Inside my Inbox – 6 Recent Questions I have been asked about selling online

August 15th, 2014

Hope everyone’s sales are doing well so far this month!  I have noticed a few themes in some of the questions that I have been getting asked via email, and in today’s post I wanted to share the answers to 6 questions that I have been seeing consistently as I am guessing others have these questions as well.  So, let’s get started.

How do you keep track of your numbers?

This is probably the question that I am asked most frequently, especially with the sharing of my financial results.  I am using a mix of a program called InventoryLab and Microsoft Excel to keep track of everything.  When I list my items for sale I am using InventoryLab, and I enter in the buy cost of every item that I am selling.  As items sell InventoryLab will obtain the information about the selling price, fees, etc, and show you the profit/loss on each individual item.   This is where I get my income statement from.  I am also able to download a full report of my inventory that contains the buy cost information to determine the total cost of all of the items that I have in stock.

As I spend money on a monthly basis, I keep track of it in Excel.  Basically I just note the date, store, amount, and what I bought, and then at the end of the month I total this information up.  I will also add up the total deposits from amazon for the month, and subtract my total cash spent, and this gives me my cash flow statement.

I find that using this combination works quite well for keeping everything in order.  If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, you could use Google docs or a similar spreadsheet program to track your spending.  If you haven’t tried InventoryLab and are interested in trying it, you can sign up for a 30 day free trial HERE.

How many hours per week do you spend sourcing?

Most weeks I average around 20 hours per week sourcing.  This varies quite a bit as some weeks I will spend 40+ hours sourcing, and other weeks I will barely do 5 hours of sourcing.  It depends a good amount on how much sourcing I have done recently, and what else I have going on at the time.  Later this month, I should have a “week in the life” post ready to go.  Summer has been quite inconsistent for me in terms of which hours and days I am working, but I should be able to have a “normal” week before the end of the month that I can share on the blog.  Along these lines, it’s one of the biggest perks of being self-employed to be able to set your schedule and have freedom to switch things up as needed.

Do I do private labeling or wholesale? And if not, do I plan to?

Private labeling for those who don’t know is basically purchasing a product from a manufacturer that is unbranded and putting your own brand on the product.  An example of this would be if a manufacturer sells generic pizza cutters, you can order them from the manufacturer and have them stamp the handle of the pizza cutter with your brand name.  Essentially it’s a generic product that you are able to brand as your own.

I have not done any private labeling up to this point.  It is something that I plan to explore further down the road, as I would like to eventually build my own brand as opposed to selling only other people’s products.

As far as wholesale, I have placed a couple of wholesale orders.  So far, it has not become a very significant source of inventory for me, but I do plan to add more wholesale into the mix soon.  Finding consistent suppliers of products is a main focus of mine, and I believe is an important step to creating a sustainable business.  One caveat to wholesale sourcing, is that the margins are often quite a bit lower than retail arbitrage, but that comes with the territory of constantly having the same item available to source consistently.

How does someone create a consistent income from selling online?

The short answer is that you create a consistent income by consistently sourcing products that are profitable.  As these items sell you will get your money back, and can take profits out of the business if you so choose.

Let’s say you want to make $1,000 a month selling online.  In order to do this let’s say you have $2,500 in cash to start with and you will only be buying items that provide a 100% return on your investment.  We’ll say that you invest the full $2,500 in inventory in your first month.  At the end of your second month you sold half of the products you initially bought. So during the month you brought in $2,500 in cash, and you still have $1,250 in inventory left from your initial sourcing.  In total you have $3,750 in assets when you started with $2,500.  Now, what you would likely want to do is reinvent the inflow of $2,500 in cash that you received into more inventory that you can get a 100% return on.  If you continue this trend, you will fairly quickly have turned your initial $2,500 into a significant amount of inventory that will continue to sell, and you should find the level of inventory that you need to have on hand to maintain taking $1,000 out of the business per month in profits on a monthly basis.  Then, by consistently continuing to source enough products to maintain your inventory levels with the cash from the business, you will be able to create a sustainable $1,000 per month in income.  These are arbitrary numbers used for example purposes, and you could change any of them to fit your situation.

For me personally, I am trying to continue to grow, so I am not currently pulling much out of the business and am reinvesting as much as possible.

What other tips do I have about the grocery category?

After I wrote this post, I was asked for more tips about the grocery category.  Here’s what I have put together from several people that had inquired:

The first thing I would say is to look up as many items as you possibly can to find potential items to resell.  When I first started out I would walk down random aisles in the grocery store and look up any item that caught my eye to see if there was resale opportunity on amazon.  This has led me to purchase quite a few products to resell.  When you do find a product that is good for resale, take a look at similar products of that brand, or different brands of that same products.

Another main thing I would say is to think about what is selling seasonally, and also what is on clearance at stores based on the season.  For example after most holidays stores will have a clearance sale for items that were for that holiday.  After Halloween for example I purchased a lot of candy, including candy corn, at 75% off retail prices, and sold it on amazon often for about twice the retail price.  I sold candy corn into December, so people really are buying these items when they are out of season.

My main advice would be to look up as many items as possible, and to “test” out as many as possible when the profits are within an acceptable range.  This is how I have learned the most.

As far as FBA versus MF, I would try to FBA them right away.  My experience has shown that buyers are often willing to pay more for an item when it is sold via FBA, and it also saves you a ton of time not having to ship individual orders.

Also, here is a profit calculator that should help show you the fees, and show you what your profits would be.  You just start by entering any product and then following the steps: https://sellercentral.amazon.com/gp/fba/revenue-calculator/index.html/ref=ag_xx_cont_xx?ie=UTF8&lang=en_US

What tools do I need just starting out?

You really don’t need to invest a ton in equipment just to get started.  If you are planning on sourcing inventory in retail/thrift store I would download the Amazon Seller App for your phone.  It’s a completely free app for selling on amazon, and will provide you with the information you need to get started.  This combined with the actual amazon website should provide you with the information you need about what the current competitive landscape is like for the item you are selling.

As far as things you may actually want to purchase: a usb scanner and a shipping scale are nice to get started, but they are not essential to get your feet wet.  I have compiled a complete list of the supplies I am using (and listed them in order of which I would buy them) on a brand new page here on my blog: ose.wpengine.com/resources

That’s all I have for today, if you have other questions for me, let me know in the comments and I can try to answer them there, or I also may dedicate a future blog post to questions as well.

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29 responses to “Inside my Inbox – 6 Recent Questions I have been asked about selling online”

  1. Amanda says:

    Great info Ryan! Thank you for sharing your tips! Very eager to read your upcoming “week in the life of” post!

  2. Will says:

    Fantastic post as always. It’s been crazy to see how fast your business has grown since we first spoke haha.

    A couple of questions that I’ve had for awhile are:
    1) Do you put any effort into getting customer feedback? Or is it more of a waiting game until they respond back?

    2) Does the USB scanner work with Inventorylab?

    3) How far are you driving out to source retail? And on average what are you spending per store?

    Thanks Ryan!

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Hey Will,

      There has been some quick acceleration going on, haha. As for your questions:
      1. I only do if I receive a negative or neutral feedback. If it’s one of these then I will work to resolve the issue and get it removed, but if not I will just let things run their course.

      2. Yes it does.

      3. Unless I am taking a specific sourcing trip, I don’t normally go more than about an hour away. Spending per store varies quite a bit, but I would say average is in the $300-$400 range. This factors in stores where I buy close to nothing, and stores where I spend well over $1,000. This would be interesting to track, so I will consider doing some updates to the per store numbers in the future.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

      • Will says:

        Hey Ryan,

        Thanks a bunch for your answers!

        Now I gotta a couple more follow up questions haha.

        1) What kind of stores are you spending >$1000 at? Are these big box, eg Target, Walmart, etc. or smaller specialized local stores?

        2) Are you accepting lower margins for your purchases? I ask cause I rarely find stores that I can spend >$200 on, if I use the profit must be greater than 2X purchase price.

        3) Say you visit 5 stores, would you on average, find a lot of things to sell from each? Or would it be 4 misses, 1 major hit?

        Thanks as always,

        Will

        • Ryan Grant says:

          Hey Will,

          No problem! If you come back with 3 more to this response, no guarantee they’ll get answered right away haha.

          1. I have at both smaller and larger. More often it’s at big box stores such as the ones you specifically mentioned.

          2. Yes I am. I will go as low as about 30% ROI if it is something I am very confident will sell quickly. I am also going down to about 50% ROI fairly regularly, on higher dollar items. If I can spend $100 to profit $50, I will very likely do this, as I am able to make $50 in one shot as opposed to having several smaller transactions.

          3. I think you are on par with 4 misses and a major hit. I don’t have an exact ratio, but it’s generally a few stores where I buy a few items, and then there’s one that’s really got a bunch of good stuff I can buy. I am going to look into keeping some stats on my shopping trips for some future blog content, I think it would be interesting to do some analysis and get some store by store details.

          Hope these answers help!

          Best Regards,
          Ryan

          • Will says:

            Thanks Ryan!

            Ok, so now that you’ve answered those questions, I just have a few more…

            Just kidding haha. Until next time. I look forward to more of your writing.

          • Ryan Grant says:

            Haha, you are welcome Will!

  3. Cheryl says:

    Ryan,

    Thanks for all the great information! It is greatly appreciated.

    Cheryl

  4. Mark says:

    Good stuff Ryan!

    I have been following your blog for a couple of months now and have learned quite a bit along the way. I’ve been selling online now for only a couple of months but one of the things I’m challenged with is trying to avoid competing with Amazon. I’ll always check when scanning but inevitably Amazon joins in and we’re left competing. I am interested in your experience and if you have any general tips to minimize this risk.

    Thanks Ryan!

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Hi Mark,

      I am thinking I will discuss this topic in a future blog post, thanks for the suggestion!

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

  5. Mindi says:

    Hi Ryan

    I’ve been following your blog for a few months, and it’s one of the best I regularly visit! Thanks for all the great info you provide!

    A couple questions I have are when sourcing do you look for the quick moving items with a low sales rank, or slow moving items with a higher profit margin? What percentage of sales rank do you prefer to buy? Top 1%, 5%, 10%? Thanks!

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Thanks Mindi!

      I honestly try to buy a mix of quick sellers and “long tail” items. This balanced inventory approach should help me to have more consistent sales year round. On the longer tail items I am looking for a higher margin as opposed to something that will sell quickly.

      As far as sales rank, I really don’t like using the top % of categories as my parameters. There are several reasons for this, and I think I will outline them in a future blog post (sorry, but you’ll have to stay tuned ;)). I kind of have my own comfort zone with categories, I am not currently sharing it, but if there’s one or 2 categories you want to know about I can let you know what I do.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

  6. Eugene says:

    Hi Ryan,
    I’m just thinking to start FBA. Very glad to find this web site. I started to use Amazon seller app. And to get better idea on particular product I have to put shipping price. But I can’t find any information about shipping rates to Amazon. I know that it also depends on package size but as I understood so far shipping rate is about 1.30/lb in average. Is it correct?

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Hi Eugene,

      I find that shipping for me averages around $0.60 per pound, but this varies widely depending on how far you are shipping items, and how much each box you are shipping weighs.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

  7. Eugene says:

    Got it! Thanks! I don’t know how far back on your blog I have start reading.. )

  8. john iii says:

    i sent my first box of books to fba, then proceeded to send in two more the very next day. i have a feeling im gonna be hooked, and i already can see my ebay listings falling.

    that being said, quick question, i have a ton of new board games i bought off craigslist the other day, when i send them in can i also put some books, dvd’s, blu rays, and some toys or does each shipment have to be category specific?

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Nice work on getting those items sent in! Shipments don’t have to be category specific, so you can mix it up in each box.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

  9. john iii says:

    first box arrived at fba, and less than two hours later was first book sale. im already hooked. i almost feel guilty, as though i am cheating on ebay. my wife thinks i am nuts. ive already spent $500 getting about 75 brand new board games and hundreds of books, new dvd’s, and a handful of other stuff. i cannot wait to send it in.

    anyway, my question, do you sell a lot on ebay still, or has retail arbitrage become the main thing you are involved in? second question, have you ever sold used board games fba?

    • Ryan Grant says:

      haha, nice work! I do not sell much on eBay currently. I have been focusing mainly on FBA, and do include eBay still in my financial results to show the numbers for each. As for your second question, I have sold a few used board games FBA, but not too many.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

  10. DV says:

    Ryan,
    A question… When you buy products, what is the quantity you buy? Do you buy in terms of <5 ea or if you buy you just buy in bulk of 25 each etc….

    Second question- With such a huge inventory of yours, i am sure not everything is from clearance item. You would have bough lot of majority of items on retail price/wholesale and putting it on amazon…can you shed some light on this…

  11. Odessa says:

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the great posts, it has helped me learn so much. I am currently thinking of purchasing a Scan Fob in order to make my sourcing quicker…when you are out using your fob (say, at a book sale), what program or app do you use for price database? In other words, where does the fob scan to? Thank you!

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Hi Odessa,

      Currently I am using my scanfob with Scanpower. I have looked into trying the database services, but thus far have not.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

  12. john iii says:

    i may just be dumb, but i cant seem to find access to the older than december 2013 archives on the side of the site. where can i find them? trying to show them to my brother.

    • Ryan Grant says:

      Hi John,

      Thanks for pointing this out, the settings were not allowing the oldest archives to be shown. I updated some settings, and you should be able to see them all now.

      Best Regards,
      Ryan

      • john iii says:

        yup. as i continue to extoll the benefits of working hard and smart online to my brother, he has asked questions, and, well, you make for an easy success example lol. this is a weird business, because for the first time in my business life (ive had a few businesses, some successful some not so much) i want to share this one with others, rather than just keep quiet and make money myself.

        • Ryan Grant says:

          Glad to hear it, and it definitely appears there is enough opportunity selling online for many more sellers!

          Best Regards,
          Ryan

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