How I Made A Million Dollars By Reading An Article In The Wall Street Journal

This post was written by my good buddy Lars Hundley, one of the most experienced ecommerce entrepreneurs that I know. He runs a bunch of ecommerce stores and today he has an inspiring story to share with us.

Maybe you’re thinking about starting your own ecommerce store, but you don’t have any “good ideas.”

Today I want to show you how million dollar ideas are everywhere. And I mean that quite literally. Heck, I once got a million dollar idea by reading an article in the Wall Street Journal.

Wall Street Journal

Let me explain.

It was 2002, still the dark ages of ecommerce. I had been in business for myself full time since 2000, running my primary online store that sells eco friendly gardening tools, Clean Air Gardening. I was still working out of my condo in Dallas, as the only employee at the time.

Business was good, and my store was growing every year.

I would start out most days before work by reading the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal online to see what was up with the world. There was a particular column that ran every week in the Wall Street Journal at the time that I enjoyed, called Catalog Critic.

Each week, the writer for the Catalog Critic column would pick some random category like bird houses, or fishing rods. She would secretly shop several catalogs in that category and then report about the quality of the products that she received.

She would tell you the pros and cons of the various products, and often include stories about particularly good or bad customer service.

(By a weird coincidence, one of my own products at Clean Air Gardening was featured there a couple of years later!)

house signs

One week, the column was about house address signs. You know, the sign on your house that the pizza guy uses to find your address. The column writer ordered from several different catalogs, but noticed that many of the signs were all arriving from one particular manufacturer, even though they had been ordered from different catalogs.

The column pointed out that this manufacturer made a large percentage of signs for a particular type of sign.

I thought to myself, “Hey, maybe I should sell those signs at Clean Air Gardening!” But after looking into it, they didn’t really match the rest of my products, which were all eco friendly gardening tools. Address signs wouldn’t fit in.

That was when I had the idea of building a separate web site for the signs, just to see what would happen. I set up an account with the manufacturer, and started building a web site.

I wrote product descriptions for dozens and dozens of address signs, which might have been the most boring tasks I had ever attempted. It was so mind numbing that I almost didn’t launch the store. I actually ended up paying a friend of mine who was still in college to finish writing the rest of the product descriptions for me.

I used the domain name addressplaques.net because it happened to be available when I typed it in.

addressplaques.net

I “launched” the site in August of 2002. Or rather, I just kind of finished it and left it out there and mostly forgot about it.

The first year, it did about $1,000 a month in sales. It wasn’t much work to deal with the orders, and I was making a little bit of extra money on the side. Nice!

Year two, it started ranking a little better in the search engines, and I put a little more effort into improving the site. Sales jumped up to $5,500 a month, or almost $67,000 that year.

And so it continued, year after year after year. The site has never been my main focus. I mostly spend time making sure that I provide good customer service and get all the signs made correctly, and don’t really do anything else to market it.

These days, it doesn’t even rank very well in the search engines. But quite a few real estate agents who found me over the years still place recurring orders with me.

Whenever they sell a house, they’ll send a sign to the new owner as a housewarming gift. So it’s a small but steady stream of orders.

The other day, I was thinking about how I got the idea for that store by reading that column, and starting wondering how much the site had sold over the years. So I logged in and did a quick report. Here’s what I saw:

More than a million dollars in sales!

Was it the cleverest idea in the world? Hardly. Was it a product that I am passionate about? Not by a long shot.

It was an average idea at best. And I did an average job implementing the idea.

But here’s the key point. I *did* implement the idea.

I didn’t just read the article in the Wall Street Journal and think that it would be a good idea and forget about it. I took the initial effort to move forward with my idea and actually build something.

Do you have some idea of what you might want to sell online, but think that maybe the idea isn’t good enough, or unique enough, or interesting enough?

If so, then here is what you need to know.

The best idea in the world has ZERO VALUE if you never implement it. But even a relatively lame idea could generate a million dollars in sales if you make the effort and actually do something with it.

I hope that one day, a few years from now, someone will email me and tell me how they read this blog post and were inspired to get started, which led to their first million in sales. And I hope that someone is YOU.

What are you waiting for? Go get started!

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21 thoughts on “How I Made A Million Dollars By Reading An Article In The Wall Street Journal”

  1. That is exactly true and I tell people that all the time (and keep reminding myself); nothing will happen if you don’t make it happen.

  2. Josh says:

    Thanks Lars, I once heard that success is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration, thanks for the reminder to keep things simple and take action.

  3. Mark says:

    Wonderful article. It really hits the nail on the head in that you can’t do anything without taking that first step and at least following through to a point were you might reap some rewards. So many people talk themselves out of a good idea without ever vetting it out. So far I’ve had more failures than successes, but of the few that have worked, well, they’re paying all the bills so one can’t complain about that. And more opportunities are all around us if we can see them.

  4. Judy says:

    Wow, what an absolutely inspiring article! I can’t wait to get started so I can tell you about my million dollar sales!

    1. Lars says:

      Thanks Josh and Rus!

      @Mark, I have so many failures I could write a 20,000 word post about that! If you’re paying the bills, you’re doing something right. There’s this Brian Tracy quote about how success is sort of like baseball, except that you are your own umpire and you can allow yourself to keep swinging and swinging and swinging as many times as you want until by the law of averages, you’ll eventually hit one out of the park. I really hope Brian Tracy is right.

      @Judy Go for it! Can’t wait to hear back when you’ve done it!

  5. Lars,

    That is an epic post. I took action and started my store back in March selling Traditional Wet Shaving Equipment and accessories here in the UK, the hardest thing of building an online store is marketing. Sometimes I feel as though I’m in over my head with it.But with every order I get I’m learning something new as well.

    Who would have though address plaques would be that profitable? Do you dropship or do you house stock yourself?

    1. Lars says:

      The million is gross revenue and not net income, although I suspect that over time it will probably hit a million in net income too, as it just keeps slowly chugging along. I was loosely defining “made a million” as the million in gross revenue that was indeed deposited into my bank account because that made the best headline. But of course I had expenses that were subtracted from that total.

      Some address signs are custom manufactured after an order is placed, so they can only be drop shipped. Others, we stock. It started out as drop ship when I was still working out of my house and didn’t have space.

      I agree with you that these days traffic / marketing is the hardest thing. It seems really hard to rank a new site in Google anymore, and Adwords isn’t always even profitable for many niches or products because there isn’t enough profit to go around.

      Seems like with your niche there would be a lot of room to promote with YouTube instructional videos. I have another niche site that I do that with, and it brings in people who are trying to learn how to use the product and are ideal customers.

      There might also be room for making videos like “Review of Progress Vulfix Safety Razor” where you demo the product and talk about the pros and cons and then tell people that they can buy it from you. A lot of people search for reviews of products, and YouTube videos often rank well in those searches. Always include a link to your site in the video description, and always, always mention your URL and site in the videos themselves.

  6. Hi Lars

    Excellent article with some very inspirational information. I’m looking at starting a niche ecommerce site with the help of Steve Chu’s online course but the problem I have is just getting started !! I’m a heavy procrastinator so you have helped me move this forward.

    Thanks
    Steve

    1. Lars says:

      I’m also a procrastinator, and I have a terrible case of Shiny Object Syndrome, where I jump from thing to thing to thing. It’s so fun to start thinking about the NEXT new thing and it’s so hard to dig down and actually start (and especially finish!) the current thing.

      There’s no easy solution to procrastination that I’ve found yet.

      But I’m sure you can think of lots of times in your life where you have successfully started and then completed something. I’m totally certain you can start an online store too.

      I’d say you have a big advantage working with Steve, because there’s a format to follow that really works. I wish I would have had something like that. Good luck!

  7. Anouk says:

    This is an interesting niche! Although you made it a profitable business by executing the idea and not just by reading the Wall Street journal ;) but it’s very inspiring! I also like that you answer our questions here, which not everyone do.

    I’m a young female and last year I’ve started an online store selling hair care products for ethnic hair. I made some sales but it wasn’t profitable enough, and I had some other issues too. I find it very difficult to start a successful online business from Canada. Shipping here is sooooo expensive, orders from suppliers are in USD, which costs me money, plus the Canadian market isn’t as big as in the United States. Also, the law requires bilingual literature on the products, and even the website must be in two languages (I’m from Montreal). Argh!!

    Despite that, I liked my experience and I’m soon launching another store. My niche are products to help children with their bedwetting. I found a great supplier. So, I’m trying again. I’m ready! :-)

    1. Lars says:

      The Canada / US thing would be a big challenge. We have trouble just shipping stuff from the US to Canada. It always takes a long time, and it seems like they always slap on some kind of customs duty that makes it cost more to the customer, and then the customer gets mad!

      I wonder if most Canadian ecommerce site owners concentrate on Canada, or try to sell to the US market because there are so many more people. That would probably be complicated too, trying to deal with US customers from Canada. I know we have a very hard time dealing with Canadian customers from the US.

      Sounds like a great niche. I’ll bet you could create some good multi-language content around it, which would help you rank well in Canada.

      I’ve had other sites that didn’t work out too, but I always seemed to learn something from all of the various failures that helped me with the next project. I’m sure it’s probably the same way for you.

      Good luck with your business!

      1. Anouk says:

        The main problem with US vendors shipping to Canada is not duties, but carriers like UPS or Fedex who charge HUGE brokerage service fees without our consent. It’s a big problem here and we are not protected. I always ask the item to be shipped by a national carrier (eg: USPS), they never charge a dime.

        Personally, I sold many items to US customers and had little problems. They are nice customers. It is also cheaper and faster to ship something from Montreal to Honolulu than from Montreal to Calgary, which is in the same country. Go figure why!

        Thank you so much for you reply, I really appreciate it!

      2. MelodyO says:

        Another Canadian chiming in to say – my husband and I have a Canada-wide business selling medical soft goods, and we’ve found it’s just not worth it to ship to US customers. Aside from shipping and customs costs, the insurmountable problem for us is that once the package reaches the US border, we can no longer track it. If the package gets lost, we’re hooped, and that makes for some very grumpy customers. Shipping it with the big couriers is out because the cost is astronomical. So no US market for us, and we absolutely envy US businesses that have access to customers adding up to the entire population of Canada in just the state California alone!

  8. It is great to hear how well simply implementing an idea can go. I’m sure you used some of your business know-how from your main company, but its smaller side jobs like this which can really help boost your financial strengths.

  9. That was great! You had been a millionaire by just reading an article. Wow! Some articles can be very inspiring and motivational so much. They can drive us to save a lot and do what we can do today to be prepared for the future.

  10. There are many ways to mirror the message in this article as it can apply to so many business types/endeavours. Act, don’t put it on a to do list.

  11. Wow, what a great inspiring article! I found some articles and Youtube videos inspire and motivate so much. We could relate this inspiration to start any business (not only online store)..

    Cheers,

  12. Lars, it’s such a very good inspiring story! I had read one blog before, he was selling a SIM card on Amazon and didn’t realize that he would make a good income from i.

  13. Jackie says:

    This was such an inspiring post to read. Thanks for this!
    Steve, will you interview Lars on your podcast anytime soon?

  14. jon says:

    Hello everyone. I was just wondering if anyone knows the best cms to start and run an online business from. I have wordpress right now but I’ve been told that wordpress is not the best to use for an online store. Any suggestions?

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