Journal Adventures in Travel, Importing, and Product Lines

Discussion in 'Case Studies and Journals' started by mstchr, Dec 15, 2015.

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  1. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    This will be a journal of my efforts to create two product lines that I am importing from India.

    Background: I left the states about 23 months ago to travel for a year which ended up being two years. I did not intend to but I ended up spending about a third of that time in Goa India, and during my time there I decided on a couple products to market in the states. I returned to the states a couple weeks ago to work on these projects and take a bit of a break from the road.

    My goal is to develop these product lines to the point that they are well branded, well marketed, and logistics is as hands-off as possible. I have regular client work at the moment that is keeping me busy so I'm pulling double-duty with these projects.

    This is not my first time importing or branding my own products but it is my first time attempting to build branded lines with a focus on volume b2b sales and outsourcing logistics. I have a lot to learn.

    Product line 1:
    ~30 variations
    My price with shipping from India: $3.50 for now, $2.50 when my order quantities are larger
    Retail price: $7-99 - $10.99
    Wholesale price: $6
    Product 1 has a fair amount of competition inside its niche but they’re not very active marketers for the most part. Most of them get the business because they’re there. There is room in the market and I have a couple ideas to acquire customers that I don’t think anyone is doing.

    Product line 2:
    ~8 variations to start, more to follow
    My price with shipping from India: $7 - $8
    Additional costs (branding, tweaks): $1
    Retail price: $24.99 - $29.99
    Product 2 is pretty wide open. There are a couple sellers on Amazon with bad listings, no one branding their own line, just selling the product raw with little effort. Small but interested niche market that I have experience with and am comfortable marketing to. I have high hopes for this one.

    Since arriving back to the states I’ve been focused solely on product 1 and will be until product 2 arrives. Here’s where things are at right now with product 1:

    I ordered 100 units. They landed a few days after I did. I sold 50 units at wholesale through a couple local retail contacts I have.

    Website is > 50% finished. I need to style, test the payment gateway, troubleshoot a couple extremely frustrating things with WooCommerce (NEVER AGAIN), finish setting up analytics, create a couple pages to split test, and do a final punchlist.

    In the next week I’ll be building out social accounts and doing some scraping for link targets. I'll be keeping the link profiles of both sites very clean and will be trying very hard to not worry about search traffic at all.

    Product 2 is in the mail. It will be here in about 10 days. I hope to have product 1 ready for marketing by the time product 2 arrives.

    Due to a longer travel itinerary and generating less revenue while traveling than I’d intended to :p my budget is small for these projects but it will have to do for now. I intend to invest 100% of profits into these product lines to scale as fast as I can.

    In future posts I’ll be laying out some of the marketing strategies that I’ll definitely be using and a few that I’m still pondering, I'll talk about my experiences sourcing in person overseas, and of course updating on progress and definitely asking for advice and help.

    Currently my biggest problem is scraping local businesses for retail targets. I dusted off my copy of LocalScraper but it's being finicky and keeps pooping out before scrapes complete. Only solution I've found is giving it small data sets to scrape but man, that take a lot of babysitting. I'm thinking about trying Scrapebox's Yellow Pages scraper but I don't really want to scrape YP, I want to scrape Google. I need to futz around with LocalScraper a bit more.

    Thanks for reading, I hope this journal ends up giving you a nugget somewhere or is at least entertaining. :)
     
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  2. cardine

    cardine Administrator Staff Member

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    This looks awesome! Just bookmarked and I'm looking forward to following this journal all the way through!

    I'm definitely curious to read more about how you sourced the products while you were there - it definitely seems like a big competitive advantage to work with them locally while you were there. That way you don't have to worry about a copycat seeing your product, finding the same Alibaba supplier and then setting up shop right next to you - few people are going to take the effort to fly across the world to work with suppliers in person.

    You mentioned branding - are your suppliers going to brand your products with your own logo (custom work?) or are you going ton just ship the generic product with your own packaging?

    Also in the end do you see wholesale as your biggest potential source of revenue? In that case is it just as simple as cold contacting retail businesses? In that case are you going after mom and pop type shops or larger retail stores?
     
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  3. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    I think it is a big advantage for that reason and for a couple others as well - maybe most importantly you get person-to-person time with your supplier/manufacturer.

    Good question. To start both products ship generic to me and I brand them here. After scaling to higher numbers I will outsource this, in both cases to the respective manufacturers who have both agreed to provide this for me. I could actually do it now but I'm insisting on doing it myself first to dial in the quality and get it down to a science that I can then instruct the manufacturers on how to accomplish exactly as I want. As much as I do love Indians and Indian culture, they have their own ways of doing things and I am hedging as much as possible against an order showing up in the states with their own interpretation of my instructions applied to hundreds of units. A popular phrase there is "It will do"...i.e. "eh, close enough, that's good enough more or less". Yeah. We'll have none of that shit. When the time comes I will visit them again to demonstrate exactly how I want branding and packaging done if I feel it's required to get what I'm after.

    I wish I knew! At the end of the day whether it's b2b or direct to consumer it's a sale. I don't hear many guys talking about b2b and wholesale in the IM world, maybe I don't have my ear to the floor on it but in my limited experience there's a shit ton of cash to be made on b2b deals.

    But yeah, I'll be emailing and direct mailing mom and pops and small to mid sized chains at first. Once my feet are under me and I have some sales data to give me some perspective I'll consider going after larger chains. There's a lot of headache and disadvantage to dealing with the big retail guys though. It might turn out that it's more trouble than it's worth. I'll cross that bridge when I get to it and consider it a good problem to have. :)
     
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  4. Brad

    Brad Active Member

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    Hey its great your trying to make your mark selling products and I wish you all the best.

    I am seeing a flaw in your business model right from the hop for product 1 My price with shipping from India: $3.50 if your cost is $3.50 you are going to have customs and brokerage fees, damage, and promo pieces you will give away. But that is not the biggest issue Cost of $3.50 X 2.5 minimum is a wholesale price of $8.75 to the distributor, they are going to mark it up keystone so your price to the retailer is $17.50, The retailer needs to keystone the price as well and you now have a retail price of $34.99. Now if you get rid of the distributor as you will be distributing the product you then have a selling price to the retailers of $8.75 with them having a retail of $17.99.

    Product 2 looks like you have pricing sorted on that.

    Wish you all the best with your endeavor.
     
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  5. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    Yeah margins are tighter with product 1. $3.50 is all in, door to door. There are always risks with damages in transport but thankfully this product is very forgiving. The first shipment was packed well with no damages.

    (Since you brought it up, there is a risk of getting nailed by Homeland Security when shipping with containers. If DHS doesn't like something in the container for whatever reason they send the shippers a bill for opening and searching the container. The catch is that the bill is split evenly between the shippers regardless of their share of container volume. So if you split a container with another shipper and you're using 10% of the volume, you'll still receive a bill for 50% of the inspection fee.)

    I guess I didn't give a good description of the supply chain. I am indeed functioning as distributor. I am considering sales reps though, which for the vertical this product falls into is 15%.

    And yeah, I should have been more clear about pricing. Online retail price is $7.99-$10.99, and I will be selling direct to consumer online, but they sell for $12-$15 in physical stores. This leaves a decent margin for everyone and keeps the price in market range. $3.50 to me, $6-7 to stores, $12-$15 to customers. It's not at 2.5x for me and probably never will be and I'm OK with that. When I shave the extra dollar off my cost with higher MOQs my wholesale margins will be where I want them. Although depending on volume I might pass that to retailers. :)
     
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  6. Brad

    Brad Active Member

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    Is this product unique? I was just thinking you may want to try selling on amazon, i have seen a lot of people have good results with unique products, i don't think i would want to be just another copy, knockoff of an other.

    Is that something you have looked at or considered?
     
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  7. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    Absolutely, I will be selling on Amazon. The products won't be unique; there are a couple established sellers with good reviews on their products. I agree, it's not great being another fish in the pond but I will definitely give it a go, the volume on Amazon is just too big to ignore.

    I don't have a lot of experience selling on Amazon. There's a lot being published these days in the IM world on how to kill it on Amazon. Super URLs and listing optimization and so on...I haven't been paying much attention to it and I need to now. It's on my list of things to get edumacated on. If anyone has some good Amazon seller resources, please point me in the right direction.

    My current thinking is, I can beat the existing sellers' prices and still feel good about my margins but I don't really want to use price as a USP so I will initially see how far my product photography and copywriting will get me.
     
  8. cardine

    cardine Administrator Staff Member

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    This might be overkill for you right now but AMZShark is a pretty good tool for researching, managing, and tracking Amazon listings.

    Yeah, unless you really establish yourself as a brand, my (somewhat unknowledgeable) guess is that price and reviews will be the two biggest selling points on Amazon.
     
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  9. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    This post is a little commentary on why meeting the people you source from is a good idea and a cool thing to do. I've been invited into the homes of most of the people who I've bought products from overseas, played with their kids, shaken hands with the workers, eaten lunch with work crews. Good times.

    It's obviously not necessary to visit your suppliers, especially these days. I think the Alibaba FBA crowd has shown that pretty clearly. But if you like to travel anyway and you're in the area, and you can speak a little of the language, then why not? It's a good excuse to 1. travel, 2. meet your supplier/manufacturer in person, see who they are, communicate with them directly, and let them get to know you and your goals on a more personal level, and 3. show them some respect by making the trip. And if you want to take a tax-deductible vacation, this is the perfect way to do it.

    So regarding these two product lines, I traveled to meet with the manufacturers and have kept in touch with them up until placing my orders recently. Sweaty busses and stinky streets and all of that. One's in the heart of Delhi and the other's about an hour outside of Agra, where the Taj Mahal is. Do I like traveling India? Honestly, yes, I think it's really fun. Some of it is awful yeah, and at the time I'd rather have just stayed on the beach in Goa and picked up more hotties from Europe but ya gotta work for a living and traveling through the insanity that is India.. well there are worse business trips out there for sure. (Yes I drink the tap water, yes I eat the street food, no not a single fuck is given.)

    Product line 1: I showed up unannounced due to a somewhat spontaneous trip that brought me close to the factory. The company owner happened to be in and spent a good hour with me showing me through his product lines. It started raining as I was getting ready to leave so he told one of his guys to drive me to my hotel. Gave me a catalog and a sample widget. Good people.

    Product line 2: Made an appointment two days ahead. Toured the showroom, they ordered Pizza Hut (yes Pizza Hut) we ate pizza and talked through a first order. Quick, productive, professional.

    (Side note: Indians suck at appointments and more or less generally suck at scheduling things further than a couple days out. Try to schedule something for next week and you'll probably just get told to call next week. It is completely appropriate and sometimes the better strategy to just show up and interrupt whatever is happening.)

    I sent these manufacturers letters from Dubai wishing them happy diwali a couple months ago. Not bothering to send them christmas cards now because they're not christians but both contacted me to wish me happy holidays. If this sounds crazy to you then you probably haven't done business with Indians which, well, it's an experience. If you have done business with Indians then you may know how to bob your head back and forth, you probably know that they respond well to acts of nicety that other cultures may see as trivial, silly or weird, and you almost definitely know that they *can be* very difficult to work with. Sometimes it feels like they want to make everything into a conflict, or do things the absolute hardest way imaginable. I know a couple people who source from all over Asia who refuse to buy from India, even though there are some things there that you just can't get equal quality for at the same price anywhere else. (And for you Indian guys out there reading this, please know that I have nothing but love for your country and your people. I’m just telling it like it is :).

    But that's not always the case. The guys I'm working with on these products - so far - have been awesome. A couple positive signals/things to look for:
    • they've worked with foreigners before
    • they want international business
    • they understand the reality of how expensive it actually is to get a product into an end user's hands when it begins its life on the opposite side of the planet and they don't make you feel like an asshole foreigner when you talk prices
    • they don't get stumped at mission critical questions
    • they will tell you they don't know something instead of making shit up to not sound stupid (huge in Indian culture)

    I picked up enough Hindi to talk in Hinglish about the products, prices, logistics, etc. Foreigners speaking your own language, or at least making the effort, is a mega-compliment for most people no matter who or where you are. I make a conscious effort to get the basics down before I go to any country, especially because, business or not, I always stay in a country for at least a couple months before I head somewhere else so it’s worth knowing how to communicate with the locals. This is such an important point that it cannot be overstated: the difference in treatment between a foreigner who's got the basics of a language and another who doesn't know shit can be stunning and not just relating to business but to everything from rentals to receiving help and much more. In a later post I’ll talk about how amazingly valuable just a little basic language skills are when searching for products in person.

    One big thing that I've noticed about sourcing from India vs. China, where I've sourced once before, is that Indians don't seem to like sending samples. Not even if you want them to send it to a location in their own country. Not even if you offer to pay them for it. I was shot down probably a half dozen times with sample requests in both product lines. In my limited experience most of the factories in China are ready to send you a sample on the word go, they're very proactive and helpful with that because they know what it can lead to later down the line. Indians do not seem to understand that. But then, it's India. Nothing makes sense in India. At the end of the day I would have visited their places of business anyway because why not, I'm already traveling there, but it would have been nice to have received something first to reduce the mystery and start on a kind gesture instead of being asked to make an MOQ purchase sign unseen.

    In any case, it's amazing what a simple handshake and a few words in a common tongue can do.

    So if you have the chance to source products while you travel, do it. It's fun and can lead you in directions you never thought you'd take. And if you're already importing direct from manufacturers, consider finding an excuse to visit your products' place of origin and have a cup of tea with the people making your shit for pennies on the dollar. With a good relationship in place you might even spend a few less pennies on your products in the long run.
     
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  10. cardine

    cardine Administrator Staff Member

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    I think the biggest takeaway I'm getting from this thread is that you can get a huge competitive advantage by going a couple steps further and doing things that most of your other (wannabe) competitors simply won't or can't do.

    Something like this is beyond the scope of what 99% of people looking to compete with you would do, and it really helps set you apart and create something with staying power.

    Also did Product 2 end up arriving?
     
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  11. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    That's a big takeaway so far, yes. Also closely related to this is finding the inspiration for the products in the first place. Everyone has their ways of deciding on what we're going to do to make money right? For example the Alibaba/FBA guys have some nice technical ways of drilling down for profitable products and that works well for them. Realizing that something you love is difficult to get is another way to settle on a products. This is yet another one and it's worked well for me. I don't like to sell things that I don't care about other then what their margins are. I like to have a connection to the products and services that I push and traveling to the source of imported products is a great way to seek out this kind of connection at a deeper level.

    Yep! More on that soon :D
     
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  12. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    Edit: Happy New Year Apex Forum!

    Progress:


    Product 1 Photoshoot: I’ve done product photography before but this was a whole different beast. 30 products, each shot in two different environments with three shots per location. So about 180 photos. Shot in one day, edited in another day.

    My worflow is photo > cutouts and crops in photoshop > touchup in lightroom > multiple image size macro in photoshop > bulk rename files > bulk save filenames to txt. I save the pictures at a bunch of different sizes so that I can offer them to online stores with a good chance that they’ll match their product image sizes and so I have the sizes available for later graphic design work.

    I’m sure there’s a great article out there somewhere from a product photographer that streamlines the process of managing product photography files but I didn’t read that shit before setting out to shoot so it was pretty rough. What I learned: finalize your product names and assign SKUs or product numbers for your products before you start processing photos. This allows you to add your names/skus/whatever identifiers you're using into the filenames of the images as well as into the image metadata. Not only will you be more organized as you process the photos, but you might save some time later in some circumstances because many CMSs will autofill titles & captions from image metadata if it's there. This I did not do and it turned into a bit of a mess. Also if you shoot products in more than one setting, shoot all your products in the same order in each location and save each location to a separate folder on your card. This way when the source images come off the camera they're in the same order. This I did do having learned the hard way in the past.

    I shot with a Sony NEX-5R with a 50mm prime. I spent a lot of time on photography and I think it will be worth it in the long run. My product pictures are as good or better than any of my competitors.

    Product 1 Website: I’m using WP All Import to manage inventory. As I am not a programmer this plugin makes me horny. Creating the initial spreadsheet was a bitch but I think it will be worth it in the long run.

    Initial content is up, indexed, and wouldn't you know it I'm on page 4 in google for "keyword phrase wholesale" with no links and a good bit more on-site SEO to do. Nice!

    Product 2: has landed. Audited for inventory and all looks good, I rejected 3 of the 100 pieces due to lack of quality control on the manufacturer's part. I contacted my manufacturer and he was groovy about it. I have a credit of three pieces for the next order.

    After a long and difficult contemplation on branding this product I have decided to drop the initial brand that I've wanted to use for several months, basically since I decided on this product, because there's a real risk that the trademark won't fly. There is a well-known national brand who is a direct competitor to this product and their brand name is close enough to my intended name that there is a doubt about getting my brand trademarked. Personally I think there's a good chance that it would go through and not be in conflict with the existing brand, but I want more than a good chance, I want no doubt whatsoever. It's never happened to me before but thinking through all the possible repercussions, it seems like being forced to rebrand a company with branded physical products would be a serious headache: domain, logo, product marking equipment, print media, etc. This is a process that I want to avoid and as much as I love the name that I had been planning on I don't want to wait around for months (up to a year!) to get word from the USPTO on what they think about it. The replacement name isn't quite as awesome but it's still good.

    I gave a few of product 2 to people as gifts for Christmas. Reviews are steller. :)


    Also an afterthought: Setting up a datafeed, processing images, juggling hundreds of filenames and links and whatnot, it really makes me see just how much time you can save when you know how to program. I keep saying I need to learn a programming language, one of these days it’ll compel me to start plugging away at it regularly. I can speak a little bit of four languages that I didn’t know before I started traveling, I might as well pick up a little Python while I’m at it. :)
     
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  13. cardine

    cardine Administrator Staff Member

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    Happy new years, and awesome update! :)

    For the future this might be a great task for a VA. If it only took you a couple hours then maybe not, but if you spent 6+ hours on this, then that is something you could probably train someone on how to do in 15 minutes.

    Also I just came across Sellery for the first time earlier today. I've never used it before and I'm not sure exactly how well it would work in your instance but I figured I'd post it here in case it was something you think would be helpful for you at all.
     
  14. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    It's true and I thought about doing it but it had been a while since I'd shot and processed photos and I wasn't even sure of my own workflow before setting out which to me is pretty much a dealbreaker to outsourcing...if I can't explain or demonstrate exactly how I want something done in simple terms then the VA will probably have difficulty accomplishing the task and rightly so.

    That said it was a longass process. If I do another sizable shoot I will definitely outsource the file generation and manipulation bit now that I have the workflow down.

    Oo nice one man. That's a great idea for a service. Bookmarked!
     
  15. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    OK, sorely needed update. Unfortunately not a ton to add but a couple nice developments.

    Product 1

    I got my first wholesale signup but no initial sale. I was lucky to see the signup when it happened and contacted the person shortly after their registration went through. I asked if there was anything she needed help with or if she had any questions, etc. She said she was still shopping the competition and I said that's great, let me know if you need anything, blah blah. Next day sent her a coupon for free shipping, she placed an order for 12 pieces. Noice.

    I'm in the middle of page two for "widgets wholesale" and analytics shows that this page is getting traffic (very low volume keyword) which means that people are digging through the serps and apparently liking what they see when they get to me. This is a good sign.

    Googling my brand name shows my site above the fold on page 1 and social accounts below them. This is also a good sign because I haven't done a lick of work to promote the site. No links, no outreach, no ppc, no social, nothing. I haven't made any sales on the retail side of the site which is fine by me at the moment because I've been busy with other things.

    I will be doing some off-site seo but I'm a firm believer in letting long-term money sites marinade in the virgin waters of the interwebs for a while before attacking them with links. Call me superstitious but it's always treated me well.

    Haven't listed these products on Amazon yet because I've decided that I don't want to jump in until the products are clearly differentiated from competitors. I've decided I don't want to compete on price. I want to compete on features. After reading and rereading and meditating on Amazon reviews from competitors selling similar products I've cooked up a couple ways to make this product more appealing to retail customers by addressing some recurring complaints that people make. I haven't had time to develop this and build it into the product line yet but will do so in the near future.


    Product 2

    Slow and steady progress. I've sent samples to five print houses to see what they can do. The uniqueness of this product in the US market means that I'm asking questions that few if any people have asked before, which is a great thing, but it makes for slower product development and testing. No worries there.

    I worked out a good quote with Direct Outbound, shout out to PapaJohn, for warehousing and fulfillment. I just found out today that one of the printers who is testing the product also offers fulfillment and I will receive a quote from them next week. On the one hand it's one less step in shipping as product would land from abroad and live at the print house until they sell. On the other hand DO is a fulfillment-focused company and they're probably going to do a better job than the printer at fulfilling orders. And maybe have better kitting/storage/shipping rates. And the print house is not far from DO anyway so it's not a big expense

    Parenthetically, this is something I have learned in the last few weeks of calling and inquiring on services: the closer your manufacturing/assembly people are to your place of fulfillment, the lower your logistics costs and higher your final margins. I didn't really appreciate how much this affects the bottom line until recently.

    The numbers are beginning to get more clear though. They're not as sexy as I'd like them to be but meh. If you've never developed a product before, here's a quick look at how small differences in costs and price points can play out. (Excluding customer acquisition)

    Best case scenario
    Expenses
    Raw product, delivered: $8.40
    Printing: $1.20
    Shipping to Fulfillment: $0
    Extra piece: $1.50
    Kitting: $1.60
    Storage: $.25
    Shipping: $2.5
    Total: $15.45​
    Income: $34.99
    Net profit: $19.54

    Worst case scenario
    Expenses
    Raw product, delivered: $8.40
    Printing: $3
    Shipping to Fulfillment: $2
    Extra piece: $2.50
    Kitting: $2
    Storage: $1
    Shipping: $3
    Total: $21.90​
    Income: $29.99
    Net profit: $8.09

    The truth is going to shake out somewhere in the middle. I'm trying to keep it around 100% and I'm hoping that's about where it will be when it's all said and done.

    Probable scenario
    Expenses
    Raw product, delivered: $8.40
    Printing: $2
    Shipping to Fulfillment: $1
    Extra piece: $2
    Kitting: $2
    Storage: $.5
    Shipping: $3
    Total: $18.90​
    Income: $32.99
    Net profit: $14.09

    There's a significant difference between $19.50 per sale and $8 per sale...I think something in these considerations triggers some people to think too much about margins and not enough on the big picture. I've heard from people here and there that it's all about margins but I disagree. They're important but they're not everything, especially as a product owner. First of all, margins will get better with time, I know this from experience. Volume = purchasing power. Second, I'm concerned more with my ROI across the board than I am with my margins. Is it worth, for example, losing some margin to guarantee your fulfillment center kicks ass, that your product is harder better faster stronger, that refunds are minimized, etc? My answer is yes. What I lose in margin I'll make up for in volume/surfing/working on other projects.

    And anyway if there's a decent market out there that I don't think I can exhaust then I'm going to worry about EPCs and ROI as much or more than I am about my margins.

    It's also worth saying that the numbers above have been in a spreadsheet that I created in India months ago just days after seeing this product and beginning to explore the idea of importing it. I've been adjusting the numbers since I started to work on this product line. I'm happy to see that I wasn't too far off when I first made the spreadsheet.

    The site is almost finished, still need to do some sandbox payments and test some after-checkout stuff. I'm on pages 3-7 for my main keywords, again with no links, no promotions, nothing in the way of seo or marketing. Still need to write more long-ass content, do more on-site optimizing, blahblah.

    PS Amazon is the evil empire, FBA's rates can suck my nuts and I'd love to slap every Prime member upside the head if they weren't such freaky buyers.
     
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  16. cardine

    cardine Administrator Staff Member

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    I really strongly agree with that. Even for Apex Forum this is causing some small short term problems - Apex Forum wasn't ranking in the top 10 for its own name until a week ago and even right now isn't in the top 10. But it's worth the slow and steady increase when building a site that will last.

    Yeah that sounds like something that would benefit from a huge spreadsheet where you can change each number and see what your return is. $2 cheaper storage/fulfillment but a 5% increase in refunds/new products being shipped out? Enter that into a spreadsheet and see what your ROI is.

    Of course with that being said it's hard to put the value of a negative review from a poor shipping experience into an excel sheet like that, so I would agree with your opinion of airing on the side of higher quality, especially since you don't plan on competing on price.
     
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  17. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    The spreadsheet is dynamic and yeah that's exactly what I do. I'd be lost without it, would probably fall back to pencil and graph paper :)
     
  18. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    Just got my first sale from the customer side of the product 1 site. Noice.
     
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  19. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    Substantial update will be a little while from now, I just fucked off to Dubai for a few weeks. I've gotten soft traveling the last couple years, couldn't even make it through a New England winter :/

    Just got my product 2 printed samples in and they're fucking HOTTTTT

    [​IMG]
     
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  20. mstchr

    mstchr Active Member

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    OK big update time:

    I've been solely focused on product 2.

    Product 1 has potential but needs more work and time to scale up and become really profitable. Not giving up on it but I am seeing opportunity elsewhere and want to follow through with it. "Strike while the iron's hot". I'll get back around to it but I'm not sure when because product 2 is looking good and I want to keep moving forward with it.

    In the time since posting a good update, much has happened:

    Product development
    Inventory was shipped to a printing house in Texas, they printed the product and did a fucking fantastic job. The product comes in two sizes with three different styles, for a total of six unique styles and thus six different print setups. I did the graphic design myself and forwarded the EPS files to them and they took it from there. Their normal minimums are 24pcs per run but they worked with me to dip below that for this initial printing because my inventory could not meet their minimums and simultaneously bring six styles to market. So that's cool.

    From there the majority of the inventory shipped to the fulfillment center while two of each style shipped back to me for product photography. I built a lightbox and shot the product myself - this was more difficult than I had anticipated due to the nature of the product but it went well enough.

    Site
    The site was mostly done and just waiting for product photos so once the images were edited it didn't take too long to get the site polished. I'm accepting cards through Stripe as well as PayPal and Amazon Payments. I spent a good amount of time testing the gateways and the checkout process, which emails fired at which times, thank you page, etc.

    The other thing I did before going live was work through optimizing the site for speed. I'd never really taken this seriously with any of my sites beyond W3TC and I have to say it's fucking worth going the extra mile.

    The site is currently on HawkHost semi-dedicated hosting which I'm pretty happy with thus far. It's not super fast or anything and it sounds a lot fancier than it really is (you get what you pay for) but it's not quite the same over-sold shared hosting that most other places have. They use LiteSpeed and SSDs and the server seems pretty snappy and it's not too crowded. For example, a shared hostgator server that I've been on for about seventy years has 189 other domains on it. The one at HH has 19.

    I went through a Udemy course on optimizing Wordpress sites for speed and learned quite a bit. The tweaks I made:
    • Page caching
    • DB caching
    • Minifying and concatenating HTML/CSS/JS
    • Optimizing the fuck out of every image (the site is image-heavy as the product is fucking gorgeous and photographs very well)
    • Gzipping
    • Inserting "critical css" into the head of important pages, so the browser grabs only the CSS that is important to render "above-the-fold" content, decreasing first paint times - a pretty cool technique that showed real results in pageload metrics
    • Prerender in a few places, will add more once I have analytics data to study
    • "Domain sharding", another one that was new to me, compels browsers to make more connections to your site at once

    So I'm at 95 mobile and 93 desktop score in Google Pagespeed Insights, a 91 on Pingdom, and all As on webpagetest. Fast enough for me on an image-heavy site, at least for now. I will definitely move this site to a good VPS as traffic and sales warrant. Also, prerender is fucking sweet. If you guys know your funnels well you absofuckinglutely need to use it.

    So now the site is well optimized for speed. It has a couple nice authority pieces of content (which is all I need for now because the competition is weaksauce, Amazon product listings at the top of page 1, bunch of semi-random crap below them) and I'll be adding a few more pieces going forward. The content is definitely for people first though, not keywordy crap for the algos. I'm on the bottom of page three at the moment in Google but consciously giving less and less of a fuck about Google these days...like they say, the more legit marketing you do the higher you seem to rank. Page speed is great for seo but it's also massive for UI, which directly impacts conversions. I read recently that these days people like performance more than they do beauty in a website. I tend to agree with this more and more.

    Soft Launch
    Last night I took the gateways out of sandbox, flipped the cart on and dropped a sort of soft-launch announcement on facebook. I've had six orders come through, including a wholesale order, and I'm happy to say that only one of those orders was from someone I actually know; the others are from friends of friends and so on. The site's been shared a handful of time on niche-relevant pages so that's pretty sweet.

    And man oh man, does it feel good to know that the fulfillment center is rocking out with their cocks out handling the logistics while I push on with marketing.

    What's next:
    SEO
    buying a press release service (any recommendations?)
    doing a broken link campaign (yeah fuck you too, I'm staying as white hat as possible on this one)
    a bunch of link begging and journalist outreach

    Facebook
    Spamming niche-relevant pages and some other shady shit

    Amazon
    Deciding on how much I want Amazon to rape my margins and setting prices accordingly
    Calling in a few favors to get some verified purchase reviews
    Learning how to optimize Amazon listings (wtf is a superURL?)

    Direct Advertising
    Marketing to wholesale accounts using the fuckton of data that I've been scraping from Google places

    Affiliate Marketing
    Decide whether I want to deal with affiliates, then depending on the answer, decide how much I want affiliates to rape my margins and set commissions accordingly

    Feels good to be able to transition more into marketing and away from development because development is comparatively much more thankless.

    So I'm going to keep focusing on this product line and developing it into what I hope to be an authority brand. That's all for now!
     
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