E231: Focusing on a New Product When Existing Ones Aren’t Selling Well: A Baby Brand Story

This Under the Hood episode is unique and perhaps unexpected. I’m joined by Speck Hansen of earthMonkeys, a brand that sells plush stuffed animals. The company’s underlying mission is “for moms that wanna get their kids using less screen time and getting out and doing more physical activities through adventure.”

You might say that his products are in direct competition with those sold under one of our brands. However, I’m a firm believer that there’s enough business for everyone out there. And by having the opportunity to talk to him about his business and answer his questions, we would be providing greater value to those who are interested in entering the baby niche with these products or those who want to expand their existing product line to include plush toys.

Here are some of the salient points from the interview.

  • Word of mouth is an important marketing strategy when selling plush toys. New parents will often befriend other new parents. New moms, in particular, may get advice on baby products from other news moms in their circle.
  • In some cases, you can earn a much better profit by having quantities of products for one SKU and selling them at higher prices.
  • Having a promotional strategy that can tie into plush toys and help kids develop an affinity for them is always a plus.
  • Include 1-2 images on your listing that functions like an infographic. It should go into detail about the features that the toy has.

Under the Hood is a segment where we do an hour-long coaching call with one of our listeners. We take a look at their businesses, provide honest feedback, offer our best business advice, and answer whatever questions they have. In exchange for the free coaching, we will turn the call into a podcast episode so that our community can benefit as well. It’s a win-win!

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Full Audio Transcript

Intro: This is Mike and welcome to episode number 231 of the EcomCrew Podcast. As you guys know, we are smacked up in the middle of EcomCrew Premium week. This is always an exciting time for Dave and I. It's so cool to see the community grow. But since we switch to this format of only opening up EcomCrew Premium every few months just to make sure that we can handle the workload, the excitement of getting people signed up over the course of a month has kind of gone away for us.

So this becomes a really exciting time, we see a whole bunch of new people joining, we get to meet a whole bunch of people. And it happens like all at once. It's just awesome. And it's been going great so far. I'm really excited about this round of EcomCrew Premium. For those of you who aren't familiar with it yet, if you haven't been listening to the podcast, this is your first episode, maybe you haven't heard about it but it's a community that we made. It's a yearly subscription fee. And with that fee you get access to Dave and I for one on one email support. It's literally us responding to you.

It takes us a lot of work and effort, which is why we only open this up every couple of months to make sure that we're there. When people join me get a lot of new emails, we want to make sure we’re there for these guys to help in their businesses. We have monthly webinars. So, if you don't really have any questions necessarily to send them through the email support, there's two monthly webinars. One is an open Q&A. So if you do want to ask something that's a little bit more long form, the open Q&A is a great opportunity for us to go back and forth. We let these webinars go for a couple of hours.

And then we also do a secret sauce webinar. Every month we're talking about something new typically bringing in a third party guest to talk about things in their business and things in their lives that they've done that have really helped. It's been really awesome and received well. Last month we had a professional copywriter on that was really awesome. A few months ago we had Dave Hassan who was showing us how he launched a brand new Facebook channel to over 100,000 people in just a few months, lots of really cool actionable stuff that comes out of the webinars. We also have prerecorded courses, a whole bunch of cool things.

So, go over to EcomCrew.com/premium to check that out. This is really the only time we ever take the time to talk about ourselves and promote something. We try to keep the podcast free of commercials and things of that nature. But every now and then we do need to promote Premium because it's the way that we monetize this business and we aren't ashamed for that either. We try to under promise and over deliver to everyone that's joined Premium. We're pretty excited that we've been able to deliver on that promise, that our refund rate is under 2% and we have a completely open refund policy.

I think that goes to show you how things have been going. But most people are pretty darn happy with what we've been doing and that's the way we want it. We want people out there saying man, Mike and Dave really deliver, they've again under promised and over delivered and that's how we live our lives. So, hopefully you will be on the inside of EcomCrew Premium soon here. We look forward to seeing new guys and gals join EcomCrew Premium for this round. And if you're not ready yet, we'll have it back open in a couple of months. So again, EcomCrew.com/premium and now on with episode number 231.

I thought it was a good idea during EcomCrew Premium week to do another Under the Hood type episode just to show you the types of things that we can do for EcomCrew Premium members. Imagine having access to us anytime to ask these types of questions. Certain people are lucky enough to get on the Under the Hood episodes. If you're interested in doing that yourself and apply, you can go to EcomCrew.com/underthehood. We're always looking for new and exciting guests to have on the Under the Hood segments. It's been a lot of fun doing that.

And this week we have Speck on who again EcomCrew listener and submitted, and I thought it was a great story and somebody that actually competes directly against us. And I think it goes to show you again, just where we're at in life and how willing we are to help. Very few people will be like, oh yeah, we also sell a similar product, let's talk about how you can compete with us. And that's kind of what we did on the show today which is fine, because I think there's plenty of room out there for everyone.

I don't profess to try to sell all the stuffed animals in the world even though it's been a good category for us. We're never going to be anywhere near even a blip on the radar compared to all the sales of a multi-billion dollar industry. We're just happy to be in our lane. And I hope that the things that we talked about what Speck can help him as well. And right after this intro, we're going to do an Under the Hood with Speck.

Mike: Hey Speck, welcome to the EcomCrew Podcast.

Speck: Hey Mike, thank you for taking this call. I appreciate it very much.

Mike: Of course. Yeah, we love doing these. And for those of you who are new to the EcomCrew Podcast, this is a segment we call Under the Hood where we interview podcast listeners and talk to them about their ecommerce businesses. People can get a background of how and why they got into e-commerce and learn some of the trials and tribulations that they've gone through. I think it's important to relate to other entrepreneurs, this is something that doesn't get talked a lot about, which I think is important.

And then we basically take the rest of the time to go over any questions or problems the entrepreneur has, and try to help them in their business and then hopefully follow up with them six to 12 months later. And hopefully, they've implemented some of the strategies and knocked the cover off the ball. So, that's what we're going to be doing today. And for anyone who's listened to this segment, you probably know that my first question always is, how did you get involved in e-commerce?

Speck: Yeah, well, my last 20 years has been in technology and I still own a telecommunications company but I knew that I wanted to start something new. So, I hired people smarter than myself to run the day to day operations of that company, and it allowed me to learn new things, and I kind of landed in the e-commerce world. It's something I've always been interested in. And when I started that path, I just kind of started chasing too many squirrels and drinking from too many fire hoses. But I learned a lot about everything from building up sales funnels, to trying to learn Amazon e-commerce.

And one thing that I really learned to like is the idea of building a brand. So that's kind of where I steered towards, and my wife and her friend along well, about 2010 or so started a small company called Earth Monkeys. And they kind of did it for a little while and I think they didn't really love the business part of the business. So they sold it to a local gal here in our area. And so, when I decided I wanted to kind of get into that world; I decided to take that back from the girl who bought it, which she never paid for by the way, so it was an easy thing to take back.

And it was more just a shell company. They had a product private labeled back in 2000. And so they kind of were a little ahead of the curve, but they just didn't continue it. And so, I wanted to start a business that I could do something with my family, I have two kids and my wife and it seemed like a fun brand. So, I took that back, started to figure out what the heck I was going to do with it. And that's kind of where it all started. And then from there, there was lots of different directions that it's taken, which I'm sure we'll jump into on this call.

Mike: Definitely. So let's go back to 2010. What was the one product that your wife and the friend designed back then?

Speck: It was in the baby category. There were three separate products. There was — they all folded up into a little pouch which was a baby bib, and a changing pad and a pacifier holder. And they were made out of recycled materials and they folded up into a little pouch that went on to your key chain or diaper bag. And they made the mistake of just getting thousands and thousands made out of China. And the product didn't sell great to this day. I have boxes and boxes down in my basement.

Mike: I was just going to ask.

Speck: I think I'm going to burn at some point. But so that's what they did. And really what they did well though is it was the earlier days of social media and such, but they started to build a really cool brand. And like I said, they ended up getting out of it but that that brand is still actually was there when I took it back over. There was still a couple few thousand followers on Facebook and in their Instagram page. And so, that was the product and it didn't do super well and now I need to get rid of it.

Mike: Got you.

Speck: But I don't do anything with that product now, I've done different things since then.

Mike: Got you. And in terms of taking it back over, when did you do that? Was that, obviously sometime between 2010 and now, when was it more recently or was it a while ago now?

Speck: No, it was just about a year ago.

Mike: Okay.

Speck: Yeah. And then, so just about a year ago and then I ended up getting four other products private labeled out of China.

Mike: Good job.

Speck: So that's where I took off from there.

Mike: And so, what are the products you're working on now?

Speck: Well, originally like I said, I got four done and I just defaulted to the baby category even though that wasn't really exactly what I set out to do. So, the four products I originally did was a diaper caddy, two variations of that, a wood brush set for toddlers and babies. And then our company's Earth Monkeys and we have this little mascot. His name is Simeon, little monkey. I had a custom plush stuffed animal done of him. So those were the four products that I did. And of those, the one that started selling fairly well was the custom little plush stuffed animal. So fast forward to now, I have since discontinued the other products and expanded on the plush stuffed animal line.

Mike: It's actually a pretty funny, similar story for us. For anybody that's been following the EcomCrew Podcast, we have WildBaby. I'm not sure Speck if you've followed along with that but we've had a pretty similar journey.

Speck: Yeah.

Mike: Yeah, it's interesting because we also — I mean, when I say similar, I mean we didn't do a diaper caddy and we didn't do a wood brush set but we are doing plush toys and we also had a bunch of other products that we did, so similar thing. And the plush toys have been the thing that worked out the best. I don't know why. I can't quite pinpoint exactly what it is, but they're not the same as what you're doing. Ours are a little bit different. They have a hot and cold pack on the inside of it, which that relationship stemmed out of something we had with our Ice Wraps brand. But those definitely do better than all the other products combined. And I'm still trying to scratch my head and figure all those things out. But it's interesting that we ended up at the same spot.

Speck: Yeah. Well, hopefully I can follow in your footsteps. But yes, I have followed your WildBaby brand and it was quite interesting that we have kind of gotten on the same path and I’m following the same path.

Mike: Yeah, so I'll tell you a funny anecdote, which I think the audience will like as well. The reason we got into the plush toys at all to begin with was we were in China at a factory doing a factory visit from someone that we had been working with for a little while. And we were developing — this is like a hot and cold therapy manufacturer that sells all kinds of various hot and cold packs for different parts of your body. And we were designing this one product that has since become a really big hit that I thought would be a big hit, because we had some competitive intelligence just based on running Icewraps.com for years. But it was heavy, it's a heavy product, and we were ordering a full container of it.

And they came back in the room and were like, oh, this is actually going to hit the weight limit before you can fill the container up. And I was still early in my entrepreneurial car—no I shouldn’t say entrepreneurial career but my e-commerce career, certainly private labeling from China career. And I had no idea there was a weight limit. That was just something I was completely thrown back by. And so we're sitting in their showroom. I was just like, well, what else do you have because I don't want to ship air? I hate the idea of shipping air. Maybe we can take 10 or 20% of the stuff out of the container, get the way down and fill it up with something later.

And it just happened to be one of the things they had in their showroom were the plush toys with the hot and cold pack inside of them. And we had just started WildBaby, and I was like, well, we can bring these in under WildBaby and fill up this container. And that's how the plush toys were born. So, it's interesting how things come about sometimes.

Speck: Wow. Well, that leads into one quick question on that. I was going to ask how did you land on that. So you didn't do a lot of product market research on that specific line of plush toys.

Mike: We did in their office in about 10 minutes, just did some quick search on Amazon, saw what was out there, did a ransom Jungle Scout data. I was like, okay, well, this looks like something that we could bring in. And it was definitely during a time where launching things on Amazon was way easier. So we weren't as concerned with that type of thing at the time. And it just yeah, it was how we did a lot of the research for everything back then. We’d walk up and down the halls of the Canton Fair, through the baby aisles and find something that was interesting.

And either if we had internet access that day, depending on if the Chinese government was locking us out and hide that day, we would do the research right then kind of like in the middle of the booth or in the hall, or we would get a catalog and then take it back to the hotel. And typically at the hotel, we could get internet and if it was something that we thought was promising, we’d come back later that day, or the next day, I should say and, and revisit it. But that's pretty much how we were doing our research is we were — at the time our biggest struggle was finding a good manufacturer more than necessarily finding a product to source.

We were looking for someone that would be reliable, that got quality that was based in China, which was and still is difficult finding someone that you tell them you want high quality and they'll always say, okay, we’re high quality, no problem. But then you get the samples or you place your first order and you realize that the quality is not really meant for the western market. And that was a big struggle for us. So we happened to stumble upon a manufacturer that made really high quality stuff. And one of the things they just happened to sell were the plush toys. It was just kind of a Kismet kind of thing. It was kind of weird.

Speck: Yeah, very cool. Yeah, for sure.

Mike: Yeah. So, I mean, it's funny because the other stuff we put a lot more thought into and it wasn't successful. And I think a lot of the reasons it wasn't successful, I talked a little bit about it on the podcast before. But we launched some clothing, we launched some other toys. And the clothing is tough just because of the sizes. It's really difficult to — we had six different styles with five different sizes each, so it was 30 SKUs. And inevitably, some of them sold way better than others in terms of design and in terms of size. So, we also have two plus years later, still some of that inventory sitting here. It is moving so it's not a total disaster but just moving slowly. And it's something we wouldn't reorder.

But it's hard to – you’re parents, so you know, I'm sure your wife, your conversation with your wife, I mean, moms particularly typically get their advice or their buying decisions from other moms. They'll be at Lamaze class or will be in a preschool class, or whatever it is and typically new parents end up becoming friends with other new parents and they're talking in their social circles. And that's by far and away the best word of mouth advertising that there is, and it's really difficult to run a Facebook ad, or to just be on Amazon and have somebody kind of aimlessly searching for some of these staple items that we release like clothing and certain toys.

But I think the plush toys are a little bit different. I think that it's mostly gifted, from just looking at some of the research we've done, it's a lot of things that are gifted at a baby shower, or grandparents buying a particular stuffed animal, or I think when the parents do buy it, they're looking for something very specific, like we have a duck, for instance, or a rabbit and they're looking for that particular thing. And I think that that's where the conversions come from, and why we get the sales.

Speck: Yeah, that makes sense.

Mike: Yeah. So we can dig into a little bit more of that as we get through here. But I wanted to just keep building on just kind of how you got to where you are. So, it sounds like reading between the lines, you developed the diaper caddy and the brush set and that just didn't do well or do you have any theories on that? Or is it something that you want to try to resurrect or talk about on the call here today, or is it more about the plush toys?

Speck: It's more about the plush toys but there are some separate questions that I do have for you on those other products. First off, just starting with the worst, the diaper caddies in general sell a lot in Amazon with just another me too product. I mean, I have a logo on the same thing that 100 people are selling. So, when I first started the research, by the time I got the product selling, things had gotten a lot more competitive, and for whatever reason, I probably just didn't put enough focus on trying to get it ranked in search. So, I have most of well, I have a lot of those I recalled back from Amazon sitting downstairs at my house.

I was probably — my plan was to use those for audience building, free plus shipping or something to that effect. So that product, I don't exactly know why they didn't sell because I put some effort into it but probably just didn't put enough effort into that particular product. On the other one, the wood brush set, they did sell. I did get them up in fact, selling on average of 10 a day. I ran out of inventory about a week, two weeks ago, I did not reorder just because the margins were pretty low. But I've been gone back and forth on reordering that product since I had gotten it up in 85, 90% organic and selling about 10 a day. So it's just the margins were so low, I didn't know if I wanted to put the money into that inventory versus the further plush products that we have in development.

Mike: Got you. Yeah, I mean, so in the margin thing for that particular product, I mean, we've been in that situation as well. My recommendation, unfortunately, it's little bit late now. So, if we had talked a little, a couple of months ago, my recommendation would have been to raise the price and see if you can sustain the sales at that point. If you already have 10 sales a day, that means you have rankings, it means it's probably rated pretty well in terms of reviews, that's hard to do. It's hard to get stuff on Amazon ranking, and getting those sales. And typically to get to that point, our strategy is to launch at a lower price and slowly and [show up] [ph].

And a lot of times, you'll be shocked at how price elasticity works on Amazon. A lot of times, raising that price doesn't affect sales at all. We've actually had some pretty crazy situations where we've raised the price and sales have gone up to our shock, especially around the holiday season. So, I think if it was my money in that situation where because the idea is always going to be to build incremental income. And so, you have a product that is selling that is even what's low margin it is making money, the harder part is done in terms of the upfront cost of getting that product done.

For me, I would reorder it. I take a fly and I reorder it, put it back at the same exact price that you had it when it comes back in stock to allow the traction to come back, because it will take some time. It's not as bad as it used to be, there was a time when Amazon when you run out of stock, it was basically impossible to recover. But it does seem like over the last several months, at least six plus months that when you run out of stock and come back in stock, it just starts right back off where it was pretty quickly. So, I would do that. I’d throw them back up there, put it back.

Let's say it was selling at 19.99, I put it back in 19.99, let it run for a few weeks to a couple of months, whatever it takes to get back to that 10 per day level. And then either turn on profit boutique through Splitly, if you want to have software take care of it or just manually start entering the price up, try 20.99, see what happens for a couple of weeks, then 21.99 and see what happens for a couple of weeks. And what you want to do is build a spreadsheet out if you're going to do it manually.

And we've done this exercise quite a bit. We actually do it pretty often in our business when we're reevaluating pricing, we’ll put together a spreadsheet that basically is like if I sell 10 per day at 19.99, this is my profit. If I sell 11 per day at 19.99, this is my profit. And just like literally on incremental one unit at a time basis, just drag out that column and one through 100 or whatever sales per day at 19.99 with your cost being X, Y, Z and your Amazon cost be an A, B, C and figure out what your net profit is per sale, and then figure out that same thing at 20.99 and 21.99 then 22.99, whatever the incremental prices you want to look at are.

And what you'll find is that you'll have way more profit selling fewer in most cases. There are situations where you can make it up on volume but you have to be able to actually make it up on the volume and be able to sell more. So, a lot of times, for us, the answer has been just raise our price, and let it run at a higher price. Yes, we do sell fewer of them but we're making more profit per month on that SKU. And for us, we've looked at our business a lot of different ways. And the way that we are really looking at it now is profit per month per SKU, looking at individual SKUs and trying to extract as much as we can from that SKU.

And a big part of that is either raising pricing, trying to negotiate with manufacturers to get our costs down, or spending less on PPC, you're just getting more efficient with PPC. Those are like the big levers that you can control. So, you're already at a spot where you do have the sales. So, I would take another shot at it versus the diaper category. It sounds like it's just kind of stuck and you're having to recall inventory. That's one that I would just kind of give up on if it's not working.

But it's like you have a chance to make the wood brush thing something that's profitable. And if it makes 500 or 1,000 bucks a month, something in that range, you multiply that by 10, you can get 10 products like that; it's a good little business. If you can do it 100 times, which is what our goal was in the earlier days and we're there now, then you're making 100k a month if you can do that. And it doesn't seem like much on a incremental basis. It's like, oh, it's $1,000, is it really worth all this effort for 1,000 bucks a month? But once the product is designed and all you're doing is reordering, then it becomes an easier business to run, and you can extract money out of the business that way.

Speck: Yeah, for sure. And that's been my theory is just analogy of the baseball of getting singles and just duplicating that 10, 20, 100 times like you said. So, I guess the last question on the wood brush set then and you kind of alluded to this, but the fact that my listing will be out of inventory, I since closed the listing. But if I spin it back up, and probably three months by the time the product gets here, getting it ranked again is easier than the first time I assume.

Mike: Yeah, like I said, I mean, I can give you some examples. I mean, back in 2015, when we were just getting started with this stuff, one of the products we ran out of stock on was our colored pencils. And I mean, we still have not gotten that thing back. We probably should have just given up and start a new SKU which is actually what our strategy is now, but we've had since then and other people through other forums and just discussing with people, they've also, there's definitely been a change with this.

And there's a good article on Sellics that talks about how if you're going to run out of inventory, don't play games with like raising your price and trying to slow down momentum and all this stuff because Amazon is basically looking at what your momentum was right up into the moment you ran out of stock, and then when you get it back in, it'll just start right back up again. And that's been our experience lately. It's not instantly right back to where it was. It sometimes can take a couple of weeks or a couple of months but it always comes back within that timeframe, even really competitive products.

And these are things that the reason we ran out is just because we were just way more successful than we ever thought we would be, like some products just go crazy, you think you're going to sell 10 per day and you end up selling 50 per day. And there's just no way to fix that problem of I’m going to ran out of inventory, because you just didn't plan for it and it takes three months to get the inventory. And so, we would order enough for 50 per day and then get the thing spun back up again, it would start selling again and then you'll be 60, 70, 80 a day. And then we didn't have enough again, we run out of stock a second time on some of these products. And they keep on coming right back. So, our experiences lately, and things can always change, but our experience lately has been that they pretty much come right back.

Speck: Okay. Okay, great. Yeah, that definitely answers on those other two products that I'm not going to focus on.

Mike: Yeah. So what do you see the future of this brand? Is it expanding into more plush toys? Are there other SKUs, other things you're looking at doing? What are your longer term goals as far as where you see this thing in a year or five years? I'm just kind of curious about all that different stuff.

Speck: Yeah, I mean, it's been a moving target for sure. And certainly at the beginning, there really was no purpose other than just learning to sell stuff and try to make money on whatever products, it happened to be what we chose. But since then, since I've gotten my wife a lot involved and my kids that we've kind of landed on a mission and then underlying purpose for the brand itself. It's actually one of the questions I did have, because in my mind, I had a lot of trouble connecting the dots between taking that underlying mission, overall mission and tying it into the products that we were selling.

So, a little backdrop on that, we originally like I said, we did the custom plush of our Simeon monkey selling well, mainly what we're selling today. And then since then my wife had always wanted to do a children's book. So, she had written that all out and had a writing coach help her. The children book is written, it's not published but it's all written. Through that book, we created three new characters, which is what our plush line now is. I have one of them that we just launched and the second one is being shipped over as we speak. And the third one is in production.

So, plush toys and our underlying mission, tying those two together as a brand is kind of a disconnect in my brain. And we were going to use that book to kind of tell the story of what Earth Monkey’s mission is, but I know the book is just a money loss, not a money gain. And I don't know if that's a good direction to go to, to try to tell the bigger brand story. So, all that said, I kind of fell between selling products to make money and just calling that the brand building stage now versus a bigger mission, bigger brand building mission.

Mike: What would you say the mission is?

Speck: So, the underlying mission is for moms that want to get their kids using less screen time, and getting out and doing more physical activities through adventure. And we do a lot of trips in our RV and go to do all sorts of adventure. So, that's the underlying theme of what we want Earth Monkeys to be.

Mike: Got you, I love it. And definitely something I think that's going to resonate with a lot of parents, especially right now, because it's becoming a more and more digital age. And whenever you go out to restaurants, you see kids that are just like hypnotized by their devices. So, I can definitely get that.

Speck: Yeah, and I'm a technology guy. So, my wife has [inaudible 00:29:07] for years. But now I'm with her, because I see it in my kids. So for sure, it’s becoming worse and worse.

Mike: But I do love the book idea. And I'm curious why you say that’s a money loser; walk me through why that is. Is it just the cost to produce it was too high, or what's causing that?

Speck: Probably just what I've heard other gurus “say” on books, and just kind of looking at children's books pricing. Maybe I over spoke that but I don't know, maybe there is some money to be made and if not, maybe it's just to build the brand where it's a breakeven type product. I also just to follow your footsteps even more had the idea of doing coloring books to tell that story and said, that could be possibly kind of one of those things that we can reproduce at a more mass scale to be more profitable, but still tell the story.

Mike: Yeah, I definitely — I mean, because one of the things I was looking at your stuff before hopping on the call here, because it's a brand that is certainly so similar. And I think to be successful long term, there has to be some sort of differentiation. You go into a toy store, there's tons of plush toys on the shelves, you go over to the Canton Fair, there's like just a zillion plush toys on the shelf. And what makes yours different than anybody else's plush toy and is there a way to make something around that strategy that you might come up with viral in some way.

And I think that the book is definitely a really great way to tie that in where you can hopefully tell if you can write a really good story that other parents really enjoy the story and the mission and everything, the moral of the story, and it's something that kids enjoy. I think, I'm not a parent but I have lots of friends who have kids, and a lot of them have some type of miniature figurine of some sort, or stuffed animal or something that ties into their favorite, whatever it is, whether it's the Avengers, if it's young boy probably, or maybe just something, I don't even though some of the more feminine stuff, but a lot of times they're carrying around just some type of character from that stuff.

So, if you can build something into that, where the kid starts to get an affinity towards the characters there and they want the physical version of that, I mean, I think that that's brilliant. And if you have the talent to tie those things together and maybe it's a book that's read by parents or grandparents reading to the kids or if the kids are of an age that they can read it themselves, and it's something that they really enjoy, or there's a coloring version of it, I mean, I love that angle to tie it into the toys and work on your shooting yourself up the list for the more competitive keywords because you're getting these sales that no one else is willing to put the effort into getting.

I think that's kind of the future of Amazon and the people that are going to succeed are going to have some angle that isn't just, I’m going to rank for plush toy on Amazon, because that just isn't sustainable the current way that Amazon is building their platform.

Speck: Sure. Okay. Well, that's good to hear. I definitely liked the idea of the book and possibly the coloring book to follow. But it's good to hear, because that's kind of where we were leading and book is written. So now it's just a matter of paying for it.

Mike: I mean, we have, for EcomCrew, we've launched a book. And we're just using Kindle publishing print on demand. So when people order the book, we buy a copy then. And it's super cheap, and they ship it directly to the customer. We never see the book. So it's not like we're doing the same thing we do with our coloring books, where it's a totally different story. With the coloring books, we had to spend years developing the super high quality book that appealed to this really niche audience of adult colorist who wanted a premium product.

They wanted something that had an artist great paper to it so when they colored it made sense, and hardback covers to protect the book and a spiral binding so the thing laid flat and all these different things. But if you're printing a more traditional book, that traditional binding and traditional paper, there's several print on demand houses out there that can almost certainly achieve your goals for you and especially when you're first getting started. So, instead of being stuck in a situation where you have a bunch of diaper caddies laying around, and so now you don't need to worry about having a bunch of books around that don't sell, they can only be print on demand.

Speck: Okay. Kindle publishing, you said you guys used?

Mike: We do. And they even have a full color version as well. It's a little bit more expensive. So we're using full color covers, and just traditional type for the interior of the book, but our books are, I forgot what they were to print but they're relatively cheap. And we're actually going to be using it as a free plus shipping offer. So for us, we wrote the book, it's done a couple of hundred pages long or whatever. And we're going to be launching a free plus shipping offer with it here actually really soon. And the cost of the book, plus the shipping is basically what we're going to charge for the book. And very similar, we've done e-commerce and hopefully that just gets more people in the sphere of EcomCrew. It's basically a typed out version of one of our courses, it's really good material, hopefully people read it, and develop a relationship with EcomCrew and eventually sign up for Premium.

In your case, it'd be like hopefully people read this book, enjoy the story, enjoy the characters, have a couple last with it, maybe get emotionally involved in some way. I don't know the book but it sounds like your wife put a lot of effort into it. And if it can connect with people on that level, I think it can be quite successful. And again, you can do it in a way that especially to start with, it doesn't break the bank and then get samples in influencers hands, which is, I think another really good angle for you, not just with the plush toys, but with the book.

Hopefully, eventually, that leads to getting some press or something because it's unique. You can even sign up for something like, help a reporter out, or some of these other types of services that help you get interviews and eventually, over time and persistence, you'll eventually catch a break and get some press or whatever. And again, a lot of moms in these social circles are — this stuff can spread like wildfire. I mean, between the moms and the kids, if the kids like it, the kids will be like, hey, did about Susie Q, the character in the book or the monkeys book or whatever it is, and they’re also talking about it? And before it's kind of a hit that you have on your hands?

Speck: Yeah, okay, that makes complete sense. That's great to hear actually. And as for the differentiating of the plush, the characters that we have, the new ones that we're releasing, they are definitely differentiated. I got a chance to look at it, but they bend and they got bendable arms and legs. And so, I think that differentiating factor is already built in.

Mike: Yah, I did take a look at them. I looked at your Amazon listings and first of all, congratulations on the first one you released. I don't know how you did this but you have a five star product, which is really hard to do. So I mean congratulations. I mean, it's really, like I said, it's really difficult to do that. And the five star products that we have I'm incredibly proud of, the four and a half star ones bother me, I want them to be five stars. But again, congrats on doing that, so that certainly helps sales by having a five star product that's substantially different than a four and a half or four star. And I do think that the animals are cute, they look great.

I did have a couple of suggestions just on the images. It's actually kind of funny, because I'm always telling people, you got to have higher quality images, and you got to get some lifestyle photos in there. And it always seems to be a struggle to do that. But I think you need maybe one or two less lifestyle photos. First of all, you only have six photos on this one listing. You have five photos and a video; I think you can get one more or two more images on there. But I would replace one of the lifestyle photos with something that's more of an infographic that points to the thing.

You got like, if you read it, it talks about the bendability and stuff. And there was one that kind of had an infographic that looked at one of the SKUs but you got to kind of really study it. I actually didn't even notice it until I looked at it a little bit closer. It needs to be like one of these things that jumps out at you and kind of hit you over the head I think. There's like a little dot that says bendable arms and legs, wire inside. That font is a little bit small. I think that you can — and it shows the front of the animal in the circle, it's not real clear. Like, I had to kind of look at it for a little bit before I understood what everything was pointing to. And I got it pretty quickly.

I mean, it wasn't like it took me like a half an hour to figure all this out. But it wasn't instant, it just wasn't instant. And when you have been doing e-commerce long enough, and you're dealing with the general public long enough and the types of questions that you see coming on the Q&A, the types of questions that come in through email, you realize that the average person just does not read and doesn't comprehend, it's actually kind of frightening. I mean, like the Q&A, I mean, people will ask a Q&A, our gel pens for instance, does this include refills? And in the big bold black text of the main title, it says, includes a set of refills as a for instance.

So, it might not be blatantly obvious I think that it’s bendable necessarily, because only one of the photos really kind of shows that. The main image kind of indicates that just based on the way that the arms hanging up where he's waving that it's bendable, but I don't know that the other ones do. Like the ones, the third image for instance on this listing where the arms are bent and its kind of in his legs, when I first looked at the first time, I thought it was just like, these are soft arms and they were just sitting on it on his legs and it wasn't necessarily fix it because just the way that the image is taken, if you can understand what I'm saying, it looks like they might just be, like it might just be propped up there and just sitting there and not necessarily kind of in that fixed state.

And so, I think that it can be just done a little bit better to communicate that where people don't have to figure it out. And your first bullet point specifically says, has a wire inside and it's bendable but again, people don't read. It's absolutely shocking, you have to convey this in the in the pictures. And then the other thing that I had ran down just kind of beforehand here was on the video, which again, congrats on adding video to your listing. It's something that most people don't do because it's hard work. I mean, it's not easy getting and it sometimes can be expensive.

But the suggestion that I have was to add a voice track over it. It's just a music bed, whether it's your wife's voice or your voice, or I'll do it for you if you give me the script, I don't care. I think that if someone is taking the time to watch the video, you have their attention and it's an opportunity to verbally tell them why this thing is better. It's easy to — I have a Mac, you can just with quick time you can just record an audio file and you can drop that right on top of the video and very quickly and cheaply have that done. So, I would recommend that and those were the things I caught quickly in terms of just things I would want to recommend to you like unprompted help. You might have some other questions and things you want to go over. But those are the things that I noticed.

Speck: No, that's great. I really appreciate that and the voice track, I totally agree. I agree on all of it, actually. So those are easy fixes, I will definitely make those happen. So, I guess in general, I have some other questions. And I guess one of those I'd be dumb to ask and since you're such an open book, and I really appreciate that. But for your WildBaby plush line, do have any top three things that have worked the best for building your flash sales specifically?

Mike: Just launching more. I mean, they've done well. So, we've kind of doubled down on it now. So, if you look at the different ones that we've released, you can kind of see version one versus version two. So, the version two ones that we did, we really differentiated. It was like, okay, like the first ones we did, I think we just got lucky. There's other people selling them. There's not a lot, but they definitely are a me too product, but not quite. They’re me too wish not that other people could buy them, especially as they start getting more successful, they're going to get knocked off really quickly.

So, we just put a lot more effort into making a design that kind of fit the brand we are looking for. So, we changed the packaging, it's kind of like the original packaging was like this bright red box, and it was just like, kind of a stuffed animal that looked like it came out of like one of those call machines or something. It just wasn't necessarily high quality but it was differentiated. And the fact that it has the hot and cold pack, there's very few other ones out there that do that, so that was like where we kind of got lucky. But moving forward, it was like we had developed kind of a mission for our brand or just at least a theme for our brand, which is just more natural earth tone type stuff.

And so, the packaging that we have now is like a recycled natural cardboard box and the animals themselves are, they're just way higher quality. Everything about them, the look, feel, they're like this knitted yarn look versus like the plush stuff that kind of eventually kind of pulls out. And we were kind of getting these complaints over time of some quality issues with those. So, we upped our quality and the newer ones are doing better just because of that. And they're also unique designs that are ours; no one is going to rip these off.

They can probably come up with something pretty close if they want because there's nothing that's patented necessarily with it. But we want to make it difficult for the true me too crowd out there that’s just like looking at the Jungle Scout, and then goes to Alibaba, or a directory site of some sort and buys the same product off the shelf. We wanted to make it a little bit more difficult than that for people to copy. We know eventually it's coming, everything is going to get copied. But hopefully, by then we have a brand that's pretty cemented in as the go to clinical therapy brand for this that's higher quality and people like and recognize the name. It's kind of the long term goal.

So, I mean, I think that for us, the things that have worked to kind of answer your question in another way, one of the things that isn't an issue for you, because you already have a five star product. But for us, we had some negative reviews that we addressed and made a better product. We made a product that kind of aligned with our brand image and then made a higher quality product and kind of relaunched a second wave of these based on that. So that was what has worked for us. And we're still keeping the original ones because the listings are there and they rank and they sell. But we've been focusing primarily now on the on the higher quality ones.

And one other thing that just came to mind that you may or may not know about that we found out about after we already started bringing in push pals are these plush toys is there's quite a bit of testing that’s required. I'm not sure if you’ve gone through the testing. We didn't know about that in advance. Most factories will just send this stuff and they don't care because they're not the ones that are liable. But there are several different testing that you have to get certified for to be able to legally sell them in the US without having liability.

Speck: Yeah, like I had the ASTN test done, is that what you're speaking of or there is more than?

Mike: No, there is more than that, that's one of them. There's someone else on our staff that handles this. I know that there is a specific license, I think in Pennsylvania. So it’s like, there's like a state level thing where you have to show that it's — I think the issue is that it doesn't contain any animal hair or something like that. And if you shoot us an email afterwards, I can probably find that information out for you. I just don't know off top of my head because someone else dealt with it and brought it to my attention. I was like, oh my god, there was more to it than I realized. And again, the Chinese factories don't alert you to this. They were like, oh yeah; we can do the testing for you if you want. They knew about it once we asked but they're not forthcoming about it. It was kind of funny.

Speck: Got you. Okay. Yeah, I'll drop an email because I want to want to know if there's something I'm not doing on that. Okay, do I have a little bit extra time for some rapid fire?

Mike: Sure. Let's do it, absolutely.

Speck: Okay, cool. One thing just Amazon in general, you sales obviously, I track sales closely, since I’m small I'm able to at the moment but I had a streak of things where they just spiked. I mean, they just – and for no random reason that I could figure out. On average, I sell 10, 15 products a day and it went to like 40 a day, 50 a day and then just dropped right back down for a span of about a week. Is there any advice you have on trying to trace that down or is it just like one of the things you just you never know.

Mike: I mean typically we don't see that type of a spike with a fall off. Usually when we start to see gains, they're usually pretty sustained. The only things that kind of go against that are micro trends and one of them for instance specifically on a plush pal, we have a bunny for instance. And that thing for three weeks right around and starting around this time of year because Easter is coming up, it just goes crazy, I mean like it's absolutely insane. And it took us a while to kind of put two and two together. There was a trend with back to school that we didn't really see coming for one of our other products.

So, you might want to think about what you're selling and if it can be tied to any type of holiday or other outside factor like that where besides obviously the obvious ones of Christmas, but there are a couple times a year where certain ones of our plush toys do well based on particular holidays or certain events or whatever it might be. I don't know that the dog one that we have for instance has a time of year as well that it happens to do really well for just a few weeks but not really explainable.

So, besides that I don't know why it might have gone up. I would look at your percentage of PPC to organic. We use Sellics to track our keywords. So, we have a keyword loaded and so I can go back in and it tracks it day by day so I can see if there was a spike in keyword ranking which would definitely indicate okay, when I ranked higher, I got more sales, and I just lost that ranking for some reason. That's certainly a possibility because Amazon will rank you higher based on conversion rate, and if you get ranking higher and you're not converting better than your competition, then you'll fall below your competition.

So, it's definitely possible to potentially start ranking for something like plush toy for a few days and then you just weren't converting well enough and it went back down. So, there's all kinds of little things like that that could be causing it. And one of the things that has helped us is Sellics to be able to just monitor our listings and get more data like that out of it.

Speck: Yeah, I just converted over to Sellics, I’m still in the learning curve but so far I love it.

Mike: So you want to load in your cost price so you can check your profitability per SKU. You're going to want to load your keywords up per SKU and track your keyword rankings, have Sellics to your automated PPC bidding. There's actually the owner of Sellics was on the podcast not that long ago, so it’s an episode we’ll link to in the show notes about that. And if anybody wants to help the podcast, you can go to EcomCrew.com/sellics but you already obviously signed up for it. So, those are the three big areas.

Speck: And I used your link by the way.

Mike: Nice awesome. I did hear that show.

Mike: Yeah, I need to — when I go to eat an out burger today, it's going to be on you.

Speck: There you go, good spot to go.

Mike: Yeah.

Speck: Okay, next random question. On inserts, since I'm doing new products now, I decided long ago I wanted everything white hat. I just don't want to do anything that's – but at the same time I don't want to miss out on opportunities. So, with inserts, I see a lot of people that are putting outside websites or warranty sites, links on their inserts. Is that just a gamble in the Amazon TOS?

Mike: I mean, we're going to definitely start taking – so Dave has been doing the warranty thing for quite a while. And actually our next EcomCrew Premium course is going to be on email marketing and there's a whole module in there about this warranty stuff. So I just recorded all that, he wrote a bunch of scripts for me so it's like top of mind for me. And I don't know, the way that I look at it is this, which is if you're if you're doing something that if you were selling at any retail store and they won’t take umbrage with it, why should Amazon?

I think they're looking at the heavily aggressive stuff where you're just trying to strip sales away from Amazon, which is probably not right at the end of the day. So, if you have a situation where you have a warranty registration card in there, and you upgrade their warranty or something by registering or whatever it might be, again, if you were selling your product at Walmart, like pretty much every product there has one of these registration cards or if it's something that was at Pep Boys or whatever it might be, warranty registration is pretty common. So, I think that as long as it's tastefully done, and you're not immediately like, once you sign someone up for your warranty, trying to get them to buy from your website instead of Amazon or pestering them with overly salesy communication and things of this nature, I think you're okay.

For me, it's something that I would do. I would feel like I'm doing the right thing, because I'm ultra-white hat, and I don't want to get my account shut down. Now, maybe if you read Amazon's Terms of Service word for word and take them very literally, they could take a position that you can’t do that. But it's one of those things where they would never know unless someone complained about it. And if you're doing something in a way that wouldn't cause people to complain about it, then you should be fine. I mean the things that I see on the forums, I’m a member of the Million Dollar Seller forum, and people are posting inserts from their competitors.

It's pretty common to go buy competitors’ products, and do product research, we do that all the time. And you'll see inserts in there that are just like blatant like, we will give you $10 if you leave a review for this product, things that are very clearly against TOS. I think that if you again, if you're designing a package for retail, which is what we've done from day one, we've thought about if we ever get into retail, we want everything about our product to stay the same. That's the way that we approach it.

So, I think if you approach it that way, and you have a good insert with a good story and about your brand and you're building a brand affinity and a part of that is we want to register your warranty so we know when you bought it and where you bought it, and we stand behind our products, and we want to make sure that we can verify that it was a legitimate purchase and we warranty the product. And I think that that's completely fine personally. Now again, that's probably at your own risk I guess because Amazon's Terms of Service can probably be interpreted that that's not allowed.

Speck: Yeah okay. All right cool, trademark question and I'm not a trademark expert by any stretch but I did get the trademark simply to get Brand Registry which I did a while back. But I believe it was tied to the old product, that legacy baby bib product that I told you about. Do you know enough about the Amazon rules? Am I at any risky, do think since I have Brand Registry, but now I've shifted to a whole another line of products?

Mike: I would say you're at like sub 1% risk. I think that that's something that would be almost never looked at by them. That's not the — so basically the way the Amazon stuff works, once you open the gate, you're pretty much, your account has a setting and you're done. We just went through this with our Ice Wraps account because we just were in the process of breaking out all of our accounts, and our old account had approval for FDA but the new one didn't. And I mean, we had to wait like 90 days for the FDA registration to come through and we were like in this limbo land of trying to get the new account approved.

We finally did and once we did, it’s like any product that's in that category is wide open. And the same thing goes for trademark. I mean, once you have Brand Registry, they're not looking at like, okay, are you approved for stuffed animals and toys and clothing because those are all different categories. We actually for WildBaby, we did apply for all those because we did it from day one. But I wouldn't go back and reapply necessarily update our trademark just because of the Amazon issue. I think that very unlikely that they would come back and look at that.

Speck: Okay perfect, cut me off when you're ready to run on an hour.

Mike: No, go ahead. Let's keep it going.

Speck: Okay, so on this launch, like I said, I just launched that new one, the listing that you were just referring to and I've got two more coming up soon. So, getting my whole launch sequence down is something I don't have down pat yet. But I did do Amazon giveaways on this particular product and it was required to watch the video that you mentioned. It went okay I think, I got some sales out of it. But I guess my biggest concern question to you is I had 10 products that I was giving away and it completed with only giving away five. Is that a concern I should have that the product might not be well received, or is that just kind of how giveaways go; I've never done one before?

Mike: So, getting to give away five is actually pretty good in terms of giveaways these days. I mean, we've had very few products where we've set up for 10 and never giveaway all 10. So, this is pretty typical. And the giveaway platform has definitely changed quite a bit over the last year; it's gotten way more saturated. So, it's way more difficult now than it has been. So, I think five is actually pretty good. My recommendation would be to when you do the next giveaway, just do it for five because it's actually the thing that's bad is the returns it generates when they don't sell. And that's something that you want to try to stay away from.

So, if you do like three or five, the next time, the chances of the giveaway completing are way better. And I would also offer the biggest discount you can which is 40% for people that watch the video and make sure that audio track is in the video when you do it next time, at least for the first 30 seconds so people that are watching the video are getting as much stimulation from it and understanding as much from your product about your product as they can since they’re basically paying to get that view realistically is the way I look at it.

Speck: Okay, so just to clarify that you're saying since I pre bought 10 and now five, is it going like as if customers were returning five products?

Mike: That's been what we've been kind of seeing because returns are definitely a bad thing for your account. It isn't a return that will generate a listing closure or suspension or warning, but I think it does hurt the metrics on your SKU. We did some tinkering with this. And again, there's no way to know for sure because Amazon doesn't come out and tell you this. But we have some pretty good anecdotal evidence that it would be just too damn coincidental if that wasn't the case.

Speck: Okay. Yeah, it was quite interesting on that part of it when I first did the giveaway. I set it at 10 but I only had my maximum order quantity of one on the listing itself. And it kept completing the giveaway with only giving away one item. I couldn’t figure out why, but maybe I'll go back to that method.

Mike: I don't think you want to set your maximum quantity of one because you want to give your people an opportunity to buy more than one.

Speck: Or two. Yeah, okay. And I was only doing at 25% discount. So I will try one with 40.

Mike: My recommendation is to crank it all the way up. I mean, these are people that are only seeing this through the giveaway platform and getting sales is the most important thing in the beginning, not your profitability. And the chances of them leaving a review are pretty good and etc, etc. So, getting the sale, especially in the early days is the most important thing and I'd be focusing on that.

Speck: Okay. Well, I think the rest of my questions we've kind of touched on, so I'm out of questions for you at the moment but that was awesome.

Mike: Yeah, no worries. Hopefully it was helpful for you. We love doing these. So it'd be awesome if you followed up with us in like six to 12 months as things are kind of moving along and let us know if any of this stuff is helping and how your business has grown. And hopefully it's doubled or tripled and helping you hit your targets.

Speck: Yeah, for sure. I will be implementing a lot of the things that you gave, and I again, really appreciate it.

Mike: No problem.

Speck: I appreciate all you guys do, you guys, of all the various people out there and you guys are definitely the best.

Mike: Don't forget to leave us a five star review on iTunes.

Speck: There you go. Consider it done.

Mike: That's my five star review pitch for the day.

Speck: Yeah perfect, it's well deserved.

Mike: Awesome Speck. Well thank you so much, man.

All right guys, that's going to wrap it up for the 231st edition of the EcomCrew Podcast. Hope you guys enjoyed this episode, enjoyed the Under the Hood segment. Again, if you're interested in doing this, go over to EcomCrew.com/underthehood. Don't be bashful, we're easygoing, there's not a lot of requirements to get on it. We just look for people that are open and honest about their business and that need help, right. I mean, the whole idea is to help in some way.

We look at your business on a one on one basis. It's a free hour of consulting that we are now charging quite a bit for. We have an EcomCrew Premium level that includes an hour of our time each month that works out to about $900 an hour for consulting, so you're getting a free $900 Consulting session basically by doing Under the Hood and we're excited to do it and give back to the community and have this turned into awesome podcast episodes. So, it's one of these win wins where you get some help for your business.

And it helps also people out there listening that are just getting started or struggling in some aspect of their business that they can relate to people that are at all different stages. We've talked to people that are pre revenue on Under the Hood to people that are doing millions of dollars. So, it's a great range of stories and ideas. And you see a common thread a lot of times with these episodes that e-commerce and entrepreneurship in general is not easy. And even if I'm just a bartender on some of these calls and listen to your sorrows, I'm happy to do that as well because again, it's never a straight up line.

There's always going to be ups and downs. The luckiest people still have ups and downs and some of the unlucky ones are just stuck, and we want to help with that as well. So, EcomCrew.com/underthehood if you're interested in doing that. And also, as always, the show notes for this episode will be at EcomCrew.com/231. If you want to ring him with your comments and ask Speck anything or us or just look at the show notes for anything that we talked about, you can go over there for that. All right guys, that's going to do it for this episode of EcomCrew. Hope you guys enjoyed the podcast today just like all the other ones. We put a lot of effort into it and it's a lot of fun. We appreciate all the support. So, until the next one, happy selling and we'll talk to you soon.

Michael Jackness

Michael started his first business when he was 18 and is a serial entrepreneur. He got his start in the online world way back in 2004 as an affiliate marketer. From there he grew as an SEO expert and has transitioned into ecommerce, running several sites that bring in a total of 7-figures of revenue each year.

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