Today I’m really happy to have Toni Anderson back on the podcast. Now this is isn’t the first time I’ve had her on the show. Way back in episode39, we talked about how Toni manages to run a 6 figure blog, a conference, consult on the side and home school 7 kids.
Now a lot has changed in the last year. For one thing, she decided to stop consulting and then reached out to me wanting to try opening an online store to replace the income from consulting.
So she signed up for my Create A Profitable Online Store Course and her results have been staggering. In just 7 months, she’s made over 190,000 and over the holiday season, she made 100K in just a single month.
Toni had never sold a physical product before prior to this and she did not leverage her existing audience for sales either. And today, she and I run an ecommerce conference together called Sellers Summit. Check it out!
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What You’ll Learn
- Toni’s motivations for starting her ecommerce business
- Her process for product selection was and how she went about validating her niche
- What she learned selling physical products online
- How she found the vendors for her online store
- Where she looked to find her suppliers
- Why she decided to carry inventory and the thought process behind the decision.
- How she made her first sale.
Other Resources And Books
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Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. We will teach you how to create a business that suits your lifestyle, so you can spend more time with your family and focus on doing the things that you love. Here is your host, Steve Chou.
Steve: Welcome to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast. Today I’m really happy to have Toni Anderson back on the show. Now this isn’t the first time I have had her on the show. Way back in episode 39, we talked about how she managed just to run a six figure blog, a conference consultant on the side and home school seven kids.
Now a lot has changed in the last year since I last had her on. For one thing she decided to stop consulting, and then she reached out to me wanting to try opening an online store to kind of replace the income from her consulting gig. She signed up for my create a profitable online store course, and her results have been incredible. In just seven months she has made over $190,000 and over the holiday season she made $100,000 in just a single month.
Now I have had students make six figures within six months before, but this is actually the first time that any student has done 100K in a single month in such a short period of time. And before you get all excited I just want to preface this by saying that Toni had never sold a physical product before prior to this, and she did not really leverage her existing audience for sales either, but she does have a special personality.
For example she is fiercely competitive, and I would personally never want to go up against this woman, because she will relentlessly beat you down until you give up. So one time we were casually chatting about getting in shape and losing in weight, and I mentioned something along the lines of I can lose weight pretty easily if I want to.
And instead of just saying cool or whatever she challenged me. She said, “Steve I’ll bet I’ll get a six pack before you loser buys dinner.” And I was like okay yeah whatever. Anyway my point is that I get a lot of questions about how long it takes to make significant money with ecommerce, and truth be told it really depends on two things. One, knowing what to do, and two your personality and your persistence. Toni just happens to have both, and I sure hope she doesn’t decide to sell hankies now, and with that welcome to the show Toni, how are you doing today?
Toni: I’m great thank you, how are you?
Steve: Good that was like the longest intro ever.
Toni: I know I was laughing the whole time, I [inaudible 00:04:18] out.
Steve: So glad to have you back. Give us the background here, so first off why ecommerce in the first place, why did you approach me, and how did you come up with what you want to sell?
Toni: Okay so why ecommerce. I had been consulting I think when I met you, I had been consulting for about three years, and I think we talked, I loved it, I loved what I was doing. But after a while I realized that consulting took me away from why I got on to the internet business world to begin with which was, I really wanted to work for myself.
In consulting yeah you are really accountable to somebody else, and you are really on their schedule, and you are really limited by the number of hours you have in a day because we are usually paid by the hour, by the project, and so you can only take on a certain number of projects, or you are trying to spend a number of hours a week.
I really wanted to get back to sort of the entrepreneurial beginning that I had had with blogging, and some of the other businesses. And I really felt like ecommerce was a logical step based on the fact that I had this large audience from my website, and really thought I could leverage that to help move a product.
Steve: In picking what you decide to sell did you choose something that you could use your audience for, because I understand when we talked earlier that you didn’t really use your audience in this initial seven months at least.
Toni: No, it didn’t work at all like my whole plan did not work out at all, but that’s okay, it worked out well. I definitely went with a product that I knew that my audience would be interested in, and so– and that was when — I think I started your course last January, so 2015. And really just wanted to — I knew nothing about ecommerce, importing scared me to death. I had no idea how to set up a seller account on Amazon, or how to you use Shopify. So I just spent a lot of time going through the videos and really trying to educate myself on this whole world of ecommerce which was very new to me.
And during that time a good friend of mine came to me with an idea for a product, and as soon as I saw what she had I knew that there was something that when I could leverage with my audience. But two I felt like it needed a lot — it met a lot of the requirements for selling a product. Being a smaller product, good margin, not breakable, things like that, things I had heard in your class and from other ecommerce sellers.
Steve: I know we are not talking about the exact product, but are you free to mention like what genre in general or what niche?
Toni: Sure I sell jewelry.
Steve: Jewelry okay, all right, and so how did you go about validating that this was going to sell? Like kind of what was your process for knowing that it was going to do well?
Toni: One of the things that we did was look at what we are deciding we are selling, so was it being sold on Amazon, was it being sold on Etsy, was it being sold on the daily deal sites. And one of the cool things about daily deal sites like Zulily or Jane, things like that is that it actually shows you the number of items that are sold of that deal.
We watched it pretty carefully on some of those sites and saw that there was actually pretty good evidence that this would sell. Even so I was really hesitant to jump in and spend tens of thousands of dollars, because ecommerce was so new to me, I didn’t want to be stuck with something.
And I know you talk about, and other people talk about being able to liquidate stock, but that did not appeal to me. I sold on eBay in the very early days, and I really didn’t want to go back to my eBay roots. I wanted to find something that would work, so we started out really slow, I think we purchased like 200 items to begin with.
Steve: What was your initial outlay?
Toni: I think we spent under $500 initially on products. Product and packaging and all that fun stuff that you realize that you have to buy after you buy the product. I think we did $500 at first, but very quickly moved to a bigger order because within the first couple — I think first couple weeks on Amazon we knew it would sell.
Steve: Well lets back up a little bit, so you looked on jane.com and then you found out that this thing was selling, were you selling something very similar or the exact same item or…?
Toni: Very similar, not exactly the same. We decided to make some changes to it because they were — we realized that there would be a lot of competition if we did something that was exactly like somebody else. We did make some modifications to it, but not very minimum.
Steve: In terms of Amazon not very many people were selling it on some of the other market places?
Toni: There was almost, I think there were two sellers on Amazon when we started.
Steve: Okay and then you mentioned early on in the interview like things didn’t go as planned in terms of promoting to your own audience, why was that?
Toni: Well we’ve — since the beginning we’ve had a lot of trouble because the item ended up being very popular, we have had a lot of trouble with our inventory. We actually — I was really excited because I had always wanted to use Google AdWords and things like that, and I never really thought it would work on a blog.
I was excited to learn about those things with ecommerce and it’s funny because I haven’t been able to do any of it, because we haven’t had enough inventory to actually promote outside of just Facebook post and very minimal. We did do some Pinterest promotions initially. I have a pretty large Pinterest following, so I did do some strategic pinning just so, because one of the hard things about selling on Amazon is that you can’t track on the other side.
So I was hesitant to spend any money to advertise on Amazon outside of Amazon’s own ads. What I did do with Pinterest was I would pin like specific skews, and that would be the only place that we would mention them. So we wouldn’t run any Amazon ads, we wouldn’t even mention on our Facebook, so we would only — that would be the place that could drive a sale outside of Amazon itself retargeting and things like that.
We did do a little bit of that, but outside of that we really weren’t able to leverage my branded Facebook fan page from my blog or running Facebook ads or anything like that, we just didn’t have the stock to really push that.
Steve: Okay, so let’s talk about that a little bit. What was it — first of all what was the order you did everything? So first of all you figured out what you want to do, and then did you order from overseas right away or…?
Toni: No, we actually and I think you might have mentioned this in one of your office hours was to order it on Etsy. I think that was you, right?
Steve: Yeah, well for your particular thing yeah.
Toni: Yeah, so we did an order in the states on — I think when we ordered the 200, we ordered them out of California. We probably paid double what we pay now, maybe even triple, I’m not sure, but it was substantially more. But it also when we got the item, and I think it was five days and the communication was a lot easier and things that I felt were really big hurdles for importing, we overcame immediately by finding someone in the US. Now of course they are getting that same product from overseas, but it just, they were the middle man for us, so that’s how we started.
Steve: So your first order was just from Etsy, how many units was it?
Toni: The 200.
Steve: 200 units, okay and then you threw those up on Amazon first.
Steve: And they sold out — oh so what did you in that first batch to kind of promote it, you mentioned Pinterest?
Toni: So we pinned — so we had two skews initially, and I think I pined one of them and the other one we shared on Facebook just like on our personal my Toni Anderson Facebook page. Just shared it with friends, just more because we were excited that we were doing a new venture more than anything else, so it wasn’t really, hey go buy our product, it was, hey we are really excited having a business. So that was all we did initially.
Steve: Did you ask for reviews or anything during that period or?
Toni: I can’t remember exactly when we asked for reviews, it might have been in that order or our second order, but I basically went into your forum and posted, hey, I have a product if you want to review it, I’ll send you one, and I think we ended up doing maybe 10 free products.
Steve: Okay, I’m just trying to remember now because it’s kind of a blur, so when you — yeah did you sell out before you got any reviews, like you sold out without nay reviews or?
Toni: We had a couple of reviews when we sold out the first time, probably under 10 though.
Steve: Those were organic probably, right?
Toni: I think you left us a review.
Steve: Yeah, I did buy one yes.
Toni: I think we had a couple of reviews from friends, but it was funny is that several of the people that work for me on my blog ordered, and one of them actually got a broken product.
Steve: Oh is that right?
Toni: And I messaged her, and I said, hey are you going to leave a review and she is like, I don’t think you want me to. Anyway yeah…
Steve: Come to think of it, I didn’t get it for free; I think I paid full price for it.
Toni: You didn’t buy it, sorry.
Steve: All right, so you sold out your first batch, is it time to go to China at that point or?
Toni: It was and we had already been talking to some suppliers when our sales — I think I don’t remember what we sold the very first day, but within the first couple of days we knew that 200 would not last. Plus we still had this daily deal that we were going to do as well, like we were going to run a daily deal with the product.
So we had already been talking to some vendors and really just struggled with how many do we order, or how do we negotiate on the price, are we going to be happy with the quality, all these sorts of things. And we finally found the vendor that we felt like we could work with, and so at some point while we had those first 200 listed, we ordered I think a thousand was our next order.
Steve: Did you find these vendors on Alibaba or?
Toni: We did, yeah.
Steve: Okay, let’s talk about that a little bit, so how did you screen these guys out, what was your selection process like?
Toni: We ordered samples, and that was kind of tough. Our product is not super expensive, so looking back on and I probably would have done the minimum order quantity instead of the samples, because I think we maybe got there or four. And we really needed to see a lot more than that for consistency and quality. And it’s not a lot — if you have a $20, a product that costs you $20 obviously the minimum order quantity is probably not going to work.
But when you have an item that’s much cheaper than that that seems to me looking back what I wish we would have done, because we had a lot of bad orders in our first couple of months. We did things like going back and forth with them; I think we used your email templates to communicate with them as far as not letting them know that we were the decision makers and things like that. And basically just went with the person that we felt like their samples were the best quality and that they were the fastest.
Because at this point we knew our stock was getting low, and we knew we were looking at four to five weeks between when we ordered and actually getting the product. The person that seemed like they were communicating with us the quickest, and then getting us samples and things like that the quickest was the person we ended up going with initially.
Steve: And were these samples exactly the same ones that you were getting from Etsy or?
Toni: Yeah, exactly the same.
Steve: Okay, and in terms of minimum order quantities what were they asking for, and how much did you end up purchasing?
Toni: I think the minimum order quantity was 200 or 300, but we did a thousand on our first order.
Steve: And I know because we’ve been chatting like you had some horror stories, can we just kind of talk about the whole process and like what you went through?
Toni: Sure so…
Steve: And how it could have been prevented.
Toni: Yeah get an inspector would be my number one. So in that first order we were getting very low in stock on Amazon. And we were really anxious to get our order, because we knew as soon as we got it we would need to — so what we do is we order the product, it comes to us from overseas, and then we do — we make modifications to some of them.
We package them in our own packaging which we had this manufacture doing first a little bit and then we took it back over, because it was actually harder to quality control, because it meant un-packaging things. Anyway so we package it ourselves here, and we have people doing it for us in our town.
The first shipment that we got, we were so excited, and it finally arrived and we were like getting a big crew together to get it ready to go to Amazon and it was the wrong size. We had ordered a thousand of this product that we basically couldn’t sell because the size is listed in selling for Amazon was not the size that they sent us.
That was our first big issue and we ended up buying some replacement parts and actually remaking them ourselves, because we knew that that would be quicker than putting in another order and trying to get — it would be another five weeks out to get new product.
Steve: So did you just end up junking those or — the chain was shorter, right?
Toni: Yeah, so we ended up adding different chains to everything, because it was just too — we needed them to sell like we didn’t have the choice to junk them, or we didn’t have the choice to offer a smaller size because we needed the skews that were starting to get reviews, and starting like — one of our items ended up on page one on Amazon in like three weeks. So there was no way we were going to like create a new product when that product was already picking up speed. We ended up redoing like a thousand pieces of jewelry.
Steve: Wait, so did you end up getting those parts on Etsy and kind of…
Steve: Okay got it.
Toni: I think from our same person in California, I think it was the same person that we used to get the initial badge.
Steve: This actually wasn’t the story I was expecting you to tell, because you this happened to Ken, right?
Toni: So we contacted the supplier and we were not happy and we said this is unacceptable like it’s very clear this wasn’t like it, we went off by like a millimeter, we were off by inches. So we went back and forth, and they were going to give us some credit, I don’t remember exactly how it worked out, but it sort of got us thinking like, hey we need another supplier because this person who seemed pretty reliable and fast just shipped us a thousand of the wrong thing.
So we found a second supplier who we were also very impressed with, who kind of met all the criteria and whenever the product was done she send us pictures from the factory. And we said it looks a little off on the color and she knew exactly what we like, we’ve been very specific on what we wanted.
She said, okay, I’ll fix the color, and I don’t know if there was a communication after that, because I have a partner in this too. So I don’t know if there is communication between fixing it and us receiving it, but we ended up receiving what looked like a charcoal mass of jewelry, which also came at a point where we absolutely needed stuff to stay in stock, and this was something that we could absolutely not do anything with to fix, like there was no replacing the chain or even a modification. We were stuck with our gothic line of jewelry.
Steve: Wait, so how did this happen again, so you got sent a picture and it didn’t look right, and it just somehow got delivered anyways or?
Toni: Well, the picture that she sent us initially the coloring actually looked too light, so we asked it to be darkened a bit. And I guess she took darkened a bit meaning burn it in the fire. So we ended up once again I think this was another order of a thousand, this is our first order from her, and so it was a thousand of this piece of jewelry that we just couldn’t — I mean we couldn’t sell under any of our existing skews.
Steve: So okay so what do you guys do now to prevent this from ever happening?
Toni: We actually got in touch with a company that does the inspections, and are working with them now to — unfortunately because we then — so that put our inventory off again. And then at this point we were budding up against the holidays. So our next big shipment we actually contacted the inspector, sent them our samples, filled out all the forms, but our samples did not arrive to them before we needed our next shipment.
We ended up kind of scrapping them, because once again we ran out of stock. So kind of just all we do, so anyway but so we actually we have an inspector that we have I guess contracted with. And they will be moving forward inspecting our products mainly for sizing, color, and quality. And then that’s really — for us that’s really the only thing we can do outside of things like sending them more pictures of what — like say if it’s a New York company like more, if it’s a company we have worked with before more pictures our products that we are already selling.
One thing that we decided we were going to do is because some of them asked for our listings and we decided not to give them to them. That we would just send them a picture of the product, because I feel like that just opens the door for piggybacking which I didn’t want.
Steve: Why don’t you just tell me your business, or you just tell me what your — yeah.
Toni: Yeah, why don’t you give me all of your listing descriptions and everything else?
Steve: How much are you paying for the inspector, just curious?
Toni: I think it’s about $300, and I don’t remember the order was pretty substantial when we initially contacted with them and we wanted them to inspect. I think we were probably about 70,000 items, not probably six skews, but maybe a thousand of each.
Steve: It sounds like you were just selling so quickly that you didn’t even have the opportunity to do operation inspector before the holiday season. And it’s just now that you are just kind of wrapping up the inspector.
Toni: Right, so we try to ramp it up at least we started the process I think in early October after we got our charcoal line, and after that…
Steve: Let’s call it the goth line.
Toni: The goth line, yes, sorry the goth line, so after we got the goth line we realized we really needed to get someone over there to help us, because this was — and this was actually we had another entire shipment I think of 3000 skews that were absolutely the wrong thing shipped to us which we got completely refunded.
Steve: Okay, let’s elaborate on some of these things, so goth line you couldn’t do anything about, so you just kept the goth line.
Toni: Yeah, and I ended up — so I heard from somebody that you could sell anything over the holidays. So I thought, hey, our list is on Amazon, and we’ll see if anyone would buy them, and listed them in a pretty steep discount from what we typically charge, and we sold out, so we sold them all.
Steve: Yeah, pretty amazing right over the holidays like literally, yeah?
Toni: Yeah, I was like really you guys don’t know what you are buying. But yeah I mean they weren’t in bad condition, they just were not at all what we wanted to sell. So we ended up being able to liquidate, I think we had about 800 sellable out of a 1000, so we ended up being able to liquidate all 800 of them.
Steve: Okay, the shipment of 3000, I actually did not know about this one, you guys shipped the wrong item, what did you do with that, how did you get the refund?
Toni: They admitted that they completely screwed up the order, and I think the guy we actually worked with doesn’t work there anymore, I’m not sure if that’s why, but this was his second mistake with us, and they are actually still sitting in my bedroom.
Steve: Oh so you didn’t have to ship anything back, and the fact that you had ordered I guess a couple thousand units already, they were nice about it.
Toni: We had already probably ordered 5000 units from them when we got this, and we had already ordered the same exact product, and so this was our second order of this one, and was just completely wrong. They admitted that they had made a mistake, and I think shipped us — I think they didn’t refund our money, they shipped us the right product for no charge. So basically it was washed right, like we got what we wanted.
Steve: Can we talk a little bit about just how you kind of established a relationship, did you guys Skype with your vendors or anything like that, or was it just email?
Toni: We have not Skyped with any of our vendors although I’m in a focus group and all of them are Skyping with their vendors, and I have been very pleased with that process. And actually it helped them weed out some vendors that were difficult to Skype with, so it’s something that I want to talk about with my partner moving forward, because we have had trouble finding good vendors. We have done everything via email and then via the Alibaba chat feature, so that’s all of our communication has gone through that.
Steve: Yeah, I mean for us at least we always try to meet them face to face, obviously people can’t do that depending on the situation. But Skype works pretty well and you often presently surprised by who you are dealing with, at I have been.
Toni: Yeah, I think it’s really beneficial and a couple of other girls in my group were able to immediately, they were choosing between one of two vendors for their first order and it became every clear after those Skype conversation which one was the one that they felt like they clicked with and understood them better, and was more professional and things like that? I definitely think it’s something that we should be doing, because it seems like it solves a lot of problems in the process.
Steve: Sounds like you only have one vendor right now, is that still the case or?
Toni: No, we have — so we have a second vendor now although our last shipment had a 25% damage rate from that vendor. So we are working with them to try to figure out how that can be rectified because that’s obviously not acceptable.
Steve: Well let me ask you this, would you have gone with multiple vendors from the start or do you feel like the way you kind of preceded was what you felt comfortable with?
Toni: No, I absolutely would have done multiple vendors from the start.
Steve: Okay, even if you didn’t know like whether your stuff is going to sell, like would you still have — like based on your initial 200 order, was that enough for you to just place like a bulk order of like a couple of thousand units?
Toni: Yeah, absolutely, so that initial 200 I would have just gone with one vendor for sure like we did. We got the person in California, but as soon as we saw that those were selling, I think it’s because we were taken a little bit by surprise at how well these products sold. So from the second or third week of being in business, we felt like we were always behind as far as how many do we need to order, should we start a new skew, what’s — is this worth it?
So we were trying to do all these things at once, like should we introduce new products, what do we do about quality, how do we find vendors, how are we going to set up our store, all these things trying to do them all while we are also processing our products here. So it was really a lot considering I wasn’t thinking like, hey I’m going to do this 50 hours a week from the beginning.
Steve: Let’s talk about that a little bit, let’s talk about the pain. Okay we so far we’ve talked about everything that’s kind of gone right outside of like the inventory, can we just talk about like the Amazon pain right now, your experience selling on there?
Toni: I love selling on Amazon, I think it’s great because I get Facebook messages and emails from everybody that I have ever met with screenshots of my product, and ads on other websites, but Amazon is painful. I love being able to be in front of that like huge audience on Amazon. In that way it’s great, it’s really easy to do the FBA as far as once you get a hang of getting your labels and packing up and shipping it to them, it’s really nice not ship your own stuff out, especially when you are first getting started and you don’t really have a set up to do that.
Steve: Wait, I thought you loved shipping your stuff out yourself?
Toni: Oh well only during the holidays.
Steve: Okay, well we’ll get to that part of the story, sorry go on.
Toni: I loved that that they make it really easy for you because you basically put all your stuff in a box, ship it to them and they deal with a lot of the customer service; they deal with a lot of the delivery issues. So it’s really taking a lot of work off of you, however they are taking what, 30% to 40% of whatever you make.
And on top of that Amazon, I mean I am an Amazon shopper, I probably buy stuff on Amazon five times a week, and I love that they are so amazing to buyers, but with that comes the cost that they are really crappy with their sellers. When you have a problem with Amazon, it’s not uncommon for me to talk to like 16 people at Amazon before I get to somebody that can help me.
Or they can help me with like one very small specific detail of my problem, but then of course they have to send me to this person who is not available and they’ll have to call me back. So there have been days where I’ve spent and my partner has spent three to four hours either on chat, on the phone, on email with Amazon trying to correct a problem that really wasn’t ours to begin with. In that way it’s you take the good and the bad, so you take the big exposure, you take the ability to sell to a lot more people, and having them promote your products with the fact that they control everything.
Steve: So let’s elaborate on some of the reasons why you had to contact Amazon support.
Toni: So in October I woke up and checked on my listings like I do most mornings, and there was my listing with my picture and my description and with a totally different price. And not really having a ton of experience I thought we had been hacked. So I’m panicking, I’m calling my husband, I’m thinking like this is the worst thing in the world, and I’m thinking like has my whole Amazon account have been hacked, what’s the deal? And then come to find out after a little bit of research is that we were actually piggy backed which is it’s — I don’t know what it is; it’s a process or a thing that is actually allowed by Amazon, where someone can sell your same product under your listing for a different price.
And from everything that I have now read about it and know about it, it’s kind of like if Nike is selling their Nike jogger shoes on Amazon. Well if I’m like the footlocker I can sell Nike shoes on Amazon too, but the deal is I kind of have to stay in the same price point as far as Amazon etiquette goes. And with piggy backing what I think seems to happen with most like small businesses like me, and probably other people in your class is that people that are piggybacking you are not like a footlocker or a DSW, it’s a vendor in China who’s under cutting you by like 70%.
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And in fact they are probably not even selling the exact same product either.
Toni: Yes they are absolutely not selling the exact same product, so it’s like your product is getting your [inaudible 00:32:56] pass for much cheaper.
Steve: So okay so you get piggy backed, what did you do about it?
Toni: So I panicked…
Steve: Well besides that, that’s obvious yeah.
Toni: Yes I panicked, I read every forum post, every Amazon– I spent eight hours on Google. I think I talked to you and I ended up– you connected me with Lars who is like the Amazon expert. And the first thing he told me to do was match their price, and went back to buy box, which was a little difficult to take, because that minute I was dropping my price by several dollars and when you don’t have an expensive product you are cutting into your profits pretty significantly radically by doing that. But the theory behind that is when they have the buy box they are seeing the volume that you are selling, because they are getting all the sales or a good percentage of them.
I mean one of the interesting things about when people are piggy backing you is they are usually an FBA, they are usually shipping form most of the time China, so people have to wait four to six weeks to get their item. You can still get sales if you don’t have the buy box and that’s your situation, but our situation was we saw almost like our sales went from probably 20 units a day to two. They were getting all of our sales.
Steve: Right, and the shipping was a lot longer right since it was coming from China and not shipping the same stuff so that could really have screwed you up.
Toni: Yes, because what I also found out which is makes Amazon suck is that they order a product that’s your product although it’s not really yours from a seller that’s not you, and then they leave a review of that product that’s not really yours on your product. When they are getting merchandised, it doesn’t actually fit our description.
And we have branded packaging and we sell some accessories with it, so you are really getting something very specific when you buy from us that wasn’t coming with the product that was — that they were selling from overseas. The potential for us to be hurt by negative reviews was really high, because they were selling a significantly inferior product with all pictures in our listing that made it look like they would be getting something very different.
Steve: So how did you end up getting rid of this piggy backer?
Toni: So one of the things you can do is you can have someone, a friend or someone you know order the item from the piggy backer, and then contact and file an A to Z complaint or submit a return. There is a bunch of different ways you can do it and depending on when you get– someone on Amazon will let you do this before you actually get the product, but in our situation our people couldn’t do anything until they had the product in hand.
And then the first time we did it what happened was is that they went to file the A to Z complaint which is I think the place you go to file like a counterfeit or the item wasn’t as described type of complaint which was supposed to almost immediately get that seller suspended was that Amazon told the buyer and of course we knew the buyer, so we are talking to them as the process is going on.
Was that if they — they had to first contact the seller, and in our case the seller actually accepted the return which we had been told that that wouldn’t happen. We were told that, oh its form China, they don’t want to mess it, they are just going to like not mess with the return at all, they are not going to contact the person, but our seller actually did. We ended up like the first two times we had someone order this piggybacked product the seller ended up taking — seller ended up letting them return it, so they couldn’t file the A to Z complaint because the seller had issued a refund.
Now I think on the third time they were actually able to file the A to Z complaint and then on top of that we had them leave seller reviews on Amazon. There is the listing review of the actual product, but then the seller has its own reviews, so we had them leave reviews basically stating that, hey, I got this product it wasn’t as described, it’s a counterfeit, things like that to bring their seller review rating down.
Because when they initially started they had like two reviews there both five stars. And we had like five stars too, but we had 50 or whatever, but it didn’t really matter because our people really see that we have achieved the five stars filled up on Amazon. So we had them do that, we had them contact Amazon, and then at one point they actually took over our listing.
Steve: Yeah I remember that yeah.
Toni: So I logged in into my dashboard and I couldn’t edit anything because it said I don’t remember the exact words, this listing is not owned by you or something. And they actually weren’t allowed to do that, because during the very first piggy backing we went and got the brand registry which I…
Steve: Yeah I was just going to ask yeah.
Toni: Yes which I wish we would have done in June; we ended up doing it like October, September maybe. So that was actually really easy to do, there is a tutorial on Amazon, it’s…
Steve: Yeah, you guys should always do that first because otherwise it leaves your listing open to people just taking over the entire listing.
Toni: Yes, which we thought we were protected against because when the piggyback initially happened we did the brand register. And it only took us like 24 hours to get brand registered maybe 48 it was very, very quick. We contacted Amazon and said, hey we can’t access our listing, we are brand registered, and it was basically equipped on Amazon.
They had never actually put us as brand — even though they had sent us a confirmation and we had gone through all the process. And they had said we completed the steps via email. They had never adjusted it in their backend. As soon as they took over our listing, and then we reported it and we got them to acknowledge our brand registry, the piggy backers actually were gone in like a day. So I don’t know, so it’s kind of like we don’t really know exactly which one of our five techniques worked, but one of them did.
Steve: Yeah usually after a series of complaints at some point Amazon — it will trigger something within Amazon, and you haven’t seen those guys since right?
Toni: We haven’t although our gothic line has actually been piggy backed.
Steve: Oh really?
Toni: Yes, but we are sold out, so I’m like good riddance you can sell all those that you want.
Steve: Maybe that was actually a good product upfront, maybe these goth people are potential customers that you haven’t tapped yet?
Toni: Yes, I feel like we missed the boat on that one for sure, but…
Steve: In fact for your podcast image I might have something a little cooked up here for you.
Toni: Oh good great.
Steve: So let’s talk about — like let’s stop talking about Amazon for a moment and did you have your own site at this point or?
Toni: We tried to launch the site I think in August, we just used Shopify, I think even — I think we used a free theme. It’s very similar to WordPress, so I actually was able to set it up pretty easily by myself. We got it set up I think in August and did a soft launch on Facebook because we still were sort of messing with our inventory stuff, so we didn’t really…
Steve: And don’t you need product to sell?
Toni: You do, so…
Steve: You do right okay.
Toni: So we had a Facebook page that probably had 1500 fans for our brand. And we did like a Facebook class like, hey we have a store, here is a coupon code back to school or something like that, it was time around school started. And right after that I think was when we sold out of something again.
So basically we stopped talking about the website after that, so we did maybe one or two Facebook things in the first couple of weeks to decide it was live. And then we just stopped because we really felt like since Amazon was like a clear working model at that point, we really felt like we needed to send all of our inventory to Amazon as opposed to holding inventory back for the site.
Steve: Can we talk about your Facebook page real quick, I think we glossed over that, but how did you build up a page o 1500 people?
Toni: So I actually followed I think it was Neil Patel, right about the time that we got started. Did some sort of experiment where he was trying to grow a Facebook page and a blog on like help in nutrition and he was doing this whole the tests with how to build fans quickly. I basically thought — I was actually trying to find a link to give it to you the other day, and I couldn’t find it, but I’ll dig it up. But basically I think I might have promoted it — I promoted it on a personal page, we bought likes, or bought fans or whatever they are calling it these days.
Steve: How much did you end up paying per like?
Toni: 3 cents.
Steve: 3 cents okay.
Toni: And basically we did that and I think it was Neil that talked about this is it, you set your language in your areas that you will buy the fans from, and so you can keep from getting a lot of junk likes. And then so we did that, I watched it pretty closely and I think we set I don’t remember how much we said we were going to spend, but when we had about 1000 fans we shut that campaign off. And we didn’t spend more than definitely under $100, and that’s about…
Steve: Do you know how many sales were attributed to just that Facebook page, you probably don’t know right?
Toni: I know that almost all of our — no okay all of our store sales before Christmas were attributed to Facebook.
Steve: Okay and how many — what was like the ball park?
Toni: Oh we probably had 15-20 sales, so not many, but we didn’t — we didn’t promote it. And the other thing we did with the Facebook page is that when we started it we were buying the likes or the fans, but we were also posting content that would be — we thought about like our ideal customer, who’s going to buy our product.
And then we would post content that that person will probably like or share on Facebook. So we didn’t post anything about our products, we just posted articles or funny like the [inaudible 00:43:07] and things like that in order to just get people to like comment or like or share which grew the page organically.
Steve: Like people with dark make up, emo [ph] music, that sort of thing right? Okay.
Toni: Yes, 18 year old teenage girls, yes, that’s really who we marketed to.
Steve: Okay so that Facebook, okay so it sounded like you had like inventory problems, so you really didn’t have an opportunity to even work on your site, and plus you probably would have had to fulfill these sales yourself with your site also, right?
Steve: Let’s talk about going forward, so you have this Amazon channel, like going forward are you going to work more on your site, or like what’s your future plan?
Toni: I think for the future, obviously we are not going to walk away from Amazon, it’s been really successful for us, and I feel like there is — since we started there has been — we’ve had a lot people come in with competition. But I feel like we are ahead of them as far as we have a lot of reviews now just from selling the volume that we are selling.
And we do sell some products that are not much harder to copy. So I think we are going to obviously continue to focus on Amazon although at this point there is not much we can do with Amazon outside of customer service, so fixing any problems people have, watching the reviews, I know one time we had on one of our products, it actually has really great reviews, the top review was a terrible review.
It was like everything under that was like amazing, like I love it, it’s awesome, thank you so much, you guys are great. We ended up being able to like push that review down and put some better reviews. So things like that watching the reviews, watching the pricing. So making sure that we are priced competitively with other sellers out there, now that we do have more people trying to do something similar, and then launching like one or two new products that are a little more expensive.
That’s the Amazon plan. Then the other goal would be to really start working on the site and key one just because I feel like Amazon does take a large cut of what we make, and after all the piggy backing and all that that happened in the fall, it really kind of opened my eyes to the fact like this all could be wiped out in a second. I don’t want that to be something where we are 100% dependent on the Amazon revenue.
Steve: Let me ask you this, do you plan on still having Amazon fulfill even your store orders, right?
Toni: I didn’t know about that.
Steve: Oh, maybe you should watch some videos.
Toni: I didn’t know about that until like two weeks ago. Yes, that is definitely, actually my partner and I talked yesterday and she didn’t know that either. I brought that up and that actually seems like a really great way for us to do it, just because I’m not a huge fan of shipping the stuff myself, but I’m also not a huge fan of keeping the inventory at my house.
Steve: Just, a lot of the listeners don’t know the back-story, but at some point you ran out of inventory at Amazon’s warehouse and shipping more inventory to the warehouse would have taken too long, so you decided to ship stuff yourself, right?
Steve: Without any equipment, without any know-how of like the whole shipping process, no software and you ended up driving to the post office to deliver your stuff?
Toni: Oh yeah. They know me there now. Everybody, we knew that black Friday and cyber Monday would be big, and we still were having issues getting of course inventory, because–and this was the big reason why I think having one supplier is really dumb is because we ordered this huge order for the holidays, and it just he did not ship, something was wrong, then this happened and then he shipped part of the order, he didn’t ship the whole order. It was like a ten week total process to get our full order. We had expected to have inventory like November 1st and we didn’t get the last shipment until like December 17th. He was like our only guy, so we have nothing else coming in, we have no relationships because we had to fire the lady who sent us the goth necklaces.
We just didn’t have any other levers we can pull when we were having issues with this guy. It really put us in a bad spot as far as just not having anywhere else to turn when things, when he didn’t live up to his end of the bargain. So anyway, we did really well on black Friday, I think much better than we thought we would. I think, from what I’ve heard from other sellers, everybody had a really great black Friday and cyber Monday. I think things were up for a lot of people, but what it meant was between the increased sales of the holidays and our piggy backers. So our pricing was really low, so we were not only beating out like the big firms, we were beating out all of our competitors because we were priced lower. We were also beating out our other products.
Our products that were selling really well, then stopped selling as well because we had these two products that were piggy backed. They were priced three to four dollars below what everything else was priced in the entire market place. Those items were not at stock over the Thanksgiving holiday. All I could hear at the back of my mind was Lora saying, “Don’t let them see your volume, don’t let them see your volume.” And I thought we had received part of the shipment, but they were still at my house like we hadn’t processed it and send it off the Amazon yet. The only thing I could think of was, well, I’ll just ship it out from here. I’ll switch it to merchant fulfilled, offer free shipping, because it still was– we still made out better doing that.
Steve: I think this example just kind of illustrates how persistent Toni is. Some normal person would have probably just said, hey I’m going to enjoy my holiday, I don’t want to be packing and shipping stuff where I have no experience doing this whatsoever, but there you go.
Toni: That’s what I did every Thanksgiving break.
Steve: Real quick, what’s some advice you would give just to people who are just kind of starting out. You haven’t really been doing this for very long. What would you tell people who are just thinking about at least just starting out with Amazon at least?
Toni: I think there’s a few things. One, get in a focus group. If you are part of the course, I know that you can– I think you can meet people that way. I actually joined the focus group really late in the game. I think I joined in October or November, but that’s actually been really, really valuable for me, because as I look into other products and other ideas, having people to bounce things off of, and then me as someone who’s been doing this for not very long but a little bit longer than everybody else in my group, I’m able to give them a perspective that I can say, “Hey you should look into this.” I’m not going to tell them everything, but then they can go into the videos or the blog post or whatever on your site or whatever else they are getting their information, and doing more research on things.
When I got piggy backed, I’d never heard of that before. But now everybody in my focus group knows all about it, so if anything like that would happen to them, they automatically they are like five steps ahead of where I was when I started. I think the focus group is really valuable to have that group of like a couple of people to bounce ideas off of, get advice, even like, have you had trouble with the vendor like doing this, or do you think I can get my samples for less, things like that. That would be the first thing.
The second thing is I really do think your product matters. I think we got lucky. We came up with, we didn’t have to research for a product. The idea was before we got started. I think finding something that is lower competition, quit trying to do what everyone else is doing. Find something a little bit different or new or hijack a trend that you can sell an accessory to or something like that, because I think that’s really valuable. Because when you have a lot of competition, it’s really hard to beat out the people that are on the first page of Amazon. And honestly like second page of Amazon, you are like you are dead. No one is finding you there.
You can use like Jungle Scout, it’s a great tool to research and find out where the products rank and what the opportunity would be like as far as the revenue. I think that’s a big thing. I guess my third thing is really take all the pricing into consideration. You might find a great product that doesn’t have a lot of competition and that might actually be in demand, but when you do the math, which you know I love…
Steve: Toni is excellent at math.
Toni: I’m terrible at math, that’s why I love all the little calculators you can use. Sometimes it’s not worth your time. We had a couple of products this summer that we actually have just kind of let die a slow death on Amazon, because when we priced out the math, the cost of our product plus what we pay people to package and ship it off, our margin isn’t worth it for us. Unless we would do in a million, it wouldn’t be worth it to make a dollar off a product. I think really doing the math on– and I think you have a really good calculator where even does the shipping cost where you can compare like your freight and things like that.
Steve: Yes. That is me.
Toni: He will have the link in the show notes for you, but anyway …
Steve: Who’s giving this interview, are you?
Toni: Sorry. I won’t give out your phone number. I won’t let them call you. I think things like that. It’s easy to get carried away when you think you have a good idea, but I really recommend researching every aspect. Like how long is it going to take you to package it? How much is it going to cost you to get it from overseas or from the United States wherever you are getting them from, things like that? You can quickly find out that this great idea might be absolutely terrible, because you are going to make so many five cents at the end of the day. So, those will be my three big ones.
Steve: I just wanted to throw this out there also, Toni had experience running conferences and I have experience in ecommerce, so we kind of decided to work together and we are putting on this ecommerce conference. I know that last year, towards the end of last year we actually went to a couple of ecommerce conferences together. And you had a really positive experience, right?
Toni: I did. I actually– I run a conference that’s blogging related. And one of the activities we did at our conference was to set goals for the rest of the year. So our conference is September. We basically made everybody group hug and hey let’s talk about some really crazy goal that you want to accomplish before the end of 2015. I said, “I want to do 100K in 30 days with my ecommerce.” As soon as it came out of my mouth I was like, “What did I just say? Like, that’s crazy.” I think I had been selling for three months at that point, four months.
But as soon as I said it I felt like man, I’ve got to hit this or what does my word to anybody after that, if I go off there and make some big proclamation and then don’t hit it. I went to that conference, did that and then you and I went to those couple of events in October and because I had sort of thrown that out there, I really felt like when I was at those events, that I needed to meet as many people, talk to as many people, learn as much as I could in those sessions, take notes, because there was in no way that I was going to get that goal if I didn’t have more knowledge about the wholesaling process.
I think honestly being at those events and having those like, eating lunch or sitting down in a hallway and having those conversations with people, I just think about– We had that conversation with Daniel Solid, the Amazon. He gave me two pieces of advice in the hall way that I think just kind of propelled us to the 100K which wasn’t in any session, it wasn’t– it wasn’t like someone stood in front of us and gave us advice, but it was like because we had this relationship and I ended up getting on a call with him a couple of weeks after the event and building a relationship, exchanging ideas, and so I think that attending those events was huge for me, because it automatically plugged me into a network of people that all are doing the same thing and didn’t want to help you. I think it was huge.
Steve: That is why I decided to start a conference working with Toni. It’s called the Sellers Summit. It’s at sellerssummit.com, it’s going to be a very intimate conference. We are talking no more than a 100 people, small focus groups, workshops, the people that Toni mentioned Lars and Daniel; they are going to be speakers at this conference. They will be there to answer your questions and that sort of thing. So, I basically took the conferences that I’ve been to and modeled it into the conference that I wanted to attend. Yeah, you still there Toni?
Toni: I’m here. I was like can I clap, I don’t know.
Steve: Yeah, go check that out. It’s sellersummit.com and Toni thanks for coming on and telling your crazy story, always a pleasure having you.
Toni: Thank you.
Steve: All right. Take care.
Steve: Hope you enjoyed that episode. Toni’s experiences is a clear testament to the power of ecommerce and Amazon, and the fact that she’s made over 190,000 in just seven months and as much as 100K in just a single month is amazing. For more information about this episode, go to mywifequiteherjob.com/episode111.
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Finally if you’re interested in starting your own online business, be sure to sign up for my free 6 day mini course where I show you how my wife and I manage to make over 100K in profit in our first year of business. So go to mywifequiteherjob.com for more information, sign up right there on the front page, and I will send you the course right away via email. Thanks for listening.
Outro: Thanks for listening to the My Wife Quit Her Job Podcast, where we are giving the courage people need to start their own online business. For more information visit Steve’s blog at www.mywifequitherjob.com.