Growing your Ecomm product business in a saturated digital marketplace is no easy task. That’s why Carolyn Lowe is here to help! Carolyn is the CEO and Founder of ROI Swift, a digital marketing team helping emerging consumer brands grow their business. She is also the author of Business Growth Do’s and Absolute Don’ts: Applied Wisdom from My Work with Dell, Costco, Amazon, and Multiple Start-ups. In this episode, she joins Timothy Bush to give expert advice on expanding your profits on and off platforms such as Amazon. Carolyn offers insights on how to manage business plateaus and brand aggregators. Plus, she shares her thoughts on the supply chain issues and her predictions for Amazon’s next move in marketing. Look out for your business by tuning into this interview.
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Taking Your Ecomm Product Business To The Next Level & Beyond With Carolyn Lowe
Welcome to On The Shelf, a program that is dedicated to helping you get your products into a major big-box retailer. I hope you’re having a great day. I hope things are going well for you. Retail is blowing up. Are you guys taking advantage of this? Are you guys getting your products into retail? Never has there been a better time than to be reaching out to retailers.
I posted on our Facebook page. If you hadn’t seen it, Tractor Supply Company opened its 2,000th store. That’s a lot of stores. Also, they have a plan to open 75 more this 2022. That’s a retailer that’s growing. Interestingly enough, in 2021, they had a sales increase of 19.9%, which is phenomenal. Here’s the bigger picture, their same-store sales growth was 16.9%. That’s gigantic. That’s one example of retail you guys should be going after. If you have low-cost house staples, you should be looking to place those in Dollar General. They are opening massive amounts of stores in 2021 and 2022.
Carolyn Lowe, CEO and Founder of ROI Swift, is back for another session in the On The Shelf chair. What a pleasure it was to speak to her again. She and her team are doing some great work, helping entrepreneurs grow their sales massively. We didn’t have much of an agenda. Honestly, we chatted retail, Amazon, business, and it went where it went. It’s always great to have Carolyn on. Carolyn, I much appreciate your time and taking the time out to share with the Big Boxers here.
Carolyn, welcome back to the program.
Thanks for having me, Tim.
How’s it going at ROI Swift? I know that you work with a client of mine, CatTounge Grips. I get to hear a little bit through them but only how your business is helping them grow, which it is. At this point, they have probably tripled their Amazon sales working with your company, which they seem thrilled about. Who wouldn’t be? That’s pretty good. As a company, you had some goals last time we talked. I’m interested in how you guys are approaching your goals. You were telling me that you guys are bringing people on. Tell me how things are going.
Things are going great. We’re based in Texas. We’re headquartered in Austin. Like everyone else, it’s a challenging hiring market. We’re finding that people don’t want to be part of a big machine anymore. The nice thing about us is we’re still less than twenty people. Folks love being able to have an impact and not just another cog in the machine.
We’ve been doing well. We’ve hired a bunch more folks on our Amazon side. We’ve launched Walmart.com services for advertising. We’ve also hired more on our social and our Google teams as well for direct-to-consumer brands. We are excited. A couple of our brands have had exits and a couple of them are along that route. It’s great. How about you?
We’ve had our two best years. 2021 was our best year ever. 2020, before that, was our best year ever. You can’t complain at all. We’re coming up on our thirteenth year in business in 2022. I’m still working from my home. All other people are trying to get accustomed to working from home. That’s all I’ve ever done. My feet look weird at me when I want to put shoes on. We’re here in Florida. T-shirts, shorts, and flip-flops are the average dress. It’s dropped down into the 30s at night. Floridians, we don’t know what to do in the 30s. You might have to put pants on and maybe some close-toed shoes. That’s a problem.
The business has been good. We’ve also been not expanding necessarily in terms of people but in terms of the things that we’re offering. Our VIP group has grown and is doing fantastic. I’m getting back into podcasting because I let that go for a while simply because you’re going to serve a client that is in front of you first before you try to put content out there. If I can’t get to all my clients and I’m doing podcasts, that doesn’t look good. We’re getting our arms around that.
We’ve been super blessed and feel grateful that we’ve been able to continue to offer new and interesting insights and help people in the new and changing environment. People think that retail is over, but retail is crushing it more than they’ve ever had. It’s not the Peloton thing where Peloton is all up in arms. In my opinion, they’re not losing revenue. They’re coming down from that situation where everybody was boxed into their house and they wanted to exercise.
The fact that they didn’t have the foresight enough to know that you’re not going to go like this during the pandemic and then people are going to stay there as things open up. People want to get out for a walk. They want to go outside. I would have thought they would have understood that they may not go back down to the level they were pre-pandemic, but they’re not going to stay up there. That whole fiasco was interesting.There are only two ways to improve your Amazon sales: more traffic to your page or more of the people on your page converting. Click To Tweet
With retail, in general, people still want to go, touch, feel, participate, and look at the companies that are making it easy for customers to do it the way they want. Customers are king right now. Whether I want to sit in the parking lot and have you bring my groceries or I want to pick up my Amazon package at your lockers, no matter what it is, the companies that are embracing that and making it easy are the ones that are forging ahead.
I put out an article on Dollar General. Dollar General opened up another 1,000 stores this 2022, which I anticipated that low-priced retailers that sell key home goods were going to expand. They’re crushing it. Tractor Supply announced that they hit their 2,000th store and they have a plan to open 75 more this 2022. What’s interesting about Tractor Supply is I haven’t seen these numbers in a long time. 99.9% sale increase in 2021. 16.9% of that was same-store sales. That’s unheard of. That’s feeling their growth. Things have been good. I can’t complain. You had a goal. You were going to help 1,000 companies.
By 2030, yes.
Where are we at with the 1,000 companies?
We’re under 200 still. We’ve grown slowly and organically. We want to help more brands. We’ve got our hiring and all of our other processes down. Now we can hit the pedal and help a lot of those. One of the things that I was talking to you about was the fact that a lot of smaller brands come to us. It’s like, “I want to get on Amazon.” Maybe they’re doing $10,000 a month.
They’re not a great fit for us because we are full service. We do everything. We’re also looking for ways to help those brands, whether it’s online courses or things like that. I hate turning away people and leaving it up to them to figure out Amazon on their own. I’m thinking about doing some content for people, whether it’s courses or YouTube channels to help more people.
You’re putting out a course, right?
Yeah. We’re in early talks about putting out a course that folks can self-pace and do on their own. I wrote a book and that was the same thing. All these founders, CEOs, and CMOs would come to me with the same problems and questions. I said, “Let me see if I can help thousands of people instead of one conversation at a time.” That’s been great. It went to number one on Amazon on eCommerce books. That’s been fun. The goal is still there to help 1,000 brands by 2030.
What’s one question that almost everybody that you talk to asks? You said that they all ask similar questions. What’s one question that’s everybody’s going to ask you?
Most people ask, “What can I expect in three months in terms of sales?” Sadly, my crystal ball is broken. I can’t tell you exactly what you’re going to expect. We have some basic benchmarks if you’re at this conversion rate and this many sessions. There are still only two ways to improve your Amazon sales, more traffic to your page or more people on your page converting. Those are the two ways to get more sales.
Those are the only two ways to get more sales in anything that you do, sell more to the people that come in or get more people in. My preference is always to start with selling more to the people that are in. That way, once you’re selling, you can have a higher average sale and then you can drive people there and they’re going to convert better. That’s the only way to grow any business.
Normally, what we’ll say is, “Once we’re done with this and we’ve optimized and improved your conversion, now we got to go work on traffic.” What a lot of people don’t understand is they see people with these $1 million, $2 million, $5 million Amazon businesses, but they have to understand their category.
A lot of times, they’ll say, “How quickly can I get to a $1 million?” “Let me see. You’re at $40,000 a month and the number one seller is at $80,000 a month. I don’t think you’re going to get to a $1 million a month.” A lot of times, people will say, “How big is the opportunity?” Normally, what we see is if you don’t have these outside factors like some huge celebrity or blog post or something outside of the Amazon ecosystem, most brands can grow 10% to 15%. The brands that we’ve grown 50%, 100%, or 200%, it’s usually over a year or two. It’s not an overnight success usually.
The number one question people ask me is, “How fast can I get into retail?” I don’t know. It’s fast as 30 days. It’s long as two years. Somewhere in the middle of there will probably get you into retail. My crystal ball has always been broken. It’s never worked right. As much as I tried to fix it, it’s not been good.
I am interested. I did a podcast by myself. It’s not an interview podcast. I lost at least two clients because their Amazon businesses got bought by aggregators. There are hundreds and thousands of aggregators out there chomping at the bit to buy up all these businesses. Every client I know that has a decent business on Amazon has been contacted multiple times.
The thing that I’m wondering about is it used to be that when you’re on Amazon, you’re competing with other Amazon sellers. An aggregator is not your average Amazon seller because they can average their margin across a huge portfolio of companies rather than worry about the margin they’re getting on this one product line.
When you’re competing with them, in my opinion, it may be unfair competition. In the category that you’re competing with, maybe they only need to work on a 10% margin. Over here, they’re making 60%. Across all their companies, their lines, or their businesses, it averages out to an acceptable margin. Do you think that’s an issue?
In general, it’s an issue in the big guys versus a single brand. They have economies of scale, operations, finance, and HR. They can hire a $250,000 expert who can work on seven brands, whereas you couldn’t afford that as an individual brand. We see this all the time, even with our DTC clients. Target is going up against them on Google Shopping with their products.
Target would rather acquire that customer because they can sell them $20,000 more merchandise over their life versus a single brand that’s maybe selling a baby wipe or something. If you’re going up against Target, they can put that against their whole portfolio. They will spend way more money to acquire a customer than you as a single $8 million brand can afford to spend. We see that a lot not just on Amazon but also on Google and Google Shopping, retailers and brands fighting over the same customer.
What is the best thing somebody could do to compete with that strategy?
It comes down to simple things. Be better. You can’t put lipstick on a pig. Make sure that your product is great and that you’re building your brand off of Amazon, too, so that people will either come to your website or they’ll go to Amazon and they’re brand loyal. Think about your margins. I ask people this all the time. A Natural Cleaning Company came to me and they were losing money on Amazon. Look at where can you afford to spend. If it’s a subscribe-and-save, if it’s a consumable, we would double down and spend about 50% to acquire a customer in certain categories knowing that you will have that customer for life once you got them. There are a couple of different strategies.
The good news is that the brand aggregators don’t own a category and we’re not seeing as much of it for a lot of the brands we work with. We don’t work with resellers. We work with brand owners. We don’t see that much of it impacting them. We work with emerging brands, $3 million to 30 million, and we see them competing with the Reckitt Benckiser and the P&Gs of the world because most of our brands are natural. Build your brand off Amazon and make consumers not want to choose something else.
I’ve been screaming from the rooftops that Amazon is a channel. It’s not your whole business. I don’t know whether you agree with this assessment, but generally, people’s brand is taking off. It’s going up. At some point, it’s going to plateau. They have to make a decision at that time. There are two questions you have to ask yourself, “Do I want to lower my price? Do I want to jump more into marketing and advertising?”
They choose 1 of those 2 things. Hopefully, they don’t choose to lower the price. Let’s say they choose more advertising and that starts going up and then it plateaus again and they can’t afford to make either of those choices, so it starts to go down. That’s where they come to me a lot of times. They want retail to save their business. I’m like, “Retail is not going to save you because it’s a long play.”Make sure that your product is great and that you’re building your brand off of Amazon. Click To Tweet
You can’t get into Target next week. There are only two times a year that buyer is going to talk to you.
I onboarded a client to Walmart in 2021. The onboarding process was six months. You then get your PO, you got to produce it, then you got to get it on the shelf and you got 60 days to get paid. It’s not this quick. It’s not saving you. I said, “The time to diversify and make Amazon a channel is when you’re on a rocket ship.” When you’re on your first upward swing, that’s where you branch out to your website to retail. Do you feel that’s accurate? Do you have a different perspective on that?
I do. It’s the whole putting your eggs in one basket. We’ve had clients that do $8 million or $10 million on Amazon and that’s 90% of their sales. Amazon’s AI runs and shuts down your listing. We’ve had brands come to us who’ve been shut down saying, “Please, save us.” They were doing $1 million a day on Amazon.
Every day is $1 million.
I 100% believe in diversification. Retail is like SEO. It’s a long game. You should be thinking about retail before it’s too late. Plan for a year and say, “I’m going to do this now. I’m going to reinvest my profits and go in now because it’s the same thing.” It doesn’t happen overnight. SEO and retail doesn’t happen overnight. I believe in diversifying too.
A lot of times, people come to you and they’re like, “My company.” You don’t have a company yet. What you have is a product and your product is on Amazon, but that doesn’t a company make.
The other interesting thing is when people start plateauing, I always go to product line extensions. How much more of that wallet, that existing customer, can you own? If they’re buying baby wipes from you, can they buy diapers? If they’re buying toilet bowl cleaner, can they buy dish detergent? What other products can you launch since that customer is already familiar with you? When people plateau, it’s a good time to be looking at product line extensions. A great example of that is DUDE Wipes, they started with wipes and now they’re branching out and they’ve got all kinds of product line extensions.
If you wait until you plateau, a product line extension is not something that happens overnight either.
You got to be thinking about that a year in advance. It’s like Jeff Bezos. When he bought Whole Foods a few years ago, he was not buying Whole Foods. He was buying Whole Foods because he knew that their model didn’t work for groceries in the future. He was like, “I don’t want to buy all this infrastructure.” These are my thoughts. If I was him, this is what I would do too.
It wasn’t over dinner that he told you this?
No. Not sure where he is. It’s the same thing. You got to be making decisions today for a year from now. You’ve got to be calling Tim Bush today if you want to get into retail by 2023.
We’re saying the same thing. When people are on the rocket ride, they want to ride the rocket. Everybody’s going to plateau. If you’re on this rocket ride and you don’t do anything but keep the one product at the one price, it’s going to plateau.
You’re going to run out of market share.
It’s inevitable. Nobody doesn’t escape that. When you’re holding on to the rocket, you got to get somebody else on the rocket so that you can get above your business and start making some decisions about, “What am I going to do when it plateaus? What am I going to do when this happens?” A lot of people, when they’re on that rocket ride, don’t want to think about what’s going to happen when it plateaus. They’re excited about the rocket ride.
I took on a client from the UK, they’re doing $13 million, $14 million on Amazon and it’s not slowing down at all. They have a new version of their product line in late 2022. Even though it’s still vertical and they’re going to do a line coming out, they’re like, “We got to start looking outside Amazon.” Every Amazon seller goes to bed at night and the last thing that goes through their mind is, “I hope nothing’s happened to my listing by the time I get up in the morning.” That’s a common fear because I’ve had clients call me in the morning and say, “My listing got shut down.”
Not everybody’s doing $1 million a day. It doesn’t take a lot of days before your business is in trouble to be shut down. Your background on the podcast is on the market. What did you want to talk about? I’m setting the agenda. We didn’t talk about it. We’re having a conversation. I want to make sure that if there was something that you specifically wanted to talk about, we make sure we get that in there.
There are a couple of things. You already brought up that there’s a lot of money out there for brands. The P and VC community is scooping up brands. I can’t tell you how many of our brands have been approached by either of those two. There’s a lot of money out there and a lot of funds being raised. People need to put their money somewhere. They need to be buying things. I’m part of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization, EO, the global network for CEOs and founders of businesses over $1 million. I was shocked. Every week, it’s like, “I got another offer. I’m in talks. My company got acquired.” There’s a lot of money out there. That’s one interesting thing that’s going on.
The other interesting thing is our friends over at Amazon are launching podcasts. The interesting thing for Amazon is that it started with books, made money off selling fees for books, and then moved into a larger marketplace. They were making that 8% to 15% to 17% referral fees. They then saw the advertising.
I ran into the same thing when I was at Dell. We were a $60 billion company when I was there. You can’t do little things to move the needle. You got to do big things to move the needle. The big thing for Amazon is they saw how much Google and Facebook were making on ad dollars. Pretty soon, Amazon advertising fees are going to outpace their referral fees, their commissions for listing on the marketplace.
The next thing that is interesting is podcasts. When you hear an ad on The Joe Rogan Podcast, everybody hears the same ad. Amazon getting into the podcast business know every single thing about you. What’s interesting that’s coming is more one-to-one advertising where I see a different ad that you see. Amazon has the most and the best first-party data. Now they know what you buy for groceries.
When you say podcasting, are they getting into podcast hosting? What do you mean when you say they’re getting into podcasting? I’m not sure I understand.
I’m not sure if they were launching or buying podcasts. Netflix has content and Amazon Prime has content. The next place is podcasts. I’ve been hearing a lot about them looking into podcasts. I’m not sure if they were buying podcast companies or they were developing their content. It would be an Amazon podcast. Like you would have Spotify, in the future, they’re going to have their own content as well as other podcasts.
There are certain things that are irrelevant to me in terms of advertising. I’ve never liked mass advertising, TV, and radio. Everybody gets the same ad. Amazon knows so much about you that they’re going to crack the code on figuring out how to serve up individualized ads during podcasts, which will be a huge coup for brands because that would be the only place you could get personalized ads. If I know that you buy North Face coats and you’re a skier, you will get served up a skiing ad, versus if you’re a golfer, you get served up a golfer ad.
All you have to do is talk about something in the shot of your phone now and it’ll show up in your Facebook feed. I see it happen again and again. It’s not just you. I was talking to my daughter about some not permanent ink tattoos. This was a couple of years ago. I got an ad for that on my Facebook feed later that day. I have never had an ad before on that. It’s personalized. If you look at a wallet on Facebook, heaven forbid, you look at a flipping wallet because you’re going to get 900 wallet advertisements. For me, it’s cool because I like to look at wallets. I don’t mind it so much.When people plateau, it’s a good time to be looking at product line extensions. Click To Tweet
The whole retargeting thing. If the advertisement doesn’t click with you, you fast-forward through it if you’re listening to a podcast, if you can fast forward or you tune out. If it’s targeted towards you, that would be huge. That’s the next frontier of podcasting. Everybody has a podcast. That’s interesting. How do you guys fit into that or do you?
It’s free for people now to do social media posts on Amazon. Brands can do their own social media posts. We’ve seen some success with that. I’m sure they will monetize that soon. Where do we fit in? Anywhere where the customer has a chance to interact with advertising. We do Facebook advertising, Google, Snapchat, TikTok, and all those things. There are going to be more and more emerging channels.
The marketplace will never be an insignificant piece. The advertising piece will largely overtake it. The one bad thing about the Amazon Display Network is that they’re buying up inventory from other people. You’re paying a premium for Amazon to retarget you on Google. They’re looking for what can we own? What can we not be dependent on those third parties? With the whole iOS 14 and 15, anybody who is using those third-party cookies or pixels is flying blind a little bit.
We’ve lost a lot of data and insight into that. Amazon is one of the few that still has all of your purchase data. Amazon now has your grocery data when you scan your Prime code and Whole Foods. That is going to be invaluable. They’re the ones with the most information about the customer. Facebook no longer has purchase data.
In the good old days, I worked with a natural deodorant brand and I could target people who liked Whole Foods and had bought deodorant. I was like, “If you like Whole Foods and you bought a deodorant, it’s a pretty good idea that you might be open to this type of natural deal.” Purchase data is gone. A lot of that third-party data is gone as a result of a lot of privacy stuff. Amazon is the biggest aggregator of first-party data.
Does it blow your mind that the average consumer still thinks that you scan your code at Whole Foods because you get discounts? I still get blown away that people still think that the only reason that they scan their code is to get $0.70 off of your $300 purchase, “Yes, I killed it.” They still don’t know that somebody is simply collecting their data and they paid you $0.70 to figure out what it is you shopped. That’s all collecting in this gigantic data sphere. At some point, they will use it to get you to spend more money. I’m constantly blown away that people don’t get that. If you ask ten people why you can scan your code at Whole Foods, probably 9 out of 10 are going to tell you, “It’s so I can get my Prime discount. I pay for Prime, so I need to get my Prime discount.” I’m blown away by that.
When you were talking about plateauing, Amazon is plateauing as a marketplace. There are only so many more products that consumers can buy. It’s like, “Where else can I make money?” Usually, they were making money off of everybody that was selling on Amazon from a referral fee. I remember a couple of years ago when they surpassed Microsoft ads in terms of advertising revenue. I knew exactly where they were going and I was like, “This is a huge revenue stream.” If you look at the market cap of Google and Facebook, they’re advertising companies.
I’m interested to see if you guys do anything in this space. I’ve been pushing all my clients back into their own websites for two reasons, and one is data. You have to start building your own list and getting your own customers. I have a client that does $21 million a year or something like that. They have never been on Amazon. It’s all out of their own website.
They add about 300 to 500 names a day into their data, whether it’s texting or email. I’m like, “That is going to be worse.” The company I was telling you about is in the UK. When they launch a new product, they launch it to their list first, which pays almost for the entire launch. Their list is big and it’s a loyal list. Do you guys do any work with people on how to drive business to their own website?
Yes. We stay on the paid side. We don’t do anything on the organic side. The other thing is you can’t just do one channel. We’ve seen great success with clients also have internal folks doing social content and reaching out to influencers, bloggers, and media. It’s a full strategy. We do the paid side. There was a company that was two guys in a WeWork and now they’re going to be $2 billion by 2025. Several years ago, they were two guys and they had zero revenue. We did that all through Facebook and Google advertising, most largely through Facebook.
I agree with you on that. We’re seeing multiples for acquisitions for people who have their own website and lists, 3x to 4x are Amazon-only brands. Some of our Amazon-only brands might get 2 times revenue or 10 times EBITDA. We’re seeing much bigger multiples for those that have their own DTC list and have those their own.
We also see a lot of consolidation in like-brands. We saw an outdoor brand buy another outdoor brand. They’re adding on outdoor brands because they know, “Now you can buy your kayak, your outdoor grill, your camping equipment, all this from one brand.” We see a lot of that, too, where you can get those great economies of scale. You might be a $5 million camping business and then you add a $3 million kayak business. You don’t have to go build it. You can go buy it.
To avoid some of those plateaus, you expand your product line. One of the fastest ways to do that is to acquire another brand. You don’t have to do any R&D product development. You acquire them and then all of a sudden, you expand out. Not every Amazon seller can go out and acquire brands. As you become bigger, that is a way that you can expand your product offering quickly.
Money is cheap, at least for a few more months. Loans are cheap. Interest rates are still a little bit cheap. Now’s the time to get money when you don’t need it.
We are talking about foresight. Running a company, you’re either in the weeds of the company or you should be spending part of your time on the company. I have a client in Canada that sold 127 containers to Costco in 2021. We have 101-book for 2022. The people in my VIP group are like, “How do you build 127 containers?” I said, “They went to their bank.”
I said, “They already had a line of credit, they showed them the Costco POS, and their bank extended their line of credit to take in the entire purchase. That didn’t happen overnight. They’ve been building that relationship with the bank since day one.” A Costco PO is pretty solid. It wasn’t like they had never come to the bank before they had a good credit line.
I keep telling my clients, “Build your credit line.” Even if you have to start and you go to your bank and it’s a $20,000 credit line, use it and pay it off. That way, when you come in with that PO that’s for $250,000, they’re like, “No problem. We’ll up it for that timeframe to allow you to build it.” You can’t go and take that money and go buy a house. You got to pay off your credit line. At some point, when the 127 containers come in, you can go to your bank and they’re like, “Absolutely. No problem. We’ll take care of that.” It’s from up here looking out there rather than down here looking right in front of you. It makes a big difference.
My dad was a banker. I remember he was all about your FICO score. He’s like, “You can’t ruin your credit.” I’m maniacal. My FICO score is in the top 4%. I was the same way. We bought some land in Colorado. I could go out tomorrow and get a loan for $750,000 to build that house. I’m not going to do that now because lumber prices are way too expensive. Let’s talk about the supply chain for a minute if you got a minute.
I have plenty of minutes to talk about the supply chain because supply chain and transportation are crushing some of my clients too.
How are they dealing with it?
It’s like being in a car driving 100 miles an hour and you’re not the one driving. Even Costco, our containers are behind. Therefore, we missed the big promotion that we’re going to do because we didn’t have enough stock in the warehouses. I said, “Our factory is freaking out because their entire factory is filled with your product. They take it down to the port and they wait down there for 3 or 4 days. We’re not getting any SOs. We’re not getting any container assignments.”
Even Costco can’t tell you what to do about it. Costco works with UPS. Costco buys from this company, XWORK. Once the container gets down to the port, it’s not even our job to fix it. We’ve been doing everything that we can. We just can’t get the container assignments. We can’t get booked. Those containers, even though it’s not our job to book them on a vessel, it’s UPS’ job.
Costco, a huge company, works with UPS, another huge company. The two of them can’t get it done either. That’s what it’s like to be in a car going 100 miles an hour and you’re not driving. When Costco throws up their arms and says, “It’s first come, first serve. We can’t do anything about it.” It’s worldwide. We sell Costco in five different countries. For sure, at least Canada and the US are experiencing the same things.
It’s frustrating because what will happen is if Costco orders 60 containers, that order is predicated on participating in a certain promotion. That certain promotion is going to drive a huge amount of the quantity that they ordered. Now that all the product is here, we missed a promotion. What they want to do is something called a temporary product discount, which is great. You do get a lift-off of that.You’ve got to be making decisions today for a year from now. Click To Tweet
You’re not in a coupon book.
We’re going to be the connection. I keep telling the buyer, “The connection goes out.” People that may not have thought about that product see the connection are like, “I’m going to Costco to buy that.” The temporary product discount is only available or only seen by people that are currently walking in the warehouse. I said, “I know you guys think it’s the same. I know that they’re their bosses are probably trying to tell you to tell me that it’s the same. I know it’s not the same.”
What happens is you’re stuck. When your selling time is over, they have to liquidate that product. All of a sudden, you already have a 50/50 contract with them that you pay for 50% of the market and you can get crushed. It’s making planning hard. The product eventually gets here but did it miss its time? You can’t sell bathing suits in December if it took until December to get here.
When I worked with Costco and when I was at Dell, Craig Jelinek was the COO at the time. He’s the CEO is now. I remember, whenever we were going to be in the coupon book, I was like, “Okay.” I would talk to our team in purchasing and I was like, “I need all of these ready 30 days prior to when this thing is going to drop.” I knew even before these supply chain issues. Dell was amazing. We were one of the biggest buyers of a lot of that space in the ports. I remember it’s like, “You don’t miss that coupon book.” Our sales would 10x the weeks that we were in the coupon book.
The multi-vendor mailer, which is a coupon book, probably when you were Adele, they were doing two a year.
Now they’re doing one a month.
They at least do one a quarter, for sure. $75,000 was the cost to get to the dance and then you had to cover your coupon. Now it’s $150,000 grand to be in it and you got to cover your coupon.
In the old days, we didn’t even have to pay for it. They said, “Can you put together a deal for us for the book?” We’re like, “Sure.”
Now you got to pay to get in. Here’s what happens when you’re in the multi-vendor mailer or the connection. I don’t want this to turn into the Costco show, but most people don’t realize that what you see in Costco is mostly regional. There may be 20% of the entire warehouse at your end that would show up nationally. Once you’re in the multi-vendor mailer, you go national.
Most people that get a spot in the multi-vendor mailer are in one region. The next thing you know, you’re in all warehouses. That’s a huge order. You can’t get to 100 containers with Costco without being in the stores or warehouses. That’s number one. The lay end of your product is huge. When the coupon hits with the sell-through, you’re going to sell more in two weeks than you sell all year. It’s completely worth it.
Costco members are a little more desensitized. When it was twice a year, they got that coupon book and it was like the Bible. You would see people in Costco. Everybody had that book in their cart, looking through it and scanning through it. Now because they do it so many times, they use it as a little bit of a revenue generator. It’s $150,000 grand to be in there. Now, they also have MVM digital. It’s the same MVM, but it’s digital and you don’t have to pay to be in that. We’re hoping that we hit 75% of the warehouses by mid-February 2022 so that we can be in the late February and beginning of March digital MVM, which would be wonderful.
I will support you. After the show, email me the brand and I will buy tons of it.
There you go. Yes, to your main question, the supply chain has been on everybody’s mind. For Amazon sellers, they’re like, “My warehouse said that the container is going to be ready a week late.” With retail, you got to hit a date. It becomes much more of a problem.
We’ve seen a bunch of brands that we work with has moved to US manufacturing for a lot of their things where they can. You’re not at the mercy of the ports anymore. We had a food and beverage brand that was manufacturing in Mexico and they moved it to Michigan. It’s great and everything’s improved and their timelines. There’s also that cost of capital. Transports are waiting on all of that. You’re paying interest on that money on that loan. With a lot of our brands, the ones that are doing pretty well are the ones that are doing more manufacturing in the US, so they have a product to sell.
You can work the numbers. When you say, “If I bring my product to the US, my labor costs go way up.” There’s also a cost to carry the numbers that you have to take into account. There are also transportation costs that you have to take into account. The average container door-to-door was $4,800. I had two clients that stopped selling in the US because they were like, “How do I absorb a $20,000 per container transportation charge? I can’t raise my prices to accommodate that. Nobody’s going to buy the product.”
If there was ever a time for the government to step in and help regulate that, that would have been a great time. Of course, they step in when they’re not needed and don’t step in when needed. That was strictly price gouging. The containers have to go across the ocean. There’s no change in the cost to them to do it. They have more containers than ever on their boats. To charge $20,000 when it used to cost $4,800, I couldn’t get my mind around it.
There’s a lot of this inflation. The prices are rising and the salaries have to rise. When we were hiring, we could always get great folks from a couple of companies because they are traditionally underpaid. They came to their senses and they gave everybody raises. I was like, “Shoot. Where are we going to go get our great people from?” We feel it everywhere on the supply chain. We tell people to get money while it’s cheap. What if your inventory doesn’t hit it for Prime day? You miss out on that day.
A lot of times, people are thinking, “I need to liquidate.” Most people don’t understand what true liquidation is. They think liquidation means that they are selling their product like TJ Maxx for 20% less. I’m like, “No.” If the product is sold for $19.99, TJ Maxx wants to buy it from you for $2 or $3. That’s liquidation. It’s turning a product into cash because it’s costing you cash to let it sit there. It’s not a situation where you’re going to take a 20% haircut on it. Liquidation is true. You’re getting rid of it and you need that cash. A lot of times, people think, “I can set up.”
The other thing too is liquidators have plenty of products to choose from these days. Everybody had to liquidate during COVID. I’ve had multiple people wanting to sell masks and sanitizers. I’m like, “You can’t even give sanitizer away right now.” If somebody had come to me before with a rapid test, now I would be the king of the hill. I’m sure all these people are trying to acquire rapid tests right now.
By the time they acquire them and try to get them to the market, that whole bubble will be over. Costco is going to them with a product and the guy that handles supplements and the pharmacy area outside pharmacy, he’s like, “I can’t do anything right now except for mass and rapid tests.” I talked to a pharmacy distributor and he’s like, “I can’t do anything right now except for a rapid test.” That’s my whole life right now.
We took my daughter to visit some friends at UCF. She came into our rooms and was like, “I have a sore throat. I’m not feeling so well.” Our family has escaped the whole COVID thing. My wife is diligent in immune systems and preparation and all of that. I went down and got a rapid test. We administered our first family rapid test and she was negative, at least on the rapid test she was. I know people that do rapid tests weekly. That was our first one. We’re looking at the instructions. We’re painstakingly going through the thing. It was a milestone in our house, we did our first rapid test.
Test again. I went to a women founders event. I advise and invest in women-founded companies called Beam. It’s an Angel network of investors advisors. The guy who started RetailMeNot is one of the investors and advisors. It’s a great group. I went a week before Thanksgiving and walked in. There were 75 people with no masks. I should have walked out, but I didn’t. That was Saturday morning. By Tuesday, I had a sore throat. I tested negative with a PCR test on Thursday.
I still had a fever. I still felt like I was dying. I still felt like there was a Mack truck sitting on top of me. Every one of my bones hurt. I go on Sunday to the after-hours clinic and they’re like, “This sounds like COVID. You tested negative with a PCR test from us.” Sure enough, I tested positive that day. We escaped it for a long time and then I got it. They gave me the antibody treatment, so now I’m superhuman.
The only symptom that she had of COVID was tiredness and sore throat. She didn’t have a fever and she didn’t have a cough. She didn’t feel that bad. She’s feeling better now. Of course, in the rapid test thing, it says, “If the symptoms continue or get worse, go get yourself a clinical test.” We’ll do that. We’re watching her.
I’m glad that you’re safe. I’m glad your family is safe.You can’t just do one channel. The clients with great success also have internal folks doing social content and reaching out to influencers, bloggers, and media. It’s a full strategy. Click To Tweet
Same to you.
We are wrapping up because we’ve got our all-staff meeting coming up here. Tim, I want to say thanks again for having me on. I appreciate it.
I love to talk to people. This doesn’t seem to me like a podcast interview. It’s fun to talk business. Hopefully, it’ll be interesting to the readers. Any last thoughts? What are the three things that people need to consider if they want to contact ROI Swift and want your help in growing their business? What are the three things they need to ask themselves before calling you guys?
Normally, we don’t work with people who are looking to get on Amazon because it’s an investment. We like to work with folks who are on and they’ve got their stuff set up. They’re doing at least $40,000 to $50,000 a month and they want to scale and grow.
You guys are pouring gasoline on what they’re already doing.
There’s a brand we took from $400,000 a month to $600,000 a month. 50% growth in a year. That’s a pretty decent size. Those are the folks we like to work with. If it’s a startup, if it’s a category that’s not big, if you’re a brand new brand, it’s hard to build a brand on Amazon. You got to do that off Amazon. If you’re the next non-caffeinated supplement that’ll make you feel amazing, it’s hard to build on Amazon. We’ve seen a lot of that do much better with social and influencers. It’s like what Gymshark did. They were all about influencers and Instagram.
You can reach out to us at ROISwift.com and fill out a contact form. We’re happy to have a conversation about your Google, Facebook, and Instagram advertising. For most of our clients, it’s been anywhere from $25,000 to $250,000 a month on paid ads on Google or Facebook. Those are the folks we can help and scale. We took this one brand from $5 million to $25 million on their Facebook and Google ads. That’s a lot of fun for us. That’s where we can add value.
You do have a course. Keep an eye out. For the people that maybe don’t meet your minimum threshold, at some point, you are going to be putting out a course to help the rest of the massive people out there that are wanting to take advantage of your knowledge but maybe can’t do the actual client one-on-one program.
Things like basic setup, brand registry, creating listings, those types of things. We see bad listings all the time. Brands will come to us doing $8 million a year with bad listings. We’re like, “We can get you to $10 million pretty easily by fixing your listing.” Without giving away the farm and all of our intellectual property and our internal knowledge that we’ve built over the years, there are some of those time-consuming basics that we’d love to record once and give people access to that.
I know what you’re thinking, “Another Amazon course. There are 500,000 Amazon courses out there.” Here’s the thing. Carolyn’s company has already proven that they can take and scale people that are doing well to doing amazing. Imagine if you were starting your building blocks. If you’re getting started, imagine if you could take advantage of some of the key tips they could give you on how to do it right the first time.
At some point, you can come and scale with Carolyn’s company later. Instead of when you finally come to scale with her, she says, “We got to fix this.” What if you could do those things right the first time so that you can get to a point where you can come and scale with her? Keep your eye out. Do you guys have a forum where people can sign up and then you’ll send them out new information and stuff like that? Do you guys have anything like that?
They can sign up on our website for our newsletter, which is infrequent, which means we won’t spam you. We only send you out info when it’s something new that is newsworthy.
You guys can sign up for that. Of course, I’m sure you’ll get it info when the course launches. Carolyn, thank you so much for spending time with me.
We have launched it, but we have a How To Create A Killer Listing Guide that people can sign up for on our website and get a PDF download. That’s helpful. We’re putting some of our knowledge and content out there. Hopefully, it’ll allow people not to make a bunch of mistakes.
Thanks so much. I had a great time. As always, you’re welcome back any time to talk sales, the internet, and all of that stuff. I wish you all the best and continued success.
You, too. Thanks, Tim.
Big Boxers, Carolyn has left the building. It’s you and I now. There are a couple of housekeeping things I want to make you guys aware of, things that you might be interested in. We put up on the website a cool tool and it’s Is Your Product Ready For Costco tool. Go to TLBConsulting.com. Right there on the homepage is this cool little survey that you can take and answer. It’s six questions. You answer those six questions and you’re going to find out if your product is likely a good fit, maybe your product is a good fit, or your product is not a good fit for Costco.
Why Costco? Costco continues to be a leading force in retail. They’re selective about who they do business with. They seem somewhat pandemic proof. They’ve figured it out. Because I’m a self-proclaimed expert at doing business with Costco, I decided why not put a little survey, a little quiz on the website that allows you guys to take it and find out, “Is my product even a possibility for Costco?”
Go to TLBConsulting.com, take the quiz, check it out, and see if your product might be a good fit. That’s number one. Number two is the VIP group. You guys know that I’ve talked about this before. If you haven’t been to TLBConsulting.com, you should. It’s an all-new experience. Click on VIP group. That group continues to be, number one, super fun. Number two is information you cannot get anywhere else.
Do you want to know what the buyer says? Do you want to know how they respond? Do you want to follow certain deals from inception all the way to delivery of the product? Do you want to see this stuff happen in real-time? Do you want to participate and take a look at what a buyer says and then formulate your own response to that buyer and then see how that response might play out or if it’s a good response or what you should or shouldn’t say? Do you want to learn from other people in the group that are going to retail right now? This is where you need to be?
There’s so much more value in it than you would ever realize meeting once for an hour every week. It is the only place to get this information. Honestly, do you want to know what buyers say, how they say it, what they mean, what they don’t mean, how to read between the lines of buyer emails, what they’re saying, and what they’re meaning? This is where you guys need to be. If you got a product that you’re thinking about, get it into retail. If you got a product that may be killing on Amazon and you want to know if you should diversify, you need to be.
I’m glad that you’re here. I’m glad that you got a chance to learn from Carolyn. If you have a product that’s doing well on Amazon, but you want to 3X that, you want to take that to a whole new level, you’ve got to get with Carolyn and her team over at ROI Swift. She can help you. She’s done wonders for a couple of my clients and I’m sure she can do the same for you too. Thank you so much for reading. I appreciate it. Until next time, I look forward to seeing your products on the shelf.
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About Carolyn Lowe
In 2015, Carolyn Lowe founded ROI Swift with the goal of helping emerging consumer brands maximize their growth through paid marketing and advertising. Following this approach, ROI Swift has helped hundreds of new companies increase revenue to the million-dollar mark within months. Carolyn is a mentor for consumer products accelerator SKU, a board member for the Make-A-Wish Foundation, and a member of the Beam Angel Network, the first Texas-based angel network for women-founded companies. She’s married with two children and lives in Austin, Texas.