Chad Rubin has achieved a rare thing amongst marketplace sellers: a genuine, recognisable brand name that stands for something.
Not only that, his business was built selling on Amazon’s marketplace – a channel that gives sellers little control over how they market themselves. And he did it selling products that seldom get people excited: vacuum cleaner spares and accessories.
In 2013 Chad’s company, Crucial Vacuum, made Inc.’s list of the fastest-growing private companies in the U.S., with $5.1 million in revenue the previous year. Another rare achievement and recognition for a marketplace seller.
I caught up with Chad to talk about ecommerce, branding, marketplaces and his latest project co-founded with Damir Kunovac, Skubana – a brand new ERP system for marketplace sellers.
Have you ever bought an item on eBay then received a package from Amazon, with a gift receipt inside?
Maybe you’ve come across DS Domination, or another site like it, promising to teach you how to run an automated ecommerce business?
Or if you’ve dug deeper you may have found tools for repricing eBay listings when prices change on Amazon, or even for automatically purchasing items from Amazon.
If you’ve encountered any of those, you’ve dipped a toe in the frankly murky world of “Amazon to eBay arbitrage”. In this post I’m going to explore it in depth. Yes, it’s dominated by get-rich-quick schemes, but that’s only part of the story. Beneath all that, there’s an interesting phenomenon going on, with innovative technology available and genuine businesses in operation.
Since 2006 eSellerPro has been a software platform for businesses selling high volumes of products on Amazon and eBay.
Over those years they’ve established a solid reputation, but in typical British fashion they haven’t made a lot of noise about what they were doing. It was undoubtedly an effective piece of software – a reliable workhorse – but seldom in the news.
Then in February 2015 a new company emerged. That business, Volo, had a bold design, distinctive videos, and big photos featuring happy customers and team members. Volo seemed full of confidence, innovation and ambition. This was eSellerPro’s new brand, and it couldn’t have been more different.
Why did they make such a big change, and what does it mean for the company? To find out I spoke to Volo’s CEO Paul Watson, who’s been running the business since October 2013. It turned out there’s a lot more going on than just a new brand. Volo also has 50% more staff at the company, a brand new user interface coming soon, and an imminent expansion into the US.
Yet there’s still a focus on high performance: Volo’s customers hold the records for both the highest sales by value, and the highest by order volume, in a single day on eBay, worldwide. It was definitely time to find out more about this company.
What is ecommerce all about?
Your dictionary will tell you, more or less, that it means “doing business online”. But what kind of trade isn’t done online in some way these days? Even local businesses like plumbers have their own websites, and might find work through HomeAdviser or TrustATrader.
Ecommerce is certainly diverse, and means different things to different people. To some, it’s less about technology and more about people. To others, the element of trust – or the lack of it – is key. Yet others see it defined by entrepreneurship, and the freedom to do business without being in the same place as their customers, or even the same time zone.
So there’s no single defining characteristic that makes ecommerce what it is. There are many, and the one that’s most important to you depends on your individual knowledge and experience. I asked thirty people in the business “what defines ecommerce for you?” so I can share that diverse range of opinions. Here’s what they said.
In 2014 Will Tjernlund and his brother Andrew sold $6 million of products on Amazon.com. They also generated around $1 million of sales on eBay, and half a million on their own webstores.
The year before, 2013, they sold around $1.2 million on Amazon. That was also the year Will graduated from the University of Minnesota, doubling the business’s full-time headcount from one to two.
How can two people drive that kind of sales volume? Well, the Tjernlunds’ business model is to develop their own “private label” items – lower-cost versions of products that they sell under their own brand names. They buy from manufacturers in China, and send the inventory into Amazon’s FBA fulfillment service. That’s the last time they have to handle their own stock.
I spoke to Will Tjernlund about how he got into selling online, his product development process, the merits of FBA, and what’s next for the business. Here’s what he told me.