Tuesday, March 9, 2010

World of Worldwide Brands ~ eBay, Part 7

In December 2007, I was still searching for suppliers for my eBay store. Around this time, I felt like I was always peering into stores, staring longingly at the shiny merchandise. I had a list of products that did well from the Via Trading pallets and a list of customer requests. I just needed to locate sources that would sell to me at prices I could profit from. I put a solid effort into searching for these magical sources. I was two months in and had about four months to go before I either needed to show some real progress on the eBay business or get a job. I wasn’t collecting unemployment at the time and had no other source of income, so time was limited.

After trying Salehoo, I vowed to never again throw money at another cheesy scam. Salehoo had promised a database of wholesalers and dropshippers who do business with eBayers. In reality, I found a limited number of unimpressive wholesalers with prices that had to be retail. I got exactly nothing for my $67 Salehoo membership.

I came across Worldwide Brands and there was no way I was going to pay the $299 lifetime membership fee. NO WAY. Worldwide Brands promised the same thing as Salehoo but with a much higher price tag. What’s up with these guys anyway? I did a little research. It was one rave review after another. Damn, I really wanted to join. Still, there was no way I was charging it to my credit card. I signed up for the free newsletter instead. A week or so later, an unexpected and generous birthday check arrived in the mail. I bee lined for my laptop and never regretted my membership.

I was turned off by the world of Worldwide Brands. I didn’t take advantage of the seminars, although I meant to. I read an article here and there. It felt cultish to me . . . a sparkly infomercial for the founder and leader, Chris Malta. It wasn’t just that he knew about doing business on eBay, he truly cared about helping others. (If you watched the nifty video at the beginning of this post, I feel the need to say . . . I'm smarter than Chris Malta thinks I am. He comes off as the Mr. Rogers of online retail cults.) Did you know he INVENTED the term “light bulk wholesaler?” He did so with a passion for finding trustworthy suppliers who would do business with small business owners like me. See? I‘ve been programmed by Worldwide Brands and really, I’m OK with that. It’s all because of their awesome database. It's something special. Since then, I’ve tried eBay Marketplace Research, which no longer exists, and Terapeak. Neither came close.

Worldwide Brands, which was briefly known as One Source, delivers its service through a customizable dashboard. You can search for products available from various types of wholesalers: light bulk, dropship, large volume and liquidator. I was all about the light bulk as the profit margin for the dropshippers never seemed worthy. I wasn’t ready for large volume and didn’t want to start over with another liquidator after the trial and error of getting to know Via Trading.

Not only did Worldwide Brands provide an impressive database of companies that had already agreed to sell to me . . . it forecasted the potential success of any product I could think of according to recent demand and existing competition. I could look up what the product was selling for and where, the number of recent internet searches for the product, and the search words used to find the product. How was it doing on eBay? How was it doing on Amazon? Were there any Google ads for that type of product?

I was entertained for hours. Another feature of Worldwide Brands that I loved was a form email system. If I found a supplier I was interested in, all I had to do was click a button, and BAM a new account request was sent out with my information automatically included. The inquiries and responses were all saved to my dashboard. I had a much better response rate to Worldwide Brand’s form emails than my own inquiries.

One big downside to a market research company like Worldwide Brands is that you’re getting the same info as every other member. For this reason, I was hesitant when I first found a promising lingerie supplier on the East Coast. I found several eBay sellers using the same stock pics from that company. It wasn’t exactly a secret yet this turned out to be my best product source. The supplier specialized in overstock and discontinued brand name lingerie, as well as offering its own in-house line. Bras from this company sold better for me by far than anything else I listed on eBay. I could sell bras for three times what I paid for them. Shipping costs weren’t an issue. With my buy-three-for-free-shipping promo, my standard sale was three bras. I had several repeat customers, and many of them needed attention because their favorite bras had been discontinued. That meant that they often bought as many as I had in the old style, sometimes in more than one size. Then, we stayed in touch as I continued to look for a replacement style. I really thought I was on to something.

Products that forecasted well on Worldwide Brands did not necessarily do well for me. There was the stuff from the bed linen company and the bamboo importer. For the most part, I was happy with the quality of what I ordered from these companies as well as the prices. I got good customer feedback. The problem was the sell-through rate was sluggish. Even if something sells the first time it is listed on eBay, roughly 20% of the selling price goes to eBay and Paypal fees. (At least, that was the case at the time . . . eBay has changed its fee system more than once since then.) The more I had to relist, the less money I made.

One of my favorite sources I found through Worldwide Brands was an organic cotton sock company in California. The owner still does not have an email address. She operates her business through one landline and a relative with a Paypal account. Her socks sold well for me. I shipped them all over the world. She would occasionally offer other organic cotton products. When I tried to reorder washcloths, I was told that the person who made them stopped for the winter because her hands were tired. I was tempted to ask why she couldn’t take a little break and get back to it.

I paid for the socks upfront through Paypal and the rest went on my credit card. I watched my credit card balance grow even though my sales were also increasing. I tracked the money accurately, but was a little too casual about it and didn’t make enough progress on my debt. I often used the money that was coming in to purchase supplies and pay bills. There were a ton of expenses – cell phone for example – that could be treated as a business expense but my business couldn’t really afford to cover it. When I explain it now, I’m fully aware of how dumb it sounds to be so careless. All I can say was that money was tight .period. and I felt the need to be a little creative about things. I do know for sure that I am better at managing other people’s money than my own.

I spent a lot of time on Worldwide Brands looking for suppliers of organic products as it was obvious that the demand for green products was growing. I found a supplier of organic cotton underwear. All they carried was a thong in black or natural, but it was the only organic cotton underwear I could find anywhere. It was a discontinued style, so I worked out a discount with the company and bought them out. The markup wasn’t as high as the bras but it was another item that sold well for me. Once a customer bought one of these, s/he would come back for more. Large orders came in for a wedding, a movie set, a college student who was moving out of the family home for the first time (it’s important to leave home with a healthy supply of underwear).

Everything seemed to be moving in a positive direction but there were some misses, evident by the full bins of hemp purses and handcrafted quilts stacked in my garage. I found that sales were better when my selection was wider. The bigger variety increased traffic to my store and based on eBay’s reports, visitors spent a good amount of time looking through my inventory, probably because of the shipping promo. I was constantly searching for new products but wasn’t willing to charge anything more to my credit card until I got rid of some of the stuff that wasn’t moving. This led me to a good supplier with unbelievably low prices practically in my own backyard.

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