Business Is Exploding! How I Pivoted to Create a Successful Ecommerce Store

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How I Created a Successful Ecommerce Store

Last week was the one year anniversary of this blog, and it was fitting that I had just started to see the first real success with my new store.  It meant that I could make it to this year’s retreat in Thailand, and see my bro in Korea.

I was overwhelmed with gratitude, and somehow it didn’t end there.  Last week turned into the best week of my life financially.

I made more money last week than I ever earned in a month as an architect (except for bonuses).

Crazy.  A total surprise.

What Happened?

This post is going to be a deep dive, for those who want to know how I turned my failing site into a successful ecommerce store, and I’ll share all my exciting numbers.  If you’re not into the details, this one probably isn’t for you.

This is the store that I wrote about in my 45 day new store challenge.  If you read my last entry from late May, I had finished creating the store, but I missed my first sale deadline.

I did a bunch of things wrong, starting with faulty niche research, and ended up in a niche where I couldn’t compete very well.  But rather than rehash all that, let’s talk about what I did to get on the right track.

Let’s pretend I’m selling riding lawn mowers and other lawn care equipment, for the purposes of this post.  That’s not what I sell, but I don’t like to talk publicly about what I do sell.  Here’s why.  I’ve changed the names of my products, but not the numbers.

Riding lawn mower - How I created a successful ecommerce store

Photo by unknown.

How I Fixed It

For the reasons I described in the post mentioned above, I wasn’t able to make any sales with my new “riding lawn mowers” store.  I spent too long optimizing products that weren’t going to sell, because the advertising cost too much and the competition was too strong.  I shouldn’t have spent so much time re-writing product descriptions.

Once I realized what the problems were, I immediately pivoted the store into another sub-niche, as I described in that last post.  Fortunately, instead of naming my store “Awesome Riding Lawn Mowers,” I had the foresight to call it “Awesome Lawn Care,” so I could sell all kinds of landscaping tools.

Niching Sideways and Up

I started calling suppliers of rototillers and putting their products up on my website.  Those didn’t sell either, for the same reasons as the riding lawn mowers.

Those were both fairly niche items, I thought, so I started calling manufacturers of more general every-day products, like regular lawn mowers, weed whackers, and all kinds of gardening equipment.

The problem with these new suppliers, though, was that they wanted me to handle freight shipping (not Fedex or UPS).  Most suppliers will ship their own products with freight companies that they’ve negotiated rates with, but not these guys.

Plus, all of these more generic suppliers were incredibly slow to work with.  They would take days or weeks getting back to me on everything, and wouldn’t give me proper dimensions and weight to get accurate quotes on shipping.

Don’t Wait For People

I could have waited several more weeks before I had all the information, but I wanted to sell NOW!  So, I said screw it, I’ll figure the shipping out when I get a sale.

With the help of my VA (virtual assistant), I was able to add about 50 products to the store, and get our ads live pretty quickly once I had approval from these suppliers.

Then nothing happened.  I ran out of money and had to lay her off in mid June.

I kept adding more suppliers and more products.  After a while, I started to get some traffic, and the weekend of 4th of July I made my first sale, then another, and another.  When the weekend was over I had a total of 4 sales.  Awesome!

Now it was time to test my calculations.  Shipping ended up being WAY more than I ever would have imagined.  On a $500 item, shipping was upwards of $450 or more, and I had budgeted $200.

One of the sales happened to be to a customer who lived in the state it was being shipped from, so that one worked out and I made $100.  I cancelled all the rest.

I could have raised my prices on all those products, but competition was tough and there were a few other reasons I didn’t want to work with those suppliers.  I decided to keep expanding horizontally into other side-niches.

The loss of the sales didn’t upset me.  I knew it was a test, and I would rather know that those products didn’t work now, than wait several more weeks and find out the same thing.

So I kept going, adding more products in other side-niches.

Competing Harder

About this time, I was getting pretty discouraged.  Nothing was working.

Remember, I was months in to this project at this point.  I had a beautiful looking site and awesome branding, but no real results.

I reached out to Anton, the creator of the Drop Ship Lifestyle course, to ask what I should do. He thought my original idea of riding lawn mowers was still promising, and that I should compete at a higher level.

I spent a few weeks working on those products, writing fantastic descriptions, adding clear and compelling messaging to my site, and pumped up my advertising spend.

I did get a measurable increase in traffic and a few inquiries.  One intriguing email came from someone in the government who wanted to buy my most expensive mower – a $6500 item, after discounts.

He said he would buy it, but he needed to get approval first.  I was pumped.  If he ordered, I would have a $3000 profit from that single product.

Then I never heard back from him.  I sent him a couple of followup emails, but nothing.  Crap.

But still no sales for the original niche.

Commercial lawn mower - How I created a successful online store

Photo by Tim Wilson.

One Last Chance

The guys in my mastermind had been trying to get me to move on for a while, but I always told them there was another side-niche that I wanted to test first.  This time, however I thought was really the store’s last chance.

I could keep on expanding forever, but they convinced me that I needed to set a time limit, and I knew they were right.

For a while I had been thinking about selling B2B (business to business) products – commercial lawn mowers.

They came up every now and then when I searched for products, and I had called a few suppliers in the previous months, but they didn’t seem interested in working with me.  Plus, this sector seemed pretty old fashioned and not very well organized.

The way they did business confused me because it didn’t fit with what I had learned through Anton’s course or my experience with my previous store.  EDIT: See my comment at the bottom if you want the details.

This would be the last horizontal move, I decided, and at the beginning of August I started calling all the commercial lawn mower suppliers I could find.  It took some work, but after a while, I had approval from several of them.

I went into a product-adding frenzy, and without the help of my VA I added about 140 products to my store.

Nothing happened.  Then something happened.

I got a sale!  It was for one of my new commercial products and I made $450.  Awesome!

But then it went all quiet again, and the guys in my mastermind again put the pressure on and suggested I write down a hard deadline for when I would move on.

I agreed completely.  I would have 50 visitors to the store per day by the next week, or I’d call it quits.  We all agreed that I should keep the store open, for random sales like the last one, but I should focus somewhere else.

I increased my advertising spending and waited.  The next days’ ads blew through a pile of cash, at a rate that I just couldn’t stomach, so I dropped it back down.

The morning of the deadline I was thinking of my next store.  This one is finished I thought.  In my call with the guys in the afternoon, I’d tell them I was moving on.

Then it happened.

I answered the phone and sold a commercial lawn mower.  The guy paid me over $5k with a credit card over the phone, and I got to keep over $1k.  Holy crap!

That was enough to convince all of us that I should keep working on this store, so I went right back to work.

Ten days later, on a Monday, I got another sale.  This time nobody even called – I just got a notice that someone bought another $5k item, and I got to keep $1200 this time.

Woah.  This is crazy.

And the floodgates opened.

That Friday I got another sale, this time for a profit of $700.

The Biggest Sale

The next week I got three more sales, culminating in the mother of all sales.

It was the biggest sale I’ve ever heard of a drop shipper making.

Remember the guy from the government who never called back?  It turns out he wasn’t just blowing me off.

Someone from his office called to ask for the discount code I promised him.  He was planning on ordering that day.

“Oh yeah, and we decided to buy two.  $13,000?  No problem, can I put that on my card?”

When I hung up the phone, shouts from my office echoed throughout the rest of the house.

I jumped up and down.  I ran from room to room yelling and laughing.

And that was it.  I made $6,000 from that sale alone, which is about how much I used to make in a month working as an architect.

My Shopify dashboard - How I Created a Successful Ecommerce Store

My Shopify dashboard. I love seeing those numbers!

Lightening Speed

This month I’ve made about $9k profit, which is mind-blowing, considering I made my first sale in July.  If you include my two August orders, I’m over $10k in 5 weeks.

EDIT much later: I finally did my bookkeeping and I made over $11k profit in September.

It’s a little overwhelming actually.  As I write this, my big fear is that the sales have stopped, and I won’t get any more.

The mind adapts quickly to this new stimulus, and wants more, constantly.  I knew ahead of time about the last few sales, and now I don’t know of any more coming.

It’s Monday, why haven’t I made any sales yet?  Never mind that my last sale was the previous business day and it’s not realistic to expect them every day.

But I don’t let it get to me.  I use it as motivation to keep hustling, keep moving forward, not to relax and take it easy.

If anything, this makes me want to go harder at it.  Now I know it’s possible, so let’s 10X this business.

EDIT: It’s been a few hours since I wrote the above section (still Monday, yeah it takes me a while to write these things), and sure enough, another sale came in.  It wasn’t a big one, but I made a couple hundred dollars.  That was enough to reassure me that I shouldn’t worry.

Lessons Learned

They always say fail fast, and I wanted to stay true to that with this store, but I wasn’t doing a very good job.  For some reason I felt attached to the initial idea, and wouldn’t let it go.

The guys in my mastermind kept on top of me, telling me I was spending too much time with this niche, and they were right.  I should have expanded more quickly.

However, I did keep expanding, adding more and more products at a fairly rapid rate.

This is only my second store, but I feel like it’s about my fifth store because I went through so many sub-niches on my way to finding the one that worked.  Each one of them could have been its own separate store, but since I chose a broad domain name, I was able to keep going, not having to stop and reset every time.

The really big sale – the only item I’ve sold from my original niche – the mega sale to the government – was a new item that my competition hadn’t gotten set up on their websites yet.  I was the only one advertising it and the only one selling it.

I had a monopoly on that product.  Of course, it could have been a product nobody wanted, but in this case it worked out.

You’re Working Hard, So It Might As Well Be For The Big Bucks

I’ve heard people say this over and over.  It takes just as much work to make $100 as it does to make $1000.

This I can now say from experience is unequivocally true.  In my first store, my hobby shop, I worked my ass off to sell expensive toys to grown men.

People would call all the time trying to haggle with me, asking all kinds of questions about which thing was better than the other, and if I could include Accessory A with Option C for the price of Bundle E.  On and on.

I would work so hard to convince someone to buy a $500 toy so that I could make $35.  Now I won’t even consider selling a product that I make less than $200 profit on.  Why waste my time?

In the best month with the hobby store, I made $500.  Now I make that much on almost every sale.

And it’s really, really, not any more work.  In fact it’s less.

In Anton’s course, he recommends products between $200 and $1000 for good reasons.  The person putting several thousand dollars on a credit card probably wants to call and make sure the store is legit. They probably also want a little more customer service.  I would too.

My first store fit right into that category, but because my niche was full of tinkerers, I ended up doing more customer service than I do now.

B2B Is Where It’s At

This store started out selling high-end products to the home consumer, but when that didn’t work out I started targeting businesses, and that’s where I found success.

When you’re selling toys to adults, they don’t need what you’re offering.  They might really want it, but their wives often keep them in check, and you have to sell extra hard to them.

My business customers know they need my products.  I don’t need to tell them why to spend money with me.  Buying my product is going to make them a lot of money, and they’d be stupid not to buy it.

They know if they spend a few grand now, they can have a low cost laborer out on the mower in a couple weeks bringing in thousands of dollars per month.

It’s a no brainer.

Yes, they need some customer service.  For the most part they just want to talk to someone, ask questions, and often place an order over the phone.  That’s the cost for doing B2B business, but it’s well worth it for me.

Eventually I’ll invest in hiring a call center, so I won’t have to deal with the customers and will concentrate on growing the business.

This Is Brand New

I recognize that this success is very recent and could crumble away at any moment – yet here I am writing a blog post as if I’m some sort of authority.

I hope it doesn’t go away, and I’m working very hard to make sure it doesn’t.  I could look pretty stupid if it turns out to be a fluke and flops.

But that’s what I promised with this blog.  The whole purpose was to show the ups and the downs, and not wait until I have a sustainable success before I share it with everyone.

I think everybody wins by being able to see the whole ride.  Plus it’s just more fun.

Now, I certainly understand that this is a special month.  The sale that accounted for more than half of my profit came as a surprise, and I can’t count on that very often.

I don’t expect to see this level of explosive growth every month.  If you take away that big sale, I expect to grow from there starting next month.

That said, I will be starting a marketing campaign to target governmental customers in the future.  In fact, Lauren’s got the creative juices flowing already.

Why I’m Talking Numbers

It’s pretty uncomfortable telling the world how much money you’re making, but there are lots of bloggers out there who give full income reports every month – this one comes to mind.

For a while I toyed with the idea, but I just don’t think that’s me, at least not right now.

The reason I’m talking numbers today is because, for one, I’m just really excited to be finally making real money after almost two years of hustling.

Second, success stories are incredibly powerful, especially if you can see all the difficulties someone  overcame to do it.

So if you’re out there wishing you could make a change in your life by starting a business, but just don’t know it’s possible, this post is for you.

I’ll still tell you all about my triumphs and losses in the future, but just don’t expect to see more numbers.

Korea - How I Created a Successful Ecommerce Store

That’s All For Me

I’m flying out for some amazing adventures tomorrow morning.  First to Korea, then to Thailand a week later.

I don’t know how much I’ll be writing while I’m away, could be more, could be less, we’ll see.  But I’ll definitely let you all know what happens and how it goes when I come back.

Man I’m super excited to be going!

I hope you’ve gotten some real value out of this post.  If you have, please consider subscribing so that you don’t miss the next big thing.

Thanks everybody and have an amazing week!

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Isaac

Some people like to be called mister. I prefer dude.

15 Responses

  1. Doug says:

    MAN! I read that with very close attention! DUDE! congrats!

  2. Chris says:

    Congrats man, well done. I am still on the fence with starting a drop shipping business. Maybe I need a solid mastermind group. Can I send you an email?

  3. Johnny says:

    BAM!!!! You’re crushing it buddy, I’m glad all of the hard work is paying off!

  4. Isaac says:

    Thanks everyone!

  5. Preston says:

    Hey Isaac,

    I was wondering if you could explain a little about how “The way they did business confused me because it didn’t fit with what I had learned through Anton’s course or my experience with my previous store.” I’m wondering if this is key, because you were able to break into a market most other E-commerce guys wouldn’t have thought to/ or spent the time to enter.

    Also, were you using Signifyd for these large sales (or a similar service)?

    Thanks!
    Preston

    • Isaac says:

      Hi Preston, thanks for the comment! I think you’re right. I found a niche that is pretty difficult to enter, and while I do have some competition, it’s very light.

      Most of my competitors are very old fashioned. They often don’t even have a way of making a purchase on their website, expecting the customer to call in for a quote.

      Nobody can understand how I do business, even some of my suppliers. They all think I’m quoting customers every time I make a sale. Even though I’ve told them repeatedly that my shipping costs are built in to the product price, they say things like, “make sure you find out blah blah blah before you quote them.”

      This is great because I don’t have really any sophisticated, modern competitors, but it’s also obnoxious because the suppliers are a pain to deal with. Many of my suppliers want me to tell them which products I want to put on the website, then they’ll send me prices and photos in a mess of multiple emails. I wish I could see the surprise on their faces when I say, “all of them. Yes, all of the products.”

      Other ridiculous things include paper, yes paper, catalogs that were scanned poorly, terrible photos, zero product information from suppliers… and I doubt they’ve ever heard of a CSV!

      They’re often confused about who I am when I call for the first time. Sometimes they think I’m the “landscaping” guy wanting to buy a “mower” from them.

      This is actually the biggest reason I didn’t pursue the niche to begin with. They just confused the crap out of me and were really hard to get any information from. Fortunately I found a couple good suppliers, and one industry insider who distributes for a lot of different brands. He really knows his stuff and can explain all the nonsense to me.

      For your second question – yes, I am using Signifyd. I wouldn’t dare sell a single item without them. Could you imagine a $13k chargeback after a scammer ran off with the product????

      See you on the forum!

  6. William says:

    Thanks for this, loved your post. I bought Antons course over a year ago and still haven’t had any luck – have built two stores and both times got knocked back by uninterested suppliers. Despite this I still have faith in the ‘system’ (feel like a crazed zealot refusing to accept reality haha) after meeting a few people in Chiang Mai that made it happen for them. Working as an economics teacher in China atm and using every piece of spare time to try to pry myself out of forced employment. Good luck to you!

    • Isaac says:

      Thanks William, I appreciate it! Yeah, you just have to keep at it, as with anything, just keep going and something will work.

  7. Zhipan Xiong says:

    Thanks for sharing, You post is very inspiring! I was so confused about niche selection competition until read your post. I am on the way building my first online store and hope will be successful one day as you are now. Wish you best!

  8. Thank you for the post Isaac. Good to hear this store is doing better than your last one. I am just starting my DS store with Anton’s course and I am at niche selection. Not the easiest process the first time around. I’m sure I’m going to learn so much.

  9. Jo says:

    Love it! Very exciting and encouraging for others.

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