppliers or connections and they aren’t open to a new supplier. Reasons being that they already may have great buying conditions and relationships with their existing suppliers.

In some cases I worked on a potential retailer for over 2 years before getting an order (in my previous job) and in those 2 years there were 3 changes on decision makers and I had to start from the beginning again.

The new guy might not be open to you as the previous guy was and maybe he is already bringing sources/suppliers to the job and you need to start all over again convincing the new guy. 

On top of that most larger retailers get emails and phone calls every day from new suppliers wanting to sell them their product. So it is a long and windy road to get into retail, sometimes as much as 2 – 3 years. But once you have your foot inside the door you are in a great position. 

Solution and how to get into retail

One word – relationship. If you have a good relationship the price or your product doesn’t really matter. 

Someone is likely to buy from you if you have a relationship with him right? The more credentials you have and the more history you have with a person the more likely that person is to buy from you right?

An example. Let’s say you need a new health insurance. You already have an insurance from your trusted childhood friend (let’s call him Steve). Steve is quite expensive and maybe his insurance package doesn’t even have a lot of benefits. 

But you still buy from him because he’s your friend and you’ve known him for years & on top of that you trust him. You even have him over at your house for BBQ’s, you meet up for beers etc. 

You get a phone call from an insurance company trying to sell you a new health insurance with much better benefits. You don’t know this company but the offer sounds appealing.

You take the offer and go to Steve and tell him he needs to make the same offer or you buy from this new insurance company. Steve probably can’t make the same offer but he’ll adjust his old package and give you more benefits, maybe even at a better price. On top of that he throws in a coupon or voucher for shopping at Amazon. 

You close the deal with Steve. That’s the power of relationships. And that’s how retailers work – they have their trusted sources and relationships.  “You need to become Steve”. 

Many of those relationships especially in the “old days” included some sort of bribery. For example if you switch to a new supplier that supplier would buy out your entire old stock from the old supplier. Back in the 90’s it wasn’t unheard of that a new supplier would invite you over on his yacht and take a trip down to the South of France.

Thankfully these “unfair” tactics aren’t accepted anymore – at least not with multinational retailers. There are strict enforcements in terms of bribery in big retailers. However, the relationship factor still plays a key role in doing business.

Today its just called “wining and dining” a customer. You take the customer out for a steak dinner and a nice bottle of wine and you probably don’t even end up talking business but a few days later you’ll get an order.  

Now the key is to build a relationship with the buyer. You probably won’t be able to close a deal for months or even years because every offer you send to a new prospect ends up in the “trash” inbox. 

1) Start out by visiting local stores that have maybe 20-30 stores in the area/country or state. Try to get an appointment with the Manager or Purchasing Department. Once you have an appointment prepare yourself with:

  • Company presentation (Powerpoint / PDF)
  • Product Catalogue (Can be PDF but prepare something nicely and don’t just show a link to your Amazon listing)
  • Bring samples and business cards
  • Bring your wholesale price list 

A store can probably take up 5 pieces per item/per store. So 30 stores makes 150 pieces, not bad for a first order. 

2) Once you are listed in a smaller or local store look into larger retailers that have 100-200 stores. 

Same principle applies in terms of preparation but you are probably not the only one knocking on their doors. So you need a bit of track record with a smaller retailer or your online portfolio. 

Retailers with more than 100 or 200 stores probably have their own purchasing department, maybe even a buying office in Asia. So you need to get to the decision maker. 

There are several ways to get to decision makers but the most effective yet also most frowned upon are cold calls. 

Email the decision makers or better cold call first. There are cold call guidelines for free on the internet. Key is to let the buyer speak and you only listen. 

Most buyers just want to talk about how great they are, let them. You need to make them feel that they have the upper hand. 

After your first cold call, follow up on the topics and email a proposal as discussed in the call. 

Give it a few days and then either email or call again. 

3) Exhibiting your products at a local or international exhibition is the best way to find retailers and wholesalers.

This time the buyers come to you and all you really have to do is follow up with the topics of the discussion. 

The key takeaway here is that getting into retail really is a marathon not a sprint but it can be very rewarding: 

The Rewards

The best thing about retail are re-orders. You might not make much money on the first order but if the item sells well re-orders will come and often times in much larger quantities than the 1st order. The good thing then is that the entire process is already set up and all you have to do is to place an order with your factory, knowing the entire process with the retailer. Or if you have stock back home you can just send in the new order to the retailer from your warehouse. 

From some retailers I get re-orders every 1-2 months for the same product and all I have to do is place an order to the factory and ship the item to the customer. 

These orders can be 2-5,000 pieces each time. Sometimes I make 1$ on a product, sometimes 5$. So in 1 day I can make 25,000$ in profits not really doing anything (a bit exaggerated – there’s still work to do :) ). 

Imagine how many months you’ll have to sell on Amazon for an order and profit that large. 

Conclusion

Getting into retail is very hard but as I said it can be very rewarding. It’s not a sprint so some deals can take 2 or more years but if the client is worth it don’t give up. Obviously the above is just a short visit into the topic, there’s much more to it such as contracts, advertisement material, sampling, pricing structures etc. 

If you need more help on the subject or are interested in growing your business into retail don’t look any further. I am working on material that is coming out in the coming weeks that should help immensely :)

All the best and happy selling,

Manuel 

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Branding your Product

In this blog post I’ll talk about packagings and branding on your product.  I’ll give you a brief overview on why photography, packaging and marketing materials are so important when building a brand. 

Product Photography (taking your own vs hiring a professional)

Why are great product pictures important? When people come to your website or Amazon listing the first thing they do is to look at your pictures. The customer bases his immediate buying decision on your photos. 

It seems so obvious but yet I see so many listings with very poor product photography. Even if the product itself is great a poor picture can decrease your conversion immensely. 

Let’s take a look at two examples:

I look for a wooden cutting board on Amazon and I find a few listings. The well performing listings (even if not the best product) have great listings.

Take a look at this photo:

And now take a look at this photo of a listing that is performing poorly. 

This product is actually equally good and the seller even stresses out FSC certification (sustainably harvested wood). Me personally I wood rather buy the FSC certified product but the picture is turning me off. 

My suggestions is if you are not a professional photographer then please hire someone to take photos for you. 

Yes, great photos may cost you a bit of money but it is a one time investment and it will pay itself off. Also while sometimes Photoshop can be used for retouching, adding shades and effects I do not recommend using Photoshop to edit your product picture into an environment. It just looks cheap. 

Custom Packaging – standing out from your competition

I’ve posted about custom packaging in a previous blog post (https://importdojo.com/best-packaging-practice-how-to-create-a-great-private-label-packaging/) which I think is a comprehensive guide. Have a look and get some ideas there. 

The point is to think outside the box and reflect the product on the packaging. E.g. the Nike Air packaging or Cigars in a wooden box that reflect a humidor. 

Shipping Boxes 

Make sure that you use enough carton strength when shipping your products. The unit packaging needs to be at least 26ECT (Edge Crush Test) – see above blog post. 

Until your product reaches your customer there are many hands involved that handle your packaging. So you’ll want a sturdy and compact packaging. 

Use thick carton (32ECT minimum) for export cartons and add a sticker that says “Fragile – handle with care”. No matter if the product inside is fragile or not, this will improve chances your cartons are handled more delicately by the courier or logistics company. 

Insert Cards & Marketing Materials

Add insert cards as simple as the below one where you can ask your customers to leave a review or also sign up on your website so that you can collect email addresses. 

Also include Instruction Manuals (if applicable). Even if your product is self-explanatory some customers appreciate a guide on how to use a product. You can even add some tips or reference another product of your’s that will make the customer come back. For example if I sell my French Press I also add: “in the unfortunate case that you break your glass, we have a replacement glass available on Amazon”. Another example would be to reference a spare part that is only available trough you. Or something along that line.

Conclusion

Having great photos is essential to show the visual aspect of your products. Great photos will help you sell your product, especially on Amazon where customers often look at the photos to determine if they should make the purchase.

If you don’t use external marketing methods such as YouTube videos to showcase the features of the product, chances are that great photos are your only way of attracting customers to your brand. 

When it comes to selling products, most sellers only focus on the product itself. A lot of people don’t realize that the product packaging is also a part of your product. This applies especially if you rely heavily on marketing or want to expand into retail and wholesaling.

Look at YouTube for example, a lot of product review channels put a lot of focus on a brand’s packaging. What this means is that good packaging will help you sell more of your product.

Another thing to note is that great packaging can also help you get more positive feedback or reviews on Amazon. These days online shoppers purchase a lot of products at any given time, by making sure that your packaging wows the customer, they are more likely to remember your brand and comment positively on the experience.

Great brands put a lot of effort in making their products look good, and so should you! With proper product branding you will help attract more customers and gain more confidence in your brand.

I hope this post was useful. Please feel free to comment or share :)

All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Inventory Storage

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

Inventory Storage, FBA Prep & Fulfillment Centres

 

Welcome to another part of our Building a Brand Blog Series. In last week’s blog post we went over a brief introduction on social media and which social networks are best for Ecommerce sellers or importers.

This week’s blog post will be on a completely different, but equally important subject – Inventory Storage & Fulfillment. When it comes to product-based businesses such as ours, it’s important to not only get your logistics right, but also have the best rates and fast shipping.

I have used both FBM(Fulfilled by Merchant) and also FBA so I will also give my point of view on what works and what doesn’t. Although my main focus is on FBA, I normally still leave some units in a storage facility either to reduce my Amazon fees or to fulfill any orders from my own Ecommerce store.

This blog post will be all about how you can manage your inventory effectively and save fees when compared to Amazon. I will also show you how you can use a third-party fulfillment center to take advantage of busy periods such as the Chinese New Year or the December holiday seasons.

So let’s have a look at what options are there for importers or sellers and explore different ways on how you can manage your inventory effectively.

What To Look For In a Fulfillment Center?

If using a third-party fulfillment centre, ideally it should be as similar to Amazon FBA as possible in terms of service and efficiency. However, here are some features I look for when making my decision:

  • The fulfillment centre should be in a strategic location so I reduce shipping costs from the country of origin.
  • The FC should have a backend software system that enables me to track my inventory  and gather other important data(fees, shipping rates, SKUs comparison, etc.).
  • They should have integrations with all major Ecommerce marketplaces(Ebay, Amazon, Shopify, BigCommerce, etc.). This allows me to manage all my marketplaces(in terms of logistics) from one place.
  • Their shipping rates should be as low as possible and they use all major courier services. Never use a fulfillment center that relies on one courier as it limits your options.
  • If I’m using the fulfillment center exclusively for Amazon, I look for ones that have extensive experience dealing with FBM. The requirements are more strict when it comes to FBM and a few late shipments can compromise your Amazon seller account.

The Benefits of Fulfillment Centers

 Fulfillment centers offer a lot of advantages for ecommerce sellers who want to expand towards other sales channels. Some of the benefits are:

  • Cheaper long term storage than Amazon.
  • Backend dashboard allows you to track inventory and shipping status of your products.
  • Some FCs offer great rates for oversize items and storage.
  • Ultimate control over pricing and customer experience(if selling from your own store).
  • Brand-able shipping packages.
  • No restrictions on inserts or marketing materials.
  • Multiple integrations with eCommerce marketplaces.
  • Ability to process returns easily.
  • FC’s can make custom orders for special clients.

 As you can see, choosing the right fulfillment center has a lot of benefits and if you’re planning on launching your own store, a FC outside of FBA is recommended. 

FBA Prep Companies

Prep centres are storage facilities specifically used for preparing or assembling your products according to your requirements. FBA prep centres will make sure to prepare your shipments according to Amazon’s guidelines. This service might be very useful if you want to make sure that you have everything in order or if your product(s) come in multiple pieces and need assembly.

Nowadays prep centers have evolved and offer multiple services, including:

  • Goods Inspection.
  • Product Photography.
  • Labeling, Knitting and Bundling.
  • Storage.
  • Inventory Updates.
  • & much more.

Please note that prep centers don’t fulfill any customer orders, they should be exclusively used for storage, inspection and prepping.

Location, Location, Location!

When choosing a fulfillment center or storage facility, location is very important. Since ideally you want to save on shipping costs from your supplier/manufacturer to the destination(if not an FBA warehouse). When it comes to locations, my preference would be coastal states in the US. In particular:

  • New York
  • California

 If your supplier is in China or any other Asian country, Los Angeles would be my choice. LA has both the busiest port and airport in the US in terms of cargo, making it an ideal destination to ship your inventory. Also, a lot of fulfillment centers and storage facilities are situated around LAX airport or close to the port.

Shipping your goods domestically will always be cheaper, so the only way to save time and money with your imports is to pick the closest location in the US from your supplier/manufacturer.

Amazon Multi-Channel Fulfillment

Image Source: Forbes

Amazon’s multi-channel fulfillment service where you can use FBA to fulfill third-party orders such as Ebay or your own ecommerce store. This is extremely convenient if you want to have all the shipping and fulfillment in one place. However, in my opinion, the

Amazon fees are quite high and you even have to pay extra to have a multi-channel order.

If you don’t have a lot of sales from other channels you can use Amazon’s multi-channel fulfillment, however, if you really want ultimate control over pricing and customer experience on your own website, you should pick a third-party FC.

Conclusion

Fulfillment centers, prep companies and storage facilities allow you to diversify how you manage your inventory. If you sell on your own ecommerce store or have large/oversize items, a fulfillment center will help you reduce your fees substantially.

I would still suggest you to use FBA if most of your sales come from Amazon, however, ideally you would want to expand into other sales channels. By using a FC you would have ultimate control on pricing and customer experience.

In next week’s blog post we will talk about Product Branding. Manuel will guide you on the best practices on how to brand your product effectively and create stunning inserts and marketing materials.

We hope this blog post was helpful and as always, if you have any questions, kindly leave a comment below.

All the best and happy selling,

Duncan

Existenzangst or fearing for one’s existence

Totally off topic today but I feel like sharing this famous German paranoia. In German we have a saying which is called “Existenzangst” and literally means being afraid of loosing your livelihood. 

Meaning you are constantly afraid of loosing your job, income, running out of money and ending up on the street. It’s ridiculous but ever since I’ve become an Entrepreneur I have this almost every day.

I admit, I too am scared (or anxious) and worry all the time so I wanted to get to the bottom of this. Am I the only one feeling like this? Let me try to get this off my chest. 

What’s the worst that could happen to me today? I am really just typing as I go and put out my thoughts. 

I really want to evaluate my very own situation and if you also have these "existence fears” feel free to do the same :) 

Lets take a look:

  • Amazon business tanks (30% of my income) 
  • Sourcing & Retail business tanks (30% of my income) 
  • Online courses, workshops, ebooks (20% of my income) 
  • Coaching, consulting (10% of my income) 
  • My eCommerce store tanks (10% of my income - just started)
  • All podcast & other interviews magically disappear and no one ever hears of me from tomorrow on (no income but leads and subscribers to my blog) 

Lets look at it in more detail: 

  • I am live on 3 Amazon market places and even if one tanks I still have 2. And I am not even live on many other sites that have third party selling (Lazada, Jet, Sears etc.) 
  • All my satisfied customers and potential leads that I built in over 3 years disappear tomorrow. I have many repeat sourcing clients who are very happy, how likely is it that they all disappear? 
  • I am currently live in 5 retailers, some re-order every month or so. I am even working on more retail customers. 
  • I have courses live on 5 platforms. Some with coaching, some without. How likely is it that they all get removed? Especially on my own site…
  • No one ever thinks my opinion or expertise counts and doesn’t book coaching with me anymore. I have built a reputation (I hope :) ) for being an expert in my field and I rather provide value than sell something just for the money.  Those that really know me well know thats true. So I guess that is very unlikely to happen. 
  • Just started with 1 eCommerce store (Outdoor & Garden category) and it’s going well so far. eCommerce is the future so even if I loose this I can build another store quickly. 
  • I gave about 30 podcast interviews, 4 or 5 actual print magazine interviews, 10-15 online blog guest posts, I spoke publicly at conferences and videos are available on that. Even so, I could start all over again and build my reputation from the scratch. 
Even though some of the above may be possible to happen but it is very unlikely that they all happen at the same time right? So what am I really worried about? Guess I am just another human :) 

Lets say one of these 30% income streams tanks. I still have 70% of my income and need to find a new way to make up for the missing 30%. 

Since I will still have 70% of my income & I’ll  actually be in a comfortable situation. And I would just have to increase workload for a few months. 

Lets just say all of this happens at once. It is not the end of the world. I still have some savings and my health. While I don’t really like the idea of going back to a job I have over 3 years where I ran multiple business and built income streams from the scratch. 

I’ll likely go apply for a job at a retailer's buying office (Amazon, Walmart) here in Hong Kong and on top of my 17 years of retail experience I now have 3 years of running my own business, a best seller book about importing from China and a round of online courses, interviews, public speaking that I can add to my CV. So I am pretty sure that I will find a job again. And that’s really worst case scenario.

Then again lets take another scenario. Let’s just say I lost all my income streams but I still have saved up lets say 50,000US$ from all these ventures. Would I immediately look for a new job? Probably not. Reason being that I have yet to travel the world and see things. Not that I haven’t traveled yet but I haven’t really TRAVELED yet. I mean hiking the Pacific Crest Trail in the US for 6 months, going to Machu Picchu in Peru, living on a beach hut in Brazil for a year and so much more to do. And the best thing is when you travel on a budget or do what’s called “Geo Arbitrage” you don’t need much. Don’t know what that is? Geo Arbitrage is when you live in Thailand (or anywhere else where you have low living costs) for 500$ a month on the beach eating seafood and drink coconut water all day. Obviously if I would have a child, a car, a mortgage etc. things would be different and I’d have to get a job pretty quickly. But again - it’’s not the end of the world.

Think of the time that you worked for yourself as a time out in where you enhanced your own skills, tested your leadership abilities and hopefully had a lot of fun doing it. And you’ve added things to your CV. You didn’t really take time off for 3 years doing nothing, you tried to build something. And that’s worth something when you sit at an interview. I am pretty sure that will get you the job. 

But lets not get ahead of myself, I work hard every day so that I can keep doing what I am doing. And I guess you are too :) 

My message today I guess is that we should all stop worrying so much. It isn’t as bad as it looks like. My second message today and I keep saying this to everyone - DIVERSIFY

Just by looking at what I wrote I again realized myself how important it is to have different income streams. AND it is another reminder to build even more income streams. 

An income stream that is bigger than 30% is actually worrying - unless you make millions anyway :) 

Back in the day when I worked for the lighting manufacturer one of our biggest clients (a very large DIY store) went belly up. Over 500 stores (thats big for Germany) closed over the next couple of months and suppliers (the company I worked for) weren’t going to see any money anytime soon. That customer made up over 70% of the companies turnover. Thankfully the management saw this coming and invested into hiring sales staff and building more clients. But it was still a big loss for the company. Anyway, just a small story but same principle. Build more income streams and you don’t have to worry all the time. 

If you have these fears once in a while sit down and look at what you’ve built already since you joined the entrepreneurial world. 

Copy my thought process above and see where you stand. Look at what you have already accomplished. Let me know in the comment section, I am really curios to know if I am the only one feeling this way :) 

Even if you are just at the beginning and scared of the path in front of you, if you never try you’ll never know and you’ll miss out - I promise :) 

All the best to us in 2017 and happy sourcing!

Manuel 

ImportDojo

Contact Info

18/F., Blk. B, Tung Luen Ind. Bldg. 1 Yip Shing St., Kwai Chung, Hong Kong

mail@importdojo.com

Copyright 2017 © All Rights Reserved