Steve’s scaling and growing his Amazon business faster than he ever thought possible. By sourcing and testing tons of private label products and jewelry designs, this FBA seller is building a two brand Amazon empire in under a year, growing teams and expanding as quickly as possible. It’s inspirational, it’s informative and it’s gametime!
Tune In To Find Out
- The primary differences between Etsy, Amazon, Ebay and how to maximize them all
- Strategies to enter low competition, high volume niches
- Why you need to try a ton of products to find one that fits
- How to build up an Amazon business by outsourcing and building a small team
- When to start focusing on a Shopify site off of Amazon
- How to find awesome products on Alibaba to private label for profit
- Photography strategies to fuel buyer desire (for more on product pics)
- Ways to build your own email list for product launches and Amazon reviews
- The importance of branding, packaging and building an original business
- How to mastermind to make an Amazon business boom faster
Matt: Guys, welcome to Amazooka! – The Amazon on Autopilot Podcast. Today, we have a kick ass interview planned. And unfortunately, it’s just me.
Rus was busy having fun which means I’ve got Steve on the podcast to share his story. Steve is in my Mastermind, Steve is killing it, and Steve wants to talk FBA, I think. Thanks for coming today, Steve.
Steve: Thanks for having me.
Matt: So Steve, you’re an entrepreneur which means you’ve probably done a million different things. What’s a really brief background story of how you got into E-Commerce, FBA and why we’re even having this call?
Steve: Yeah, sure. So when I was in a corporate job, I worked in corporate finance. Previously I was participating on a project at my company at the time, getting into their website building, SEO and their kind of thing.
From there, it took me into affiliated marketing. Threw up a website, got a little bit of traction, made a couple of hundred bucks, nothing big. Well, it was like $200 a month. But that really got me interested…
Matt: Holy shit, man!
Steve: Yeah, yeah. I was like – “Wow! I can actually make money doing this.” So that’s the very, very brief detail of how it all started. A couple of hundred bucks is good, but we all want to make a little bit more money than $200 a month or whatever.
So a funny story – My first affiliated marketing site was actually a website dedicated to the Montel Williams blender. So it’s a free domain and just…
Matt: Montel Williams has a blender?
Steve: Yes, apparently. So I never knew it.
Matt: Goofy guy.
Steve: Exactly! Yeah, I know right? So I made montelwilliamsblender.com. It was like optimized press or something. And I ended up selling their website for $200 or something and thought it was a great success.
So that’s what sparked my interest in this whole thing. But way back in the day, I never even thought about using Amazon as a sales channel. But I saw those guys on (I hate to say it, but) amazing selling machine.
Matt: Oh my God! Yeah, I know. Yeah, they opened it up again.
Steve: It’s probably one of the first times they released their thing. I saw their free things come out and I was like – “Oh! It’s kind of an interesting idea.” But I didn’t have the $5,000 or whatever to throw down on that. I was on a pretty tight budget at that point.
Matt: Yeah, guys – save the money. That’s what the podcast if for.
Matt: That will get you 200 months of our Amazooka software plus all of this free content with me and Rus basically just shooting our mouths and all. We’ll get you the good stuff.
Steve: Yes, exactly. That’s what got me interested in the Amazon thing. And I use their free videos to reverse engineer a lot of the stuff, a lot of the basic principles that they’re doing. It’s all a bit of a research in between.
Started just throwing up some random stuff, and some stuff sold, some stuff didn’t. But I guess, my first real break – I should say, I left Amazon for a little while. Selling a little bit was great, but it wasn’t really giving me the traction I wanted.
So I actually got my real start on Etsy. So my girlfriend – she really likes a very specific animal inspired natury very intricate silver jewelry like micro-style stuff. So I was like – “Oh, that’s very cool.” It’s really hard to find. And as any entrepreneur knows – When there’s something that’s hard to find, there’s probably a profit at the end of the tunnel.
So I started looking into that a little bit more. And fired up Alibaba, put an order for maybe on six or seven things on Alibaba. And those things didn’t really sell at all. And that was really all it took. And that thing sold very, very well.
So that launched my whole E-Commerce thing. And I think my first couple for months did $2,000 or $3,000 in sales towards the holidays.
So I did that for about a year until this past September. I’ve been doing the E-Commerce thing for a while. It’s just making me $1,000 to $3,000 a month maybe.
Matt: Was this a side gig while you’re doing it?
Steve: Yeah, it was definitely a side gig. I wasn’t really planning on making a fulltime thing of it. But I actually got laid off from my job. And so I was like – “You know what? I’m going to give it a shot. It’s a great opportunity to try something new. I feel pretty confident that I could map this up using Amazon, using stuff I’ve learned.” – Just basic SEO principles, that kind of thing.
So I started trying to build out a little bit more product, more robust product line, and figuring out some more popular products to sell.
Matt: What kind of stuffs did you look into on popular products? So it sounds like you threw stuff at the wall and saw what stuck.
Steve: Basically. I did a lot of research on a lot of stuff. Back then, the Amazon selling machine haven’t really kicked in. So everyone’s just throwing everything on Alibaba up on Amazon. So I researched anything from E-cigarettes to… God, I think I looked at Himalayan salt maps to everything.
Steve: I ended up landing on…
Matt: You don’t need to go into it necessarily. Some people are a little bit skittish about that. We wouldn’t want to have an Amazooka person be too tempted to steal Steve’s epic business.
Steve: Obviously, I’m pretty happy to talk about stuff because we have more or a brand now. So it’s harder to replicate.
Matt: And that’s what matter – Coming up with brands, not product.
Steve: Yeah. That’s absolutely true. It’s extremely important nowadays because like I said earlier, everyone is just throwing everything they see up on Alibaba. Selfie sticks, there’s a million brands of everything.
The niche I actually picked is now absolutely flooded with private labeled brands. I actually started a company called VersaChalk which is a chalkboard art supplies company.
So we started in the chalkboard markers and then I think someone must have really lead into that niche on an Amazon selling machine or something – because the last time I counted, there are now 35 independent brands of chalkboard markers being sold on Amazon.
So this is an absolutely horrible niche to go into if you’re ever thinking about private labeling something. But unfortunately, we had a bunch of reviews pretty early and did do some really steady business for a few months.
But only recently, we’ve really put a lot more effort into that brand and put a lot of resources in making it look really nice. A lot of packaging, probably put five figures in the packaging, that kind of stuff. So it’s not something that people can replicate which is why I’m fine with talking about it.
Matt: As the king of hill strategy, you get to the top and then you kick people off that are trying to come down.
Matt: Your differentiation is your branding, your better packaging, everything along those lines.
Matt: What else would you recommend for that when people are trying to start differentiating themselves, elevating themselves from the competition?
Steve: A couple of good things, a couple of actual tips I guess are one – Make it better than everyone else’s. Make a product better in every single way than someone else’s. Whatever is on the market right now.
So the reviews with competitive products, find out what’s out there, find out what people are looking for and make it. If it doesn’t exist and people are saying – “I wish it was bigger. I wish it was made a little bit better. I wish it didn’t fall apart.” or something like that. There you go. You just got to find a supplier you trust to follow through or to settle there in which you specify. And that’s probably a good start.
Also, really invest in making everything look nice. Everyone when they’re given the choice between two virtual identical products, 90% of the time, they’re going to pick the one that has better product photos or their packaging has a more better copywriting or the product has an interesting voice. I guess by that, I mean like something that speaks to them in some way. Whether it has a good copywriter to really close their target audience or something like that.
So investing time and money into branding is absolutely paramount nowadays. Since there are so many options out there, it’s not like you can just be the only one selling anything anymore.
Matt: And it’s something that so few people look into. Most people just want to slap something on there and have a passive income source and amazing selling machine.
Steve: Yes. Ha-ha!
Matt: But it takes a little bit more than that to make sure that you really make it happen. What’s a good Segway into this? You’re doing Etsy and Amazon now. How do you split your time focus on off platform? I imagine you sell at Shopify as well.
Steve: Yeah, I do. I have Shopify, I have Etsy. We have the small EBay presence – only do maybe $1,000 a month on EBay though.
Matt: Is EBay dead at this point?
Steve: It’s pretty dead. You’ll hear this from a lot of people selling on EBay that all the buyers are really awful. They’ll nickel and dime you on price. They’ll message you – “Can I get half off or something like that?” “No, you can’t get a half off. That’s the price.” But they’re just really awful. So I don’t roll a lot of time and effort into EBay.
Matt: Amazon won the EBay.
Steve: Amazon definitely is much better than EBay. The customers are less price-sensitive. They’re more willing to work with you. If the item arrives damaged or something, they’re not going to charge you back immediately or send a message or something. They’ll send you a message and lets you try to fix it before they’ll try to ding your account. So definitely, Amazon is the channel to go to without a doubt – which is why we’re here.
Matt: That is why we’re here and that’s why we started the Mastermind.
Matt: What about off platform?
Steve: Etsy is great for handcrafted stuffs or obviously, jewelries and stuff that can either be perceived as handmade or actually is handmade. In some capacity, maybe handmade by your guy in China.
Matt: Handmade off of Alibaba. Damn!
Steve: Ha-ha! Exactly. There are plenty of people who do that. The good thing about Etsy is that the fees are a lot lower and the SEO on Etsy is dead simple.
Matt: What’s it come down to?
Steve: It comes down to the tags. Use the autofill basically to start a search for what you want, wanting to rank for. So if the autofill and the search is lie “cat pillows” or something like that, you don’t want to tag it as “white cat pillow” or tag it as “kitten pillow” or even two tags as “cat” and “pillow.” You want to do the exact match for whatever the autofill search is.
And that’s really one of the keys. The other key is to get a lot of likes. Like favorites on your listing. Maybe you can draw some traffic through ads or something like that or whatever. The title matters a little bit, but not all the time. So those are probably the big three things on Etsy.
On Shopify, I have one Shopify site live, another one coming within a couple of weeks. And I have only very recently started to do any sales on Shopify. I haven’t put a whole lot of time about it. Amazon is the low-hanging fruit so that’s why I’ve been focusing my time there for around about so far.
Matt: Yeah. This is the Amazon on Autopilot Podcast. That is cool though – to look into some of the other channels. As I get into them, I’m sure other people are getting into them.
So where are you going next with this? Are you still in the “scale it” product stage where you’re trying to launch them out? – Product A, product B, product C. What is your long term vision for the two brands?
Steve: Yeah. So I do have two brands. The jewelry brand and the chalkboards, those brands. So we’re actively launching many, many products this summer. Launching tour is a lot easier to do than a lot of other things on Amazon because there’s a lot less competition.
Matt: Is that an added community one?
Steve: It is. Fortunately, I had been selling jewelry for a long, long time before I even tried to get approved on Amazon. So I’m now approved to sell. In fact, I got approved to sell jewelry about maybe six months ago and I’m approved to sell fine jewelry maybe a month and a half ago. So that’s really tough to get. For the fine jewelry, you have to pay $500 bucks just to apply. It’s like a non-refundable deposit.
Matt: So Steve, here’s a personal question. You’re the jewelry guy at this point. Does that mean your girlfriend is giving you tons of harshness about getting jewelry?
Matt: She knows you can get your hands on it at all the time. “Hey Honey. Can you get me this? I would really love that.”
Steve: Ha-ha! She’s got more jewelry than most people get or give their girlfriends in several years for Christmas. So all the free samples or anything that comes through, the first sample is hers. She does a lot of the approving of the designs. I’m like – “Is this cool?” “No. Not really.” “Okay. Well, it’s not bad.” If she see something is cool, I kind of share things through her.
Matt: Yeah. “I was thinking about you, baby. Now, can you leave a product review?”
Steve: Ha-ha! Yeah, exactly!
Matt: That’s perfect! How’s the one-two team? A lot of people think about building a business with a partner, with a spouse, with someone that they’re with at long term. What are your thoughts on that?
Steve: Well, she hasn’t been super-active in the day to day or even anything other than bouncing ideas off around jewelry. So I think it really comes down with the person. It’s like putting on a business partner and you don’t want to do it if their goals don’t match yours or they have other things going on that they are focusing on.
So it’s great to have her working on some stuff. But she’s not super-actively involved on the whole thing. I don’t necessarily think she really even wants to be. But she’s good for support and stuff like that. It’s good to have a support network of whether it’s a Mastermind or a circle of friends who are doing the same thing or having similar goals – just entrepreneurial-minded people.
Matt: That’s how we met. The Amazon Ass-Kickers Mastermind.
Matt: What are your goals, Steve?
Steve: Ideally, I’d like to sell at least one of these brands. Once it reaches a point that it seems like I would not be able to take it to the next level anymore. But right now, we’re in such a growth phase. I really don’t know where this whole thing is going to go.
Everyone always asks – “Where do you expect to be in five years?” I didn’t even expect to be here in a year now. And I definitely surpassed anything I felt wasn’t possible. I haven’t even doing this fulltime for a year yet. It’s really beginning to take off. So we’ll see where it goes.
Matt: Where are you at now at this point (if you don’t mind me asking)? If you’re not comfortable, don’t worry about it.
Steve: No. No problem. Right now, I should say for the first maybe five months of the year, I was working by myself, like completely by myself which was okay. But recently, I’ve really been cranking it up.
Just hired a virtual assistant from the Philippines. She was an unbelievable ass saver. Highly recommended. Doing a lot of the operational stuff, customer service, that kind of thing. And I also hired one of my friends to do marketing stuffs for me. And that’s really helped me grow up a lot. So in the past maybe two months, we’ve gone from about $600 in sales a day to about $2,000 a day in sales.
Steve: Yeah. It’s definitely in the right direction. And we launched about 12 products this past month and a half and we got maybe like five more coming up these next six weeks.
Matt: What’s your minimum order size look like when you’re starting? Because it really does sound like you just threw them at the wall and see what sticks and then roll with that. That’s a massive amount.
Steve: Yeah. Well, what I’ve learned is you really have to use Google keyword tool. I actually do that a lot for jewelry to see what people are searching for and then make a product for it really.
But if people are searching for something, search a million variations of whatever they might be searching for if there’s enough interest in even making a product for that. And then right now, I guess I’m at a little bit different level than I was in six months ago.
But for a new product, I’ll try to place an order of maybe like $1,000 to $2,000. It depends on the level of competition in the niche. How many should I have to give away for reviews? And then I’ll probably triple that or quadruple that number that I need to give away for reviews.
So if it’s going to take 200 reviews to be competitive, I’ll have to place an order for 800 units or something like that. 800 or 1,000 units just so I don’t run out of stock after I did a big blast which definitely happens.
You don’t underestimate the aftermath of doing a big promotion because it does get yourselves rank up, but you don’t want to lose your momentum.
Matt: How do you plan your blast? Are you doing like a one-two punch? Are you doing a long term or you’re just doing like a nuclear bomb that hits?
Steve: It really depends on the niche and how competitive it is. I do a lot of jewelry sales, and like I said, our niche is not competitive at all. One of my top products, its ranking maybe like 300 in jewelry, doing maybe 600 or 700 or more a day and it has 40 reviews.
Steve: Yeah. So that niche does not take a whole lot of pushing to really rank. For something like that, I’ll just do a blast of those all at once. There’s no sense of micro-feeding, anything less than 50 or 100 reviews.
Obviously, if your niche requires maybe 500 to 700 reviews which some niches definitely do, (one being chalk markers which I’m actively in) that will rank number one. But it’s okay.
If you want 700 reviews or something, you’re not going to want to push all at once. Amazon is going to see something fishy and you want to drift to those. I wouldn’t do any more than maybe 30 or 40 reviews a day or 30 or 40 promotions sent out a day on any one product.
Matt: I’d probably step it up a little bit just because you’re not necessarily sure how many people are going to convert.
Matt: I’ve had a lot of them where I’ll see like 100 and then maybe get 40. That’s also by your list.
Steve: Yeah, definitely.
Matt: Are you using a promotion service like Amazooka, AMZ Tracker, any kinds of review club?
Steve: I have my own lists. I’ve curated a bunch of different lists. I have used a lot of this in the past. Some work, some don’t. There’s varying responses between channels.
I’ve used Snagshot a little bit which is incredibly expensive and I don’t really recommend it. I absolutely do not recommend it for freebies. It’s a complete waste because it’s so freaking expensive.
But if you’re giving away stuff like half off, then it might be worthwhile. We do a lot of that. Actually, it seems that a lot do some of that. But it’s nice to have a list for yourself if you’re…
Matt: If Amazon decides to screw you.
Steve: Yeah. And you can also build a report with some of your reviewers. Like you get to know who’s good, who’s not, the things that they like.
Jewelry is tough because it can be really expensive to send out a lot of things – especially, we sell a lot of silver stuff so it’s not like the product costs $2 or something. It might cost $8 to $10.
So I don’t want to send out a bunch of random products to people that aren’t going to give me a good review, that don’t actually even like jewelry, they’re just getting it for their nephew or something like that. I want to have people who are actually interested in the products, who I know their review profile. I know that they write well, they’ll take a picture of the products, that kind of thing.
If you’re doing a less targeted product like something a little bit like an iPhone screen protector or something like that, it might be a little bit easier to do a more general service like using one of those AMZ trackers, whatever it’s called. Use it a couple of times. It’s a decent success, but it’s nice to know who your reviewers are before you send them free stuff.
Matt: Absolutely. And it’s just going to give you that much more of the value long-term with the connections, with everything.
Matt: So thanks for cruising for you now, Steven. It sounds like it’s going good. You’re the jewelry man who likes little kid chalks and you’re crushing it.
Matt: Anywhere else we should take this interview? Anything we haven’t covered that you think listeners and other FBA sellers would love to hear about or should hear about?
Steve: Well, use all the tools that are available to you. I know a lot of people bash the Super URL or whatever. It seems to work pretty well.
Use a lot of the review services like all these platforms provide. They’re great especially getting started. If you don’t have a list or anything like that of charity reviewers, these things work. You just have to put the pieces together and think a little bit outside of the box too.
You can’t keep doing what everyone else is doing and expect to make a million dollars from it. You’ll make a little bit of money, but it’s either not going to last or you’re leaving money on the table.
So you can’t be super-traditional. But at the same time, there are a lot of things that are available to you and everyone. So at least, get on the level of playing field with the people who are super-traditional and like cookie-cutter products. So they’ll take you to the next level so to speak.
Matt: So it might not be a good idea to start those silicon baking gloves and extrapolate tablets or whatever they are.
Steve: Absolutely not.
Matt: Everyone got on down.
Steve: No barbeque claws, no silicon baking mitts.
Matt: No cross-fit bends.
Steve: Absolutely not!
Matt: Oh, no. They’re ripped everywhere. Everyone tries to do those.
Steve: Oh yeah.
Matt: And make sure whatever you guys are doing, get some tracking. You want to make sure that you’re tracking your keywords, tracking the product, the competitors, Super URL’s.
Matt: Anybody hear free trial. Amazooka.com. We’re coming with a killer software. We want to help you sell more.
And Steve, maybe we can help you sell more, but it sounds like your sales hit already. So we just want to see you crush it.
Steve: Sounds good!
Matt: Thanks for coming down, Steve. You’ve been super helpful!
Matt: Thanks for tuning in, guys. Say thanks to Steve.