I have sold lots of different products. I did really well with instructional DVDs before the popularity of youtube. I have sold magic tricks before and started adding playing cards to my offering - they did well too.
When I started selling ~$10k a month of playing cards on eBay I knew it was time to give it a shot with my own site and brand. Our first black Friday (2017) was a big success and I knew it would a viable business model I would be able to grow.
Most of my initial customers came from my eBay business.
Did you have any experience/expertise in the area?
Being a magician and playing card enthusiast I knew a bit, my strong points were in customer service and marketing so I brought that to the table as well from previous ventures. I also started producing my own decks and learned a lot more about the creation process.
Have you raised any money?
I invested $80k of my own funds for a down payment on commercial space and inventory. I have paid about half of it back so far and I also give myself a modest salary. I started the business slowly on eBay and Amazon while I worked to get my main site ready to launch.
Who is your target demographic?
Collectors, players, magicians, cardists, someone looking for a unique gift. My demographic does skew towards middle-age males.
Do you get and strange customer questions?
I have a few odd requests for decks that don't exist but they want me to create one for them but only want 1.
How much did you raise on Kickstarter? Was it profitable?
I have done several Kickstarter projects to raise funds for my own decks, not all of them have been profitable, but each campaign has helped gain followers and brand recognition.
Is there anything you did differently the second time after learning from the first?
I've learned a little from every campaign. You have to have the right amount of hype pre-campaign to get people excited about it.
Share on social media, putting inserts about it in current outgoing orders, doing an email blast when a campaign launches, etc. Also it helps to develop relationships with influencers that can share the project as well with other popular creators in your niche. Creating a prototype can be very helpful with the pre-campaign marketing.
It seems a lot of people run into trouble with either the manufacturing or the fulfilment. This can be daunting if you have never done it before and outsourcing to a trusted service is recommended. Also make sure you do not underestimate the cost to not only fund your project but also fulfilment any other possible issues you might run into, in other words create a buffer if you need to.
A lot of people try Kickstarter and fail to reach their goal - do you have a system to ensure you hit it?
I'm upfront with my backers that I keep my goals low to ensure they fund but I also have the fiscal means to bring the project to fruition no matter what. My latest projects have done quite well but some earlier projects when I was starting out were lacklustre. I needed to do those to learn the process and were useful for building the brand and followers.
Any tips for finding first employees?
This was a challenge. But you need to be slow to hire and fast to fire. I think it is more about finding the right person as they can always learn the right skills. I have also had good luck finding off-site contractors on Freelancer and Upwork. Currently I have only one full time in-house employee for fulfillment who has been with us for over a year now.
What sells best?
Usually new items sell best, our Pip Box Club subscription service does well, and mystery items when we offer them. Also a few accessories that store the decks are very popular.
Did you run any companies prior?
I have mostly been a solopreneur. But I did produce live entertainment in Las Vegas for several years and also ran a sales team for live product sales at remote events.
What motivated you to start your own business?
In my prior businesses I had to travel a lot, so I thought starting the site would allow me to stay home. This is first year in 20+ years I have not left the state. Some years I would be on the road for 6+ months. Also, I wanted to start a business that could scale and sell eventually.
What were your family and friends first thoughts on your company?
My kids and wife like that I stay home and they help me out, my wife does the accounting and my kids help with packing sometimes. Most people have no idea the scale of the business unless they have stopped by and see all the products and packages going out.
What motivates you when things go wrong? What is the end goal?
I just try to correct things when they go wrong and they constantly do when you are using a lot of 3rd party technology to keep your business going. I try not to stress too much about things outside my control. The end goal is to grow the business as much as I can and then either sell it or let it run on auto-pilot.
Do you have any advice for someone just starting out?
You really need to focus on one thing if you want to be successful at it I think, at least for most people. The riches are in the niches as they say. Validate your product(s) on eBay and/or Amazon before launching your own site and brand. Also have a process in place and try to batch as many of your regular tasks as possible. For example I will plan out a bunch of promotions at one time for the next few months and I will wait to add new items to the site until I have at least a few, etc.
What has driven the most sales?
I would say our weekly email newsletter. We have a really good repeat customer rate so when we offer something new or a deal we will see a spike in sales.
What is stopping you being 3x the size you are now?
There is a limit to our niche for sure, we doubled in terms of revenue year over year but I don't think it could happen again, at least not in a profitable way. I am planning a 2nd site / brand that will compliment this one but have a different demographic.
Where do you make the majority of your sales now?
Our main website for sure, I would say around 60%+, the rest is split between ebay, Amazon, Kickstarter and a wholesale distributor.
How do you protect yourself from competition?
Outstanding customer service and product selection. We also have a weekly newsletter, blog and almost daily social posts.
What apps could your business not run without?
Ecomdash - inventory management.
Shipstation - order fulfillment.
Omnisend - email marketing.
What are the next products you’re working on?
Currently, we are working creating a series of vintage reproduction decks.
Are there any releases you can tell us about?
We just did this deck as a prototype: and will have a version that we will launch on Kickstarter soon.
Where do you see the company in 5 years?
Hard to tell, I thought it would take us longer to get where we are currently at. Maybe in a bigger space depending on how the second site does.
What is current revenue?
Right now around $80k a month, we did $600k last year - our first full year in business and may come close to doubling it this year depending on the holiday sales.
Would you ever sell?
If the multiple was right and the growth slowed down, so probably not within the next 5 years, but you never know. I still have a lot of ideas to try and like the lifestyle that the business offers me.
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