Mike Jackness is on the show today and because the conversation was so long it was split into two episodes. In this first part Mike shares how he bought and sold Treadmill.com along with the challenges of running a dropshipping ecommerce business. Mike moves on to discuss the purchase of IceWraps.com. You can listen to the second part here.
All together Mike is selling over $200,000 per month with expectations to triple that by the end of the year. One of the best parts about this episode is that he is happy to share what he's selling and provides several outside the box strategies to be successful. You're going to love this episode.
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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.
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Show Notes and Links
- Mike's blog - ecomcrew.com
- Article mentioned - http://ecomcrew.com/10-things-to-think-about-before-selecting-your-ecommerce-niche/
Intro: Hello, everyone. Chris Guthrie here, host of the Sellercast. In today's episode, I speak with Mike Jackness, someone who I've known for quite some time but only recently have had a chance to meet with in person. And so I'm really glad that he was able to come on this how today.
He runs the blog EcomCrew.com and is also a seven figure e-commerce business owner. And he has a very interesting story about how he got into selling on Amazon and selling on his own websites. And the cool part too is that he's agreed actually to share the products in some of the niches that he's involved in in this actual episode.
Now, the other part that’s neat is that we had a very long episode together. We had a full 90-minute slot where we got to chat and we ended up taking up nearly all of that. And so we've actually split this conversation into two parts.
So, the first part here, we'll start with talking about how he got into e-commerce and one of his brands. And then, we'll start with the second part where he talks about one of his other brands and he gets into some of the ways he picks his products.
So overall, make sure you listen to both parts. I know you're going to love what you hear in this episode, so let's start this recording.
Chris Guthrie: Welcome, Mike to the show. Thanks so much for coming.
Mike Jackness: Oh, no problem. It's a pleasure. I've been listening to your podcast for a long time and it's cool that to finally get on here.
Chris Guthrie: I know. It's funny because before we met in person at the Sellers Summit Event, Steve Chou who was also on a podcast previously, we had some conversations back and forth on email.
I think a while back, actually, he emailed you about wanting to buy one of your WordPress related websites.
I didn’t go there very far and I don’t even know if we talked much about it. But it's funny that there's just so many connections back and forth once you’ve been in and building online businesses for quite some time.
And so, I'm glad it's kind of circle, and here you are and we're talking about your businesses. So thank you again so much for coming.
Mike Jackness: No worries at all.
Chris Guthrie: So, I know that you have a long past of doing really well online with doing affiliate marketing, building websites, ranking websites, everything else among those sides. But we're going to primarily concentrate on your e-commerce which is the more recent history that you’ve been focusing on.
So, let's start with the very first e-commerce business that you started in a more recent timeframe. Actually, I had a few that were back years ago with Treadmill.com, right? So, can you tell us about how you got into that business in the first place?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. It's actually the most roundabout zigzag way you could ever start a business. It wasn’t like we were a treadmill manufacturer and had the brilliant idea to get Treadmill.com, and increase our sales.
We were domain investors. We've been buying domain names for—since about 2010, that’s when I really got into buying domain names. I would be looking for the category killer domain name in whatever sector with the thought process of either a) I'd be selling it someday or b) I’d turn it into an affiliate website. They’re definitely some of the same things you’ve talked about in your podcast with having keyword domains or doing SEO and affiliate marketing. And that was kind of our thought process.
But when Penguin and Panda started happening, the writing was on the wall for me at least. What Google was really trying to achieve was to not allow affiliate websites to rank any longer for these big keyword headturn type things like Treadmill or something like that.
You could probably still rank number one with no problem for something like “treadmill reviews,” but not for the keyword "treadmill" or "treadmills". If you're spending the kind of money we spend on a domain for Treadmill, you got be able to rank number one for the word "treadmill" or some of these other things we'll talk about.
So, the only way we thought we could achieve that was to actually build an e-commerce business out of it, and that's how it was born.
Chris Guthrie: That’s awesome. So, you acquired this domain and I'm assuming—you don’t have to share the numbers, unless you can share. I know that you don’t own it anymore, but I'm assuming it was in the six-figure range or more to buy a domain of that caliber.
Mike Jackness: No, I don’t mind sharing.
Chris Guthrie: Okay.
Mike Jackness: We actually bought it—and this is actually kind of a pro tip, I guess for—first off, we have a lot of relationships with brokers, so that always helps. And so, when they have a domain name that's been sitting around for a while, they typically contact us because they know we're serious buyers.
And at the end of the year, it seems like people were more motivated just for tax reasons. The guy had been asking hundreds of thousands of dollars for Treadmill for years, and we were interested in it for quite some time. But we ended up picking it up for—I believe it was $82,500 which obviously is still a lot of money. But for a domain of that caliber, I thought that we stole it kind of thing. So yeah, it was a great purchase for us.
Chris Guthrie: I certainly thought that it would be in the six figure range at least—below six figures at least. That’s awesome.
So yeah, that’s a good tip as well. If you're looking to try and build an e-commerce site, and have a really established great domain name like, that is a great tip.
So, then walk us through this. Treadmill.com, you mentioned before affiliate marketing and building up websites, that's what you spend a lot of your time on before. But if you're going into e-commerce and the very first business that you get into really is selling treadmills, and that seems like the most challenging thing you could tackle.
Mike Jackness: Yeah, I've been living in this life for, I think since the day I became an entrepreneur—or not just being an entrepreneur, but ever since I quit my job in 2004. I feel like I walk in a door every day and there's a fire hose line. I'm trying to walk into the room, and it’s—that’s certainly how running Treadmill.com was to begin with.
I mean, we knew nothing about e-commerce. We knew nothing about Big Commerce or Shopify or any of these platforms. We didn’t know anything about dropshipping or customer service, or how to take credit cards even—none of that. We came from an SEO and affiliate marketing background. So yeah, it was definitely a big challenge.
We’re tenacious, and I never take no for an answer. I hear a lot of people make excuses a lot of times when I talk to them of why they couldn’t do this or that, and that just isn’t our personality. So just basically, we have this high-value domain and we already made a big investment. The only way that we're going to have an exit with this thing is to figure how to do e-commerce, so we figured out how to do e-commerce.
And within a few months, we had figured it out. And in our first year of running Treadmill.com, we sold over a million dollars in fitness equipment. So we're pretty proud of that.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So then, I’m curious about the revenue breakdown. How did you handle the treadmills themselves? Were you doing any inventory stocking for some of the other fitness equipment type things that maybe aren't as large in terms of taking up space or was everything dropshipped? How did you actually handle the fulfillment for those products?
Mike Jackness: It was a 100% dropship business.
Chris Guthrie: Okay.
Mike Jackness: It's one of the reasons why we sold Treadmill.com in January of—well, I guess, 2015. We just realized that dropshipping was not our thing. Having to rely on someone else to make us successful or not is not really my personality. And having to with two, three, or four days for a confirmation from a manufacturer that something's going to ship is just not the way that e-commerce works these days.
I mean, Amazon's already has their item delivered before we can even get a shipping confirmation. So it just was not an environment that we were comfortable in working in anymore.
And the only thing that we realized was that we never want to ship anything by LTL, which is Less than Truckload (UPS freight or Roadrunner, these types of companies). They just takes so much longer, and they are much less reliable.
So, instead of getting a three-day shipment from FedEx or UPS where you know it's going to take three days, a trucking company is going to tell you it might take seven to ten days. And then if it takes 14 days, you're just like, "Oh, well…"
And if they miss a delivery appointment, there's no recourse for you to get your money back or to fight them. And of course, the customer that’s taken half a day off of work or a full day off of work for a delivery, and they don’t show up to deliver, you get these angry phone calls. And it was a nightmare.
I mean, I do what I do because I enjoy it. It became a situation of I just couldn’t make anyone happy. I hate people calling and complaining non-stop, and that’s why we ended up selling it off.
Chris Guthrie: Okay. Yeah, that’s great. And I think that it just sounds like a combination of different challenges, being able to ship the items is already a challenge enough with how large they are.
Mike Jackness: Yeah.
Chris Guthrie: But then, dropshipping as well is going to add additional challenges. So is that what ultimately led you to looking at Amazon as a platform to sell, or when did you along the way—I’m assuming that you started selling on Amazon before you sold Treadmill.com or maybe not, that’s not the case.
Mike Jackness: No, it isn’t actually.
Chris Guthrie: Okay.
Mike Jackness: And this is just another one of these things where I had heard a lot of people talking about selling stuff on Amazon and that was just such a great viable business model. It just didn’t click for us. The right things—the stars didn’t align until much later. And we can talk about that here, I guess.
The next thing that we ended up doing on the heels of Treadmill—actually, while we owned Treadmill.com, the thing that really—the aha moment was—we owned CuttingBoard.com as well. It was the other domain name that we had or another domain name that we had. So, we launched CuttingBoard.com. Instead of doing dropshipping, we started shipping other manufacturers' products, but we had complete control over it.
And that’s actually when we got out first indoctrination, I guess, or whatever, into Amazon. And we put up some other companies' products up on Amazon.
And it was basically a huge fail. It just didn’t work out. That wasn’t really the time that we ended up figuring out the Amazon thing. It came much later.
The problems that we basically had where we were selling up against other sellers. Cutting boards are quite heavy, so they were expensive to get in especially since we're having to ship them to multiple warehouses and the Amazon network.
The a-ha moment still didn’t happen even there. It took a couple of other things that happened much later down the pipeline.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Now, let's talk about that. So, CuttingBoard was a domain name that you would, along the way, when you were both in—I think you mentioned your business partner either, but he's also someone that you work with. Is this something he works with you, CuttingBoard.com, and some of the other ones we're going to be talking about…
Mike Jackness: Yes.
Chris Guthrie: …or just a few? Okay.
Mike Jackness: So, we have a complicated relationship now. We used to do everything basically 50/50, but because Nexus issues and tax, we split some stuff off and worked on a couple of projects like wholly owned independently. The CuttingBoard is one that we had bought together, and Treadmill.com is one that we bought together.
Chris Guthrie: Okay. So, CuttingBoard was the one then? And so you had some troubles with Amazon. Now, on CuttingBoard, how is that? Is that the one that you still own today?
Mike Jackness: It is, yeah. It's doing quite well. And now, we actually do sell quite a few cutting board type products on Amazon, but it was a much longer journey to figure that out than I think the average person.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. I have the benefit of seeing how you’ve already been growing your business before the people that are listening have seen this. And so, it sounds like to the listener that, "Man, this guy is really trying make it hard on himself. He started with Treadmill.com and then started CuttingBoard, another thing that’s kind of heavy to ship."
Mike Jackness: Yeah.
Chris Guthrie: So, you still own that one. And I want it to shift more as we talk about it now with Amazon. So, IceWraps.com is the next one that you bought?
Mike Jackness: Yeah, exactly. So, what ended up happening was we sold Treadmill.com. We had one full time employee that was working for us when we owned Treadmill.com, and there was a situation where I was just going to have to let him go. I just didn’t have anything else to do for him full time.
And I've been in business myself since, like I mentioned, 2004. And at one point, we had 66 employees at our peak when we were doing affiliate marketing. And if there's one thing that I've learned along the way is that good employees are really hard to find. This guy was just one of those good employees that you want to build your business around or build another company around.
So, I actually bought IceWraps.com, basically I wouldn’t say for him, but that was the impetus. I knew I had an employee that I can build another e-commerce business on the back of. And that’s exactly what happened.
I was searching on BizBuySell, looking for a site that fit my criteria. At this point, I had learned my lesson. I wanted things that were relatively light and easy to ship, and there were some other factors and things that we were looking for. And yeah, we bought IceWraps.com in the same hunt that we were doing this transition of selling Treadmill.com.
I flew up to Michigan, packed everything in a truck, and sent it back here. I got a week's worth of training from the employees up there. The next thing we know we were in the ice wraps business.
And IceWraps is actually what pushed us to do Amazon. We can get into how that happened, but that was the Amazon door opener for us.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. So, there's a few things I want to talk about with regards to that push. I would agree, having great employees is really something that people underestimate if they have them. And then they can definitely see that being a challenge if they’re not good employees that they have.
And so with that case, are you doing something for that employee to further incentivize him? Are you doing any type of bonus or equity ownership in either projects that he works on?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. So, he’s on a revenue topline revenue sharing, which is basically, just straightaway, as the company does better, he does better. He's been working for me now for almost three years. And that just procludes having to go through, "I want a raise" conversation every three to six months.
Our company has been growing quite quickly, and I'm constantly asking him to take on more responsibility. I felt like that was the fairest way to handle him.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, I like that because obviously if you're still out there trying to acquire or start new businesses, you're going to have periods of fluctuating profitability, if you did it on profit, then they're going to have paycheck up and down. And if it's revenue, then it's just as long as you're growing the topline, then he's going to be making more money.
Mike Jackness: Yeah.
Chris Guthrie: Is that the reasoning?
Mike Jackness: It's that, plus obviously having to come up with a true net profit number is always difficult. There's like an argument or hard feelings if I'm renting my car through the company as a lease or I go on some trip and that’s a "business" trip that’s probably pushing the boundaries of a true business trip type of thing or something. It just gets people bitter, so I just felt like the topline is good.
It's the easiest number to see. It's on the Stitch. We use Stitch Labs. We’re actually moving to Skubana now, but both of those have—that number is prominently just right on the dashboard. That’s the metric they're using. And so, he sees exactly what's going on there day in and day out. And it's basically in real-time versus having six weeks later or eight weeks later, a net profit number for the month.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Yeah, okay. It makes sense. So, you mentioned that the items being lightweight and easy to ship were some of the criteria. Was there anything else that was along the lines of what made you want to buy IceWraps.com?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. The site itself, I was looking for something that was basically in disarray. Having an SEO background and a content marketing background, et cetera, I was looking for something that was just terribly mismanaged that had not been Panda or Penguin penalized, but had some type of penalty that I felt like wasn’t going to be able to get removed. And that was the big draw for me with IceWraps.
I looked through SEMrush. I looked at the historical traffic. I could see that the site was getting a ton of traffic back in 2008, 2009, 2010. And then, it just started dropping off. And my theory was that it was because they were on a really an antiquated platform in Yahoo Stores, and that they had really thin content on the site.
I thought it was thin content filter where it just basically manufacturers photos, manufacturers descriptions. Any content they had on the site was just one of these where you hire someone for $5 and they write you a 300-word article and it's just complete crap.
But the link profile worked incredibly clean. And I felt like if I replaced all the photos and update all the descriptions—we had basically a physical therapist write all the descriptions and rewrite their articles that over three to twelve months, we’ll we recover. And that’s exactly what happened.
So, we now rank basically number one for everything under the sun that we would want to rank for. Now, we're focusing more on some longer tail things. We’re trying to increase our traffic, but the main headturn stuff—ice wraps, shoulder ice wraps, knee ice wraps, et cetera—we rank number for all that stuff now.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So, one thing along the line is when you mentioned that the link profile, what tool were you using to check the backlinks and see if they were doing anything kind of funny in terms of trying to build the links?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. So, I use three tools because sometimes you don’t get the same data from all of them. I use SEMrush, Ahrefs, and Moz, and Open Site Explorer. And actually, when I'm going through a project like that in that depth, I usually get the subscription for all of them for like a month, and then I cancel it. Typically, the free version of that is all I need from a day to day basis. But from that perspective, I wanted to really know what I was getting myself into.
I didn’t want to see link directories or credit cards sites for some random thing linking to it. I wanted to make sure was all things that looked completely spamless.
Actually, one thing that I've not been able to do with my business career is to get a site unpenalized that was penalized by Google. I just feel like a complete failure in that regard. It's really difficult.
Chris Guthrie: So, something like clearly, blatantly used to manipulate Google? Even with all your experience, it's just really challenging to try and fix those penalizations.
Mike Jackness: It is.
Chris Guthrie: So, that's a good tip for the people that are listening. If you're thinking about—and obviously, this conversation is for people that might be further along on their business or thinking about ways that they can diversify and then build something up that isn’t relying on the Amazon platform. Maybe you can buy a keyword-type domain like this and do a little bit of what you've been talking about, Mike. But making sure that what they’ve done in the past isn’t going to come back to haunt you is really important.
I think that that point about the shopping car system that was being used, I'm assuming that the site wasn’t mobile responsive and a lot of the other things that Google has now said are ranking factors as well. Was that the case with that site?
Mike Jackness: Absolutely! Yeah, we quadrupled the conversion rate for mobile and almost doubled the conversion rate for desktop. And I think that those are the things that Google is looking at now.
I mean, I try to play games in my own head of being a fly on the wall in a boardroom at Google. What is that they really want? Instead of trying to do what's trendy now, but do the things that they are looking for long-term. So, when a new update comes out, you actually rise and not fall. And that’s the way that we do SEO now.
So, I look at SERP results I'm like, "Dammit, that’s really not fair that those guys ranking ahead of me.” But my thought process is that in three to six months when they do an update, he's going to just completely go away and won't rise above.
And I don’t want to worry about, "Is tomorrow going to be my last time in the business?" We've been in that situation where we've gotten a penalty, and they completely wiped it off the face of the Earth. It's really painful.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Yeah, and I like that attitude. And I think it's funny because years ago when—I mentioned before when we started this that we have somewhat similar backgrounds and that we come from the affilliate marketing space. I didn’t have 66 employees for me at one time unlike you.
But I know that at a time, Matt Cutts—who, for people who aren’t aren't aware, that’s Google's Head of Webspam. He’s the figure where when he talks, you want to see what he's talking about.
More recently, for example, he's talking about private blog networks and saying you shouldn’t do that. Well, years ago, you could listen to what they're doing and that would be just be—at least in my opinion—maybe like a blueprint for what you should do because they're so afraid of what's working, not to do it.
But as Google gets more and more complex—and they still have room to improve—it definitely makes sense to just focus on true value and really thinking about how you can position your brand and your website best for your users and.
And so, anything you think you can do to make that experience better—the more time people spend on the website, the more time people come back and revisit later—that’s all the stuff that Google's looking at. So, just trying generally trying to have something better is a great strategy.
It shouldn’t actually be something that has to be gone over, but so many times, people think about the shortcuts and things were just kind of quick as opposed to adding real value. So that’s a good reminder.
Okay. So, you bought that site, you turned it around. And then you started to go into Amazon. How did that process work? Were you only selling other brands' ice wraps or did you eventually started doing your own brand? How did it go with this company?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. So, we inherited Amazon accounts. It's basically how we got into Amazon. I was like, "Here it is, you got an account now." So we bought the whole LLC. And we weren’t even selling at Amazon yet.
So, we got this Amazon account. After we fixed IceWraps.com, and got it off the Yahoo storage and got it on Big Commerce, I started looking at other revenue opportunities. I started digging through the Amazon account, and I noticed that they had done quite a bit of business through Amazon previously. I was like, "Okay. Well, let's see what happens. Let me learn how to send stuff on Amazon."
For anybody that’s ever sold stuff on Amazon, when you first turn on your computer and log in to Amazon‘s Seller Central, it’s kind of daunting. There's really no good documentation and we didn’t really know where to start. But just like anything else, I never let that stop me.
And so, I just took some stuff off the shelf from the backroom and sent it there, figured out how to get stuff on Amazon. And then it got a little more sophisticated.I had to decide which brands I was going to try to sell on Amazon and which products. And I had pretty much immediate success. It was pretty neat. It really lit a fire under my butt.
And I have a VA in the Philippines. I set up a spreadsheet and did a video for him, and it's like, "I want you to go through every catalog that we have." I showed him how to do that, every SKU line by line, and pull out the ones that fit the criteria that I laid out. We’re going to put those items up on Amazon. So, we expanded our catalog quite a bit.
I think that people that sold on Amazon before are going to relate to this next thing. As quickly as we saw success, we saw the success almost completely evaporates. And it's because when you start seeing some success and your items are ranking higher, other people see that. And if it's just another manufacturer's products, they can go buy those products and throw them up on Amazon. And then, you blink, and you're racing to the bottom. Then you blink again and you're losing money on every sale.
I was just like, "Holy crap. This is awful." We completely changed our mindset and the way that we sell on Amazon, which you might want to get into next, but yeah, it was an interesting ride.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. So, on the IceWraps side today, are you doing any business through Amazon now or is it all sold just back on the website?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. This is actually something I'm really proud of because it was a lot of work. We're selling just over a hundred thousand dollars a month on Amazon right now. I realized that we've only been on Amazon—everything I talk about is so compressed compared to I think a lot of other people.
We bought IceWraps.com basically February 1st of 2015. So, we've only had that site for a while. I didn’t really even start selling on Amazon until about a year ago. It took about six months to figure out all the stuff I've just mentioned and another six months to completely stop selling other manufacturers' products and replace all of that with our own stuff.
So, 100%, everything that we have up on Amazon at this point is our branded products, either for ice wraps or for other brands that we're doing. And we've stop selling other manufacturers' stuff completely. I don’t worry about the map pricing wars anymore or people selling under map or people raising down—people that don’t have maps, selling down to the point where they're at 1% or 2% margin.
We set the price. We're the only people on the listing. If someone else tries to hijack it, we get them kicked off immediately because we're brand registered. And now we're selling just over a hundred thousand dollars a month of stuff on Amazon, all 100% are our brand.
And I expect that to easily triple before the end of the year. We have a lot of new SKU’s and stuff coming in and things in the pipeline. Obviously, as you're buying stuff from China or other manufacturers to get your name on it, it’s a long process.
So, it took some time to ramp up, but now we really have a jet fuel pack underneath those.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. I love that. And then because you revved up your revenue, I know that you're also driving a lot of sales on your own brand websites like IceWraps.com, CuttingBoard.com, et cetera. How much revenue driving on those websites as well?
Mike Jackness: So in aggregate, we're doing just over $200,000 a month. And again, I expect that to totally triple by the end of the year. I mean, we've put ourselves in a really good position to have some accelerated growth here.
And the most important thing is that we don’t have all of our eggs in the Amazon basket. I look at Amazon as another sales channel, just as like with eBay or Etsy or Jet, or any of these other things.
And our main focus is on our own sites. So we’ve gotten really good over the last year and a half at PPC, at email marketing, Facebook Ads, et cetera.
Forty-four percent of all e-commerce—not e-commerce sales, but I guess e-commerce sales searches start on Amazon. You hear that said a lot now. So, my feeling is that people that are Amazon buyers are going to be Amazon buyers. Why fight that? So, all of our products are on Amazon for that reason.
But the other 56% that aren't buying on Amazon right now, we want those sales too and that has to be done through your own branded websites. And that’s a lot of work. Obviously, it's a lot more work than just sending stuff to the VA, and then going to the beach and surfing the rest of the day.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Now, I think that a lot of the reason why I'm really excited that you're on the show is because that's where a lot of people are at. They started with selling on Amazon first because, just quite frankly, it's not too challenging to actually get something up and going.
Some people might pick the first product and make a mistake, and then they have to start over and do something different. And there are some other challenges that can come long way. But at the end of the day, it's not as difficult as, in my opinion, as probably building up a site, ranking it, and doing all those other elements to start driving sales.
So, I'm not yet sure how deep into the woods we'll get on some of those topics, what you’ve done to drive sales on your e-commerce stores. But I would like to go back to a topic where you mentioned that you compressed down—for six months, you were selling other brands, and then you saw your margin start shrink. And then you stopped doing that, and then you started doing your own brands.
So, was IceWraps.com the first one that you started doing your own brand of products or is that when some of the other ones came up?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. So, IceWraps was definitely the first. And we saw basically the same immediate success when we launched our own brand of products because just like anything else I do in life, I don’t do it half-assed. I hope that I can say that on the podcast.
So, we did really good titles, really good descriptions, bullet points, all the things that all these other podcasts are talking about—good photos and stuff, and obviously, like good customer service, and take a good keyword research, and all this other stuff. Yeah, we've broken into some really saturated markets that when I first got into it—and people in my mastermind thought I was crazy, I just always felt like if we have a good quality product and do things the right way over a long period of time, we're going to succeed. And that's exactly what happened with IceWraps.
So, we've obviously been expanding the SKUs that we have there. I probably don’t want to talk specifically about the exact items we're selling there, but they are obviously in the health and fitness space, specifically things that are ice packs and things of that nature.
But yeah, it's going exceedingly well. And we've gotten into other things and had the same success. I don’t think it's because we found the perfect niche, per se. I just think it's because we work harder than the next guy, and put an emphasis on developing a quality product, and not looking at it as the gold rush of 2015 or '16.
I kind of equate it to that. It's very much a get rich quick scheme I hear a lot with people selling in Amazon. They go to Alibaba to try find some random product. They basically did nothing to improve upon it. They’re just 1 of 15 other people selling the same can-opener or garlic pres—it was the funny thing that came out at the Seller Summit.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, Scott Voelker...
Mike Jackness: It's the same mold, garlic press over and over again.
So, what we’ve done is tried to innovate. And none of our manufacturers can be found on Alibaba. We actually purposely—I mean, obviously, you can still go there to find a manufacturer, but they're not the Alibaba quality manufacturers. We're taking things to the next level, and I think that that's been, in large part, where our successes come from.
I think the Alibaba method is a great way to start. I would still advocate—I don’t want to be a hypocrite because we started almost in the same way with selling other manufacturers' products and we weren’t adding any value. But I guess the ability to cut our teeth on Amazon and learn how to sell on that platform gave us some cash flow and things to be able to set us up for the next stage. We're kind of in that stage now.
Chris Guthrie: Yeah. Some people might be wondering, "Why is Mike talking about what he's selling." One of the challenges for me when I do this podcast is that in a lot of cases, people don’t want to talk about what they're selling because, in many cases, they're only selling on Amazon, and also, again—this going back to my point before—it isn’t too challenging in some ways to find out what people are selling and to try and go and sell it as well. So, some people don’t want to talk about their niches or anything else.
So, I think that the fact that you do talk about it is almost like saying that, "We're putting a lot of effort in. And if you want to compete against us, you got to do the same thing." Bring it, I guess, right?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. I mean, my other philosophy—when I was younger, when I was back in the affiliate business, I didn’t just worried about me, but I worried about what everybody else was doing. And looking back at it, if I had spent that energy that I was worried about everybody else just working on my own stuff, I would’ve been better off.
If you're going to be typing in “ice packs” or something into Amazon, like I'm never going to get a hundred percent of those sales—I don’t profess to ever even try to get a hundred percent on sales. So who cares even if we’re not number one?
We don’t try to develop products that are home runs. To me, it's all about the building blocks. And Scott actually talks about it. It's something I really believe. I think he calls it the 10X10X1 or something. I’m probably butchering it up, but…
Chris Guthrie: Yeah, that's just…
Mike Jackness: It’s exactly that. So, basically, the idea is that we're trying to add products incrementally, so if any one product goes away, it doesn't hurt us, Our goal, by the end of the year, is to have a hundred SKUs that are selling 10 a day. In the next year, we'll try to double that.
And we have some home runs, ones that sell 40 to 50 a day, and that’s great. But we don’t count that as hatched chickens or whatever kind of thing. We don’t rest on our laurels. We continue to try, just continue to add SKUs, and be in that under-the-radar method of just selling high-quality products that get five star reviews that are low-maintenance in that perspective.
And once we have the manufacturer relationship set up, they become easy to manage at that point. So that’s kind of the way that we go after it. And that’s why we don’t really care too much about talking about what we do.
And also, it's a way to give back to the community. I think all of us—anybody who's successful have people that have helped get them there. I really truly believe in that. I'm at a point in my life where I don’t need to worry about all the other stuff anymore. I feel like I've kind of made it in that regard.
Chris Guthrie: I love it, yeah. Well, this is only an audio-based podcast and I was nodding my head a lot while you were talking there. I'll mention to the people that missed the episode, Sellercast.com/35, another episode with Norm, his strategy is very similar to yours, Mike, in that he has a lot of different SKUs. And then, each SKU is just shooting for about 10 sales.
I don’t think he mentioned specifically the number of sales, but he shoots for having a lot of products, so that if one goes away, then it's never really a big blow to his business.
And so, I like to hear that as well from another successful seller that’s doing the same type of approach.
So, another question people might be having is—and I think, again, because a lot of people are starting with Amazon, and so maybe their goals—okay, maybe they could go the roundabout way now where they're coming at it from Amazon first and then they're trying to buy a keyword that matches the brand that they want to try and approach to try and do some of what you're talking about.
I already know the answer to this question because we've talked previously beforehand, but I'm aware of Google, they did an update a while back where they said they reduced the emphasis a little bit on these exact match domains where you have IceWraps.com and you rank for ice wraps. But you're saying that you haven’t seen that to be the case with a lot of the sites you’ve been starting, correct?
Mike Jackness: Yeah. I'm a firm believer that keyword domains are worth actually more than ever, like the two premium keyword domains. So Ice-Wraps.org, I think, is worthless. One day, that used to be worth a lot of money, even Ice-Wraps.com I think is still pretty worthless.
But the reason I think that it's important—one thing that Google has mentioned specifically is branding, so they want to see strong brand signals. They are actually looking for your brand name on the Internet that are not even linked. With ColorIt, for instance, we get a lot of people that just type ”ColorIt,” and they're obviously still calling all these webpages and they're not winning. That still accounts as a signal.
And so, if your brand name is the keyword, like legitimately is the keyword, you can link to it more frequently with that exact anchor text because that’s natural obviously. Your brand name should be the way that you're linked to more than anything else. Naturally, it just makes it a lot easier to rank for these keywords.
And we have definitive results with this—with IceWraps or CuttingBoard, or some of the other things like when we were doing Treadmill. We saw ourselves getting to number one or on the first page at least with a fraction of the links that we needed to do for anything else.
Obviously, with something like ColorIt, we don’t have a keyword domain. So I take both philosophies. I mean, if I could’ve bought AdultColoringBooks or ColoringBooks.com, or something like that, I would’ve, and even more importantly, if that’s a good brand name, then I will. But I don’t think it's a really good brand name, so we went with a brand name that’s short. I think ColorIt is like seven characters or something along those lines, maybe eight.
Chris Guthrie: Mm-hmmm… yeah.
Mike Jackness: So, I think a short brandable name like that still has immense value and it does have one of the keywords in there. But I do think these exact match domain names still have a lot of value.
Chris Guthrie: Okay. Sound great. That's great advice for people that are at that stage in their business where they're making good money now.
And again, if you're just starting, then this strategy wouldn’t necessarily work for you. You can't go out and buy a domain name for tens of thousands of dollars or hundreds of thousands either.
But if you're already up and doing really well, and you're in a specific niche where you'd like to try and start driving yourselves off Amazon, then that's a great strategy. Obviously, you’ve been doing well with it, Mike.
Another thing you mentioned too that I want to come back to—and we'll get to ColorIt here in a moment. But you mentioned that none of the manufacturers that you are using are found on Alibaba.
And I talked to a lot of people that are based in China and other sourcing agents (and just other people that are involved in sourcing), and this is actually a common thread that comes up with people that are doing really high volumes.
So, how did you actually find these manufacturers if they weren’t on Alibaba? I think that everyone has a different method for doing it. I'm assuming maybe you’ve gone to China as well. But how did you actually find these manufacturers?
Mike Jackness: The Canton Fair, plain and simple. What I've learned now from doing manufacturing in China is that there are basically three tiers of manufacturers. There’s the bottom rung, on he McDonald's, if you will, of China's manufacturing. It's the guys that are on Alibaba. A lot of times, they're not even manufacturers. They’re trading themselves as manufacturers, and they're actually just some trading company or they just make low-quality crap or they are stealing other people's products and ideas.
A lot of times, if you search Alibaba for a garlic press (to keep on that theme), you'll see like 15 people on Alibaba selling the same garlic press. And that’s just not possible. So, it's just a lot of interference there.
And I think the next one up is the Canton Fair. There's just a lot better-quality manufacturers at the Canton Fair or the Hong Kong Mega Show, like one of those Asian fairs. So, that’s been where we've settled into right now.
And what we've learned by referrals and word-of-mouth now that we've been doing a lot of manufacturing, when you start spending money over there, contacts start happening and things of that nature. What we've found is that the best manufacturers don’t even bother with the Canton Fair. You ask them why, and they're just like—to them, that’s interference.
These are large manufacturers that are producing for like CBS or Midliner, one of these large companies. They don’t need to be at the Canton Fair pitching their goods.
So, we've been trying to even get to that level now. But the Canton Fair was certainly a good catapult point for us to get much better-quality stuff.
Chris Guthrie: That’s great. So, you found also the Canton Fair then? Okay. And obviously, people that are listening, that’s even something maybe fun to do. So try and do a trip there. But for me, I have a younger family, I'm not quite going to be going there any time soon. But it would be fun to take some people and to do something like that—or I don’t know, to tag along with another event. But that’s great. So, that’s what you did.
And again, the people, if you’re listening and you’re like, “I'm not even at the stage yet,” this is all stuff to think about as you grow your business. So, even if you start with Alibaba, and you're making money, that’s fine. That's a good starting point. Just know that your goal is to try and continue to grow, and to take more challenges. And so going to the Canton Fair or trying to find these higher-level manufacturers would be a good next step. So, that's great.
Alright! That was the first half of the recording with Mike Jackness. As I've mentioned at the onset, we're going to get into another one of his brands as we get into the next episode, and he'll also talk about some of the criteria he uses to pick products which is really, really thoughtful. So, I want to make sure you tune in to that episode.
You can go to selllercast.com/41 to listen to that episode when it airs. And additionally, if you want to go back and check out the show notes, you can go to sellercast.com/40, look at some of the links that were mentioned within this episode.
So, thank you so much for tuning into this episode. We’ll see you in the next one.