What is going on in China right now – Part 2

In November last year I shared a blog post from the sourcing and manufacturing side in China. There were shortages on packaging material and many price increases across all suppliers in China.

To read about this blog post check it out here: https://importdojo.com/what-is-going-on-in-china-right-now/

Today me and my partners in our Sourcing Company (https://importdojo.com/sourcing/) wanted to give you an update on the market situation in China.

The world is changing. In the past 6 months we have been through ups and downs of currency, raw material and labour cost fluctuation. Also the political landscape does not prove to be as stable and solid as it was considered to be in the end of 2016. With the US taking a turn away from China the economies in Asia are looking at a changed customer landscape and an insecure future.

This newsletter will help you gain a bit more insight in what is happening on this side of the world.

What is going on in Asia?

As we enter Q2 2017, global demand for goods produced in low cost sourcing destination looked positive, with growing exporters such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, India and Indonesia all seeing big growth in exports and foreign investment. Some shifting of exports and trade allegiance was evident due to the U.S./Trump policy. It is very important to note, that alternatives to China are quickly developing in countries like Vietnam, India, Bangladesh and Thailand. These countries are taking a fair share of what is rightfully theirs. Especially the economic growth and the growth in export from Vietnam is remarkable, with a 15% increase compared to the last years first quarter.

So the small countries are on the fast lane while good old China keeps doing, what they do best. And let us be realistic, there is still no feasible alternative to China in terms of infrastructure, automation and efficiency.

It is also remarkable to see that based on China National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) data, the average monthly wage of migrant workers (who tend to work in China’s manufacturing sector) increased by 6.6% to 3,275 yuan in 2016, which is almost comparable to the average income of an eastern European worker in countries like Romania, Bulgaria or Hungary. 

What about the money?

Well, not much to say here. Since the USD/CNY exchange rate adjusted to its new level, the Euro zone is suffering whereas the USD zone is happily jumping around about their favourable purchasing prices.

The lush movement in the currency gave a bit of stability to the trading environment and is not expected to change unless the US politics dramatically change the course of the country.

Now what is going on with the raw materials? If production volume in China is going down then we probably have good cards to buy cheap raw material because the government wants to drive the economy.

Unfortunately the answer to that is a clear NO. Some analysts are predicting that oil prices will increase by up to 20% by late 2017, with ongoing conflict in the Middle-East and attempts by OPEC countries to limit supply. Natural fibers such as cotton and wool have trended up, reflecting stronger consumer demand and healthier global economic conditions.

Natural rubber prices increased through Q1, steadying off into Q2 as Asian buyers slowed down on purchasing. Prices are expected to increase, through 2017 based on expectations of a global economic recovery and a reduction in supply from rubber major producers. Metal prices will follow this trend. Cotton prices were strong through Q1 and into Q2, a trend which some analysts do not expect to continue through 2017. According to the International Cotton Advisory Council (ICAC), cotton stock-piles will reduce due to solid production, growth in global consumption and demand for exports.

Fine wool prices followed a similar trend to cotton, breaking a 29 year high in March, based on demand for better quality wool from Chinese mills. Unlike cotton or synthetic fibers, wool only comprises 1.5% of global fiber consumption and as a premium product, the price is really an indicator of consumer demand.

China is not a department store

On a last note I wanted to share some of our findings over the course of working with private label sellers. Many private label sellers believe that when they purchase something in China, the factories are just waiting for them to place a 500 pieces order with many changes, packaging requirements, additional features AND the lowest price.

Unfortunately this is not the case. China is not a department store where you can simply walk in and purchase something within a day and expect it to be delivered within 2 weeks. There is a lot to it. Supplier relationships, years of doing business together, production lead times, raw material purchase, packaging print and much more.

While some factories do adapt to the new eCommerce world with smaller quantities, many factories actually still have 90% of their turnover coming from large retailers, importers or wholesalers. We as Amazon/eCommerce sellers are small fish for most factories and while the trend is going into eCommerce rather than actual retail there is still a long way to go.

So you can’t expect to get the same price, priority handling or delivery time as a Walmart or HomeDepot. These guys buy hundreds of thousands of units per month, therefore they get the best price and are put in front of the production queue. Often you don’t have a chance against these retailers if they are also selling on Amazon. So the only way you can distinguish yourself is trough customer service, packaging and additional services.

I’ve also noticed that buyers are expecting drastic price decreases like 30-40% if they increase the order quantity say from 1,000 to 2,000 units. This is very unlikely unless you increase from 1,000 to 40,000 or 50,000 units. Price decreases when doubling the quantity usually results in 3% to maximum 6%. Most factories are laid out to produce 10-30,000 units of a single product in a day. Yes, believe me 🙂 So when a buyer comes with a 500 unit order it is certainly appreciated but it means that they have to squeeze in your order somewhere, negotiate low raw material purchase with their sub supplier etc. which is more of a hassle than profit for them.

Don’t try to squeeze every little cent out of a product when you negotiate. Let them have their profits so that they can continue to run their factory. Because what is it worth if you get the lowest price but then the supplier goes bankrupt or doesn’t help you in case you are facing quality problems. Live and let live.

Having said all that, with the right approach towards a supplier you can get your way around things. There are many suppliers who specialise on small order quantities or eCommerce sellers in general. Speak to your supplier in your initial inquiry if he is willing to work on your MOQ, prices etc. If you have the feeling they are hesitant move on to the next supplier. There’s nothing worse than making a deposit of 30% on your order and the supplier afterwards struggles to keep the prices or delivery terms and eventually not really motivated to produce according to your requirements.

Update on Import Dojo Sourcing Service

If you need help sourcing you are in the right place. We have recently celebrated our 1,000th customer and are growing together with the demand for know how and for the need of „eyes on the ground“. Our placed orders have generated a turnover of around 1.4 Mio USD with a steady customer base of around 250 customers. Together with this growth we could see that there is the need to adjust our service and pricing structure slightly.

With our 6 person strong sourcing team based in Hong Kong we want to provide the best possible service to our customers and we believe that the adjustment of our conditions and how our service is put together will help our customers be more effective, more cost efficient and more successful.

With our new concept we have less variety and are more focused on your needs. We are introducing the quick and easy Basic Sourcing for 99 USD, which delivers a quick supplier offer for an item within 5 – 7 working days to evaluate if your project is workable. In addition to that we have decided to provide at least 3 offers and supplier contacts with the standard sourcing request.

We have also decreased our photography prices by 25% and we can deliver 2 reference sourcing results if you decided to do sourcing and development with us for your price comparison and back up.

What is actually changing?

  1. Introducing our BASIC sourcing request for 99 USD – Delivering one supplier offer and their contact in 5-7 working days for quick reference.
  2. Extending service of STANDARD sourcing request starting from 169 USD – Delivering three supplier offers and their contact in 7-9 working days to you for a well established project base. 

Our service starts at 169 USD for one item, 299 USD for two items and additional 100 USD for every additional item. We are reducing complexity and increasing efficiency.

Decreasing photography costs

Reducing white background shots from 69 USD per picture to 49 USD per picture since we want to provide this service as a roundup for our customers.

We also adjust our full service pricing and keep splitting it to reorders and new orders. All other services will remain the same as before.

For those who believe our previous pricing is a better fit for them, you can still come to us and place your orders until 31/7/2017 with the coupon code #lastcall. If you present this in your email or in the flat-rate submission, we will be happy to handle your order with our old price logic even if we believe our new one is more beneficial to you. Please remember that all coupon codes are only applicable on flat rates. 

As always, it is a pleasure serving you and we are looking forward to the second half of 2017!

All the best,

Manuel & ImportDojo Sourcing team

How to deal with price increases from Chinese suppliers

Today I wanted to share a blog post to hopefully help you and teach you how to deal with price increases from Chinese suppliers.

Read until the end – we have a giveaway on ImportDojo in the value of 997US$!!! But before that, let’s get into today’s blog post.

So you received an email from your supplier that prices have to be increased because the Chinese Yuan (RMB) is being appreciated, his labor costs have risen or some other reason.

Never accept any price increase blindly. Let’s first analyze the situation:

  • Has he increased the price within the last year? If yes, how often?
  • Has he stated on his last quotation the validity of the price?
  • What are the reasons he wants to increase prices?

Here are common reasons for price increases:

  • Labor costs need to be increased
  • Raw material costs have increased
  • Chinese Renminbi (YUAN) has appreciated against the USD
  • Purchase of machinery to upgrade the factory

Lets go through them one by one and see how you could avoid the increase or find an acceptable solution between the both of you. I also want to give you background on each so that you can understand these reasons.

Labor costs need to be increased:

When I moved to Hong Kong in 2005 the average salary of a worker was around 250USD per month. Yes, that’s right, per month!! Nowadays a worker in the production line can get up to 1000USD or sometimes more. Some of the workers earn more than the staff in the office. Factories need to pay a high salary to workers because it’s so difficult to find them.

Yes, China has over 1.3 billion people but not everyone wants to stand in a workshop or production line doing rudimentary work. Education has improved a great deal since the early 2000’s and people want to work in offices rather than on production lines. So factories have to reach out to far provinces to hire workers. Costs automatically rise in that process. I have been told that some factories rent a bus and drive to far away provinces actively hiring workers to bring them back to the factory that same day on the bus.

What can you do in that case? Honestly not much. But if a supplier keeps increasing prices because of labor costs you might want to look for another supplier who has more machinery or automated processes that require less workmanship. This can actually be more expensive (because of the investment for machinery) but you should have more stability on prices in the future.

Raw material costs have increased:

This requires a little research but if a supplier uses this reason for price increases you can quickly find out if he is lying.

Go onto websites like the following and research the price index on your product’s main material:

http://www.meps.co.uk/raw%20material%20index.html

http://www.indexmundi.com/

Unfortunately, there is not much free information on the Internet; you have to pay for most services if you want real accurate data. You can also check out your local stock or commodity market online and see if you can get free data. Once you find your product’s raw material price check the development over the last few months or even years.

Compare it with the orders that you made to your supplier at the specific price drops or increases. If for example you ordered your item before at a lower raw material price than now, you can use this information to negotiate with your supplier.

I often find that suppliers use this excuse of raw material price to increase their profit margin. When you have data that backs that the raw material price has perhaps even decreased since your last purchase, let the supplier know and share the link or information that you found. Demand the same or an even lower price than what you are paying now.

If raw material really has increased then you might want to check by how much. If the supplier’s price increase does not match the actual raw material price increase, let him know and demand a lower price increase.

Chinese Renminbi (YUAN /RMB) has appreciated against the USD

The Chinese Yuan has risen over 60% since its revaluation in 2005 (when it was pegged against the USD). It has been undervalued for a long time but that has changed since the economic reforms under Deng Xiaoping. Since China opened to the rest of the world and became the world’s factory the Yuan has risen a great deal.

Many factories increase prices once the Yuan gets appreciated against the USD.

If the Yuan gets appreciated against the USD it is usually in the news and you should hear about it. You can also check official USD/RMB exchange rates to verify this claim.

Not much you can do here either, except perhaps asking for one more order with the last price before you accept the new price.

Purchase of machinery to upgrade the factory

This usually doesn’t happen very often, but when the factory claims there is machinery to buy to upgrade the factory it’s actually a good thing for you. It will lower the labor costs over time and you should have a stable price for a while. Ask your supplier to explain the type of machinery he is buying and how you can benefit from it in the future. Let him give you a guarantee or confirmation that this will benefit your price in the future.

Advanced negotiation

Validity of prices

Always ask your supplier to give you a validity of the quoted price. A common time frame should be 90 days, sometimes more sometimes less. In any case, ask your supplier for a validity of 180 days (6 months). It might take you a long time to decide to order this product for various reasons.

If you get back to the supplier after a while and you haven’t confirmed validity he might increase the price. That can put you in a difficult spot if you gave the quoted price to your customer. You might have to re-offer to your customer and that’s never good.

Big retailers usually have 1 year or even longer terms with suppliers. They can do that because the suppliers know that the quantities will be large and retailers often take a long time to decide because of their decision chain/process.

How to avoid or battle a price increase:

Short term:

  • Insist on the last order price for this order. Tell him you are about to give him a re-order.
  • Look into raw material price sheets. There are free sources on the Internet. You don’t even need to be updated all the time, but simply look at a price curve of the main material of your product for the last few months.

Has the price dropped or risen significantly? Did the supplier claim that the “xxxy” material has sharply risen? Check it out before you trust him.

Long term:

  • Put measurements in place such as contracts or buying terms to which the supplier has to agree before you do business. Set up your own buying terms with, for example, a minimum validity of prices in all offers.
  • Ask for bonus payments or agreements. If you know that you will be reordering from this factory, make a written agreement that you will receive a discount of a certain percentage from the next order based on your previous year.

Bonus payments:

It is getting more common to agree on bonus payments these days. It works the same way as back home with your local supplier. You agree on certain delivery terms, merchandising payment, back-payments and bonuses if a certain turnover is reached per year.

This usually only works with suppliers that you already work with. But you can certainly try it on any supplier. Even if you get a few hundred USD discount or bonus payment it’s definitely worth it!

You could set the following simple bonus payments with your supplier:

Turnover Goal 2017: xxxxx USD

If reached, bonus payment of 5% (for example) to be discounted from the next order.

For every xxxx USD above this amount a further 1% (for example) to a maximum of X% applies.

Send this agreement to your supplier. You can obviously work out a more detailed agreement but this is a simple illustration on how it could look. In any case I am sure there is some bonus or discount that can be arranged on future orders. 

The best option would be a direct bank transfer of the bonus at the year’s end but most suppliers will only agree on a discount deducted from any future order.

Other ways:

How to negotiate a good price with a low order quantity:

It is quite common that the supplier will send you a price based on a certain order quantity. Say 10USD for a quantity of 1,000 pieces. Sometimes suppliers will give you 2-3 different prices for different quantities. If you are planning to order an item, you should have a general idea of how to negotiate when you ask your supplier for a quote. 

DOUBLE (2,000) or even TRIPLE (3,000) this expected order quantity when asking for a price. It’s a tactic I use to see what the price range can be. If I actually order this item later at the quoted price but I am below the requested MOQ of the supplier I will pledge with the supplier to keep the price so that we can get started.

I will also mention that it will be a trial order and if everything goes well I will order the initial MOQ that the price was based on.

Perhaps the supplier will not give you the price based on your 1,000 pieces but he will give you the price based on 2,000 pieces to show his support.

This works in most cases. A supplier always will want to support you because they need to feed their factories with orders, even if they t make less profit, just to keep production running and to be cost effective.

Ask for a mixed calculation:

Say you buy 4 items from the same supplier and there is one item out of your assortment that is really price sensitive but the other 3 items are not.

Ask your supplier to keep the price on the price sensitive item the same (or decreased) and allow him to increase the other items at the same time (up to the maximum of the original price increase).

This way you can still offer the price sensitive item at the same price to your customers and lose only a little bit of profit on your higher margin items.

Advanced raw material purchase:

Many suppliers like to increase the price on your re-order. Let him know that you have an order coming up and that he should purchase raw material now at the lowest prices and that you want to have a better price than the previous order. He may want a written order confirmation for that so that he can purchase raw material on your behalf. Other suppliers offer on hand (or not)

If you have other suppliers’ offers on hand that are cheaper than the same item from your current supplier then tell your supplier and demand at least the same price. If you don’t have another offer on hand you could also pretend that you have an offer that is (say 10%) cheaper. Some suppliers may ask who it is from or if they can see it, but you don’t necessarily have to send it to him.

If you do have an offer from another supplier I would actually send it to my current supplier and ask him to lower the price.

How I got 7 suppliers to pay my buyer 100,000USD in bonus payments 

I had a buyer for Christmas items flying in from Austria pre-order season. We arranged to meet up with 9 suppliers over 2 days in our office in Hong Kong. I asked the suppliers to come in and meet with us to discuss the upcoming orders and next season items. The suppliers were happy to come and meet us because we usually would place orders in excess of 100,000USD to each of them per year.

We started off each meeting the same way. We told them we would be selecting new items and then we would tell the supplier how happy we were with the previous season and that we wanted to enlarge business this year. This got them in a happy mood. We selected a few new items to add to the assortment with each supplier. Eventually my buyer sat back and I started to talk about newly introduced bonus payments to each supplier. 

We wanted 10% of the last year’s order amount in bonus payments to be deducted from the next order. I also prepared an agreement to fix the payments right there and then with the supplier’s signature. We sat a long time with each supplier explaining the difficult economic situation, the EUR/USD exchange rate and how this all made it difficult for the buyer to succeed in his business. 

We needed the supplier’s support, there and then or else there might not be any increased orders. (You can always use other reasons, such as economic situations in your country, etc.) Two suppliers wouldn’t pay anything but we ended the 2 days of negotiation with over 100,000USD in bonus payments (some suppliers had orders of over 300,000USD from us). This was a lot more than we expected. 

How did I do that?

Initially the suppliers were reluctant. Since I wasn’t the actual buyer but the product manager it sure was a good thing the buyer was there. This way the supplier saw the buyer and had no way of wriggling himself out easily. Chinese do not want to lose face in front of their customers. They often promise the “best prices / best services,” etc., and it was time to prove they meant what they said. If you continually insist on a bonus and financial support they will eventually give in, because they want your future business and they don’t want to upset you.

In your case, since you will be the buyer, you see the importance of coming to China to negotiate your deals. A negotiation like this is highly unlikely to succeed via a phone call or an email. You don’t need to have an office here. You can hold meetings and negotiations in your hotel or at the factory. 

Even if your quantities or order value are not as big as the example above you still have an edge. Even the smallest discounts on your next orders could cover the airfare ticket you bought to get to China. Not to mention the suppliers you met on other days to source for new ideas. It will definitely be worth it.

Before you go into a negotiation with a supplier, plan ahead with a clear strategy similar to the one described above.

I do hope that this blog post helped you in some ways to get leverage when negotiating with your suppliers.

If you enjoyed the blog post, please share or comment below 🙂

IMPORTDOJO GIVEAWAY VALUED AT 997$!!

Now, before I let you off, we are currently running a Prime Deal giveaway here at ImportDojo. You have the chance to win 1 lifetime membership worth over 997US$! For more information click on the link below and sign up 🙂

https://importdojo.lpages.co/import-dojo-giveaway/

All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel

2017 Seller Summit in Florida recap & trip report (got to meet the President of Nepal)

Hey folks,

So I just finished speaking at (and listen to other speakers) at the Sellerssummit in Florida, Fort Lauderdale. 

I was invited to speak about importing from China or to be more exact how to find the right supplier in China. 

Steve Chou, the host of the mywifequitherjob.com podcast and organizer of the event had invited me to speak and while it would be such a long trip I decided to go because I knew I’d learn a ton and meet amazing people. 

Before I get into the key takeaways from the Sellerssummit for me I wanted to share a few impressions with you from a personal side. 

This was a long trip for me – I took off on a Saturday morning and arrived on Sunday evening +12hours time difference so in total the trip was over 36 hours. 

That is also because I stopped in Sri Lanka to hang out in Colombo for a few hours before heading to Abu Dhabi, New York and finally Miami. 

Why was this such a long trip? Well to be honest with you I prefer laying flat and since I don’t want to pay for business class I used a lot of miles. 

Why do I fly business class? Not many people know this but I am extremely scared of flying and being in cramped spaces. 

When I mean extremely scared I mean the slightest turbulence or bump in flight would send my heart rate to 180bpm for half an hour. 

This “fear” all began in 2005 when I flew from Hong Kong to Germany and my plane had to land for an emergency landing in Kathmandu, Nepal because of severe turbulence. 

Since then I hate (or am scared) of flying and sitting in business class, having more space (I am also quite tall – 6’2) relaxes me and somewhat eases my fear. 

You would think that flying at least twice a month for the past 12 years would get me over that fear but it doesn’t. 

So anyway, I was prepared to take a long trip as long as I can relax. And some people might think flying business class is crazy expensive when it’s actually not. 

If you look long enough in advance, make use of mileage and credit card programs you spend less in business as in economy. I usually pay less or the same for my ticket than those in economy. 

So I ended up spending over 120,000 miles but only 260$ in taxes and fees for my return trip flight. Which also meant I had to hop onto 4 different planes to get to Miami. 

Call me crazy but I’d do that every time as opposed to a direct 14 hour flight in a cramped space. 

So anyway, I left Bangkok on Saturday morning on a 3 hour flight to Srilanka and was checking out a few sites in Colombo sine my stopover was 10 hours. 

I had quite a surprise at the start of the trip when I learned that the President of Nepal was sitting one row in front of me. There was tight security on the plane but I was able to shake the hand of the President of Nepal 🙂 

The president of Nepal

I just wasn’t allowed to take any photo with her so I snapped a few from my seat. 

I went to the Galle Face hotel in Colombo after I landed in Sri Lanka and was having lunch there, working a bit and enjoying the view from the terrace of the hotel. 

Arriving in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Tuk Tuk’s everywhere

The Galle Face hotel in Colombo

My flight was bound to leave at 10PM so I made my way to the airport around 7, worked a bit more and chilled before boarding the flight to Abu Dhabi. 

I boarded the 4 hour flight and slept the entire way. I then had a 4 hour layover and transit in Abu Dhabi before boarding for my flight to JFK. This was a 14 hour flight and I was really glad (& excited) because for this flight Etihad uses their A380 plane. 

I did meticioulus research before booking this flight and made sure that I get to try their “business class studio” again which is by far the best business class in the skies.

Lots of space for the 14 hour flight.

Their A380 even has a bar in the middle of the plane. 

The bar on the A380 to New York

So I took a few snaps, had some wine and slept for the next 7.5 hours. I think I’ve never slept that long on a plane. 

Looking “fresh” after 7.5 hours of sleep 😀 (not)

Arrived in New York JFK on Sunday early morning and made my way to the another terminal for my final flight to Miami. I didn’t do much in Miami for my days there as I was mostly working in the hotel and walking around in the area. 

I had a webinar with Augustas Klygys on how to build a brand (which you can find here: http://augustaskligys.com/how-to-build-a-true-brand/), podcast interview and lots of emails to conquer before the conference. 

On Wednesday I made my way to Fort Lauderdale which is about a 50 minute drive from Miami and checked into the hotel to chill for a day before the conference started. 

Arriving in Fort Lauderdale

The line up for the summit looked like this: 

As you can see these are some of the biggest guys in the industry. Among them: Steve Chou, Greg Mercer from Junglescout, Scott Voelker from the Amazing Seller, Jeff Cohen from Sellerlabs, Bernie Thompson, Michael Jackness, Brian Johnson from PPC Scope and yours truly 🙂

Collecting my badge for the conference.

And we are getting started!

Steve Chou talking about how he runs his eCommerce store.

Create give aways or games like Steve Chou does with this “wheel spin” to collect email addresses.

Super important – the 4 pillars of a successful online store.

I am off to a good start 🙂

Scott Voelker is talking about how to launch your product in 2017

Just finished my speech and answering some questions.

Heading for dinner with Franz from Sellics (Marketplace Analytics) & Mike

Last session (ask me anything) and it’s a wrap!

With Greg from Junglescout and Carla at the networking event.

I definitely wanted to hear some of the other speakers and tried to sit in on as many sessions as I could. After the 3 day event I wanted to sum up my key-takeaways for you:

1) It is not too late

I am sure you hear it’s overcrowded, difficult to launch a product and stand out from the crowd. But that’s not the case if you have the right strategy. The potential of the market is so huge that there’s space for everyone. 

And the best part is that all the tools that you need (that many of us sellers didn’t have years ago) are available on the market. If you are looking to find a product, exact ranking, sales volume of a product you want to sell then use JUNGLESCOUT. If you want in-depth profit analysis, inventory management, keyword ranking optimization use SELLICS. If you want to research trends go use GOOGLE TRENDS. If you want to find product ideas outside of tools use one of my favourite sites KADAZA.

If you’re unsure with the process in China check out my blog. If you need launch strategies check out Scott’s podcast and recent launch strategies (https://privatelabelclassroom.com/product-launch-list-building-replay) There’s so much more out there that helps you grow or start your business. 

2) There are tons of other product launch strategies out there

Whether you are just launching your first product or your 10th product. You don’t need to worry about “can’t use reviewers anymore”. There are lots of strategies that actually work better than anything else. 

Just 3 months ago I tested a new launch strategy which admittedly takes time and effort but now I don’t have any PPC costs anymore. All my traffic to my listings is organic. Most importantly build a mailing list. With a mailing list you can kick start the launch of your new product – every time. You can also run give aways on your Facebook, Instagram or own website. The strategies are endless.

3) eCommerce is only growing and growing

Jeff Bezos is now the second richest man in the world and I think that says it all. eCommerce’s share in all of the retail business is only 8% at this moment. Imagine the growth potential. 

If you are concerned that the market is overcrowded don’t worry. There’s space for everyone. Perhaps not the 50th French Press but if you have a unique product and service proposition you too can make it in this market. 

4) Finding a product is not as important as actually pulling the trigger

I’ve seen it over and over again. People find a product which in my opinion is pretty good and then just before placing the order to the supplier they find excuses after excuses why the product all of a sudden isn’t a winner anymore. 

Granted, you need to do your research into numbers, demographics and market demand but you can overanalyze everything. As Scott Voelker says – Just take action! 

5) Amazon is working hard on getting Chinese factories onto their marketplace

You need to up your game and customer service. More and more Chinese sellers are coming to the marketplaces and Amazon is helping them. See the video here at around 2.27minutes: https://importdojo.com/importdojo-brand-evolution-branching-out-into-other-sales-channels-part-four-of-the-puzzle/

Amazon wants to offer the best prices to their customers and they do so by bringing in the actual manufacturers. However we have one definite advantage – customer service and unique product or service proposition. Two years ago I said “dont’ worry for now” over here: https://importdojo.com/chinese-sellers-on-amazon-dont-worry-for-now/ But now is the time to really step up your game. Here’s a breakdown again on how you can compete with the manufacturers:

  • Improve your product quality based on reviews
  • Pay a little more for better quality and regulations-compliant products
  • Develop your own products and packagings and make them exclusive for you on Amazon
  • Build or grow your brand with cross product selling and larger assortments
  • Build or grow your audience (Facebook, mailing lists etc.) and be ahead of the Chinese competition
  • Build relationships with suppliers for the long term and become one of their largest customers so that they don’t have to sell on Amazon themselves

6) Building an eCommerce business and brand is not complicated. It just takes time

Many of the speakers at the conference started where you are today. Today they run 7-9 figures eCommerce businesses. When you asked them how they did it they all answer in the same way. 

Step by step and it just takes time. You just have to focus on building a brand and diversifying as much as possible. Not just sell products on Amazon but also branch out into other channels.  

7) Social Media & Influencer marketing will be the No.1 traffic source to come (already is in my opinion)

There were a couple of speeches on how powerful Social Media and Influencer Marketing is. PPC and general paid advertisement is great but expensive. 

If you start your social media platforms now or continue to grow them you’ll have a launch tool that works every time. 

8) Outsource & automate as much as possible. 

I sat in the talk of Bill D’Ambrossio and I was baffled by how much you can automate and focus on the one thing you should be doing – devise your companies future and strategies. 

A year ago I was doing pretty much all of my tasks myself. I just couldn’t let go of some tasks and I thought only I can do them. I was wrong. I now have several VA’s and permanent employees that handle my daily tasks. And I can focus on the most important part of the business – working on things that make money. 

9) Retargeting – don’t miss out on your customers

I realized I am missing out so much on customers that visit my store and listings. With Facebook or retargeting tools you can now easily retarget your customers. 85% of first time visitors don’t buy from you. The majority never returns. 

But with re-targeting you can catch a lot of customers. It’s not just Facebook retargeting with lookalike custom audiences but also catching emails of visiting customers to your own website. Have a pop up window with some give aways or a coupon code or anything that lets you catch the visitors emails. These are essential things you should be doing (including me). 

Wrapping up

The best part for me personally was the last day when all the speakers got together in a private room and discussed their wins & struggles. 

Everyone of us had 15 minutes to speak and share their tricks and strategies as well as ask for advice. 

I was sitting amongst people that do 8 to 9 figures a year (working on mine :)) and was getting advice from top level people in the industry! This was the best Mastermind I’ve ever been to. 

Obviously I had to share some of my secrets as well and I think people were surprised by a product launch strategy that I developed in the last 3 months (which I will soon reveal).  

Getting and sharing advice with the big guys 🙂

If you are interested in the speeches given at the Summit here’s a link to a virtual pass. The recordings will be up in a few days:

http://sellerssummit.com/members2017/virtual-pass/?ap_id=importdojo

I hope this gave you a bit of insight from my trip, what the trends in the Amazon world are and what’s to come 🙂 

I got back two days ago to Asia and I am currently fighting a massive jet lag. On top of that I am heading to a conference in Berlin, Germany tonight (http://amzcon.de/). If you are around say hi 🙂

Let me know what you think in the comment section. 

We got this! All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel 

Is Amazon FBA still feasible?

We are giving away our eBook on how to build a brand titled “From Zero to Hero” Building (over 123 pages). If you ask yourself why we do that please read until the end 🙂

Every so often I get an email from a reader if this business model (Amazon FBA) is still worth it. Or if you can honestly make money selling on Amazon on in eCommerce for that matter…. 

Well, it is very likely that I don’t know you and your capabilites and dedication to work. If a friend asks me that same question and I’ve known him for years I can tell right away if he is going to make it or not.

It all depends on a person, his skills and his work ethic. But don’t be fooled by so many “gurus” out there telling you that you can make 10,000 within 4 weeks. That’s just lying to you to get to your hard earned cash.

So I can’t answer a complete stranger if he is going to make it . Yes of course you can make it but it takes time, efforts and money to build. 

The other day there was a newsletter on how many sellers after a year are still actively selling. The numbers were quite surprising. 

I don’t have the link anymore but I think only 30% are still in the game after a year. 10% of those actually make money. So it depends a lot on your dedication, product selection & general attitude towards “making it”. 

On top of that Amazon is constantly changing their TOS and making it more difficult for the “little guy” to suceed. 

Just a few days ago they have closed down the brand registry program. See the screenshot here:

From what I hear they will open the program again in early May and will then only accept sellers who have a trademark registered. 

Rumours are that if you have been accepted into brand registry before this change you will be “grandfathered” in. Meaning you should be ok. But this is just speculation, I couldn’t confirm this. 

More and more Chinese sellers are coming to Amazon and they most likely all have a trademark on their brand. 

So if you are just starting out and want to test a product and this business model it will be difficult to protect your “brand”.

We will have to wait and see what Amazon will do in May when they release the news on whats happening. 

Hence my constant appeal to my readers to build a brand.

But to answer your question in general, is Amazon FBA still feasible – YES absolutely. Even I was sceptical 3 years ago and you know what? It turns out, as long as you have a long term strategy, unique and innovative products or ONE rockstar product to carry your brand you will make money and stand out of the crowd.  

And building your brand does not stop on Amazon. What I really want to drive to you is that you need to branch out into as many sales channels as possible. Yes selling on Amazon will be essential but not the only thing you should do. It is a great way to kickstart your brand BUT and It has never been easier to build a brand.

Yes, it takes a very long time but building your brand is creating true and lasting value that you own. This independence is crucial and the best time to have started this would have been last year… the second best time is now.

Two weeks ago I released a new course on brand building which has been received very well and if you are just starting out and as a thank you for being my loyal reader I’d like to give you our Brand Building eBook (From Zero to Hero) which we just released for free!

If you aren’t registered on my site yet for a free membership please do so now: https://importdojo.com/pricing/  

Just click on the link and choose “Free Membership” – IT’s 100% free!

Go check it out and download it. I would also love to have your feedback on this eBook. 

Ps.: If you are an existing ImportDojo member, you will find this eBook in your Members Area 🙂 

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 

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – Social Media & eCommerce


Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

Social Media & E-Commerce

In last week’s blog post we had a brief introduction on E-commerce and the key steps you should take to create your own sales channel. Another way to create a powerful sales channel is through Social Media.

Social Media is essential to get your target audience to find your brand and connect with influential figures in your niche. In the past few years, social media has become the number one medium for promotion and businesses who want to achieve long term success need to have a social media strategy in place.

Why Having a Social Media Presence is Important

We often hear how social media is powerful and important for brands around the world. The main reasons why social media is the platform of choice is:

  • Advertising conversions are higher than other forms of promotions such as traditional PPC, offline marketing and television.
  • People spend a lot of time on social media so it’s very easy to find your target audience.
  • Social Media provides a lot of data on demographics and behaviours which if used right it can scale up your business significantly.
  • Drive Huge Amounts of Traffic To Your Website & Amazon Listing.
  • Connect with your customers on a personal level and find out their concerns or needs in your category.

A Look at Social Media Platforms

Facebook

Facebook is without a doubt the most popular social network to use. Although having(and growing) your own Facebook page is essential for your brand, the advantage Facebook has over other platforms is an affordable and converting advertising platform.

Initially, the best strategy to use Facebook Advertising is to find your target audience. No other advertising platform in the world allows you to segment your audience by:

  • Gender
  • Income
  • Country
  • State/Province
  • Interests
  • Age

When launching a new brand, my strategy is to have a budget of $5 a day maximum to find my target audience, that way, when the time comes to launch my product, I know already who to target. Facebook also allows you to target audiences who liked a particular page, so if you have a fitness brand and want to target female audiences aged 18-25 who like Nike, Adidas & Under Armour; you can do that with FB Ads.

What this allows is to have better converting Ads and more clicks to your sponsored posts. One suggestion I can give is to not direct the audience to your Amazon listing(unless you have a lot of positive reviews), but instead to your website/landing page to collect email addresses.

We will talk in more detail about Facebook Advertising in the coming weeks, however, as a business in 2017 and beyond, you need to be on Facebook – it’s where your target market hangs out most of the time so take advantage of it!

Instagram

Instagram is the platform of choice if you want to showcase your products, brand and your story. The visual aspect of Instagram allows you to truly differentiate yourself from your competitors. Since Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can use their advertising platform to also target Instagram users.

What I really like about Instagram though, is the ability to connect with authority in your niche and even larger brands. This makes it the perfect social media platform alongside YouTube to gain massive exposure for your brand.

However, the downside of Instagram is that you only have one clickable link in your whole profile – The Bio. This makes it very hard to direct audiences to click the link, for this reason, although Instagram can be used to drive sales, the main use of the platform is to gain exposure.

Twitter

Twitter is one of the top social media networks, however, their follower base has been declining in recent years so in my opinion, other social media platforms are much better. Twitter works best for announcements or to give news regarding your brand or products.

I would still suggest you to have a Twitter account though, not only it works great for some niches such as fitness, yoga and cosmetics; but also because as a brand you need to be everywhere! The more places you are, being social media platforms, marketplaces or countries, the better.

So while in some cases twitter can work great, it’s not an ideal platform for Ecommerce sellers.

Snapchat

Out of all the most popular social media platforms, snapchat is the newest one. However, they are quickly gaining a large following(particularly amongst younger audiences) and they are set to go public soon. Snapchat is a video-based application that allows you for to share videos which are only available for a limited amount of time.

This is a great app if you want to make quick promotional videos or even use it to make instruction-based videos on your products. However, unlike most social media platforms, Snapchat only applies to certain categories.

Nonetheless, if your market is mostly younger audiences, you need to use the app as it’s quickly becoming the number 1 social media platform amongst the younger generation.

YouTube

YouTube is by far the best social media platform for exposure and driving insane amounts of traffic to your website or Amazon listing. With the introduction of their Video Advertising Platform, you can quickly gain enough exposure or even go viral. It’s not uncommon for unknown brands to go viral and get massive sales via YouTube. Video based ads convert much better also, however, at $0.20 a click, it can become quite expensive.

The power of YouTube relies in a pool of YouTubers from all kinds of niches, in fact, if you can find influencers or brand ambassadors willing to make an unboxing review or How-To-Guides for your product, you will get more sales than any other method, such as PPC or FB Ads.

The major tips I can give regarding YouTube are:

  • If you’re starting your own channel, your videos must be very well made.
  • Focus on providing value and showcasing your brand.
  • If sponsoring other videos, make sure that your products are of a higher quality. Packaging, inserts and the product itself need to look professional.
  • With thousands of videos uploaded every minute on YouTube, your videos can easily get lost, have a keyword strategy in place and leverage other social media networks to get views.

If used right, YouTube can be the single platform that elevates your brand from a small business to a well-known brand loved by its audiences. Unless you have enough video making or editing experience, I wouldn’t suggest you make YouTube videos yourself(as a brand), instead, outsource the whole process or even better, leverage the audience of other YouTubers.

Pinterest

Pinterest is a social media platform that very different from the rest. It focuses mainly on images where they are structured using pins and boards. What makes Pinterest unique is that the platform has a majority of women followers, so if your brand or products are aimed at this demographic, you need to focus your marketing efforts on Pinterest.

Pinterest, unlike Instagram, has clickable images, so every image you put in the platform can be directed to your website or Amazon listing. This becomes really powerful when your follower base get bigger as it can help increase conversions.

Social Media & E-Commerce

Social media and E-Commerce are a perfect match for each other! No other platform gives you the ability to showcase your products in front of thousands of potential buyers. When it comes to promoting your products on social media, you need to focus on these points:

  • Show what your brand is about(your brand story). People are more willing to buy from brands they can connect with.
  • Run Giveaways, Polls and Promotions frequently. These will not only boost sales but it will also give you some great data about your customer base and buying habits.
  • Show unique features about your products and great looking pictures will attract more followers.
  • Use social media to provide great customer service. Check your inboxes frequently and reply to comments you get on your posts.

However, the most powerful way to gain followers and exposure to your brand via social media is by advertising. Facebook and YouTube provide the best converting advertising platforms and give you a lot of data about your customer behaviour.

Amazon PPC can get very expensive after a while and social media is another great way to drive traffic. It is recommended to not drive traffic directly to your Amazon listing via social media advertising, but instead, use the following strategy:

  1. Set-Up your Facebook/Instagram/Youtube Ads targeting your ideal audience.
  2. Links should point to your website or Ecommerce store.
  3. Have a landing page and an offer to get email subscribers.
  4. Provide customers the option to either buy from your website or Amazon itself. 

By driving traffic to your website you have the ability to collect email subscribers. Email subscribers allow you to:

  • Pitch offers during holiday seasons or when you experience slow sales.
  • Connect with your customers to build a relationship with your brand.
  • Send an email blast when launching new products so you not only get some sales, but also some traffic to your listings.

Conclusion

Social Media Marketing can be a great asset to have for your business. No other tool comes close when it comes to connecting with your target audiences and getting exposure for your brand. Keep in mind that social media is a slow process and not every platform will suit your brand.

We recommend focusing your efforts on 2 or 3 social media platforms and outsource the rest to a virtual assistant.

In next week’s blog post we will discuss Inventory Management, FBA Prep and Storage. Amazon has been constantly increasing their fees so it makes sense to look for alternative options to store part or all of your inventory.

We hope this short guide prove helpful and as always, if you have any questions, kindly leave a comment below.

All the best and happy selling,

Duncan

https://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series – An Introduction To eCommerce

Zero To Hero: Building a Brand Series

An Introduction To E-commerce: How To Build Your Own Audience and Gain Control Over Your Brand

In last week’s blog post, Manuel explored in detail how to deal with overseas manufacturers and the best practices for Private Label. In today’s blog post we will focus about building your own E-commerce store. While selling on Amazon has numerous benefits, nothing beats the feeling of having your own store and having full control over your brand.

While the process is time consuming and requires some capital investment, in the long run it will pay off. Here at ImportDojo we always recommend to expand into new countries and to have more than one sales channel – nothing beats having your own sales channel!

The Importance of Having Your Own Store

1.      Have a Stronger Online Presence

A website is not only an additional sales channel, but also an asset. If you manage to build up enough sales volume, the valuation of the site can be added to your company’s overall valuation. It’s never wise to build a business solely on someone else’s platform(Amazon/Ebay), by having your own website you have an additional channel to drive traffic to.

2.      Control Pricing, Offers & Marketing

Marketplaces like Amazon and Ebay have a lot of sellers competing for the same customers. This causes price wars and more often than not, it’s a race to the bottom. By having your own website, you can control your pricing, make your own offers and be in control of what you charge.

3.      Better Branding

A website offers endless possibilities when it comes to customization. Marketplaces have guidelines which restrict the amount of customization you can make. With your own site, you have complete say on what goes into the design, colours and overall branding.

4.      Customer Relationship Building

Through email marketing and social media, you can truly connect with customers in a much more meaningful way than Amazon. Amazon limits sellers on having buyer’s information and restricts communication with them. When you have your own website, you can focus more on the customers and listen to their needs.

The Challenges

Capital Investment

Although building an online store requires minimum capital investment, marketing will require a significant amount of money. This can be difficult in the early stages as you also need to outsource website copywriting, blogs and design.

Getting Traffic

This is by far the biggest challenge of an online store. With Amazon, sellers don’t need to focus much on traffic(except Amazon PPC) as the marketplace gets enormous traffic. With your store, chances are you won’t have visitors on day 1 so you need to dedicate a lot of effort for driving traffic. These include:

  • Facebook Ads
  • PPC(Adwords/Bing)
  • Blogging and SEO
  • Social Media Marketing

Website Set Up 

Luckily many platforms have made this part easy. However, you still need a lot of time to make the design of your store ideal. Most platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce have a lot of integrations which helps you sync inventory across all marketplaces.

Besides the design, the most important parts of a website are:

  • Have an SEO friendly website.
  • Design fits your brand and audience.

This can be easily done with the use of integrations, plugins and premium themes.

Content

Between the blog, website copy and your email capture & sequence, you need to write a lot of content. If you’re not a good writer, you need to outsource all of the writing which requires a lot of capital initially.

When writing content, a good tip is to diversify content not just on your niche but the whole category or subcategory. Use different long tail keywords that cover different topics and once you monitor traffic and engagement for a few months, you will find out what your audience is interested in.

You can use the data to release new products based on what your audience wants.

Essential Pages & Content For Your Site

About US Page

The about us page allows you to tell your brand story, mission and goals behind your products. This page is very important as it gives a “face” to your brand that customers can identify themselves to.

Store/Shop

The store should be simple and easy to navigate. Like Amazon, include keyword focused descriptions and great images.

Blog

A blog not only give important updates and information about your niche, but it also helps drive traffic to your site and build up SEO.

Policies

The most important policies you should put on your website are: 

  • Privacy Policy
  • Terms&Conditions
  •  Shipping & Returns

Building an Audience & Getting Traffic To Your Website

The beauty of selling on Amazon is that you don’t have to worry about driving external traffic to your products. Aside from Amazon Sponsored Ads and Facebook Ads, Amazon generates enough traffic to their marketplace. What makes Amazon unique is that the traffic is mostly buyers.

When it comes to your own website, getting traffic will be the major challenge. However, there are a number of ways to drive traffic(and sales) to your E-commerce store.

Pay Per Click Advertising

Like Amazon Sponsored Ads, pay per click marketing is very powerful in driving traffic towards your products. The most popular pay per click networks are Google Adwords and Bing, when it comes to these two however, you will have higher competition on keywords so your strategy has to focus on long tail, less popular keywords.

Blogger Outreach

This is a similar technique to the one Manuel used for his French Press Case Study. When you’re a new brand, chances are that few people know about you. In this case you have 2 options:

  1. Build an audience yourself which requires time and money.
  2. Leverage someone’s existing audience to gain exposure.

Bloggers are perfect for gaining exposure! They are trusted by their audiences and gain consistent traffic to their blogs. When choosing bloggers to promote your brand or products, take into consideration the following:

  • Are they well known and trusted in my category/niche?
  • How much traffic does their blog get?(use Alexa to check this)
  • Are they active on social media?
  • Are they experienced in promoting products similar to my category/niche?
  • What is their target audience demographics?

One advice is to find someone that truly fits your brand, audiences can tell if someone is truly passionate about your product(s), so be very careful in who you pick. Once you filter down the blogger(s) of your choice, you need to contact them. You can do this either via their website(normally they have a specific Advertisers page) or via social media. Based on experience, these two incentives work best:

  1. Money offer with no commission involved(This can normally range from $50 to $1000 depending on the blogger).
  2. A free product sent to them and they get commission for each referral. They can use the Amazon Associates program or you can create your affiliate program on your website.

The second option normally works best as the blogger will be more incentivised to promote your brand. Bloggers are a great way to drive high amounts of traffic both to your Amazon listing and your website. If a blogger proves very successful, a good option would be for your brand to sponsor the blog as you get a permanent advertising presence.

Social Media Marketing

Social Media Marketing is the number one tool to drive traffic to your website and get exposure for your brand. Although building a following takes some time, you can drive huge amount of sales and traffic with targeted discounts or giveaways. The most popular social networks for E-commerce are:

  • Facebook – Great for all types of businesses and they have the best converting ads out of all social media networks.
  • Twitter – Although not very ideal for promotions and showing your products, it’s excellent for giving news, updates and connecting with influential people in your category.
  • Instagram – The most popular social network for E-commerce entrepreneurs, it’s design and features make it ideal to show your products. The only downside is that only the bio is clickable so you don’t have many options for driving traffic. However, it’s by far the number 1 tool for getting exposure.
  • Pinterest – Another great social media platform ideal to show your products and branding through images. It is the only social network that has a majority female following, so if your target audience is in this group, it is recommended to focus your efforts here.
  • Snapchat – This social media platfoorm is not ideal for every businesses, however, its popularity is growing and if you’re targeting millenials – you need to be on Snapchat.
  • YouTube – Out of all the social networks, YouTube has the most power to drive huge amounts of traffic and make your brand go viral. The only downside is that producing videos requires capital investment and a lo of time. A way to go around this is to send your products to YouTubers who target your niche, by doing this you leverage the audience of the YouTuber.

Conclusion

Building your own e-commerce store requires a lot of work and patience. However, the benefit of having your own platform and customers is very rewarding. While the Amazon platform will most likely always be the main source of revenue, having an additional sales channel that you fully control is the ultimate step towards having a strong brand.

We hope this blog post was helpful in clearing up some issues you may have when starting your own website and while e-commerce is a vast topic, this guide can surely point you in the right direction. In next week’s blog post will will dive into Social Media Marketing. Social Media has become a really powerful tool to drive traffic, sales and awareness of your brand – so having a social media marketing strategy is essential to quickly grow your customer base.

If you have any questions regarding this blog post, please leave a comment below. The aim of this series is to find out your concerns regarding importing & e-commerce, so we would really love to hear from you!

All the best & happy selling,

Duncan

Zero to Hero: Build a Brand series – Overseas manufacturing guide

I’ve probably written about this topic for as long as the blog is up (March 2015) but I’d like to give you a summary of the most important parts of manufacturing overseas in this blog series on how to build a brand.  

WARNING – LONG POST 🙂

So here goes: 

Guide on Manufacturing Overseas

There are a lot of statistics I could give you but I wouldn’t know where to begin. I want to break down China and its manufacturing in a few sentences.

Believe it or not, China is still the biggest production site by far. While there are several countries in the vicinity, such as Vietnam, Thailand, and Bangladesh, they simply do not have the infrastructure that China does. Imagine you need sanitary items, furniture, household appliances, insurance, and a smart phone. You walk into a Wal-Mart. You can find practically anything you need in there and that’s within 10,000 square feet. That pretty much sums up China’s infrastructure. 

Factory A provides plastic and tooling, Factory B provides packaging, Factory C provides raw material and components, and Factory D assembles everything. They are all within a stone’s throw away from each other. 

Most of the factory bosses are related to each other. They set up a perfect system within their “community.”

I’ll give you an example, and I am not kidding you, 95% of the world’s supply of electrical multi-sockets comes from a small town in Cixi near Ningbo/Shanghai. When I say “small” I actually mean small for China. 

There are over 1.4 million people in this town. When you step into “Ningbo Kaifeng” (World largest factory for electrical multisockets) you are overwhelmed. And when you step outside of the building you see five competitors across the street. All the factory bosses are related to each other. And down the street they can find everything they need – factories that make packaging, tooling, plastic, steel, and so on.

The Chinese are so effective in terms of production and infrastructure that some first world countries could really learn a lot.

The big retailers figured out a long time ago that nearly every large corporation, retailer, discounter, or online shop has a buying office somewhere in China/Hong Kong. I know this because I have been in the industry for over 17 years. When you walk into a factory and look at the production line you see cartons of goods with famous names on them. Whether it is a fan from Home Depot, an audio speaker from Target, or a ceramic pot from Bed, Bath, & Beyond, they were all made in China. Most products are made in specific areas.

Here are a few examples:

  • Guangdong province (South of China): Electronics of any kind, especially consumer and household, toys
  • Zhejiang province (Shanghai area): DIY products, tools, metal and fabrics, lighting
  • Hebei province (Beijing area): Textiles, coal, steel, iron, engineering, chemicals, power, ceramics and food

These are the main areas for production. However, nowadays production is also shifting inland to take advantage of lower labor and production costs.

Certification

First things first. You need to understand that certifications are based on directives and legislations. So for example the GPSD in Europe (General Product Safety Directive Legislation) or the CPSC for the US (Consumer Products Safety Commission) says that a product needs to meet certain standards and need to be safe in general to import or bring to the market. Simple right? Unfortunately not. The GPSD has tons of directives under its belt such as the CE, RoHS, REACH directive). Which means that for each product or category there are further sub-categories that have directives which tell you exactly what your product needs to meet. Wait a minute, what exactly are you saying? I can’t read all this technical jargon…. 

Ever went onto Google to look what your product needs to meet under which directive? Found a site and then there’s a 200 page PDF that tells you in technical mumbo jumbo what the directive is about and after reading that you still don’t know what to do? Well this is where a lot of people struggle (I am actually working on a course as of writing this that will take the guesswork out and make you understand what you need to know)

So which certificates do I need and do I need them all? 

Yes and No

The good news first. No you do not have to have all tests and certificates done by third party laboratories (both the US and Europe). What would suffice in (almost) all cases would be a declaration of conformity. Wow really? Yes, and here is the “however”. If you trust your suppliers blindly that all raw materials are free of hazardous chemicals, comply with electromagnetic compatibility (electronics for example) or meet certain other standards then that would be very foolish. If your supplier can’t provide any certification and claims that he complies with everything you ask for thats a huge red flag. I also understand that you don’t want to invest in any certification not knowing if it will sell. And this is the most important part where you as a entrepreneur and business person need to come to a decision. A) Is my product potentially dangerous (can it explode??). B) Is my product relatively simple and can’t harm anyone (e.g. leather wallet)? Once you’ve figured out what you need for your product you need to evaluate what should be invested. Lets take an example. For the sake of it lets look at a simple and a complicated product. 

Simple product:

Solar powered garden light for 1.2$. Comes with nothing but a few cables, some plastic and a solar cell. Simple right? Technically I have to meet the following: LVD (EMC), ROHS, REACH & CE in general for Europe. Now if I were to test all of these the costs would amount to roughly 2000USD with a very cheap Chinese laboratory. If it was TUV or SGS the costs would be triple that. Now what if I am going to order 1,000 pieces and my testing costs would already cost more? That doesn’t make sense. In this case I suggest to get self declaration of the above regulations and save yourself these costs. Obviously you’d still want your supplier to declare that he can fulfil those requirements so look for suppliers who already deal with customers in the country you want to import to and have a good reputation or can back up their claim that the item is compliant with raw material certificates for example (from the raw material supplier). 

Complicated product:

Small Electric fan heater 5.9$. Comes also with a few cables, some plastic, a plug and a PCB. Simple right? No. You see, I need to plug this product into the socket (230Volts plus) and the potential dangers are very high. If the unit tips over or a child puts a cover on top, the entire unit can burn up (and the house with it). Also here technically I have to meet the following: LVD (EMC), ROHS, REACH & CE in general for Europe. Ideally I will also want a GS mark for Germany because this is a product consumers want to have with GS. On top of that I want abnormal testing from TUV for example. Abnormal testing means they would test what happens if you cover the unit with a blanket or if it tips over that the unit switches off automatically. A good supplier knows that there needs to be a tip over switch installed and overheating fuse included. This abnormal test alone costs 4-5,000USD. A GS mark costs somewhere in the same vicinity (2-4000US$). The other tests (LVD, RoHS, REACH & CE) are roughly 2,000USD. Now we are looking at 10-12,000USD investment costs. Would I do all these testings before purchasing? Yes, 1000%. I do not want to risk my business or anyone else’s life because I wanted cheap. You may say ok but I don’t have that kind of money. Then you need to find a supplier who either has these certificates already or is willing to invest the money for you. If you can’t find one then its simple – the product is not for you and your budget. You can still go for it without all the testing and certifications but I think we are on the same page here that that would be a very foolish decision in case anything happens.  

Now I can’t go into hundreds of products or case studies here, that just isn’t possible. But I think you see my point. First I need to evaluate if the trouble is worth it and if I even want to deal with complicated products. 

If the answer is yes then the strategy is pretty clear I think – test and get certificates. If you don’t dare to sell these risky (but profitable) products go the easy way and pick simple products or walk away. 

Products & components to avoid when starting 

Some items really don’t make sense to import (together with the antidumping rate items). These items are usually license-required items, large items or items that are manufactured in a low-income country near you. 

China is getting some competition from a few countries, not only because of labor costs but also due to government import restrictions (antidumping fees for example).

Products that are difficult for importing:

  • Anything related to gas
  • Cars
  • Supplements
  • Foods, drinks
  • Animals
  • Guns, weaponry
  • Hazardous material
  • and more

For the above items you would need to obtain proper licenses first and this can be quite difficult. So the above might not be your first choice of import. 

Contracts & Tooling Guide 

A lot of people are concerned when they produce their own design in China that the supplier will copy it and sell to other sellers.

First I would like to point out that in my nearly 12 years in China I have had almost only good experiences with suppliers even with my own designs and exclusivity agreements.

Let’s look at your options and what it actually means to have NDA’s or Exclusivity Agreements in China and how likely it is to enforce it or hold up in a court.

Lets look at the terminology first and what they mean:

NDA’s

Whats an NDA and when do you use it?

An NDA or Non-Disclosure Agreement is used when you have your own product design and want that developed by a factory in China. You basically agree with the factory that they are not allowed to disclose, share or produce your design (or even ideas) with any other customer or supplier. Neither local or overseas. In most cases if you have your own design a tooling is likely need to be made. The first step you take before you send any designs to a factory is to ask them to sign the NDA.

Tooling

To produce your design it is very likely that the factory needs to make a mould or tooling for you. With this tooling – parts of your product will be manufactured and eventually assembled into the final product.

(Categories like Textile or Food do not need tooling). Toolings are often included in the price quoted to you when you hand over your design. However you can also opt to pay for the tooling if you want to own the tooling as well.

Toolings can go anywhere from 1,000-30,000+USD depending on the size of the product. Yes, things can get pretty expensive.

Can I move my own tooling to a secure location?

Toolings are usually very large and heavy as they are made out of die-cast in most cases. Moving them requires quite some logistics.

So if you are unsure that your supplier is going to use them for other customers you should move them to a secure location (e.g. a rented warehouse). This can easily cost a few hundred US$.

And every time you would place an order this tooling needs to be moved to the factory and after production back to the warehouse. An expensive enterprise.

So having said all that if you feel you need to have your tooling secure somewhere else you should not work with this factory in the first place.

So whats the best way to go about having your own designs & tooling?

Two scenarios:

  • You are just starting out and have no factory contacts whatsoever.

My tip is to work with a sourcing agent  that can help you find reliable and trustworthy factories.

Don’t go onto Alibaba and randomly look for factories that could make your product. You don’t know them, they don’t know you and are unlikely to help you anyway.

Even if they tell you: “no problem, we can make it for you” they are likely to copy your product or sell the idea to other sellers the minute you place an order.

Just the other day a reader of mine told me he found a trading company on Alibaba for his design and placed an order of 300 pieces.

When he got contacted by the actual factory about labels and other things they needed from him he found out that the trading company placed a total of 500 pieces with that factory.

They ordered an additional 200 pieces (without the knowledge of the client & even with the clients logo) for themselves probably to sell it on Aliexpress or even Amazon themselves.

  • You’ve been placing orders in China for a while.

Work with the factory of your trust. Even if the product you are now looking to manufacture doesn’t fit into their assortment. Factories have a large network and contacts with other factories.

Ask them to help you source a factory that can make your product whom they trust. I’d he happy to pay a few cents more for this type of help if it means I get connected to someone trustworthy.

Ideally your existing factory can help you manufacture your new design.

Mutual Exclusivity Agreement

Let say you find a product on Alibaba or at the shows and you want to buy this product exclusively to sell on Amazon. Suppliers are likely not to give you a Exclusivity Agreement if you don’t purchase high quantities from them or if you haven’t had any previous business with them. FBA sellers are in general very small customers for factories. The 1000 pieces (if even) you & I are going to want to place as a trial order cause more trouble to the factory than you could imagine. Setting up production and purchasing raw material for only a 1000 pieces is an expensive endeavour for factories. Most raw material suppliers have MOQ’s of 5000 pieces (per raw material) and up. So getting the material for 1000 pieces can be quite expensive. While some factories may have stock left of material or might agree to purchase the larger quantity from the raw material supplier in order to produce your order it is unlikely to happen in reality. Having said that you could approach things a little different to get your exclusivity:

You could ask the supplier to sign exclusivity agreements for 6 months. Meaning you could agree on a quantity that you will place within those 6 months and if you don’t reach the quantity the contract will be voided.

Which will give you the time to figure out if the product is selling and the supplier on the other hand isn’t forced to sign a deal for a long time.

After this period of 6 months the contract/agreement can be reviewed and extended for a longer period. Even if the supplier does not agree to an extension you have at least a head start of 6 months on other sellers.

Validity of agreements & contracts:

In the FB groups I often see question like: “How are those agreements going to hold up and what are your chances of winning an NDA dispute in China if you find out your supplier has betrayed you?”

Well to be honest the chances are slim. Does it help to have an agreement in Chinese? No. Even if you hire an expensive lawyer in China and win the case by the time you resolve the issue your expenses will have ballooned into thousands of $.

So unless you have a patent it isn’t even worth it pursuing a law suit.

You will also have difficulties finding out if your supplier actually used your tooling for another client. An un-trustworthy supplier will find many ways to wiggle himself out of the situation.

For example he could claim a disgruntled engineer of the company left the factory and took the designs to the next factory he started to work for. You won’t be able to proof him differently.

So whats the point of having an agreement at all and whats best approach?

To ask a supplier to sign an agreement or NDA shows that you mean serious business and they will take you and your project more seriously. If he doesn’t agree to it in the first place move on to the next supplier.

Work with a supplier whom you trust and have worked with for many months/years already. You will still need to have agreements in place with that supplier but the understanding is entirely different.

If you work with a supplier and you let him know he can grow his business with you over the years he will honour your agreement. The contract is more or less a formality.

Either place orders with a factory for ODM (products off the rack) in the beginning and eventually propose your ideas and designs after you worked with them for a while or hire a Sourcing Agent who can help you get you in touch with trustworthy factories.

For example in my case study I actually got exclusivity for my product (for an initial 1000 pieces order).

And the supplier honoured it. How do I know that? As you know my case study is public and people who join the course can see contacts of my supplier within the course.

After I launched my product and case study only a few days went by and my supplier contacted me to tell me that he had received quotation requests from 2 different US sellers already. Those 2 people wanted to copy my process (they even used my email templates and quotation forms that I offer in my course). The supplier refused to offer my product to those 2 guys. Thats not to say that they can’t go anywhere else but at least I know I have a reliable and trustworthy supplier.

So its all about finding the right supplier and develop a relationship with him. You will want to have agreements in place even after a long relationship but again, thats just really formality and if you found a trustworthy supplier they will honour agreements and in 95% of the cases help you if you have to claim money for example (defect or returned goods).

The point I want to get across to you is not to worry too much about getting copied in China if you approach things professionally.

Getting copied will happen eventually because either:

  • Another factory copies/modifies the designs because they have seen it on Amazon.
  • Your competitor copies your product or modifies it.
  • Your approach was unprofessional.

Take the head-start that you have with your product and move on. Thats how this business is.

And remember the above goes only for your own designs. It is a different story if you are buying products off the rack maybe with small modifications from a supplier that you found on Alibaba for example. In these cases it doesn’t make much sense to have NDA’s or Exclusivity Agreements because it is not your design in the first place. It belongs to the supplier. However if you make significant modifications and are able to place larger orders it makes sense to have agreements.

Choosing a supplier

Most people start out on Alibaba because they cannot come to China. While I do recommend to come to China it doesn’t make sense if you are just starting out. If you are starting out, head over here to my Alibaba screencast which helps on choosing a supplier:  https://importdojo.com/alibaba-hacks/

Ordering samples & how to test each sample effectively

I ll cover three topics about sample management:

  • Sample costs
  • Communication
  • Supervision

Sample costs

Once you have settled on a supplier for your new product it is time to purchase a sample. Most suppliers will charge you for sending a sample. There is usually no way around this unless you have worked with the supplier for a longer time.

Even for me, being here and dealing with suppliers on a daily basis I can’t guarantee that I don’t have to pay for a sample.

Here are some Insider tips to “try” to get a sample for free.

  • Introduce yourself as an assistant of a large company. Suppliers tend to smell money when a large company is interested and are more likely to give away samples for free.
  • State that if the sample is OK you will place a large order
  • State that you have especially chosen this supplier to be your exclusive supplier for this product and he has the chance now to do business with you.
  • Ask him to put the sample cost on top of the official order that may follow if the sample is what you are looking for.
  • State that it is company policy that you/your company don’t pay for samples and if he wishes to do business he should agree to your sample terms.
  • Split the costs. Offer to pay for either the samples or the freight costs.

If none of these work I recommend you to agree with the supplier to deduct the sample costs from the official (larger) order. At least this way you save the sample costs if you decide to order from this particular supplier.

Be wary of sample costs in general

On one occasion I was sourcing for a textile accessory. The item itself can be made for approx 2 USD.

I screened around 10 suppliers and eventually narrowed my selection down to 5 suppliers. They were all in a similar price range.

When it came down to ordering samples one of the suppliers (who was also the most expensive) asked me for a sample fee of 100 USD to be transferred to his bank account. That didn’t make sense. I immediately knew it must be a trading company with no factory background.

They probably outsource the work to a factory because they have no own facilities. Eliminate suppliers that have high sample costs right in the beginning.

Samples are usually 10-50% more expensive than the originally quoted price. It is a common practice to charge more for samples, as many of the samples need to be handmade for the customer, especially if you have some sort of modification request.

Another reason why samples are usually more expensive than the quoted price is that they want to see if you are serious & sincere about placing a larger order later.

I can tell you that from my own experience as a manufacturer. I get about 5 sample requests per week and all of them want it for free. If a buyer is not willing to pay for a sample I won’t send it to him because I will be thinking he just wants to get a sample and there will be no follow up order.

Sometimes suppliers have stock of their items. If you do not need to have any modifications done, or you just want to check the quality before asking for more, request a sample they have in stock. If they have stock, they usually charge the regular (MOQ) price.

Communication

In my 12 years living and working in China I have learned to communicate with Chinese suppliers in different ways compared to communicating with Western companies.

What is being said or promised on the phone/chat or email is not always being followed by the factory or the supplier. Often you will find that something you said or agreed on is being done completely different.

For example you ordered a sample of a certain product in a certain color & quantity but what you receive is completely different from what you asked/paid for.

Unfortunately the chain of command in factories is not always direct. So when your sales contact gives your sample order to his sample or engineering team there may be 2 or 3 people in between.

In between often some information gets lost. So eventually the person responsible for making your sample will receive different instructions that deviate from your original briefing. Often there will be no meetings held on projects from clients (like we are used to in the western world), but rather a quick email to another person that has not fully understood what you actually want or need.

Often there will be no message or notification that your project may be urgent or requires special attention. That might be a simple instruction, for example telling the sample team to make the sample with a US plug or adapter. No one has told the sample team and common sense is unfortunately not requested when being a worker in the factory.

Which brings us to:

Supervision

I can’t stress enough how important it is to supervise & monitor your order/samples or other projects that you have with your supplier. Westerners work differently. We are more detailed and we expect people to have the same common sense that most of us have. Information will get lost. You need to plan for it.

After each discussion on the phone/chat or email you should follow up with written and agreed on-points. Try to think of everything for the supplier and make it as easy as possible for him to follow up & complete your instructions. Give him a “goodie” at the end of the email to advise him of the potential to be working with you.

For example (content in BLUE are my notes for you):

Hi Tony,

Thanks for the talk just now. I would like to summarize the discussed points:

– Sample to be sent to ……. (your address)

– Sample needs to be in working mode. A non-working sample is not accepted, as the sample will undergo quality tests by my third party laboratory. (this part doesn’t need to be true but he will think twice before sending you a sample in poor condition)

– Sample needs to have a US plug (attach him a picture of a US plug-make it easy for him)

– Please make sure the sample is tested on your side before being sent out.

– Please attach your model number & supplier name-tag to the sample as I am getting many samples and would like to know who sent which sample. (this way you will not lose reference of which supplier made your sample if you order from more than one)

– Make sure you mention “samples of no commercial value” to the Sample Invoice (in order to avoid customs tax on samples at your destination).

– Etc.

Please give me a written confirmation of all discussed points and your understanding.

If the sample works out well and everything is as it is agreed on, expect an order of… pcs.

Best,

…..

Here a few more tips on communication & supervision with your supplier:

  • Give deadlines to suppliers that you both agreed on.
  • Set yourself reminders on your smart phone/computer that will help you to remind your supplier.
  • Make simple sketches & drawings of your requests if the supplier misunderstands you.
  • Have him confirm each step of your modification or request
  • Keep emails clear and with bullet points to make your requests stand out

Once you have a feeling on what you need to pay attention to it gets a lot easier and your sample orders in China will be a lot smoother.

Inspections

I’ve been saying this forever and I still see people shipping their products from China without inspecting their products by professionals but my recommendation is never ever ship without inspecting your goods. 

Especially not if you ship directly to Amazon. If there’s a problem it’s too late to re-work the goods (in most cases) or ship back to China. 

There are several third-party inspection companies in Asia. Some of the big names are: Buereau Veritas, TUV-SUD, TUV-RHEINLAND, and AsiaInspection  (which I personally use) to name a few. The first three are usually expensive but also very thorough. AsiaInspection is a simple and cost efficient service that should work in the beginning for you. Register on their website and simply create an order with them. You can fill out all the details or even better ask your supplier to send them a sample.

Simple steps: You ask your supplier for a date when you can send an inspector (usually around 70-80% of the finished production), you book the inspection online and the Inspector will go to the factory on the arranged date. 

Once the inspection is completed they will send you an inspection report. Based on this report you can either:

  • Release the shipment to the supplier
  • Ask the supplier to re-work the goods according to your agreed terms and fix problems found during the inspection

Only when you are entirely satisfied should you release the shipment. In most cases there will be minor findings, such as scratches, dents, or packaging issues. If this doesn’t bother you then release. If there are major problems like faulty wires or wrong colours, ask your supplier to re-work the goods.

Trust me, he will re-work, as he is still waiting to get the full payment. Remember, NEVER pay everything up front. Once everything is as it should be you can give your logistics provider the order to pick up the goods and send them to the port.

You are of course entitled to skip this process, but it is highly recommended, especially for first-timers and for order amounts above 1,000USD.

Pheeww that was a long post but I hope that this serves as a refreshment or reminder on what to pay attention to 🙂

Next week in our blog series we’ll talk about eCommerce, what channels exist, how to build an audience, social media following and more so stay tuned 🙂

If you enjoyed this post please comment or share on your social media 🙂

All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel

https://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

Zero to Hero: Build a Brand Series – Product Industry & Demographics


This is the 7th post in our Brand Building Series and today it’s my turn to talk about this next blog post. 

In this post I’ll talk about private label versus your own design and why being unique (in the long run) is better.

I will also talk about Industry Research & Demographics (Who will be your customer?) because I feel this goes hand in hand with the decision on choosing a product. 

Before we discuss private label versus your own design I will dig into Research & Demographics first – who will be your customer? Is there enough demand? Your customers or target market can also determine whether you go for private label or your own design.  

Industry Research & Demographics

I’ve talked in previous blog posts on how to choose a product and do your industry research. So I won’t go too much into detail in this post, check out the post I did on this a while ago: https://importdojo.com/the-ultimate-guide-on-how-to-find-a-product/

Let’s imagine that you aren’t sure yet which product you want to sell in but you have a certain industry in mind. I always say follow your passion or something that you can relate to. 

After all it doesn’t make sense to start selling Bluetooth speakers when you know nothing about them let alone explain features or answer technical questions of your customers. 

So ideally you start with something that you can at least relate to or feel that you can improve on. 

Let’s pick an industry. As some of you know this from me already – I love hiking and trail running here in Hong Kong, so lets look at that niche 🙂

Me last week hiking/trail running in HK’s mountains 

1) I go onto Google and start my search. 

2) I check the first few links and I find a site that has a compilation of the top 10 products – makes it very easy for me. 

Here’s the Top 10:

  1. Jacket
  2. Shirt
  3. Pack
  4. Handheld bottle 
  5. Shoes
  6. Socks
  7. Poles
  8. Neck Gaiter
  9. Medical Kit
  10. Food 

3) Next thing I do is go onto Google.trends.com and enter “trail running”. 

It is a very trendy topic as you can see

4) Now lets look at particular states in the US:

Colorado, Utah, Washington, Arizona, North Carolina are the top 5. 

If I look into cities as you can see there is a very high demand in Denver, Portland, Seattle, Austin & San Francisco (& a few more). 

I know from living here in HK there is very high demand as well. Now if Amazon would have a store here that would be probably my first item to put up on as a listing. 

As an alternative I could also set up an eCommerce shop here in Hong Kong (there’s my next business idea). 

However I am going to focus on selling a product in the US now either on Amazon or my own eCommerce shop. 

Next thing to do would be to research the particular top 10 products and then focus on either the highest demand or the product I can affiliate myself with the most. 

After I pick a product I go onto Google keywords planner. I pick “trail running jacket” and as you can see there’s a very high demand (100,000 – 1Million monthly searches on Google).

If I were to go after shoes it would even be 1M-10M per month. Thats a lot of potential customers 🙂

What do I do now with all those numbers? Nothing for now since I still am far away from launching a product, but the point of this exercise is that I become aware of the trends, the search and interest volume of my potential clients and how I can take that to my advantage. 

E.g. I can set up my own shop or sell on Amazon and drive traffic via targeted Facebook ads (or Google) to my listing. And I can specify that by country, state, city and interest. I am not going into detail now (thats for later) but just a quick look at a Facebook campaign with these keywords and targets generates a audience of 790,000 people. Something for later when my product is live (or during the launch). 

Now obviously this is just a brief and short trip into researching demographics and interests. But as you can see from above, there’s literally a million potential clients for me. 

Obviously I would now have to do my product research, find suppliers etc but this will be a post for next week. 

What you can do from here on is to look up the competition on Amazon and how you can improve a product or even get unique ideas. See also our blow post from 2 weeks ago here. 

Lets assume that you have your product and industry well researched. What do you pick now? Private Label or having your own design? 

Lets look at the options:

Private label

2-3 years ago Amazon FBA private labelling became the No.1 way to start your new business with a small capital. Simple – find a lightweight product, fits in a shoe box and costs less than 2$. 

So many people jumped onto that train that today we have immense competition on Amazon. While there are still categories and products out there that have small competition, its getting more and more difficult for everyone. 

I am sorry to tell you but those days where you start off with 1000$ or less are over. I still see success stories with private labelling however starting capital should be at least 3-5,000USD. You are going to want to order a quantity (say 500-1000 pieces) that last you 1-3 months when you launch, especially if your product goes well. You will need capital for marketing (PPC, Facebook ads etc., influencer campaigns), logistic costs from China, inspection costs, photography and business set up costs. If you are looking at higher priced items from China – because they have less competition, 5000US$ are easily spent on product costs only. 

How does private label work? By now I think most of you how it works but basically you are buying a product off the shelve from a manufacturer, maybe improve it (see last blog post), put your own logo on the product or packaging and send it to Amazon. Obviously there are many steps in between but thats pretty much it in a nutshell. 

Does private labelling still work? Yes it does, but the competition is just immense right now that you’ll want to pick your product carefully with extensive research. Perhaps instead of making it difficult for yourself with limited capital you may want to look into other private labelling like wholesale private labelling. What’s that? Check out my good friend Will Tjernlund’s speech at the Global Sources Summit last year October in HK: https://www.facebook.com/globalsources/videos/10154597697889785/

So while private labelling in its different forms is still a viable option and will make you money you will have to have a good product that stands out plus extra capital for marketing and advertising since the TOS change from October 2016 in regards to giving away products and review services has more or less collapsed as a sure way to gain traction in your first few weeks.  

The most obvious downside on a private label item is that anyone can come in and hijack or have the same product up after a few weeks. Even if you are brand registered, a competitor can come in and modify the product with his factory, maybe even improve it and sell under his own listing. Within a matter of weeks you can have 4-5 competitors and the price gets driven to the ground. Think of the melon slicer that everyone tried to sell and within 2 months there were 30+ sellers of this product. Imagine you would have been the person designing this item, how long you’d been the only one making huge profits. All the other guys that came in after you had to fight for the price and customers. Basically a race to the bottom. 

What are the advantages on private labelling?

  1. Small investment costs (3-10,000USD+)
  2. Quick turnaround time from placing orders to selling the product
  3. Good starting point to make money on the side and learning the process

Don’t get me wrong, to start out and if you are concerned about capital and big investments private labelling is a great way to get started. You’ll learn the ropes, get your first experience in China and on Amazon and you’ll be set up with your business. 

Even I started with a private label but quickly moved on to create unique products. 

Your own design and why unique is being better

What’s your own design and what are the risks involved? What sort of capital do you need to invest? 

OK, so first off you might say – even my unique products can be copied at some point. Yes, thats true but you’ll have a head-start of at least 6-8 months and by the time the competition comes in you’ll have a lot of reviews (that he doesn’t have) and you’ve already made good money and ideally even work on your next product. Thats the business cycle anyway, you create a product, someone comes and copies you. Deal with it and move on.

Next question may even be how to avoid that anyone copies you – patents and trademarks. First you’ll definitely want to register your brand on Amazon so that anyone trying to hijack your listing has to ask you for approval – guess you won’t approve 🙂 Second you may even want to patent your design in the US (or wherever you are selling) So anyone trying to copy you has a very low chance of succeeding. You can easily report them to Amazon infringing your patents or design.  

Whats the downside with your on design? There are three things that come to mind.

  1. Long period of development & perhaps the feeling of missing out on action
  2. Medium to Large investment costs (10,000USD+)
  3. Risk of product not selling well (but you’ll have that risk with private label items as well) as it is new to the market and “no one knows it exists yet”. 

Whats the upsides of your own design? 

  1. You dictate the selling price and market. Out of experience your margins can be 100% upwards. Private Label usually has anywhere from 15-45% (which is actually not bad when you are starting out) 
  2. You can interest retailers and other businesses with a unique design. It’s very unlikely that Walmart is interested in buying a private label garlic press. 
  3. You have a USP (Unique Selling Point) that your competitors (private labellers) don’t have. If you keep coming out with unique products your customers will return. Just think of Nike or Adidas how they constantly re-invent themselves with new designs, material etc. If you are a one hit wonder there’s not really a momentum that you can build (e.g. improving the garlic press for the 50th time). 

CONCLUSION

I think it is pretty clear that a lot depends on your capital and assessing your risk tolerance. Investment more and get paid off (hopefully) or start small and grow slow. It is really a personal decision that I can’t take off your hands 🙂

Researching your demographics and possible target audience helps making a decision.

I hope this post has helped in some way and I look forward to your comments 🙂

All the best and happy sourcing,

Manuel

https://importdojo.com/importdojo-masterclass/

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

Join Importdojo now for FREE and get access to the ImportBible and more.
Get Started