Brian Jones joins us today to share his story and how he started selling leg lamps from the movie A Christmas Story out of his apartment. A few years after that he bought the house from the movie A Christmas Story and used that purchase to build a relationship with Warner Bros selling officially licensed products from the movie. Today he runs multiple ecommerce websites but is focused on A Christmas Story and National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation with roughly 70% of all of his sales coming in the months of November and December.
Brian has been selling since 2003 and we talk about how he got started and slowly grew his business to where it is today. Brian's story is a lot of fun especially if you have an appreciation for 80's Christmas movies.
Want to ask a question?
Get involved and ask a question about selling on Amazon and Chris may answer your question live on a future episode of Sellercast. Also, if you think you'd be a good guest for the Sellercast podcast feel free to tell us more about you and your company here.
Need more product reviews?
If you'd like to get more reviews for your products on Amazon check out Salesbacker.
Show Notes and Links
Intro: Hello everyone. Chris Guthrie here, host of Sellercast. In today’s episode, I have Brian Jones on. I’m really excited about today’s episode because Brian has been selling since 2003. And he started selling leg lamps from the movie ‘A Christmas Story’. And a few years later, he bought the house from the movie ‘A Christmas Story’ and then leveraged that into a relationship with Warner Brothers. And he also then moved on to selling products from Christmas Vacation. So two popular ‘80s Christmas movies, and his entire business is based on those movies and selling products related to them.
So it’s going to be a lot of fun, a great episode. Brian does about 50 percent of his product sales through Amazon and the other 50 percent through his own ecommerce store. So for those of you that are thinking about hey, I’d like to eventually get an ecommerce store going, Brian started the other way with an ecommerce store and then moved on to Amazon. But this can give you some idea as to what you can do as you scale your ecommerce business. And also, it’s a fun story just because he’s talking about these movies that I personally enjoy and that I believe that many of you will enjoy as well. So let’s start the show.
Chris Guthrie: Hello everyone. Chris Guthrie here, and with me I have Brian Jones from achristmasstoryhouse.com and a few others. Brian, welcome to the show.
Brian: Hey, how’s it going? Thanks for having me.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, thanks, I’m doing well. And it’s nice to speak with you again. I know we’ve spoken first several years ago, and it’s just nice to reconnect and see how the business is going, and also for you to share your story with a new set of people. So what other sites are you running beyond the one I just mentioned?
Brian: We’re running several proprietary sites. A Christmas Story House is basically about the house. And before I had the house, we ran a site redriderleglamps.com. It was about selling leg lamps and other A Christmas Story memorabilia. That now serves as a gift shop off of achristmasstoryhouse.com. And later on, in 2008, I got on a Christmas Vacation. So we opened up christmasvacationcollectibles.com. And then just these past couple of years, we’ve basically had a lot of vendors. And they’re selling other products, but we were just buying either their Christmas Story or Christmas Vacation items and realized we could buy other stuff until that clears. So we opened up a site called clevelandstreetnovelties.com. Obviously, the name Cleveland Street coming from A Christmas Story. The house is on good ol’ Cleveland Street when they introduced it in the beginning of the movie. It’s still on Amazon, eBay those IDs and storefronts. So that’s how we’re doing it.
Chris Guthrie: Okay, awesome. I do want to backtrack too and talk about how you even got into this niche. I know you’ve been doing it for quite some time, and as you mentioned, just going into a separate movie in 2008. So can you tell us how you got into selling these types of Christmas memorabilia in the first place?
Brian: I always wanted to be a jet pilot all my life. My dad was a pilot in the navy. And I thought that’d be really cool to fly an F-18 on the sky. So I studied hard in school, at the Naval Academy, on the flight school, and failed the division test. I got reassigned to be an intelligence officer, which wasn’t quite, you know, what I had planned and dreamed in life. I was disappointed. So my parents, as a gag gift, made me a leg lamp. And I just thought it was pretty funny. And nobody made them. And then I spent 5 years in the Navy. So I went off to my first tour. And then I was in my second tour. I wanted to get out. I was looking at all kinds of things. Going to work for a corporation seemed just as bad as being in the Navy, if not worse. And I had always just heard growing your own business was the deal. The only guys you ever talk to have done well or have a good adventure, great stories, and run their own business. But I didn’t really know anybody in business. So I just kind of was like, “What could I do?” And it just dawned on me one day that I should sell leg lamps. The one that my parents had made, people always enjoyed and said, “Oh, that’s one from A Christmas Story.” So while I was still in the Navy, I started moonlighting, putting together leg lamps in my condo, and sell them on eBay. eBay was a much bigger deal back then – we’re talking like ’03 – than it is today. Still a very good platform. There are a lot of other places out there. We’re still relatively new, especially for ecommerce, and people starting to trust it. So it kind of took off, did well. Then I left the Navy next year to do it full time, and haven’t looked back since.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. I want to dive more into that a little bit. I’m curious too. For the most part, everyone I talked to that starts a business always starts doing it on the sides. And they build up to the point where they can either quit their job or they decide, “Okay, let’s hire someone else to help run their business well.” Or they’re still running their job before they ultimately leave.
But I’m really interested in how you actually were building these leg lamps. Were you sourcing parts to construct them? Or were you doing them in some sort of a handmade type thing? I’m kind of curious what you’re doing today.
Brian: I was sourcing the parts in the U.S. from a couple of different places. But everybody I would talk to was like, “No, we can’t do this.” Or that’s not our business because it’s all being made in China. It’s all being made in China. Everything is made in China. It didn’t take me too long to figure out I should probably have my lamps made in China. So I actually got the lamp, the symbol, a better-looking one in the second year, delivered for almost half what it would cost me to buy the parts in the U.S. and put it together myself. It was a no-brainer. I was making them myself from parts, you know. It’s fine. But then it’s like I spent all my time doing that in order to grow the business. I needed to get out of that and running more things and having somebody else actually build them. So having them made in China was the way to go.
Chris Guthrie: And so how did you actually find your first supplier in that way then? Was Alibaba a big a big force as it is today in terms of finding suppliers? Or did you find it some other way?
Brian: Truth be told, in the backs of magazines, they share those newspaper square ads. And there was a little one who said, “Entrepreneurs, get your stuff made in China.” So I just called the guy out, started talking to him, sent him a sample, and he found me a factory in China that had it made with some improvements that I wanted. … I got lucky, to be honest. The guy is great. And he actually is still my factory broker to this day.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great, okay. So then that’s how you got started. You were doing on the side, got on the navy. And then things started doing pretty well. How did you take it from that part-time business and then start to scale it and grow from there?
Brian: Well, I definitely recommend, don’t just quit your job and think you’ll immediately start running a great business. You need to moonlight, or be in the industry before you do that because you’ll run out of money right quick, cashflow won’t go so well. Nobody knows who you are. You’re not going to index your product well or beat anybody who’s already in the market right out of the gate. But for me: we basically plough all the money back into the business at first. We lived on my wife’s salary. She was in the Navy as well after I got out. She stayed in, and the money made by the business would go back into the business (which is again why you don’t quit your job right out of the gate). And as it grew, it took me probably four, maybe five years before I really felt like it was on its own and we could actually take money out of it and not put it all back in to make it work.
Chris Guthrie: Okay, yeah. So some time along the way, you ended up buying the house from the movie A Christmas Story, right?
Brian: That was actually the second year of the business. That was going really well. I was newly out of the Navy. The captain of my wife’s ship … told her about it on eBay. She emailed me four or five days later, not thinking anything of it. And I immediately bought it within less than 24 hours. I saw it in the evening, contacted the guys through eBay. The next morning I offered $150,000 for it, they sold it to me, and it was all mine.
Chris Guthrie: That’s awesome. That is a good lesson in reinvesting the profits. So year 2, and it took you four to five years before you could finally start pulling out capital, I guess.
Brian: Yeah, we have some debt too on that because it was back in the days when real estate was going through the roof. Back then if you had a pulse they would give you a line of credit for whatever equity you had in your house. So I took the equity out of my condo in order to keep the business running because that cost basically all the money I had made. I mean that’s part of the reinvesting. This is a great opportunity. I’m going take some money out … money back in, and then take some more money out on a loan in order to keep the business going and growing.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So you bought the house. And then how long did it take for you to… What was your initial plan? Obviously, it was, “Okay, I’m selling these leg lamps already. And now if I buy this house, there’s some value there in terms of the brand you’re trying to build. But what was your initial idea in terms of why you’re buying the house and what your plans were for it, both then and also now today?
Brian: Leg lamps were selling well. The house seemed like a good business move and a natural extension of the business. I’m selling A Christmas Story leg lamps. Why not do something with A Christmas Story house? The first thing that popped into my head is Bed & Breakfast. Yeah, I know, not that. And then I thought maybe a museum. When I got there, it was really cool. I was like wow. I was running about the back yard, just checking it out. And that’s when it dawned on me, what if I restore both outside and inside? So you could basically go visit and walk through the Parkers’ house? So that’s when I bought the house across the street, and that serves as a museum where you can see all the props and costumes and stuff that we’ve collected over the years.
Chris Guthrie: That’s awesome. That’s good. And so along the way too, when you first started out, you weren’t actually officially licensed to sell the leg lamps. What were you actually calling them? Were you just calling them leg lamps?
Brian: I’ve had a couple of letters back and forth with Warner Brothers who owns A Christmas Story. I’d say, “Hey I’d like to license here’s my plan.” It just didn’t get to the right department. And I got this cryptic “If you ever make money we’d be interested, in the mean time we own all the rights” like yes, yes, I know that. Basically, I was getting blown off, I’m sure they get lots of letters from people saying “I want to license” and people don’t realize that there are tens of thousands of dollars in royalties, the percentage guarantee over this and that that you have to pay. When I started out I said yeah, I can’t really afford that, but I still want it. So basically, the house became a big deal, and they could kind of see I was serious about it and moving forward. Then I got in touch with the right lady at Warner Brothers, who had been doing licensing for A Christmas Story. And I said “hey I’ve been trying to get in contact” and she said “hey, here I am. Let’s do a deal.” We do the deal, and now we’re officially licensed for both A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. And those are both the same movie studio, right? Warner Brothers…
Brian: Right, yeah, that’s why it was easy once I had A Christmas Story license. And we later decided to do Christmas Vacation, and I said “hey, can you add this to my contract.” “Sure, here you are.”
Chris Guthrie: Okay. And so then if you were trying to give advice to someone that was interested in doing licensed products, whether or not it’s movie memorabilia or something separate that’s based on some other property that’s owned by a larger company. Based on the struggle that you’ve had, would you just say don’t do it? What advice would you give to someone who was trying to approach that type of an angle?
Brian: Go to Las Vegas. I think it’s in Las Vegas. They have a whole convention about licensing it. All the properties are there. There’s just a ton of them. They come out, and you can basically sign up, talk to people about what you want to license, what they’re willing to license you, what channel for distribution you can do for that. There might even be stuff you haven’t thought about, “oooh, I can make this. And once usually you get in… And there are also people you can hire. Obviously, if you don’t have money, you’re starting out, you’re probably not hiring anybody to do this. And they know all the people on the inside, in the industry. But you can also just look up the number for Warner Brothers consumer products and call them and say “hey, I’m interested in this movie, and I’d like to license it.” And you’ll very well find the executive who’s responsible for that and get you in touch in general. They’ve gotten a lot better about it since my day and age about reaching out to people. So you can go to their trade shows. There’s a lot. You can get into it. You just have to find the right contact, do a bit of research. You should be able to do that.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, so is licensingexpo.com the one for Vegas?
Brian: I think that sounds familiar because that’s where my licensing executive would be going every year… “yeah, I gotta go to the show.” I’m like “Fun. Have a good time.”
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, it was Vegas. I feel like I’ve been there at least a couple of dozen times in the last five years [laughs]. Every conference is there. Okay, so that’s great. That’s good advice for someone that’s looking to do an ad. Another question too is are these licenses that you have exclusive in some ways? Or is it any large property like that that are just going to work in some capacity and work with as many people as possible because you want to make as much money as possible?
Brian: Yeah, generally the latter. They have channels. You have your license. Then you have channels of distribution. You can wholesale the big box. You can wholesale the specialty. So you may break it up that way. It used to be a little bit more exclusive, but it’s pretty wide open on things, unless you’re a huge corporation, and you’re going to put up a lot of money. You’re going to get the license, but you’re going to have competing license people. I strictly stay away from the wholesale part. That’s never been my gig, so I avoid that. We license for our online stores that are going to be able to sell our stuff on Amazon and eBay. That’s really all I’ve ever been interested in. We’ll then try to get into the bigger picture of things.
Chris Guthrie: Okay, so then it’s just the two movies that you’re licensed for right now?
Brian: Yeah. We looked at other ones, like the movie Elf. It also comes down to the show, what’s really there to license. We license mostly replica products. In Elf, the only thing there really is... Buddy the Elf himself is the star of the show. There’s no leg lamp. There’s no Moose Mug, bunny suit, BB gun. There’s nothing really of that nature to license it out if you look at it. And it’s also one of those more modern movies. And a lot of the rights, especially if you get actors’ images and all that, are all locked up. A Christmas Story and Christmas Vacation were far more… We’re not really doing any “character” things from Christmas Vacation. We’re just doing the products. So that makes it easier because there are not a lot of rights issues. But A Christmas Story, for sure, 1983, what the studio probably considered a B movie that they really didn’t want to make. There were standard contracts where the actors signed away basically everything. That makes it a little special in that sense. But if the studio comes out with a new film, you’re probably not going to get the license for that. They’re going to be for a big collectibles company if you’re already in that realm.
Chris Guthrie: Okay, that makes sense. The next question I was curious about is how are you actually deciding which products to sell? I know that you mentioned… Obviously they’re movies that you’re going to see, what’s popular. And it’s like okay, well, these are natural fits. It’s a leg lamp. It’s BB gun, it’s Moose mug.... Are you looking to really go as wide as you can? Or are you really just trying to narrow in on the most popular items and only sell those?
Brian: It’s kind of a complicated issue on which to sell. And obviously, we sell what sells. If we have an exclusive, and it’s something that we’re making and producing ourselves, we sell a lot more than if we buy it from somebody else and that everybody hasn’t. So you’re just trying to sell a few of it. If you’re wholesaling it from somebody else, it’s obviously going to be in every store. You’re going to sell a lot less of it. That was kind of the idea with the Cleveland Street Novelties. We can still do some, and we will get some good sales off of that. It’s not like our exclusive sites. Most of the stuff that we make exclusively for ourselves obviously sells because we’re the only people selling it. You can kind of sometimes find that by tweaking the product that’s already out there and then be like, “Well there’s that one, but ours is a little bit different”, and making it better. A lot of companies will do the minimum, especially the bigger ones, they’re trying to maximize their profit. So they skimp a little bit on the quality. And if you can offer better quality… but the thing when you’re selling online is to be able to demonstrate that quality online so the consumer can see the difference. Sometimes people can’t. If they can’t touch it and have the two right next to each other, they can’t tell the difference in the better quality of products you’re making. So you have to have a discernible quality difference in order to sell yours for either more or just to sell it and compete with the already established product.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, okay, that makes sense. And the other thing I was interested in is the actual operational side. Even just talking about you’re doing wholesaling, so you’re getting some products from other places. You’re doing your sourcing from China. And there’s a lot that’s going on. So I’m curious about the operational side. First, what platform are you using for your ecommerce stores? You started in 2003 with your first one, correct?
Chris Guthrie: So have you switched around a lot?
Brian: I definitely let the old platform run too long. But now we’re using Magento. So we use that. And there are a lot of plugins. But yeah, that was a big mess. Our three sites are basically all the same, except you just change the window dressing, different products with different banner on the top, a few things. But it’s all in the same design for the site and the shopping cart. They’re all tied in there at the backend all together for shipping and order tracking and all that fun, fun stuff.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah [laughs], that’s great. And then on the actual shipping side, are you shipping all of these yourself? Or do you have another situation going on?
Brian: We do Amazon’s FBA, Fulfillment by Amazon, for smaller products. Bigger ones, though make sense. But we’ve also actually found sometimes that we can… And also cost to ship it to Amazon and do all that. But you can actually send something so it’s FBA and Prime and charge more for it because people just want that guarantee, which is hilarious to me. We’ll get it to you in two days, no problem, if you want it today. And most gets to the East Coast from Cleveland, Ohio, in two days. And that’s no problem, a few more days out to the West Coast. We do that. But everything else, we warehouse it, we ship it. We use all three carriers, FedEx, UPS, and the post office. It depends on who’s giving us the best deal on that item. And with our Magento software, we can prepare the price before you ship it, so different things for different areas work better. It used to be exclusively FedEx, but that was before when you could charge people for shipping. Now pretty much, everybody expects, thank you, Amazon, that they’re going to get free shipping on their products. So that took hold probably two years ago. If you weren’t offering free shipping, people are going to find it some place else because enough people are doing it.
Chris Guthrie: That’s interesting.
Brian: And that’s been a big game-changer. We track what we’re spending on shipping a lot more, because we’re paying for it and we can’t charge for it anymore.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Just to backtrack on one of the things you mentioned, you’re using FBA for the smaller items. Are you doing that even for the items that you’re selling within your own Magento store, and then just kind of syncing the data?
Brian: Yeah, we’re probably selling about half of our stuff on Amazon. I buy everything on Amazon personally. It’s just become a juggernaut. It’s huge. And it gets all the traffic. It gets sales. And like I said, people trust it. They have an Amazon account. They have their Prime account. They get the free shipping. And Amazon has done a good job guaranteeing that if you want it in two days, you’re going to get it in two days, with very few exceptions. So people know and they trust it. And it might be the first time they’re on your side. And people have that one bad experience buying something from an ecommerce store, and the company just didn’t put the effort into getting it to them on time, and it’s missed. Or they’ve had trouble getting a hold of customer service. That’s not us, but I’ve had other people … where they just be like, if I order from Amazon and if I don’t like it, I can get my money back... So that’s how Amazon is such a big deal and such a force today. I don’t know if I were starting out today, if I would even almost bother with my own website. I would just go to sell on Amazon and eBay because they’re that big. Because you have to consider the cost of developing your own website. There are cheaper ways to do it if you’re just starting out. But there’s that consideration. I’ve got to pay somebody to work on this website or I could just sell that on Amazon’s fee as I go along as opposed to making the larger investment up front to get the website up and running. And the website has to index a lot of things. So there’s a lot of investment there. It doesn’t pay off right away. Whereas if I put something on Amazon, it’s sold, and I’ve got some money, excellent.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, I mean the vast majority of listeners here are primarily selling on Amazon to start. And then they’re probably in the stage where they’re looking at building their own ecommerce store to try and help diversify their revenue a little bit. And obviously, when you start… Amazon wasn’t as easy as it is today in terms of listing and selling items in that way. So that’s curious too. I mean 50 percent is going through Amazon, and you’re doing your small items through FBA. Do you foresee that… So you have your own warehouse space as it is now?
Chris Guthrie: Do you foresee a future where it’s almost like you just have to have all your items with Amazon because of the future of their drone delivery and all the other stuff they’re funding?
Brian: I don’t think there’s going to be drone delivery.
Chris Guthrie: You don’t think so?
Brian: No, that’s just not possible. The liability… The lawyers are going to get involved, and it’s not going to happen.
Chris Guthrie: I don’t know. I just saw a little video of Jeremy Clarkson from Top Gear talking about the future initiatives and actual drone footage and all that. I don’t know. I’m hopeful as a consumer. And also, I think it will be helpful for sellers because it’ll further help grow Amazon to the point where you have to sell there, basically.
Brian: well, my thing is: what happens when the drone crashes into somebody’s car. They’re driving on the freeway, and they crash into other cars, three people are dead. And all that for the delivery of a $5 item on Amazon. And tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of dollars, in liability and insurance payments, that’s where I don’t see it working. I just spent $100 and I’m like, “Yeah, I’m not sure about that one.” Hey, but I might be wrong.
Chris Guthrie: It could be interesting either way. I mean it’s coming up here, so that’s cool. But on the other side too, I looked at your Red Rider Leg Lamps site, and I found a team page. And I counted what appeared to be about 16 total team members. Is that accurate?
Brian: Yeah, we probably have about 16 people working at the warehouse. I think right about now, we have 40 employees total, both between the house and the warehouse. Some people are back-and-forth. So that’s about it. We probably have about 16 people. That’s about what it takes to run one of these things. We always have some temporary workers coming out during the Christmas season. And then we go back to our core employees afterwards.
Chris Guthrie: When did you make your first hire with this business?
Brian: October 1st of 2005 we made our first hire, which is always nervous, because that just takes your business spending level… you have all these employment things to handle. The admin probably starts building up at that point. Before that, you’re doing it yourself. My friends have come out to help, and I’d pay them a couple of bucks or buy some pizza, have fun, my parents have helped me with stuff. So that just brings on… That’s a whole another dimension to your business once you hire somebody that works for you payroll company. Then all the policies start to flow because if you own your own business, no one will ever care as much as you. Some people come close, but you have to understand there are different motivations between being an owner and being an employee.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. So in those cases… I mean I know this is a challenge with any business, but are there things that you try and do to help manage that… knowing that. For example, some profit-sharing type thing during…
Brian: Yeah, we have a profit-sharing program. We try to pay competitive wages. We have Retirements, SIMPLE IRA. We have medical. We’re into making it a better-than-average medical plan, things of that nature, to make sure that… Again, the motivations in taking care of the employees: you take care of the employees because they take care of your customers. So that’s where it kind of goes down. You don’t want to have an upset or disgruntled employee. You want them to be very happy because it’s going to trickle down out of your business. And they’re helping you out. It’s a team effort. It makes the company run smoothly. So I try to do right by them… There will be disagreements and some things down the road. It’s all part of running a business.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah [laughs]. The other thing I noticed too though on that team page was that you were listed as owner and founder, but you’re also the CEO. So have you stepped back from day to day, and the CEO primarily runs a company? How much time are you personally spending on the business?
Brian: I’ve been spending less on it. I got voted out of California in 2012 and moved to Jacksonville, Florida. After California decided to pass what they call Proposition 30, and raise income tax 13.2 percent, which started hammering my business profits and the money that we could reinvest. So Angela Dickerson took over, and she runs all the day-to-day stuff. I still live in Jacksonville, Florida and the business is in Cleveland, Ohio. I’m taking some time looking at what I want to maybe do next. But I still weigh in on things, but she does a great job running everything. So I’m pretty much at ease. To have it in her capable hands.
Chris Guthrie: Interesting, so you’ve pretty much done to the point where… I think entrepreneurs, maybe it’s their goal to get to the point where they build the business up to the point where someone takes over. And then they’re just more of a very high overseer. Or they do other business. Is that what you’re doing? Are you doing...
Brian: Yeah, I’m the higher overseer, making sure everything runs well, kind of the “yes, no, or maybe.” But don’t make that as your goal. If you’re trying to start your own business, it’s kind of a myth. That was the first thing when I was getting started, don’t think if you’re like, “Oh, I want to spend more time with my family and have a little bit more independence or freedom,” maybe the independence but more freedom, you’re going to be strapped to your business for so many years. It controls every aspect of my life. If we want a vacation, I was still working all the time and answering customer service emails, doing this and that. But we got to go on very few vacations because I’m like I just can’t go at that time, or we have this to do, or we’ve got that coming in. So if you’re trying to do it for that reason, don’t. If you’d rather be more independent and not work for a corporation, sure, start up your own business. But if you’re looking for the freedom and more time with the family and the kids, my success is generally the small business myth. That you can go the four-hour work week and just do nothing.
Chris Guthrie: [Laughs]. Yeah, I’ll restate that you started in 2003, for people that are listening.
Brian: I’ve been doing this for 12 years. It’s just the last couple of years that I’ve kind of taken some time off and having Angela run everything.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, okay. And the other thing that’s really interesting about your business is that it’s Christmas-oriented. I’m assuming that the vast majority of your sales are coming in November and December. What percentage is the split?
Brian: I’d say it’s probably about 70 percent of our business. It probably used to be even higher, but we’re trying to branch out, more flexible and in other things. Also just even out, but that also pays the bills in the off season.
Chris Guthrie: Sorry, I was going to say that was the main reason. The main reason why I was going to ask that question was trying to set up how are you preparing for… Because there’s a short window of sales in that time period when… Essentially, at this point, now you’ve been going for a longer time period. So you can presumably weather more potential inventory mix-ups or anything like that. But you’re trying to order for a time period that’s very specific, and things need to sell. Or I guess you’re potentially holding on to it a year using a line of credit. Or what are you doing for that?
Brian: We have a bank line of credit. I’ve known business owners who don’t have one, and I’m like “are you serious?” What happens if you run into some problem or something, because the bank will never loan you money when you need it. They loan it to you when you don’t need it. We have a line of credit. We use that, basically, to bring in inventory and then pay it down during the Christmas season. We’ve sometimes gotten things wrong, but I would rather have more inventory because it always sells, we sell through stuff, we can either put it on sale, or we just keep it till the next season. I’m just going to have to spend as much money in the off season the following year because if I sell it all, I’ve got to replace it all. If I don’t sell it all, I don’t have to replace it. I don’t have to spend that money. But as long as I’ve gotten most of the stuff right, we made a good profit. It’s not a big deal. That’s just the future profit. And I don’t get too worked up about it, because I’d rather have stuff anyway because we still sell leg lamps and stuff all year round. So if I sell it all, with Chinese new year, I’m not going to get anything till May or June back in stock if it sells out.
And sometimes you get the discounts. Or if you’re designing your own products, you’ve got to buy in huge bulk. So I know that when I’m buying some of this stuff, it’s three or four years of inventory. So I just factor that. And I think a lot of people don’t factor that in. And it kind of gets to my advantage, why a lot of people won’t do it. I’m like, “Well, I’ll sit on it for a couple of years.” And it’s basically an investment. And sometimes like the first year, we’ll pay for the product, pay what we had to pay to get it. And the second year is the profit. And as long as you’re able to stagger products like that… And that’s what we do. One year, okay, we’re going to make this and bring in a whole two or three sea containers of it. We do that, and it sells over there. And then we wait for another product. So basically, you’re staggering that one sold, that one is making profit. You bring another one in to sell through, just to pay for itself. And then we have other stuff that sells straight through. There’s a pretty spreadsheet with lots of colors to show what we’re ordering, what we’re not, why we’re doing this. There are lots of tabs. That’s the other part of running a business that’s big: you can look at lots of spreadsheets — it’s awesome. And we just basically figure out what we sold the year before, and that gives us a suggested order for the next year. And then we just go through it line-by-line to figure out manually if there’s a reason… something was just on sale so it sold more than it would have. So we don’t really need to order more of that. If something was new and it sold really well, it’s not going to be new next year. So it’s probably not going to sell as well. So I might reduce some orders. So we do a lot of analysis. There’s just one shot at Christmas. And if it sells really well, you’ve only got what you ordered and had in stock for a month or so to sell through. You can’t get it back in because it’s January or February by the time you get it in. Or even if you’re making it yourself, it’s six months later. So you’ve got to guess right, or you’re gonna be out.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, that’s interesting. And it makes sense too, certainly, with how long you’ve been doing this. So you’re going to have to kind of add some complexity as you’re going along in terms of tracking all these different products online at Amazon, trying to line up what you’re selling them for, then determine what the demand might be. So that’s great.
I have two other final questions before we wrap up. The first question was one that I had thought of before. Before, you mentioned that you have that CEO that’s pretty much taken everything. But 2003, you started, right? That’s a long time to be running the same business. Maybe it’s not that long if you think of others...
Brian: That’s twice as long as I was the Navy.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. But I mean do you get… I mean… people saying you’ll shoot your eye out. You hear it too many times, or any of the other types of things? Or do you just think maybe I’d like to sell the business? Is it just not really something you’re interested in?
Brian: If you’ve got enough money, I’ll sell it to you, sure.
Chris Guthrie: [Laughs]. I’m not asking from my standpoint. It’s more so just of an entrepreneur-to-entrepreneur type question, if that was your goal some day. Or if you just figure you keep running it, obviously, I don’t see any popularity waning in those movies in the nearest future.
Brian: Yeah, no, that’s kind of a question I’ve tried to wrestle with over the last couple of years. Do you stay in and take basically the payments over time? Or do you sell the company and take the lump sum? Then what do you do? What about the employees? What about all that stuff? Would it be enough to sell and not do anything ever again if you didn’t want to? What’s my next move? I’m taking a little bit of time right now. I’m just kind of like, “Okay, just find out what…” My kids are young too, so there’s no rush to find anything new. Maybe I wait a couple of years, and they have something they want to do for business. I have a couple of ideas too. So there’s no real rush either way. I may or may not decide. That’s also part of the reason… the nice part about it is that there are different websites and different things. You could just sell like, say, the Christmas Vacation part of the business and just fall back, doing just A Christmas Story. They’re different websites and different platforms. So you can sell just that section and then keep the rest and be like, “Okay, maybe I want to take a little bit of complexity out of it.” So if I sell one piece of it, we still have a business, it’s maybe a little less complex, maybe a little more fun, a little more relaxing as opposed to the constant stress of getting ready for Christmas and the order cycle and all that fun, fun stuff.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, all right. So the final question I have… And this is pretty much the most important one. Any time I do these interviews, I like to prepare ahead of time. So I saw that you recently purchased the actual Red Ryder BB Gun from A Christmas Story. And if I come to Ohio, can I hold it? [Laughs]
Brian: Ah, I might...
Chris Guthrie: Or is it behind the glass?
Brian: It’s behind glass. It’s in a case. It’s the world’s most expensive BB gun. That’s why it’s there.
Chris Guthrie: [Laughs] It’s quite a big ask...
Brian: People ask me, “Have you shot it?” I’m like, “No, I paid $10,000 for it. It’s going behind glass.” I’m not going to break that thing. I haven’t thought about that. It didn’t occur to me to actually go out and shoot in the backyard.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, that’s fine. I don’t have to hold it. That’s fine [laughs]. Well, cool. I really appreciate you coming on and talking about your business and some of the challenges and successes along the way of growing it. And it’s a great story. I thank you again for coming on and talking about it.
Brian: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on.
Chris Guthrie: Thanks, Brian.
Outro: Right, and that was the episode with Brian. Thank you so much for listening to it. You can go to Sellercast.com/14 to check out the show notes and see some of the store URLs that Brian mentioned. And also, please do leave us a review on iTunes if you’ve enjoyed this episode. I really appreciate that. Finally, you can contact me if you would like to be on the show or if you have any suggestions for how to improve it. Thank you so much, and have a great rest of your day.