EP 46 - Andy Slamans - Expert Insights about Strengthening and Scaling your eCommerce Business
|Awesomers Origin - We'll talk to an Awesomer about where they came from, the triumphs and tribulations they have faced and how they are doing today. An Awesomer Origin story is the chance to hear the backstory about the journey our guest took on their road to become awesomer. These stories are incredibly varied and the takeaway is that awesomers come in all shapes, sizes, backgrounds, creeds, colors and every other variation possible. On your awesomer road you will face adversity. That’s just part of life. The question as always is how YOU choose to deal with it.
|Andy Slamans adventures on Amazon started while he was working full time as a House parent caring for and living with 12 at risk high school boys. Andy knew it was time to leave his full-time job when his home looked like a prep and pack warehouse from all the inventory that was moving through it on a daily basis. Andy has launched over 100 products on Amazon and now is focusing on 2 multi-million dollar brands he is growing the right way on Amazon. Andy is a partner at Amazing Freedom which is a company dedicated to helping e-commerce sellers and brands win on Amazon.
Business is really about relationships. This is not about a one-time sale. Relationships build equity in a brand.
Today’s guest is Andy Slamans, partner at Amazing Freedom Agency which is a company dedicated to helping E-commerce, sellers and brands win on the Amazon platform. Here are more key points on today’s episode:
How Andy started his E-commerce journey.
What is Amazon FBA and how it can help with scalability and flexibility.
Why product images are one of the most defining parts of your conversion metrics.
What the Amazing Freedom Agency is all about and how it can help your business.
So listen to today’s episode and learn more about building a successful Amazon brand and E-commerce business.
Welcome to the Awesomers.com podcast. If you love to learn and if you're motivated to expand your mind and heck if you desire to break through those traditional paradigms and find your own version of success, you are in the right place. Awesomers around the world are on a journey to improve their lives and the lives of those around them. We believe in paying it forward and we fundamentally try to live up to the great Zig Ziglar quote where he said, "You can have everything in your life you want if you help enough other people get what they want." It doesn't matter where you came from. It only matters where you're going. My name is Steve Simonson and I hope that you will join me on this Awesomer journey.
If you're launching a new product manufactured in China, you will need professional high-resolution Amazon ready photographs. Because Symo Global has a team of professionals in China, you will oftentimes receive your listing photographs before your product even leaves the country. This streamlined process will save you the time money and energy needed to concentrate on marketing and other creative content strategies before your item is in stock and ready for sale. Visit SymoGlobal.com to learn more. Because a picture should be worth one thousand keywords. You're listening to the Awesomers podcast.
1:37 (Steve introduces today’s guest, Andy Slamans.)
Steve: You are listening to episode number 45 of the Awesomers.com podcast and as the secret is finally been revealed, all you have to do is go to Awesomers.com/45 to get all the relevant show notes and details and that includes even sometimes links that we promised to put on there. Sometimes we actually do that. Today my special guest is Andy Slamans. And his adventures on Amazon started while he was working full time as a house parent caring for living with 12 at-risk high school boys. And we dive into that a little bit today. It's a very interesting story how Andy kind of came into this line of working and his journey so far. Andy knew it was time to leave his full-time job but his home looked like a prep and pack warehouse from all the inventory that was moving through it on a daily basis. And for any of us who run E-commerce businesses or even Amazon based businesses, there's probably been one time or another that living room down. He was full of boxes and your packing and picking stuff. It's a crazy environment for sure. Andy has launched over a hundred products on Amazon, is now focusing on two multi-million dollar brands is growing the right way on Amazon and he's a partner. And Amazing Freedom which is a company dedicated to helping E-commerce, sellers and brands win on the Amazon.com selling platform and he's a true giver and somebody who really cares about his fellow man and his fellow entrepreneurs for that matter. And it's something that I think that all of us can learn from is how can we make it a big impact on other people's lives. And I certainly personifies that and lives up to that in every possible way. Hey Awesomers, here I am Steve Simonson and I'm back again with another episode of the Awesomers.com podcast. And today we're lucky because we are joined by a very special guest Andy Slamans. Is that correct pronunciation?
Andy: That is just like slamming a basketball.
Steve: Thank goodness. I've really... I've had quite a run today and so the audience which probably lost confidence in my ability pronouncing people's names for a while, may be slowly building their confidence again. Only to be dashed in a future episode no doubt. So welcome again and thank you for joining us. As I like to begin now I've already read kind of a bio and an introduction for the audience to hear kind of your summary. But I always like to hear from you firsthand in your own words kind of what do you do day-to-day? What takes your time? What are you investing in day to day?
3:46 (Andy talks about his businesses.)
Andy: Sure absolutely. So I have two primary businesses right now. One is I sell physical products on Amazon. I probably like a number of the listeners to your podcast too. As well as I'm a partner in an agency called Amazing Freedom. And in that agency we offer a number of services helping Amazon sellers like listening creation, PPC management and Amazon account management.
Andy: Yes, there's a lot of details that go into running any E-commerce business but the Amazon niche itself has its own little variation of as you said listing management. My understanding is you guys deal with images and some of the other normal things that entrepreneurs have to deal with and solve.
Andy: Yes, so it's interesting. All of our services were kind of born out of our own personal pain points. I'm sure you've experienced that right as your business has grown. As you grow, time becomes more valuable. And so you're willing to pay for services that are good and that can save you that time right. Which a lot of like when our business was growing, we were getting bottlenecked and we got tired of using Fiverr. We joke about Fiverr actually becomes like 35 or by the time you end up paying for the things that you look for. And a lot of times can be painful trying to find the right person on Fiverr.
Steve: Yes, I think that's... for sure that the necessity is the mother of invention as they say right. So number one it's like I don't know how to do it. My very first business, we start a programming the computer simply because there wasn't an alternative. We had to build our own platform. And what a nightmare that was. Yet again completely necessary. We had no alternatives at that time and it is quite interesting. And I think a salient point to say that Fiverr is no longer Fiverr. Yes a fun little marketing name it used to be. You get stuff done for five bucks. The gun are those days because if you have the audacity to expect the commercial license to use whatever graphic they made for you then that's another 50 bucks. And they just a real kill streak when it comes to the joy that place.
Andy: I think that for the platform, it's the king of the upsell.
Steve: It is. now I will say a protip out there if you're still needing to find gigs and you're happy to use Fiverr, is if you email the person ahead of time, you ask them for a quote and you make sure that you talk about your requirements ahead of time. You're far more likely to get what you want as opposed to just kind of clicking the buttons. If you go through and click on all of those little upsells, you could get a tiny little facebook ad graph, it cost you $95. And not 12 months ago you could get one of those or five of those knocked down for five or ten dollars. So it's gone crazy. So kudos to them, they're making money. The freelancers are thrilled but the pro tip is if you go to them and say here's what I need, here's my price and I expect all the commercial, IP releases whatever it is. Most often they'll give it to you.
Steve: But like you, I think my ratio is about 30 percent fail rate on Fiverr just right off the top.
Steve: We've done whatever dance. I've placed the gig or some of the time it just fails and this is a big Fiverr defect for those Fiverr fans and perhaps the Fiverr management team listening. The inability to leave a review on somebody who you had to fire because they sucked and never responded. Absolute giant gap. What do you think Andy?
Andy: For sure and that's what it ends up being a time suck. You spend three or four days trying to get something done and then you end up with nothing and sometimes needs to be frustrating experience.
Steve: Yes I got a review for you on that right here. Fiverr it sucks, zero stars for that. Fix it or find are us taking our business elsewhere. Alright so Andy I'm thrilled that you're joining me. I always I think the last time I saw you we're hanging out in Orlando.
Andy: Yes that's right.
Steve: And we had a fun conversation we always do. And so we're gonna come right back after this though. We're gonna dive into your origin story and I really like to get into where people come from. So we're gonna do that right after this break.
Hey Amazon Marketplace professionals! Congratulations on your success today your creativity, strategic vision, problem-solving and discipline have allowed you to build your own E-commerce business. Wouldn't it be great if you had more time to focus on the things that truly drive the sales and growth of your company instead of getting lost in a dozen different services and countless spreadsheets? What if there was one system that connected to your Amazon account that automatically give you the information that you need it to make great decisions and really impact your business. Parsimony ERP can do that. Parsimony is the business operating system for your marketplace business. With Parsimony you get true double entry bookkeeping, easy financial statements, full customer service tools and item-by-item profitability along with project and task management and more features are being added all the time. Learn more at Parsimony.com, that's Parsimony P-A-R-S-I-M-O-N-Y.COM. Parsimony.com, we've got that.
Steve: Hey guess what? We're back and we're gonna talk to Andy about his beginnings. And the very beginning of the beginning is where you were born?
9:16 (Andy talks about his origin story.)
Andy: Yes sure. So I'm originally from Aurora, Illinois which happens to be the home of Wayne's World. You're probably old enough to remember that movie.
Steve: First of all how dare you and yes I know.
Andy: So I'm a die-hard Cubs fan. So Aurora's about 40 miles west of Chicago. And one of my things that I did when I was growing up is I would take the train into Chicago and go watch the Cubs at Wrigley Field. So it's a different time now I don't know if I would let my seventh grade or my eighth grade son take the train into Philadelphia we're about two hours away. But my parents did. I would go in there and from something eighth grade, take the train. And at the time in Wrigley you could actually wait in line and sit in the bleachers and there's no assigned seating. So this is the time when Andre Dawson played for them, Ryan Sandberg, Rick Sutcliffe if you're a baseball fan at all you remember those guys. And so we would always go before batting practice and without fail we would get a baseball. Because how easy that knocking it out and we always sit in left field. So yes I'm a die-hard Cubs fan born Aurora Illinois.
Steve: Well that's a fascinating to me. Now I'm not a huge baseball expert. What was the win streak like, that was a lot of World Series rings at the time.
Steve: I did know that one little piece of trivia. So I do love that fact and so you started out there. Now how about your parents? What kind of work were they involved in when you came into this world?
Andy: Sure. So my father blue-collar work for the Burlington Northern railroad started out. I don’t know what his first job was but he ended up being like a ticket agent. So he would work basically selling tickets at in a suburb for folks driving in Chicago. Mom stayed home. Great family they're still together the gate today I think they've been married for 58 or 59 years now.
Steve: Alright. Wow that's a rare accomplishment kudos to them. And so that's a very interesting background. And I was like to kind of throw it in and then learn about the siblings. How about any brothers or sisters?
Andy: Yes so I'm actually the youngest, there's four boys in our family. I have three older brothers. And so yes I was kind of the one that was always left out. But that's alright I'm actually the tallest, the biggest and I think I get handle now.
Steve: I love when the youngest one starts talking trash, that's like we've seen more than you know boy. I'm the oldest of a brood of nine. So tell me this, are any of your siblings entrepreneurial nature? Are they found their path similar to you or how's that working out?
Andy: Yes. So interesting enough I have two brothers that are they both own their own businesses. They own them basically almost out of high school. Then I have another brother who is a VP for fortune 500 company. The three guys we make fun of him because as far as we can tell he plays golf and he entertains for a living.
Steve: That’s why they call it the fortune 500. Yes that's golf clubs and I love it. So it's a very interesting thing. Do you have any speculation as to why 75% of your the family there ended up in an entrepreneurial bin?
Andy: I really do think it had to do with the security of my family. Again my parents just great parents and they had a great relationship, very structured. I think they did a really good job raising us. And I think my two brothers that are entrepreneurs who own their own business they had this secure. When you have a springboard and a strong foundation like that it's a lot easier to take swings I think. And so both of them were willing to take the risk and they had that strong
foundation to do that.
Steve: Yes I appreciate the baseball metaphor. For our out-of-town guests, you could also think of it as a cricket swing that I think that still works. So how about University, did you attend university after a high school or how'd that go?
Andy: Yes. I did actually went to a university. Interesting going back to origin family issues. So my bit growing up was like to help people right. And this is pious sounds a little weird. And I can remember actually sitting down at the dinner table with my family and my three brothers were all older and my father. They would always talk business right. And I can remember hating that just wasn't my nature. I was a Social Work major in college.
Steve: Wow. Quite a change.
Andy: Yes and so it was there's like no connection there because I didn't understand why they always wanted to talk about business. They're talking about ROI. So it's all about margin. And so I really wanted nothing to do with that. Went to college got a Social Work degree. I will say this, my most important certificate that I got in college was my marriage certificate. And so yes that was interesting that I ended up in business and maybe we'll get a little bit into that. But growing up I wanted nothing to do with business. All I wanted to do was to help people. I don't know if I had a little bit of a hippie in me and just kind of want to stay away from the corporate. But now that I've been in business I see more and more that it's about relationships. No I think if I were to understood that a little sooner, I probably would have jumped in business a lot faster.
Steve: Well. And it's like maybe counterintuitive especially to the young or to those uninitiated but the amount of help you can do as an entrepreneur is significant right. It's far-reaching. It's why it impacting the program that you guys operate. Helping people get into the private label business. This is having a massive effect. I think probably far more effective than any government organization I can imagine.
Steve: Yes I definitely think that's a really good. So it is fun, as we grow and mature to kind of see our thoughts and our philosophies evolve. And I appreciate you sharing that detail. How about at a university, what was the first job? What did you decide to tackle as you came out of school?
Andy: Yes. So like I said it was a Social Work major. So I actually worked at a church working with kids in the inner city of North Philadelphia. A real tough area there and again basically I was building relationships with kids who were kind of throwaway kids right kids. As society doesn't necessarily think about I want to deal with. So that's what I did. I did that for two or three years. My wife and I found that the greatest impact that we're having on kids were the ones who would come over to our house. And so we would meet them at the church. We would hang out with them. We would take them to events but the ones who were really interested in us would often come over to our house. And we saw that those who came to our house. We were having a much deeper impact with them. So we thought, well you know what why don't we find a job where we take care of kids, almost like adopt kids right? And raise them for our own home. And so we did that. When we left that position where I was at and then for 15 years we lived with 12 high school boys and we basically raised them like like they were our own kids.
Steve: Wow that's amazing. The full extent of my knowledge of North Philadelphia is from the Will Smith freshman, it's limited I would say. But how was that, first of all living with 12 boys on its own seems insane but all high school boys of the hormones raging and all the various things that go along with that. How was that experience for you guys? Obviously did it for a great deal of time you must have loved it.
Andy: It's almost like coaching. So you have to earn the respect right of the kids. But once you earn their respect and we like to lead out a relationship. So some people they lead out of rules. I would say that's kind of more fear-based leadership. We like to lead out of relationship. So we would show them respect at all ways and really try to bring them along from from their understanding that we really cared about them. And that's how it worked and it was a good, good gig, we enjoyed it and did it for 15 years.
Steve: So how does that work, you mentioned they were a high school age. So did they just kind of keep cycling through? How was that function?
Andy: Yes. So it's amazing place we worked at. It's called Mill in Hershey School, is actually started by the founder of the Hershey Chocolate Company.
Andy: And when he actually 45 years before he passed away, he donated his entire fortune. This is like in the 1930s which at the time was I believe it was 50 million dollars that he donated to the school. And the school now, the trust is between 13 and 14 billion that's with a B. Yes it's probably one of the top 30 educational trust in the world. And they have over 2,000 students. All the students have to be below a certain financial level and it's just an amazing place. There's no other place like in the entire world. It's the largest pre-k through 12 residential educational school in the world and is hidden like nobody knows about it. And they work with some of the neediest kids that you and I could imagine.
Steve: Yes that is a really extraordinary. I have heard of Hershey Pennsylvania. Some of the Hershey story to some extent but I didn't remember the school aspect. And how they turned a 50 million dollar fortune into multi billions. That's an investment course in its own I suppose. There's probably some graduates who have come back and put some more money into the coffers as well but man oh man what an accomplishment.
Andy: Yes it really is. It's an amazing place and they've done a really good job he had some terrific lawyers who wrote up a deed of trust that really protected that money and helped it grow.
Steve: Yes that's a very good lesson for us all. As we think or exit and we think about whether it's a family trust or family foundation or how you gonna kind of make a mark on the world. I think it's a good example to learn from. So after that job and you did that for quite a number of years, where did you go from there?
Andy: Yes. So I started selling on Amazon part-time just as a way to kind of get my mind off of the day-to-day dealings that I was going through with some of the students in my house. So as you can imagine your house parents similar to being a teacher. Some years are awesome, some years to be really challenging. Depending on the personalities you have in your class. And so I started selling on Amazon part-time and this was 2013-2014. And man the sales just like took off. And so I was doing what's called retail arbitrage. You would go to thrift stores, you go to big-box stores and basically resell things he purchased there on discount and did that for a year. I believe the first year I hit like a hundred and thirty thousand very part-time and I was like man I either have to scale down my Amazon business or my wife and I had to think about changing professions. so that's what we did. We thought about it. We've done it for 15 years and I was having such fun. I mean you sell on Amazon. It's a blast to check your account sometimes that's a great thing about selling on the Amazon. Sometimes I won't do anything for two or three days yet my account is still humming away because of the FBA program. And so I thought man if there's any time that I'm gonna move or do some different sounds like a great opportunity now.
Steve: Well this is one of those things. So for those who are listening who may not know FBA that's a fulfillment by Amazon. This is where Amazon actually opens their warehouse to just anybody, marketplace sellers, it could be any of us and we put our stuff in there and then when they get to order for online Amazon they just automatically ship it out and they deal with all the logistics and shipping and all that stuff. And of course there's fees that go along with that and the fees increase almost by the hour. But the convenience and the scalability and the flexibility and all those things that go with it. This is where I always try to give Amazon high amounts of credit and recognition for the stuff they do really well. So that the other times when I have to beat them down for things that they're not doing as well that I am a fair guy. But this platform of FBA has launched so many entrepreneurs. And it sounds like that was where you started making your leverage play.
Andy: Yes absolutely. It was it almost it felt like it was too good to be true. You know I had sold on eBay a little bit and it was kind of painful because you're dealing with the customers, although that's changing a little bit. I've actually upped my eBay sales in the last year but I didn't want to really deal with that. And really that the FBA program it almost felt too good to be true. It almost still feels too good to be true.
Steve: Yes sure. I think there's actually a fair number of sellers especially when you start achieving certain levels of metrics. And everyone can pick their own metric of success whether that's five thousand, 50 thousand, five hundred thousandth or five million one doesn't matter. There's a point where you're like is this thing real? What happens when the lights go on and all the sales disappear? Everybody's kind of nervous about that. Have you ever been nervous along that line?
Andy: Yes. I mean, I think fear is definitely a part of what drives you in whatever you do and so there is a little bit of fear there. But again I've been doing it now for almost five years and I've never had any issues. Amazon has always been good to me but I always I try to sell good products that meet customer needs. And then I bend over backwards in customer service for Amazon customers.
Steve: Yes I think that's one of the things that Amazon deserves a lot of credit for their policies. And their requirements for customer service can be considered quite rigid in one respect. But from the consumer perspective we're all like oh just buy it from Amazon. We know you just return if it's a problem right? And the reality is that flexibility, that comfort but on the behalf of the customer is what drives so much business. That's what drives the confidence. That's what makes the marketplace so successful honestly. And so all of us had to raise our game right? There's no point of shipping out bad quality product because I'm gonna send it back to you. And then they bad reviews and they're gonna complain and you just skip all that work by doing something of actual value. And it sounds like you learned that lesson early on.
Andy: Absolutely and that's something that we coach. And something that we often teach on to to folks that we work with is you need to take the platform seriously. And you need to treat the customer like it was you buying a product. And so I definitely refund very liberally thankfully. My overall refund rate stays still between 3 & 5 percent but yes if there's any issue at all with customers when they reach out to me I correct it and I make it right and and hopefully you know we continue to get that message out. As well to folks that sell on Amazon because that just builds trust and it just grows the platform.
Steve: Yes and I think really this is a philosophy that anybody paying attention all of you executives at eBay or Newegg or jet or Walmart or whoever. You have to hold the standards of the marketplace sellers very high because that's what builds the customer confidence. And all of us our own E-commerce sites whatever the channel is. If we don't treat the customer like we want them to come back, why would they come back. And it sounds so basic but I really do think that people often think about the customer as an afterthought right. It's like I did all this work, all the sourcing and logistics and the customer is just the end of the thing where I get paid. And it's like no, that's the beginning of the relationship. That's where your brand begins the rest of the stuff was just the ante of the game. Is that how you kind of feel about it?
Andy: Yes absolutely. And customers are a goldmine for you too. And that's why reviews on Amazon for your brand are so critical. The number one, that you read them, you listen to them. For me I make modifications, I've made modifications on my products from that feedback from the customers. I've had a number of phone calls with customers and I always try to turn a bad customer into a good customer. And so I'll actually reach out on the phone if they're willing to talk and try to talk through issues. But also try to hear them and I think that in the long run is what makes your brand valuable.
Steve: Yes I think that's a very good and salient point to drive home to the Awesomers out there listening. That every company is going to have some sort of issue. You're gonna make a mistake at some point. The measurement company is how you deal with it. That's how you should be judged not the fact that you made a mistake or something happened that wasn't as planned or it didn't have the perfect consumer experience. It's what you do to make it right. And Andy's already talked about the fact that liberal refunds right? This is not about a one-time sale. This is about a long-term relationship and that's what makes a brand successful. That's what builds equity in a brand. I salute you for not just doing that and executing that yourself but also teaching that to others. Very good job. So let me ask you this along this journey, from overall along these many years dare I say it. Is there a defining moment that's kind of sticks out in your mind? That kind of put you on the road of success or where you think of yourself today?
Andy: Yes. So I mean we talked about a little earlier, I think the real aha moment for me was when I discovered that business is really about relationships. And so I never really had that paradigm until I started selling on Amazon. So I started going to conferences. So I started meeting people and I realized that people want to do business with people they trust business with people they like. And I thought well man I've been pretty good my entire life at building relationships. I haven't been good at a lot of things but I have been good at building relationships. And so trying to be authentic, trying to be transparent, trying to treat people fairly right. And and a man that has helped me in my Amazon business as well as our agency, I think more than any other principle is really just trying to give value to people with no expectations of getting anything back. And time and time again new opportunities have popped up just just by really digging in. Just getting to know people, shaking hands and really just being friendly. I know it probably sounds a little corny but I can tell you it's been absolutely true for me over the last five years. It's been relationships that I've been able to get in with folks that have really helped my business grow.
Steve: It's definitely not corny to me and in fact it reminds me of course I already sent at the top of the show, but it always deserves reinforcement of this principle that Zig Ziglar painted the picture very well with this quote. That I'm sure butcher in some way but he essentially says, “You can have everything you want in your life, if you help enough other people get what they want in their life.” And it's something that I try to live up to that principle, that ideal. Because there you really do get a lot out of helping other people. They get some benefit along the way and these relationships and these conferences and all of these networking that happens there it just kind of creates its own flywheel effect. And it just keeps chugging along and chugging along. And after you've been doing a long time like me and maybe like you there's just so many things that just fall out of that flywheel kind of dynamically you never expected. But here it is if you have any of those surprises come out?
Andy: Well I often say I have a partner's name is Liran Hirschkorn and I just met him at a conference. And started get to know him and like I shared he's a partner with me and in our agency and just phenomenal Amazon seller. He I think has like the it factor and so that partnership was born really. Just kind of out of getting to know each other a little bit on Facebook and then meeting at a conference and we've become great friends and we're enjoying life. And just having a great time doing Amazon.
Steve: That's a really terrific example of the going to conferences and networking and including being friendly and kind of paying it forward. This is often an intangible asset right? As I often say you don't come back from a conference and look at your bank account, it's tripled right? That's not the exact tangible result you should expect but it can have a compounding relationship equity effect. And I really appreciate that. How about a big lesson? Is there anything that it's really shiny to you, they go along my journey here's a lesson that I you know I wish I knew earlier or that I feel it's I feel compelled to impart to Awesomers out there.
Andy: Sure. I shared a little earlier I was very hesitant toward anything related to business because I really didn't think I had this skill set. When I was growing up saw my brothers they were all good it just wasn't my bent. And so I didn't get into it you know again until five years ago and I think a lot of that was fear. And when I did step into a full-time four and a half years ago the quote that always sticks with me is “The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step”. So I was working in a very comfortable position, had a decent salary, had really good health benefits but I wasn't really growing individually or growing professionally. And I think I stayed in that position more out of fear of the unknown rather than kind of going out and having a entrepreneurial spirit or kind of a conquering attitude. And so taking that first step and now has kind of led me were where I am today. And I've never like taken that step four years ago. I would have never thought I could kind of work where I am today but it started with that first step. And so at the end of the day I just had to overcome my fear right and and take that step.
Steve: Well I think that's a very nice lesson learned. Number one and of course you're not alone. This is the most obvious obstacle to people is that they don't know what's going to happen that fear of the unknown. And you know what it's easier just to kind of backtrack into their comfort zone and that's fine, I get it. That's our wiring, were our lizard part of the brain goes no I'll get back in the cave, safe in the cave, nobody go outside the cave. But we realized that if we're going to reach a potential that is beyond normal. Something that like I say we want to be Awesomer, we want to get past that whatever adequate is. It's not adequate to us right. Adequatulence is not acceptable in my world. and so that means we have to push ourselves and even fail and I would ask you, it sounds like you got a hit. and you got going early on. Have you ever had any little problems along the way?
Andy: Yes I mean absolutely right. We all have if you've been in business at a time. You're gonna hit some potholes. One of mine early on, one of my first products that I brought to Amazon. I had to give away through promo codes at Amazon provides. And I did that. I set up the promo set of the promo go wrong in my entire inventory. So I set it up like a twelve o'clock at night. I'd done it before. I knew what to do but it was too late. I shouldn't have been . And back then it was kind of like it was weird you had to like uncheck this little box that was hidden and set it up. Four AM like I wake up with this terrifying fear. Like did I uncheck that box that I leave a check? So I reach them up from my phone by the bedside. Go into my Amazon account and all thousand units who were wiped out. So ended up being about a thirteen thousand dollar loss. Now you got to understand, I just left my secure full-time job, full health benefits and it was like I'd flushed $13,000 down the toilet. So needless to say I was physically sick. I was like dry heaving but so for a brief moment I was like man that I make the right step. But I was all-in at that point. So that didn't deter me.
Steve: There were so many examples and this is largely been resolved at this stage through education and better feature set. But there was a way that as I describe of setting up a coupon it's like hey I want to give this coupon and you had to uncheck. Like I don't to show this to everybody but if it showed to everybody or made it available to everybody then that thing could go viral. And all your stuff went away at 99 percent off or whatever the deal was. And that it's just like the most gut-wrenching thing. We had a case very similar to that and by the way I think we burned 25 grand in a few hours. And one of our coupons, we had set up the coupon stack they set up all compounded. They can use them all together. They're buying thousand dollars worth of stuff at a shot and we kind of owe them money at the end of the deal right. It's like so I have to ship them free stuff and write a check this is terrible. So luckily we were able to put a stop to about about 70% of it before it shipped and but man oh man we've all made those mistakes in there. They're never awesome. That's for sure. So I appreciate you sharing that. How about whether it's the entrepreneurial journey or your life before was every time you just kind of want to give up and do something different. Just change gears altogether.
Andy: So when I was in the job that was at for 15 years. Toward the end of that time I definitely was feeling a little bit trying to think of the word a little bit stymied I guess. Maybe from middle management. So it's a large organization and like any organization you have middle managers. And it seems like that's always the pain point for folks that are on the front line. They're all dealing with the middle managers. You got the leadership above them that are kind of casting the vision. And so you go to the leaders and they're like oh no that's not what they should be doing. You know what it's hard to kind of get to the truth. So I was definitely feeling enclosed in that organization and I was ready to make a change. So that's I think for me again just such a significant moment in my life when I discovered Amazon. Kind of going through those feelings as well.
Steve: Yes boy. I can certainly identify with that and a lot of people don't realize and obviously the organization is big, successful and well-founded. But often people don't leave jobs that the job itself is not the issue. It's they leave the managers and they leave the culture because they're just kind of done with it right. It's like I'm not making an impact. I have the right intention. I have the right energy but it's not making a difference. So why bother and that's a good lesson for all of us who are building organizations to make sure we avoid that concept right. Believe me I've had companies where I've had cultural problems. Where the end employees felt like I was the biggest moron on the planet. Because I was letting some of these guys in the middle do things that were against our values or at least had the perception that they were. So it's a big wake-up call for anybody building an organization. To build it in a way that makes people happy to be a part of it not looking for the next gig.
Andy: Well I'll just added I think for me kind of the real moment that struck me is I started to see that folks cared more about the organization than the individual. And so like a lot of decisions being made were kind of cover, CYA cover your own. But type decisions rather than making a harder decision that was better for the individual are better for the frontline staff. And so that to me is kind of what started the dissatisfaction I think in my last organization if that makes sense.
Steve: It does and this is actually quite a common scenario particularly it's a plague to middle management who has often the perception of, I just want stay here, put in my time until I can become a big manager. And often that means that they are more risk adverse and sometimes that means they they won't necessarily do the right thing. Of course Awesomers we have this general philosophy that we would rather do the right thing now or not do something then do the wrong thing at any time. It's just it's an acquired taste I suppose to some people. So let me ask you this as you look back was there ever a day that you're like oh this was my best day, I remember this day or at least a great day that you was very noteworthy to that stands out in your mind along your journey?
Andy: I'll just keep coming back to the day that I had worked for this organization for 15 years. And so when the day that I left that organization I felt free. I felt like I was finally doing something, that I now had opportunity to grow and there was no ceiling. And so for me it was just extremely freeing feeling. I don't want to use the picture of like a prison or leaving prison. But in a similar kind of way because really now it was all on me. And so that to me was it's still one of the best days.
Steve: It's a very good moment to kind of memorialize because too often we get caught up in the fear and the uncertainty. And that kind of stuff and we don't relish some of the freedom, some of the decision-making. We get to have whether or not those decisions work out positive or negative is a whole nother coat of paint just our ability to make those decisions. And to exercise our own freedom. That's something really special and I'm glad that you appreciate it in the way that you did. So I want to just ask you before we kind of go to a break and talk about the future a little bit and some of the other things you're doing here in the present. Is there a favorite tool or something that you use day-to-day. Maybe it's an app, maybe it's something on your phone or anything that you care to share with the Awesomers out there.
Andy: Sure. So my two favorite probably our Basecamp. That's one that we use for our agency. We just find the value there is terrific. I'm in that on a daily basis. And then my second one may be a little unorthodox but it”s Facebook. And Facebook is what has allowed me to connect with people again getting back to the relationship aspect. I don't know how long it'll remain relevant but I know for right now it's been extremely beneficial for me to be able to connect with individuals and to really be able to get into relationships. And a lot of times people will say Facebook friends are not real, it's not a real thing but I can tell you from personal experience. I've been able to get into some really deep relationships with folks that I met on Facebook. I'll give you a real good example. We actually had a fire here at our home. We live in Hershey Pennsylvania about three years ago and somebody who I never met before on Facebook started a GoFundMe campaign. I didn't ask them it was somebody I think I'd helped out on Amazon. And within six days they had raised over $15,000 for my family and I. And it was all people on Facebook. The majority of them I had never met before. And so that's why some naysayers will come and they'll say on Facebook come on that's not business. And I got to tell you it's allowed me to get into some really good deep relationships. And it really helped my business grow.
Steve: I think it's a fair call out because too many of us in myself included. I would say five years ago I did not think of Facebook as a business tool. Four years ago it became very clear to me that holy crap this is actually far more interactive, a far more engaging than LinkedIn for example. LinkedIn has a bunch of these groups and forums and whatever they call them but they're really very static and stale compared to the Facebook stuff. Which can almost be like a live feed sometimes. I don't spend a lot of my time taking pictures of the sandwiches that I eat each day mostly for the business but it's really a remarkable tool. It's a fair color. I'm glad you mentioned it because it's a surprising and counterintuitive fact that it can be used so effectively for business. Don't you think.
Andy: Yes absolutely. Here's the deal, it's where people are at and so as a business you want to go where the people are at. Where are they spending their time. And honestly for right now folks probably age 30 and up they spend a good amount of their time on Facebook.
Steve: You got it, boy if we look at some of the stats it's actually alarming. But I'm in fairness to those stats guys like Andy and myself we may have that app on from time to time during the day. But it's actual business we're getting things done, we're developing and fostering those relationships. I myself have had I don't know a half a dozen or more instant message chat today on Facebook. Where somebody asks you a question or needs some resource and we're able to make those connections very quickly using these technology tools. So I'm a big fan as well. So thank you for that. Now that we've talked about a little bit about the background, we're gonna come back talk about the future and some of the things that Andy's doing day to day in his current life as well. We're gonna do that right after this break.
Empowery, the name says it all. Connecting E-commerce entrepreneurs with great people, ideas, systems and the services needed to sustain business dynamic into growth. Empowery is a network; a cooperative venture of tools and resources to make you better at what you do. Because we love what you do. We are you. Visit Empowery.com to learn more. You're listening to the Awesomers podcast.
Steve: Okay here we are, we're back again. Steve Simonson on the Awesomers.com podcast joined by Andy Slamans, still good?
Andy: Yep. whoo…
Steve: All right. Slam dunk, I remember now. I got the visual cue. So before we jump into the crystal ball and get your vision of the future tell us a little bit more about the agency that you and Lee Ron are working on and some of the things that you guys offer to various Amazon sellers. I assume it's most applicable to Amazon sellers but it may apply to other E-commerce people as well. I don't know.
45:50 (Andy talks about his agency.)
Andy: Yes it definitely more... it's more on Amazon. So one of the first services we started was a image service. When you put products on Amazon to create some great images. And again it was born out of our own pain points. You want to create lifestyle images with your products and so you can have professional photography done. Generally you're gonna pay about seven hundred to a thousand dollars for those photographers. They'll have models lifestyle shots and that's a great way to go. But we saw that there was a big niche for folks that didn't necessarily want to pay that much but still wanted lifestyle images for their photos. So we were able to connect with some graphic artists. Were able just to take photos that people take with their iPhone. It's so like it is amazing what the work that they can do. So I actually just take pictures of my products with my iPhone send it to the graphic artist and they're able to Photoshop in some amazing lifestyle images as well as callouts. And they're just really able to make those images stand out for a bottom price of one hundred and twenty nine dollars. So it's really a great service and it's probably one of our most popular ones that we do.
Steve: Yes, so I definitely want to remind folks especially if you have not sold online or on Amazon specifically. The images are really one of the most defining parts of your conversion metrics. If you don't have a good image, you're not going to grab their initial attention to get the to dive in and read more about it. Particularly when you have the images with the supporting marketing content you can't have that on your main image in Amazon at this moment. But on your subsequent images you can have the little callouts. Here's what this is made of and it's now got this new protection or whatever the case is those can be highly effective if you have a systemic solution for folks. I think it's a good thing that they know about it. It's gonna... just go ahead carry on.
Andy: Oh yes. So we do that and then we do listing creation - again it's a time thing folks won't want us to create their entire listing. We can do that, we can do the enhance brand content if you have brand registry 2.0. We'll do that as well and then we do we have a PPC management service. If someone doesn't want to manage their own PPC we can do that for them. And then we have an Amazon account management server. So basically Steve the Amazon a lot of times we'll owe you money maybe they've lost your products, shuffling it from warehouse to warehouse and unless you know how to go in and open up those cases to get that money back. It just it takes time to do it. So we have a service that does that as well.
Steve: That is such an important thing for those who have been selling on Amazon for a great deal of time but not keeping track of their case management. And there's all kinds of different cases from the lost product to the customers who didn't return things. Its substantial amounts of money and I know there's this urban legend running around that oh gosh if you file back on Amazon for the mistakes they made they're going to cut you off at some point. But I can say unequivocally I don't feel that way and Amazon doesn't act that way. They do the right thing. They have Terms of Service. They works two ways if they lose something or damaged something they're fine to pay you for it. They're not going to come after you. I did have a case where there one time where they lost twenty-two pallets of mine and it was frustrating. And we were on that case. We were on the on the ball because we were looking for this stuff. Actually we were trying to ship some of that stuff to some big-box stuff that we ran short on. And so we had them pack up these 22 pallets of material and we got a tracking number everything. But as as the case often is the shipper never scanned that tracking number in it. This was a like a half a truckload of stuff and so we would contact Amazon after the week or whatever. We’re like hey where's our stuff, like oh you know it's probably just in transit. Who knows that sometimes they don't scan stuff all the time. So another week or two goes by we're like hey where's our stuff okay this goes on for about 12 weeks. And tell it's like okay well good news Amazon we've done the math here's the retail value of that product minus the Amazon fees. You owe us whatever was $160,000 or whatever is an expensive consumer product. And now magically then, by the way the 22 pallet showed up. At that point they found these pallets essentially just sitting near some dock door that never got loaded on. And we're just sitting around but the investigators over the hundred sixty grand finally did figure it out. But to just share my experience for those who are not keeping track of that stuff, the smallest little things customers not returning stuff around I don't know 15 to 20 percent of those are not properly refunded by Amazon. That's Amazon's own guess by the way they think they're about 80 to 85 percent accurate. And so that means 15 percent of the time potentially maybe 20 percent you’re not getting refunded when the customer gets the money back but fails to return the product. And that can be a lot of money on mid-sized to larger accounts especially. But it's meaningful on any size accounts.
Andy: Yes absolutely. Absolutely.
Steve: Well if you have any fun winds or examples you can share with this of something you guys have been able to help facilitate in that front.
Andy: Oh yes. So you know we have a number of sellers that do decent amount of volume. And when they first sign onto the service will begin to open up cases. They're all manually done, you cannot use a software to open up cases on Amazon, that's against Amazon's Terms of Service. So we actually have folks that go in and manually open it up but we're talking thousands and thousands of dollars. That these sellers are able to recoup immediately upon signing up to the service. So you definitely have to keep track of it.
Steve: It's such an important thing. This general concept of management or auditing however you want to think of it is something that I really encourage entrepreneurs to think about. If you do a significant volume of Next Day Air shipping for example and you're not doing audits on those shipments. You'll find again somewhere between twelve and eighteen percent of the shipments are showing up late. And if you paid guaranteed next day and sometimes the contracts by the way FedEx and UPS will try to trick you into not being able to get your rights. But if you have the right kind of contract you can get all that money back. And we often would use agencies or facilitators to help us recover that because we have our own stuff to deal with. And so a specialist like you guys I think could be helpful. Is there any other signature type of service that you guys offer that you want to talk about?
Andy: Those are the three big ones. The image service, listing service, PPC management and then Amazon account management. So four, those are the four main ones.
Steve: There you go, good. Get out your crystal ball and recently mine went into the shop so I can't really help you here but I'm curious, what you think the Amazon Marketplace or perhaps E-commerce at large will look like in five years?
Andy: Yes, I mean I think it's just beginning. I think it is the rocket ship is just taken off and I'm sure you've had other guests on have probably said this as well. I believe E-commerce still is around 10 percent overall when it comes to retail sales. And I think it's growing more and more everyday. And so if you're not in E-commerce yet and if you have an interest in it and now is a great time to learn about it. To dive in. It's just going to continue to grow and not only here in the US but a worldwide. So I think the growth worldwide is actually greater than what it is in the U.S. When we were just at the Amazon boost conference I believe they said worldwide growth was 20 to 30 percent year-over-year. Which is incredible. And so logistics kind of rule the rule today and getting an E-commerce now you're really getting in just as the rocket ships taking off.
Steve: Yes I think that's a really important point. So many people as a matter of fact I was sharing recently that and maybe this is a bad news for you so buckle up. It's not gonna be great news but I was reading on some Facebook forum posts where they declared that private label selling was dead. That you should just abandon Amazon and get off the ship before it's too late and of course I chuckled and asked them to go into the reasons why they felt selling on Amazon or private label selling was dead. And they gave all the regular reasons. It's too many Chinese sellers, it's too hard as you can't get reviews. All the little things that are just obstacles that need to be overcome. I'm curious what your reaction is to that startling news and perhaps bad news for you that private label selling is over.
Andy: Yes you know what's the phrase “buy low, sell high” right? It's probably been going on since the day of cavemen and that will always happen. And it's always going to be here. What we need to do is we need to create great products that are quality. That meet the needs of customers. And so if you're relentless in that process Amazon is just an amazing opportunity for you to be able to place your product in front of millions of people almost immediately. As you create that listing and so there are really hundreds I would say thousands of niches on Amazon right now. That if you dug into them you would see high demand and a lot of times low quality product. And you can tell it's low-quality by the average rating of the reviews. And so if you are diligent and you go in and you make your product better and it's work. I mean you know that right Steve. It's hard work but if you're willing to put that kind of work in and you make a great product, your product can really take off on Amazon.
Steve: This is a fundamental thing we definitely agree on. Number one it is work everybody. If it was easy anybody could do it and this is not that this is not a scratch lotto ticket. This is not you know buy the cryptocurrency du jour and have your money quintuple overnight. This is a business. This is building a brand and doing it in a thoughtful way. And I really appreciate Andy pointing out that you have to actually deliver value right. He said it more than one time. If you don't deliver value what good are you. Honestly think about from the consumer perspective how many of us go out and say I want to reward this nice guy over the corner who sells a crappy TV. No you try to find the best TV you can find. You want to find what meet your requirements. We don't have any emotion tied up in it. As consumers we want what's best for us and if we put ourselves in the position and maybe the shoes of the consumer, we're gonna be better off because of it. Because those consumers when they win with our product our brand wins in the long run. So let me ask you this in the big picture what do you think you're gonna do with these brands as you build them? What's your future plans for your brands?
Andy: Yes so I'm working on one right now. I'm super excited about I'm actually heading to China the Canton Fair in October. So I'll be meeting with manufacturers there and and my partner is my nephew's name is Nathan Slamans. We're working on a brand that our goal is that we're gonna have it at 20 million dollars a year within three years. And then within five to six years we hope to have it at fifty million. Now some folks listen and there might be like man that's a pipe dream but we kind of have the roadmap set out. And we know that demand for the product and the niche is there. And right now the products that customers are buying are poor quality and again that's why I love Amazon buyers. I love the negative reviews because it really does show you exactly what you need to do to make your product better. And so yes that's my long-term plan. We hope that we hit twenty million and three and then we're at 50 million within five to six years.
Steve: I love it I think having a big hairy audacious goal or a bee hag is the book good to great talks about is a very important thing. Myself I've been fortunate enough we've down a zero to 50 million plus deal a number of times it's quite doable. People just don't realize that this is one of the points of the Awesomers podcast is. If your paradigm and your lens is always like maybe I can get to a million dollars a year then that's the scope of your learning. And that's the scope of your imagination and I do remember when we first started out, we wondered can we do a million dollars in a year. That seemed like the be hag, that seemed like wow what a moonshot that would be. Then we got to a million dollars in a year we're like wow that is cool. And then we just thought to ourselves I wonder could we ever get to a million in a month what would that look like? And the first time we hit a million a month we were just like whoa that is extraordinary. And as we would grow then we said it's impossible can a guy do a million in the day. And and we gave it a go right. And well you know we've had some good fortune along the way as well but without breaking the paradigm and without kind of eliminating those barriers often self-imposed. We know where the opportunities are. And so I really do salute you guys for setting big big fat hairy goals.
Andy: Yes. Yes. Yes. We're looking forward to. We're having a fun time and we think it's absolutely doable.
Steve: It is absolutely doable in so many ways. I assure you that. Andy any final words of wisdom you may have for Awesomers out there listening.
1:00:11 (Andy’s final words of wisdom.)
Andy: My really where I've been living the past probably a year is in logistics. So if you are a physical product seller I think logistics become a more and more important. That just as you shared earlier you really need to keep track of your numbers from accounting perspective. I think in order to win in the physical product business in the next five or ten years, you really need to have a streamlined logistic supply chain. And so what that looks like, I've heard before Dick's Sporting Goods is like one of the best stores when it comes to their supply chain. So in my area all the sporting goods stores have closed. Modell's champs all the major ones you know the only store that's still open that's Dick's. And I've heard it's because they have this sweet supply chain where they've really dialed it in. And they only carry like three to five weeks of inventory. And so I think that as you grow your physical product business you really have to dial in your supply chain and have that baby a streamlined and humming as possible. And that's really I think how you win the next five to ten years.
Steve: Boy spoken like a great general. It really is true. Many great generals have said logistics win the war and fundamentally that is the truth in business as well. And it's actually getting more complex as we talk about cross-border trade right. we talked about the opportunities are globally. We talk about the complexity of China and tariffs and this and that we can also talk about the just the simple fact of cash flow. How am I going to pay for all this stuff right. That's floating around and when am I going to pay for it as well. So all of these things are vitally important and I hope the Awesomers out there listen are paying attention to Andy's words. Andy we'll get all the little links and everything for your agency and your training and podcast and anything else we can get. And we'll throw those in the show notes because we want to be sure people know how to get to you. But I want to give you a big shout out and thank you very much for joining us today on Awesomers.com.
Andy: Thanks for having me honest even really appreciate it.
Steve: Certainly my pleasure. Awesomers listening, we'll be right back after this.
Catalyst88 was developed to help entrepreneurs achieve their short and long term goals in E-commerce markets by utilizing the power of shared entrepreneurial wisdom. Entrepreneurship is nothing if not lessons to be learned; learn from others, learn from us. I guarantee that we will learn from you. Visit catalyst88.com because your success is our success. Hey Gideon. You're listening to the Awesomers podcast.
Steve: What an amazing journey, I mean Andy wasn't quite a great guy and such an interesting background and once again this is another reason why I like to share these possible origin stories. A lot of these conversations that I have with people are the same types of conversations that I would have if we were to networking event, a mastermind event, you know some kind of conference and we're just at the bar or the restaurant. And we're just talking amongst ourselves. These same conversations are the types of things we were talked about. And it gives you a chance as the listener. The most valuable part of this program to kind of get an inside peek behind the curtains. All of us who are out there networking and masterminding and so forth. It takes a lot of time and lots of money and you as a podcast listener get to kind of shortcut that, I call it a shortcut because you get to put the podcast on whatever you want you can list it as long as you want or short as you need. And all of this is in your control. So I'm really I'm a huge fan of not just Andy and the way he’s origin story lay down and what an awesome or journey he's on. But also the fact that you are in control of this experience and I'm just excited that you guys get a chance to hear such amazing stories. And it's really really a rewarding concept to see and hear the reviews that are left on on Apple and some of these other review platforms. So thank you for those by the way. Now this has been Awesomers.com episode number 45 and as I said the secret is out. Just go to Awesomers.com/45 to find all the show notes and relevant details and summaries and so forth that are relevant to this specific episode.
Well we've done it again everybody. We have another episode of the Awesomers podcast ready for the world. Thank you for joining us and we hope that you've enjoyed our program today. Now is a good time to take a moment to subscribe, like and share this podcast. Heck you can even leave a review if you wanted. Awesomers around you will appreciate your help. It's only with your participation and sharing that we'll be able to achieve our goals. Our success is literally in your hands. Thank you again for joining us. We are at your service. Find out more about me, Steve Simonson, our guest, team and all the other Awesomers involved at Awesomers.com. Thank you again.