Tuesday, December 5, 2017

A Lot Has Changed in 6 Months...

Massive Life Change

If you used to follow this site, you definitely would have noticed that I haven't posted in a bit more than 6 months and even then posting has been sporadic.

Just a few brief words of explanation.  There was a major upheaval in my life.  I moved out of America.  It's always been a life goal of mine to move to Israel and I was almost successful 2 summers ago.  It didn't happen then but in August I finally did it.  

Moving to another country is hard.  There was a ton of paperwork to fill out and meetings to go to before we left and getting everything set up once we arrived.  Government bureaucracy is not fun, especially when it is in a language that isn't your mother tongue.  Just ask any immigrant to talk about their first month in America and you'll probably get an ear full.  All the while I've been trying to keep the business afloat and successful.  So that's what's been happening and why I've been radio silent.

The fourth quarter can be stressful so I thought this might be a bit cathartic. 

Business from Out of Town is Different

You Aren't There at the Warehouse

Running an Amazon business when you aren't in the country and you aren't in the warehouse consistently is a big challenge.  You need to have perfect records and people you trust there. I rely on email, What'sApp and phone calls to communicate but I won't pretend that it's the same.  It's not.  It's different.

You are very much relying on your worker's paying attention, that they aren't stealing from you, that they notice if something came that was different from what you ordered and aren't just putting it in a box to send to Amazon because that's easier for them.  If there is something in the corner that hasn't been selling, they may not mention it to me but when I was there I would look around and see if there is product that has been unfairly ignored.  You just care more when it is your own business.

Social engineering is very important and for that reason I plan to somewhat regularly (2x a year?) come in, see what's going on at the warehouse, chat with everyone, take the manager to lunch, etc.  It's critical to keep lines of communication open.  They aren't going to keep doing a good job because they like their job, they are going to keep doing a good job because they like the manager, they like me and the manager likes me.

You Aren't There for Buying Either

I can't do retail arbitrage anymore unless I pay someone which I haven't had time to set up.  While I don't particularly like retail arbitrage, I had come to tolerate it.  It's so annoying that the margins tend to be even better.   I don't miss it at all, I mean at all, but the money was good.  Oh well, it's part of the process and until I get a buyer to go to stores for me it's not happening and I'll still live.

It's not just retail arbitrage.  I was close with a few neighbors and we would help each other out.  If there was a quantity limit on an item, I would have them purchase and it would show up at their door.  I'd go pick it up for them and take care of it.  There was almost nothing they had to do, just an order, and even that was highly profitable since they kept the portal bonuses and loyalty points.  I can't do that anymore.  That means that during my upcoming trip I will be moving things back and forth from friend's overflowing basements to the warehouse.  I've tried to pay them more to bring it themselves but they aren't interested.  Again, it's the new normal and something I knew going in.

The Business Has Changed

I'm amazed at how often the types of deals I'm interested in has changed over time.  I used to sell a lot of expensive electronics and I rarely sell them now (Q4 is a bit of an exception since it is easier to find great margins still).

I haven't had nearly as much time in the last six months to research deals as I would have liked but I've been able to keep everything going.  In fact, both sales and profits are up despite my time output being stagnant and many times less than years past and that's for two main reasons:

  • I have focused on replenishables.  I don't have to really think about those other than paying attention if there is a sale on them.  This allows for minimal time output while continually increasing sales as you increase your repertoire of replenishables.

  • I go bigger than I used to.  While I have always had the mantra of "Go Big or Go Home."  I have decided that I need to go even bigger.  If there is a good deal that earns $5 a unit and 60% ROI but I can only buy 2, guess what, I'm not buying it.  Even if I can buy 5-10 I'm probably not buying it.  Every SKU takes time for accounting and logistics and pricing.  It's not worth it for 2 of them.  My standard purchase is about 20-30 and during the fourth quarter my standard purchase is 50-100 to start.  If an item is a replenishable that has gone on sale, I might buy 400-500 if I can.  There are certainly times I get burned but that's happening less and less thankfully.

Move to Self Fulfillment

I have been trying to do more fulfillment on my own.  I'd like to sell more on Walmart which requires self fulfillment, in addition the more that I can sell on my own, the less reliant I am on Amazon in general.  There is also a lot fewer accounting nightmares trying to get all the product back that Amazon has borrowed permanently from me.  Even more critically, it allows you to sell before other sellers can because they are waiting for Amazon to receive their shipments and the eventual race to the bottom.

This hasn't been quite as linear an experience as I would like but I do think I've been making progress.  Often I buy 50 of something I will leave 10 back at the warehouse for self fulfillment and send in the other 40.  That way I can sell off while prices are high and still be in stock until my FBA stock comes in.

This is a picture from shipstation for the last 30 days of all my self fulfillment but it is mostly from the major shopping days and I don't have too many self fulfillment sales outside of those.  As you can see, even in self fulfillment is by far the most.  Of the six I have to ship today, four of them are Amazon FBM.  Two are items that the FBA units are on their way for the first time and 1 is something that sold too fast for me to restock FBA in time so I will sell FBM until I'm in stock. 

At some point this year I would like to move into Seller Fulfilled Prime.  That will likely really ramp up my self fulfillment operations but you have to make sure you have a good system in place and that your team is ready for it..

Goals for 2018

I have not been happy with the inventory channel softwares available currently that aren't $500+ monthly.  My sales on other channels just can't justify that type of expense, though it might get closer if I had one.  My plan is to work with a developer to create my own that suits my needs.  I hope to have that done early in 2018.

Private labeling.  I haven't done it yet but the plans are already in the works.  I am in the testing phase now.  The thought of getting suspended for an Intellectual Property claim on someone else's product scares me a ton.  I would like to have a full line of my own products on Amazon (and maybe my own site?) at some point but I will start with one :)  In order to not spend a ton of money importing a product that I don't know I can sell I am starting to slowly build a listing from scratch and once I have proven I can do it, it will be time to go the overseas route.

I don't expect to write too often in the future but this was kind of nice.  I hope you enjoyed it too :-)