How I Started Selling on Amazon and the Experiences that Followed
I first started selling on Amazon in September of 2013. I was recruited by a representative on Amazon that summer and over the course of a few months, I diligently worked on compiling a spreadsheet for them. He created a Brand account for me and held my hand (metaphysically) through the entire process. At that time, I was selling on both my website and Etsy and had just opened my retail store (not to mention my daughter was about 6 months at the time), so this was a new challenge to add to the mix.
My sales in the first few months were sad, but still probably better than I did on my website. I had about 5 sales a week for the first 2 months. It was pretty easy to manage. I shipped directly through Amazon’s interface, but pulling orders was time consuming.
At this point in my business I had not been pre-packaging any of my products, so as an order came in, I manually counted out what I was shipping and sealed them in a little plastic baggie. Selling on Amazon was really an experiment for me.
Three months passed and I spent the holidays working on adding new products to Amazon. I went from earning $100 a month on Amazon to about $400 a month by summertime. I had also moved my shop to a busier location and bought a counting scale to help me package. Believe it or not, I was counting out all my inventory manually for a year before my husband asked me one day, “Have you ever tried using a counting scale?” Not sure why it took him nearly a year for him to realize if I had, I would have used one.
What a life saver….a year late.
Amazon sales kept steady for the remainder of 2014 and it kept growing in 2015. I had very little competition on Amazon until mid 2015. More on that in just a bit. Fast forward to 2018 and Amazon continues to brings in about 40% of our revenue, allowing me to support my entire family while my husband concentrates on designing a multi-channel inventory syncing software for me. (The slated release of this amazing software is February of 2019, so stay tuned).
I am reaching my 5 year anniversary of selling on Amazon and I have learned many lessons on adaptation and reorganization. A couple years after selling on Amazon, a flood of Chinese sellers jumped on boat, tipping the scale for small businesses like mine. My best selling item, which I was selling for $25-30 suddenly dropped to zero sales. I did a little research and found that my best selling product was being offered by Chinese sellers for only $3.
That was a huge blow and I had just invested an additional $1000 into that inventory (and for the record, I still have 3 boxes of it). It hit my bottom line pretty hard. I had to step back from my business on Amazon and make some decisions. Sales had died and I needed to figure out how to get it back. The novelty of Prime was kicking in and I evaluated my options.
I packaged up all that extra inventory I couldn’t sell and sent it Amazon for Fulfillment. I also had to drop my prices to about $8 which included shipping. This also got me reevaluating my shipping costs. I had so many people complaining about shipping costs on a $3 item. I changed my products to include all my shipping charges. So instead of $3 plus shipping, I changed the item to $6 with free shipping. To my Amazon customers this was a great deal. FREE SHIPPING!!!
To help offset some of the shipping costs I also offer customers 10% off for multiple item purchases. It helped re-energize my sales.
As time passed, most of those initial Chinese sellers all were removed from Amazon. Understand that Amazon has a strict 48 hour shipping policy. You have to ship within 48 hours to keep your account in good standing. I believe there are exceptions with how you set up your account, but my account was set up for 48 hours shipping time.
Luckily this does not include weekends, so I don’t have to ship on Saturdays. If you miss shipping deadlines, your ratings decline and Amazon will not show your products on the the first several pages even if it is relevant to a product search. They will eventually remove sellers that have a negative rating, which is why all those Chinese sellers disappear shortly after they arrive. I still see this true. There have been a few products of mine this has happened to.
A few years passed and a friend at my daughter’s school told me how she had received a follow up email from an Amazon seller, checking in and asking for feedback. She suggested I do the same because she felt a personal connection to them. I thought that was a great idea and proceeded to sign up with a service that sends follow up emails. I’m not going to mention the company here because the guy has some other businesses that seem like a bit of a scam, but the email software works for me. On a side note, the email follow ups will be a feature of our software, so no extra $40 a month for that pretty soon.
The reviews really helped my page ranking too. Having the reviews on my Amazon store has been really good for business.
Amazon has another feature called Enhanced Brand Content that I have taken advantage of. I’m not sure what the deal is, if this is a feature for Brand accounts only, or if anyone can use them. They changed their Brand requirements since I joined, but I’m kind of grandfathered in. The new requirement is that you have to have a trademark of some kind to be able to have a Brand Account. Having a Brand account also negates the requirement of having UPCs.
What the Enhanced Brand Content does for me is it allows me to have a custom description for a product including additional images. This is what my underwire listing looks like.
There is also an Amazon advertising account that is linked to your store, but thats a whole other animal that I won’t be discussing here. If you are interested, comment below and I will see what I can whip up for you.
Amazon has been a fun experiment in growing my business. I feel like I got in early, but maybe I’m just seasoned now. I’ll have to write another post about how I got selling on Walmart too, but today I need to go to the gym and get a little work out in.
Check out my Amazon shop here: Porcelynne Amazon Store
In the works: The Laurel Sports Bra
Now that the pattern making book is almost ready to publish, I have decided to pick back up on some designing. My next pattern that I’m working on is called the Laurel Sports Bra. I am using the same grade rules as the Christina Sports Bra which will make it easy to interchange parts with the Laurel.
I completed my first draft of the Laurel. The front styleline goes into the neckline and the back has wider set straps. I also made the back for a hook and eye closure which will make it easier to take on and off for those of us large chested.
I have been wanting to experiment with a weaving pattern at the center front of the waistband. I couldn’t find my scraps of powermesh to do my lining, so I’ll finish up the sample another day, but I like the look so far. What do you think?
If this sample fits great, I will continue to create my pattern range of the 28A through the 52K. Hopefully this range won’t be too difficult since I mastered it once before.
I am also getting back to work on the illustration work I’ve been working on with a colleague and trying to carve out some time to work on more videos.
I started filming videos with my daughter to make her clothes. I made the Rachel Brief and Tank into a child size and am making her a bathing suit with the pattern. Maybe for once she will have a bathing suit that actually fits her torso.
I have a few more mounts for the video coming this way. I’m trying to do my set up so my husband doesn’t have to take off an entire day to do filming and then another day to do editing. Once we get our mounts on the ceiling it should make it easier to set up and make it more consistent for filming.
On the homefront, my daughter just finished her third day of kindergarten. I think she likes it. Her class has a color chart for behavior. Red being terrible behavior and White being perfect behavior. This is her third say of white and she is so proud. It sure beats those last few weeks of camp getting into fights and getting suspended. Yes, my 5 year old got suspended from camp. That was embarrassing. But she behaved well and Hanna took her over to my moms to go swimming. I think I will join suit and go for a swim. I deserve a little time with my monkey.
Not wanting to do my work
I’m sure you can all relate. I’m almost done with a project, but I just don’t want to work anymore on it, but I want it done. So, what do I do? I do random searches on Google and Etsy. Yeah. Not buying anything, just don’t want to work.
I am sitting here, on my computer, working on what may be my final edit of my drafting book and I just don’t want to do it. I am having to redo two of the exercises in the book with new illustrations and I am making excuses not to do it. I know I will finish this full edit today if I can just plow through it. Instead, I check Facebook and Instagram. Oh wait, now its lunch time. I’ll do it after lunch.
AGGGGGGG! Ok. I will stop procrastinating and get back to editing. I’ll finish this post when I’m done.
Update: 2 hours later and I finished those two exercises. It was terribly time consuming, but its done. Now I’m just taking a break after a snack. I’m on page 103 of 187 and the rest of the changes are small. So here I go again- back to the grind.
Update: 1 hour later and I’m up to page 167. I only have 20 pages to go, but the next chapter has some major changes I forgot about. I’m not so concerned about this chapter though. I’m only adding a few steps here and not completely redoing the illustrations. I’m done for the day. My daughter is home from camp so I’ll pick up again tomorrow.
Update: I finished up the full book of changes. Yay!
I’m not sure I really mentioned what I am working on, but maybe I have. I’m having a brain fart. I’ve been working on an introductory pattern drafting book since I opened my store in Redlands 5 years ago. It was a long process, but it is almost completely done. I am sending it off to my mentor, Dawn Marie, to review and fact check. I believe she is going to be writing me an amazing Foreword for the book. Here are a few pics and a sneak preview of the book.
While she is reviewing it, I will see if I can get it set up on Amazon for pre-sales. Either way, I plan to announce it onces its available.
On my ever growing project list is also a fashion illustration book I’ve been working on with one of my teachers from Redlands. I’ll post some pictures soon as it too is almost done! I will be working on the final layout changes next week. I’m really excited about this book as well.
YouTube and Life Restored
I discovered a few things this last week. Number 1 – don’t trust that the Google representatives know what they are talking about. Number 2 – I nearly lost 3 years of work and I had no way to notify my customer base what was going on.
I nearly had a total breakdown. I tried to keep it together, but the more I thought about it, the more I felt completely helpless. I kept thinking, “Was it my fault? Should I have questioned the rep more intensely before hitting the ‘remove’ button?”
Here is what happened. I’m trying to get a handle on how I look out there on the great wide web of information. If you googled “Porcelynne,” what comes up is my store in Redlands that is marked as “Permanently Closed.” Thats what started it all. I didn’t want my customers googling my company and seeing that I’m closed.
So I attempted to fix it. For some reason, I was initially unable to change the address on the google listing to the location of my new headquarters, aka Florida. I added a new location and it showed up perfectly here in a search, but my customers in California and the west coast still saw that I was permanently closed. This prompted the merge of my locations.
What I had failed to realize was that when I set up my listing 5 years ago, I registered it as a “brand” account. Anyway, that feature is no longer offered with Google, which is probably why the Google rep was clueless, but I digress. The Brand account linked to my YouTube.
With the help of Google, I was instructed to delete the California location with a guarantee that the YouTube would be relinked to the new location. Well it wasn’t. The next day, I get an email from said helper “You are not eligible for a Google My Business listing.” WHAT???
Over the course of 5 days, I emailed them 40 times, commented on their twitter and facebook pages and sent additional messages to everyone I could get a hold of. The answer from everyone else, “He told you to do what? He shouldn’t have told you that.” I’m like, “Yeah, I know that know. Can you fix it?”
To make a long story short, YouTube is fixed. I will never ever trust a Google rep like I did. And, by the way, my business is still showing up as “permanently closed.” So much for trying to get anything done this last week. I have a new set of videos to release, but those will wait until next week. I am currently working on an “Update” video.
This whole ordeal made me realize I need a better social media presence. I had been fighting it for several years, but now that my time isn’t being sucked dry by a retail storefront, I think I can manage it. I finally set up my Facebook page, and linked Instagram to both Facebook and Twitter. So I can post to all three at once.
Stay tuned for tomorrow. I will be unleashing a contest to win a $50 gift certificate on my website.
Technical difficulties – YouTube Channel Down
I am completely aware that my YouTube channel is gone. I am trying to resolve it. It is a sore subject right now, but I am aware of it. My daughter represents my present mood:
Bra Making Starter Kits are here!
I have been busy putting together kits to make your life easier. I have created three bra making starter kits in fabrics and three starter kits in hardware. I tried to make them interesting, but to be honest, they are for the beginner, working on their first bras. These are relatively low priced for a kit, but they aren’t for the pretty bras. These are for practicality and learning.
Each starter kit has enough fabric for up to three bras (if you have a very large size, you might not be able to get three bras out of it, but conserve your fabric either way). I would suggest using black thread for both the red & black kit and the white & black kit. It will show interest on the cups with black top stitching. Make note that there are no underwires included with either kit.
The fabric kits contain a fusible tricot to stabilize our Shine Tricot for the frame and the cups. When finishing the seams, try cutting a strip of the fusible tricot and iron onto the back side of the seam prior to top stitching. It will make your life easier.
The hardware kit contains hooks & eyes, strap elastic and hardware, underwire casing, picot elastic for neckline and waistband elastic.
But first thing is first – a little update on us. We exhibited at our first event in years. I wasn’t sure how it would go, but we did surprisingly well. I have boxes and boxes of vintage fabrics, which was about 50% of the items I parted with. I might one day list them on the website, but I have too many other things going on right now.
I have been busy to say the least, I have added three new patterns to my website and removed a few old ones. Over the next month, I will post about each design, including an introduction to the kits that go with them as well as the accompanying video tutorials. From this point on, every pattern I release will have a video tutorial for construction.
I Share My Wisdom Unto You
The last 12 months have been a whirlwind but I’m finally finding my groove again. 12 months ago we were packing up our house, our store and preparing for the biggest change since our daughter was born.
I learned many things about moving cross-country with a family. I will now share my wisdom with you.
1. Downsize before you move, not after.
We seriously could have saved about $20,000 had we done so. Starting a new life in a new city would have been a lot easier had we not dragged all our crap with us only to get rid of nearly everything once we settled in.
2. Don’t try to make unrealistic business goals in the first 8-9 months of transition.
First of all, we hadn’t even secured our own living arrangements for the first 3 months. The second 3 months we spent getting rid of everything. So, I suppose I could have saved about 3 months had I learned #1 previously. The last 2-3 months of transition was seriously just playing catch-up.
3. Find a new routine as soon as possible.
The routine will make all family members happier. I kept making excuses not to do this or that because this or that wasn’t finished (see #2). I finally got a routine down for Emily and myself for after school. Gym, swim and quality time. Unfortunately I didn’t get that routine until about 2 months ago.
David still needs to find his personal routine, but we are working hard to have total family time. David and I have even worked in a weekly Friday lunch and a bi-weekly Thursday afternoon movie date.
4. Keep reasonable household goals.
I actually learned this after buying our first house in California. We had so many wants for our house, that we started a million projects all at one and didn’t even complete them until we were a month from selling.
Our new house we have a very reasonable set of goals. We only buy the materials to complete one project at a time. This has proven to be successful so far. We do have 2 unfinished projects currently, but we aren’t starting anything new until those are finished.
Reflection and Moving Forward
We have officially been in Florida for 10 months. This has been a great year of reflection and now resolution. When I closed my lingerie design business in 2009, I felt a bit lost. I truly loved designing, but after having my clothing shop I was just burned out.
I focused my career on education for several years. I wrote books, mentored students, even went as far as starting my own design school. I had focused on others because I didn’t know what I wanted to do for myself, you know, besides having a family.
I had a lightbulb moment about a week ago. I finally know where I want to be as a designer! I love designing, but I don’t love manufacturing and the hussle of having my own clothing business. I have officially decided to design patterns instead. I still get to have my creative freedom and if someone wants to have a piece of my creativity, they can download the pattern and make it for themselves.
I will be making a handful of kits to work with my designs, with everything you need to make it from the fabric to the trim. I know this is just a teaser, but I wanted to share this as soon as I came up with my plan. I am actively working on designs right now. I am starting with lingerie and athletic wear for adults and active wear for girls, but plan to expand to cover all my passions.
Subscribe to the blog to find out when my patterns and kits begin their release. I really am excited. My daughter is excited too. She even got in on the action. I started to teach her on her own machine.
My fancy China Packaging Machine
I posted this video up on YouTube a week ago, but I never got a chance to post my corresponding blog commentary about it.
For the past 5 years, I have been purchasing my hardware in bulk, sometimes up to 10,000 items per style. I know that is a lot, but I found my calling. When I first started, I would sit there and count out each item package individually. Lets just say that was not very efficient with my time. Do you know how many road trips I spent counting out inventory in the passenger seat of the car?
You’d think that my husband would have told me he had a better way for me to deal with counting my inventory earlier, but after about 2 years, he shared his method with me. “You know you can buy a counting scale to do that for you?”
Mind blown! There was such a thing as a counting scale? Yes, my husband had used them years ago. I guess sharing this with me late was better than never sharing it with me at all. This soon sped up my process, helping me grow the business incrementally.
For the last few years, each bulk purchase became larger and larger, but the time to package them took longer and longer. I had one shipment take me 3 months to package, only to get to the point I had to reorder again, placing me in this constant loop of packaging every day and night.
For the past year, I have dreamed of an even more efficient way to package my stash. I didn’t want to spend all my time packaging anymore. I wanted to get back to doing fun creative stuff again. I started to research packaging machines. I search Alibaba, Aliexpress, Google and Ebay. I got quotes from American factories and quotes from Chinese factories.
I found the perfect machine from an American factory that not only counted and bagged, but also printed directly on the bags. That was about $50,000. Ideal yes, but WAY out of budget. I decided I had to get a Chinese machine instead. I found one for about $1700. It could package up to 200 grams in a package. I was excited. The lower model was only $1400, but after a lot of back and forth with the factory, they assured me that the $1700 model would do the trick.
After moving into our new house in Florida, we decided it was time to welcome this new machine into our family. Three weeks later it arrives. The machine actually was two machines that tie into each other. The top part did the counting/measuring and the bottom did the bagging.
It took a few hours to get it all set up and about an hour to determine that this machine would never count and measure my products correctly. Upon further research, I could have purchased just the bottom half for about $900. The top portion is now a dust collector, although I do have hopes to one day use it. I complained to the factory and they were gracious enough to refund me $150. It didn’t make up for what I could have saved purchasing the correct machine and I feel I was completely deceived by the machine’s capabilities.
Anyway, here is the official review of my new toy. And for the record, the bottom half is awesome, so it almost makes up the fact that I have a very large paper weight of a machine I’m storing for one day’s use.
I’m on a roll – Here’s another edited video
If you start watching, you will notice two things. First, that I am working in my old office in California. I filmed this video almost a year ago. The second thing you may notice is my hair is super long. It is no longer. Two weeks ago my daughter and I donated all our long locks to the organization “Children with Hair Loss.”
Here is my daughter showing off her new do and her donation.
This video is an instructional video on how to digitize a pattern into PolyPattern software. More videos coming soon. I’m on a roll.
Finally – Tour of my workshop
I have been slowly working on little things here and there. After moving into our new house, we purged big time and the things we didn’t get to, got shoved back in the closet and put on the back burner. Case in point, my daughter’s closet and our office closet. Both were packed to explosion status with baby stuff.
After much deliberation and reality checks, we have decided to stop trying for a second kid. Because of this decision there was no longer a need to keep the baby items anymore. I pulled out everything baby related and re-organized. With reorganization, I decided to get back to my long long long long to-do list that I have been procrastinating on.
I don’t know if anyone else is like this, but I find it impossible to start new projects until I have completed the projects I already started. Maybe I’m an exception. I am a stickler for follow through. I will follow through on everything I say I’m going to do, it just sometimes takes me longer than expected. Because of the need for completion, it may seem like I am not doing what I said.
I am now complete with my explanation as to why I have not been posting videos as I promised. But that time will come shortly. I have one more video I started that I have to finish, then I can start new videos again! Yay!
Drum roll please…… Introducing my workshop.
And my solution to bulk elastic storage.