You should buy Walter’s book “Import Direct from China”

I’ve had the pleasure of corresponding with Walter, over the years, as members of an internet marketing forum. He’s retired from active trading and now serves as a passionate advocate for businesses who want to learn how to import without purchasing obscene quantities of merchandise. First, let me say that I’m an experienced importer. Not as experienced as Walter, but I sell more imported merchandise than I sell domestic merchandise. I went to a trade show in 2007 and decided that I wanted to build a business around importing.

But it was not without pitfall. Oh I’ve had highs and lows, successes and complete wastes of money. So when I came across his book, I was curious. Buying an ebook is a difficult thing because you don’t want to buy a book from a money hungry tool who just figured they knew one thing that others didn’t and decided to write a book full of basic information anyone should know. I hate that. I really, really hate that. So you spend your time trying to figure out if the person knows more than you already know, so that you will learn something from the book.

Walter knows a lot. Even if you have experience importing, it’s worth the price just to learn different techniques and tips because even if you only learn one thing, it will probably make or save you far more money than you paid for the book. You’re at a perfect time to begin to learn about importing because the barriers to trade are rapidly being crushed and it’s far easier for a small business to get in the game, with minimal investment, than it was even just a few years ago.

This is not a book about importing designer or branded clothes and accessories. If you read my guide, you know why it’s not about that and anyone selling you something about that is probably completely full of it. This is a book about importing and using that business opportunity to build a sustainable business for yourself, that you can scale. Tons of sellers are making six and seven (even eight) figures importing merchandise, branding it, and selling it on amazon.

The best thing about purchasing Walter’s book is he’s around to answer any questions. If you’re serious about importing from China and building a business, this is the book to buy.

import-china-buy-book

Why no one is helping you with your apparel business

I get a lot of emails, most of which I ignore. There’s one particular type of email that I get (nearly daily) that irritates me so much that I figure I’d write about it.

This is why no one is helping you:

I am starting an _____ store in ______. I wanted to know what type of brands you could supply me and how can you help?

I’m not helping you and I’m not even replying to help you. When I sold on ebay, there were sellers who would say something like this in thier ads:

If you don’t read what I write in my description, it’s not likely that you’ll read what I write when I answer the question you send me because you don’t respect my time.

When people send me an email, and they clearly don’t get that I don’t actually sell clothing, I don’t respond.

And I’m sure others don’t either. In fact, many of my industry colleagues echo this sentiment. The ones who don’t get what they do tend to be the biggest time wasters.

Now, here’s the other part where you’re wrong: Nobody credible is going to chase you for your business, even if you are well funded (or claim to be). The fact that you’re not reading and you don’t understand how to contact manufacturers is an indicator that you’re unlikely to succeed. Why bother? There’s not enough quality discount designer merchandise on the market. Good jobbers barely have enough merchandise to go around, they don’t really need to hand hold newbies. A scammer will chase you for your business relentlessly because it’s a one shot deal, they need a steady flow of newbies.

Shopping Carts and E-commerce Software

I received a question from a customer questioning using a shopping cart like Shopify or Volusion or using an eBay store. Frst and foremost, I have an inherent bias. The problem I have when you use eBay stores is that eBay’s primary business model is not e-commerce. eBay’s primary business model is a marketplace format and I believe if you are committed and serious about becoming an e-commerce merchant, it is better to build your own brand that is not attached to a marketplace. Often, when you are linked to a marketplace, the customer feels that the marketplace is the place to shop for product, not you specifically, so you must be extremely careful when you’re using a market place e-commerce store.

With a marketplace-based e-commerce store, you can also run into the issue of you not being viewed as truly legitimate because you’re not willing to invest the money into securing your own separate website, your own separate domain and your own separate e-commerce identity. There are exceptions to this, for example Etsy, because they are in the handmade and craft market; under those circumstances people like buying from really small sellers and artisans. However, it’s a tough market when you’re selling off-price clothing and you need to do all that you can to ensure that you are:

1. Building a brand for your website or store as being the place to shop.
2. Projecting a professional image so that people don’t think you’re a fly-by-night merchant.

When it comes to selecting which shopping cart is right for you, I don’t really have a preference. I think Magento is great, Volusion is great, Shopify is great; I think all of these solutions are great. The market is so competitive that they have all caught up with each other in terms of features. It is a matter of preference and individual need.

I was asked if there are better search engine optimization features with eBay compared with the shopping cart services. Search engine optimization has two basic methods: on page and off site. On-page SEO consists of the structure and content of your page and how well that page is optimized to rank in search engines. Off-site SEO basically consists of inbound links to your site. They both must be present. You cannot get to the top of the rankings solely with on page SEO unless you are going after very, very low volume search terms. That’s not likely the case if you’re selling apparel. Most ecommerce software programs have comparable features when it comes to on page SEO. There may be some areas in which one performs better than the other, but most of your work with search engine optimization will end up being off-site, so it’s not as big of a deal as people make it out to be. What you want to look for is a clean structure on a code level, the ability to customize such things as the URL, the meta description, the title tags, any heading tags, h1 tags and the ability to generate SEO friendly on-site features such as a site map or a feed for Google products or other product-based websites that use a data feed. Most e-commerce packages have this as a built-in feature or as a plug-in.

Lastly, when it comes to choosing e-commerce software, I recommend that you set up trial accounts and actually try to use them for the duration of 30-day free trial. That part is difficult because it’s hard to want to get into something that you’re not actually using in “real life”, but each company has its own needs and its own work-flow and often, you don’t find out the little things that matter until you’re already using the software. You don’t want a situation where you’re knee-deep in using software and then you find out it won’t work for you. The only way to avoid that is to try the software first, there’s no other way around it. The problem is that it becomes difficult to get in to using the software when you’re just playing around with it to test it out. But moving a site from one platform to another, when you’ve already established a search engine presence, is a complex procedure and often can create so many problems that, a store doesn’t switch when they should and they end up trapped in the e-commerce program that they don’t like. So it’s better to go through all of these programs upfront, to pick the right one, and then move forward, than to get into something just because it was great, or it was cheap or easy and find out down the road that it’s not really sufficient. Another thing, you don’t want to start piece-mealing an e-commerce package so you really need to make sure that whatever you pick is flexible enough so you won’t end up with five or six different software programs just to manage your e-commerce store.

Brick-and-Mortar Retail Compared to Online

Read Part 1 of this article: Should You Sell Online or Offline?

If you are able to have a brick-and-mortar retail store, and that will need the factors of both location and financial resources, it can be a really great thing especially if you live in a community that can sustain the type of product mix that you would like to bring in and may not have as many shopping options as a major metro area with a very large mall or significant shopping resources. The big difference between brick-and-mortar and online retail is their acquisition of customers is completely different. Online is active but yet it’s passive. When you’re asleep, people place orders. You wake up in the morning and you can see what people have bought. In a brick-and-mortar setting, it is much more of an active endeavor because you need live bodies present in the store in order to complete a transaction. You can’t have a transaction when no one is there. In a perfect world, you would blend the two together.

Having a brick-and-mortar store with a significant online component will enable your customers shop easier when they’re not in your store. Even though the numbers, like the sales figures for online shopping and apparel are tremendous, the key thing to keep in mind is that the overwhelming majority of apparel that is sold is still sold through physical retail stores. At this point in time, online and catalog sales do not drastically reduce the people that shop for apparel in physical outlet stores. The reason is that shopping is a little bit social, especially for a female. It’s a little bit of looking at this, looking at that, picking this up, seeing how it looks with that, trying it on, going to the fitting room, having crisis under the fluorescent lighting where you can see all of your flaws and then putting things back and starting all over again. Some people really kind of need that experience – that touchy feeling that we call the ‘tactile’ experience of being able to touch the clothes. These are certain things you can’t really communicate online. For example, you can have two pairs of jeans and they can look identical in a photograph, even in a close-up, but one of them can have a much higher quality–fabric, wash, construction– all these are things that you can describe online but it becomes difficult to get the customer to have that ‘Aha!’ moment because they’re not there looking at and touching the merchandise.

The other thing about having a brick-and-mortar retail store is you don’t really have an offline equivalent of the market places like E-bay that can bring you customers. In a brick-and-mortar environment, you have a mall, or shopping mall or shopping center but the down side is that there is a finite amount of space. Ten thousand sellers could go and register at E-bay tomorrow and they would all be allowed to sell but ten retailers can’t even go open up shops in a desirable high traffic area because they won’t be enough vacancies to sustain them. The chances that you have of getting into a place that will bring customers to you on its own are just very slim because there aren’t that many opportunities for something like that.

But on the up side, there is a certain experience involved offline that can’t be replicated on the internet. And we can try with customer service agents, with live chat, with all of these tools but there’s a certain element that you can’t replicate online no matter how hard you try even if you have an online personal shopper service. That element of being able to consultatively sell to someone is something you really cannot duplicate outside of a face-to-face experience.

In summary, the best scenarios combine some of the technological advantages of selling online such as the ability to capture customer information, e-mail marketing, targeted marketing and merchandising, communication, adding in benefits of being able to shop online or re-order online or preview a new merchandise online but come and try it out on the store. Combining this with the brick-and-mortar experience is also an amazing opportunity.

Most of our online consumers are very, very focused about what they want. They’re actively looking for it and they’re going online to buy it. For a lot of them, however whatever it was they wanted, they saw it offline – like they saw it in a magazine or in a retail store or someone told them about it and then they go online and look for it and buy it because the technology.

A woman shopping on a mission can make her way through an entire store in less than twenty minutes and she can literally see everything that’s in that store. Going through a website is a very tedious and slow, time-consuming process and so when I said earlier that shopping can be social, it is because it’s a bit of an activity when you’re just shopping versus going through something specific or browsing and taking a look, maybe discussing it with someone who is shopping with you or the sales clerk, then it can be a leisurely activity.

Clicking and looking around on a website, it doesn’t have the same impact on people. It can be frustrating because the pages can take a while to load and the time that elapses, one rack of clothing in a store can have ten different styles and in two minutes, you can look at each and every last one of them but online, trying to look at ten different styles probably will take you somewhere between five to ten minutes. It’s just too slow a process and that’s why customers who were shopping online tend to be a lot more focused about what it is that they’re looking for. They’ll browse and casually come across new things but for the most part, they tend to be more focused as opposed to offline shoppers. Sometimes you just, you know, go and hang out, you shop at Bloomingdale’s, and you go grab lunch, catch up with your girl friends. It’s a different thing and there are certainly advantages and disadvantages to both. For each person that is going into this, you have to make the choice about what makes sense for your business. I will say though, if you don’t have the retail experience, it’s better to start online because then you can learn certain retail and customer service aspects, also the nuances of dealing with off-price jobbers while not having to have the overhead and staffing burden of a retail store constantly, constantly gnawing at you.

Should You Sell Online or Offline?

Most of the customers who buy my guide are selling on online sites such as E-bay and other auction sites. I did get a fair number of customers who operate brick-and-mortar retail stores that are looking for merchandise to fill in and complement their product selection. A lot of people want to know the different between selling offline and online. I’ve done both and I’ll be honest about the pros and cons of each.

The first part we will tackle is what it’s like to sell online. The market conditions for E-bay may be drastically different than they are at the moment you read this article. But E-bay is a very, very competitive market place and one of the things that I really need to make my customers realize is that sometimes they have no idea what type of company they are looking at.

When you’re doing research or when you’re looking at other options, sometimes you’re looking at someone that has a company just like this. They may be buying from a jobber, and selling on E-bay. And then sometimes you’re looking at a very large company with significant resources that is just using E-bay as a sales outlet.

Having said that, there are still specific categories of merchandise that do extremely well for the independent seller on E-bay. What they are, I couldn’t tell you because they vary from time to time. They may vary depending on what’s currently trending in fashion or accessories. They have so many different variables involved that it’s hard to give an answer that stays consistently true. But the truth of the matter is that you have to do your research. E-bay and other types of online marketplaces are great because they bring in their own traffic and give you a chance to get your feet wet. They also help you understand buying and selling before you have to tackle the beast of bringing in your own customers.

We have quite a few buyers that have their own websites. This is the other option but that landscape is also becoming increasingly crowded. However, there is always room for specialized sites with focused merchandise. There will always be room for that. And we have clients that also, they either completely off-price or they buy off-price just to fill in their merchandise and they do very well.

Selling online is a wonderful option for a lot of people. Some of you have lifestyles that don’t really allow you the flexibility of anything else and some of you just live in a geographic area where selling online is pretty much your only choice because you don’t live in an area that can sustain a retail store. It’s really a great opportunity for some people but to be successful at it, you really either have to invest the time to learn and understand internet marketing.

I won’t just throw out terms like search engine optimization, because the truth of the matter is we’re evolving into that kind of internet but also away from that. You’ll see a lot of focus paid on social media and on social shopping. Whatever the phrase of the moment is will change over time but basically, you will just have to have an incredible understanding of what it takes to market to customers online–how do you reach them, how do you get them on to your site, and how do you get them to buy. However all that is being done, at the point in time that you’re undertaking it you need to understand what to do or you need to be able to hire someone to do it or you need to find a company that can do the work for you. But the bottom line is truly, truly, truly, you should know how to do it. A great example of this is how Zappos markets themselves as a customer service company that just happens to sell a whole bunch of merchandise.

Actually, the more successful independent retailers online are those that are marketers who understand how to market online. They know exactly what to do even if they just pick a product that fits into their level of expertise or needs a lot of other criteria for the optimum type product to sell online. That’s the kind of thing that you will need to know if you plan on having your own website.

We’ve also seen people really do some interesting things like focus on certain internet communities and sell to them. We’ve seen people do Facebook. For e-commerce it’s not what I recommend but I have seen it as well as a bunch of different methods. It all comes down to how much you have to get it going and how large a scale you want it. The great thing about this is that the level of infrastructure that it requires to sell online is such a small fraction of what is required to sell offline. When you have a brick-and-mortar store, you need more of everything to have more space to sell your merchandise. You pay more rates, utilities and electricity, you need more staff. Online, you don’t have those same considerations so you can scale pretty significantly without requiring as much in resources.

Read Part 2: Brick-and-Mortar Retail

The Clothingbroker– Missing In Action

The most interesting email I ever received from a customer was from this guy in Singapore. He purchased the guide at what must have been a normal time in his time zone. He then proceeded to send three emails, approximately 1-2 hours apart asking why I had not processed the registration for the guide. So, when I responded I kindly told him that his purchase was at about 1AM in my time zone and his last email arrived at about 6 AM, when I was still asleep.

The Friday purchases are the worst because, I kind of tune out on Friday evening and come back to life on Monday mornings (and, of course, I am always playing catch up on Mondays). People purchase the guide on Fridays and on Mondays are ready to chargeback or complain to paypal or whatever.

I regularly have to remind people that:

A) I don’t live in the computer
B) I do have a life and can’t be on the computer all the time
C) I also have to make a living (hint: doing something other than selling this guide)
D) The guide never has been, and won’t be, an immediate download. I still manually go through and process registrations.
E) Comcast high speed internet sucks (they are constantly down) but since that’s all I have where I live, that’s what I have to live with. As I am writing this, it takes about 4 minutes for just yahoo.com to load. I mean, how can a person live with that?

Question & Answer: opening a brick and mortar retail store

Question:
Hope all is well. I purchased your guide earlier this year and it has helped me a lot. I really admire your knowledge about fashion and the retail industry itself and would like your opinions on a few things. I have been selling on e-bay for a while, but I have decided to venture in to bigger and better things so now I want to open a store. I do have a lot of reservations and as you’ve mentioned people get carried away and think they will be very successful when they open a store. I just want to ask you about how we can purchase overstocks or last season stocks from Barneys and Saks. Thank you in advance.

Answer:
I would just encourage you to think twice about the store. Just based on my observation of past buyers of the guide that have gone that route. It’s a money pit for a very long time before it begins to pay off.

As far as the closeouts, you should just call the stores’ corporate headquarters, try and work your way to the distribution centers and find the person who is the sell off agent or in charge of liquidating their merchandise.

The merchandise does go up for bid, often bid on by jobbers. But when you buy you have to buy it all and that might be too much for you. I mean, in the beginning a full load might be just enough to completely stock your store, but what will you do when you only need filler? You can’t bid on a full load, it might be 3000 pieces or $200,000 worth of merchandise (at your price). That’s why you may still need jobbers.

Even when Bloomingdales has their high end job-outs a few times a year, those trailers are $50,000-90,000 sometimes. Remember you’re talking merchandise with such a high original retail price that you aren’t getting a lot of pieces. And sometimes they don’t have “price caps”. Paying 10% of retail on a $1,000 suit is nothing, but paying 10% of retail on a $5,000 suit is hard to swallow.

I would suggest that you start by having some trunk shows, some sample sales, build up a following. Go to some of the jobbers that carry high end sore stock and start working with those loads from Saks. Go to their warehouses and look and see what a FULL LOAD looks like. It doesn’t look like what you think. You might not like the idea once you see all the “bad stuff” they have to take as part of a load. Trust me, some of it is crap but a JOBBER can move it because they always have a few clients that will take anything at cost.

Anyhow, try the trunk shows and sample sales and build a serious following to the point where you have a couple hundred people you’ve either sold to or had inquiries from. Then think about opening a store. Otherwise you may open a store and be literally waiting weeks or even months to get decent streams of customers.

Question & Answer: eBay seller with brand labels removed

Question

Hi,

I wanted to show something to you on Ebay- I found it interesting. I found an Ebay seller and she is selling “Brand X samples”- tags removed, etc. She has some really cute things. I bought some from her and they are quite nice, tagless no inside size or fabric content tags, no signs tags were ever sewn in. They have the Brand X style, but are definitely not an Brand X level of quality (but that’s ok with me because I really like them) She says they are samples, but when Ichecked back through her feedback (curious me, wanted to see her other items) I saw that she had multiples of most styles in various sizes. I’m just curious as to what you think she’s doing- because she is making a killing on some of these auctions. She’s located in California. I know its not ethical to say something is Brand X when it isn’t, of course- she is definitely getting away with that. I have never seen items like hers on Ebay or in any catalog or store, for that matter. Anyway, sorry to ramble- just thought you might find what she is doing of some interest.

Answer

Samples are usually all one size or one group of sizes. For example, usually all of a rep’s samples will be a size 6 or maybe 4,6 and 8. I’ve seen a sample where there was supposed to be a screenprinted design on the tee shirt, but they didn’t have time to get it screenprinted so a printout of the design is taped to the front of the shirt. No kidding. I don’t recall seeing a sample without a label, but then again, I don’t recall looking. It might not be uncommon because samples can be defaced in some way to prevent them from being sold. Tag missing or cut, marked as a sample, etc..

Since samples tend to be the smaller sizes, if the seller has a full size run, like 2 through 12, then I would doubt they are samples. Most sales reps don’t have a dozen samples of the same piece, so if they have too many (of each style), then they probably are not samples.

Now, getting back to the point, I am pretty sure that it is absolutely illegal (and you read my bit on using the word illegal where it does not apply) to SELL garments with no label. I am pretty sure that the FTC guidelines prohibit that. They must at least have the fabric care/content tag and a RN number and country of origin. I am pretty sure that’s the law. A sample probably is not required to have this info because it is not for sale. Having said that, I don’t think a company would sell merchandise with no fabric care/content label, so I am wondering who removed the labels. It’s highly likely that the eBay seller did.

The reason she would remove the label is to prevent you from searching by the RN (Registration Number). The FTC law for the US is that a label must either have the legal name of the company on it or the RN number (redundant, I know). The FTC keeps a RN database and you can type in the RN and get the contact info for a company. Now if someone is selling some no name brand and calling it Brand X, then they would remove that fabric care/content label (often called a joker label) because they donâ?™t want you to find out who the real manufacturer is, if itâ?™s not Brand X.

It is not unusual for someone to pull a trick like that. For instance, in looking at her auction (I only looked at one), I see no mention that the brand is Brand X IN THE ACTUAL AUCTION, only in the title. When called on it, she could say that she is keyword spamming and not selling counterfeit merchandise because she did not specifically state that it was Brand X. Typically when a seller has a desirable brand, even if that label is only delineated or cut, they will try to show the label to get higher bids.

Doing it for the fun of it. Or not.

Question
This is so cool! I have spent the last couple hours perusing your web site and I am blown away. I read about myself and my ideas 10 times over in your articles. I am a stay at home mother that spends all her time looking through the consignment stores and the department stores, I also idealized e-bay signs in my eyes to think that if I could find other ways to find designer merchandise that is quicker and new, I could sell on e-bay.

Here’s the deal. I mostly love consigning and stuff because I’m really good at it and it’s fun. I’m not looking to get rich or even make a living doing this stuff. I would just like to do what I wind up spending my time doing anyway, and be able to make some money doing it too, (if only that it gives me a good excuse to spend my time doing it). I planned on selectively buying the merchandise myself at a reduce price because I’m a great shopper. I know that takes a lot more time but I do it anyway and this way I won’t be buying everything for me and gifts, etc.

I think it would be great fun to be able to supplement my family’s income this way. It would certainly make all the tons and tons of hours I spend shopping worthwhile, huh?

Answer

eBay is a great place to start. If you’re new, there is probably no better place to get your “on the job training” than eBay. Most of my commentary is directed towards people who think they will make a killing on eBay OR people who have been selling there long after they should have either moved on or diversified.

If this is what you want to do, do it. But don’t think that just because you HAVE some time, you should USE it doing things like this. The mistake SAHMs make is putting too much time into their selling, with respect to their earnings because they NEED something to do. It gets tired and they get burned out.

This business is a business, you really can’t do it for fun and expect it to stay that way. If you’re not close to your supplier and using one that lets you pick and choose items in person (only a few do), then you have to “buy blind.” NO ONE that buys blind likes every thing they get.

Sometimes people in your position are better off sticking with clearance racks and outlet stores because they are accustomed to a certain level of selectivity AND have unrealistic expectations of the off-price market that make them difficult to deal with as customers.

When I was brokering, I remember one lady that got mad about an order and sent it back (nearly all jobbers do not allow returns). She was mad because the styles were all past season. And I was a little shocked, did she really think she was going to get current season merchandise for a fraction of the retail price? I mean retail stores didn’t even mark it down yet. Sometimes you do get current season merchandise in the off price market, but it is not such a regular occurrence that you should expect it.

That experience was bizarre because I had taken for granted that people understood that off price was off price for a reason. No store would job out current merchandise that is sitting on their racks. If they need to sell it, they will actually hold it until the season is done. No manufacturer wants to shoot themselves in the foot by selling current season merchandise to jobbers. So if they do, it’s with EXTREME restrictions on where it is sold, or sometimes they make the company hold it until the season is over.

Anyhow, people who are used to buying from stores (and have the ability to return damaged items for a refund) are often difficult to convert to off price buying (with most jobbers a level of minor damage is part of the business and if you are nitpicky about little things, they won’t work with you again). And are often THE most frustrated off price buyers. The price you pay in the store covers the benefits you receive (returns, exchanges, extreme selectivity). The minute you want to come to off-price and get it cheaper, you have to give up those benefits.

Now, the reason I am writing this is because now that you understand how the business works, you can understand how people end up buying things that they do not like. And if you don’t like it, you won’t want to sell it. If you’re handpicking in a retail store, you don’t buy stuff you don’t like and don’t want to sell. So, what this means is that you will end up losing *some money* here and there. It happens to everybody, even the best. Maybe you didn’t see the damage on this piece, or this one was horribly ugly or something like that. Maybe you got a little too excited in a warehouse and picked up some things you should have left there. There are tons of reasons why, but EVERYONE ENDS UP WITH SOME AMOUNT OF MERCHANDISE THAT THEY CANNOT SELL.

Now, once you end up losing *some money* here and there, you BETTER be doing this as a business or it gets old quick. Most SAHMs end up buying a bad deal early on. Even if they buy from the best jobber with the best intentions the merchandise may not be what they expected (you’re used to shopping in a store, after all). Your husband is not going to think your “cute little hobby” is so cute if you blew $300 or $500 on merchandise that you couldn’t move. I can’t tell you how many emails I have gotten from SAHMs that were doing it for fun, asked the hubby for $300-500 dollars, blew it on merchandise that can’t move, he got mad, dissed the hobby, now she needs to find a way to actually make money (not have fun) to recoup the losses and prove to her husband that she isn’t crazy.

See where I’m going with this? If you like to do it for fun, stay in the store. If you want to do it for profit, do off price and think like a business.