[Edit] I no longer sell on TheCguard.com. I have moved the focus to doing wholesale and distribution to retailers.
After graduating college, I started reading a lot of self improvement books and blogs. I came across the 4 hour Work Week. I recommend it for anyone that hates their boring 9-5 office job or just wants to start a business. It explores how to start a side business to bring in extra income. Then how to set it up on auto pilot so you have the freedom to travel the world. Interesting…
So I decided to give it a try. The challenge was not to make a million dollars, but to see if I could have even set up a online business. If I could have contacted manufacturers and negotiate pricing and shipping. Then see if I could design the packaging and e-commerce aspects of it. Finally market it and make a dollar.
So the C-Guard is exactly that. It’s a simple yet useful product for people of all walks of life. A cotton adhesive strip that prevents dirt and grime build up on shirt collars. I designed the packaging, product, website, and marketing plan.
Here is how I did it from a to z…. Well a- x… y and z would be making a lot of money with it.
I can recall when the idea of it hit me and I decided to create the product. See in my college days, I was a frat guy. Yep good old Alpha Phi Alpha. Every Wednesday we would wear suits to the student union. I went to school in Florida. And anyone that knows Florida, knows that suits are a no no.
I noticed that my shirt collar was getting DESTROYED from the dirt, sweat, and grime. I said to myself “it would be cool if we had some strips that would catch the dirt”. Like many ideas I had at the time, I brushed it off and went about my college foolishness.
A year after I graduated I was working the boring job I later quit to move to south east Asia. and I was trying to find that million dollar idea that would allow me to backflip into my bosses office and tell him i’m quitting. I found out about Alibaba.com, the world’s largest online business-to-business trading platform for small businesses.
You can literally order ANYTHING. Think i’m joking? Head over there after you finish this post and type in screwdrivers and watch how many screw drivers you can buy for dirt cheap and sell them for a crazy mark up.
So for the hell of it I typed cotton strips and cotton strips came up. They weren’t what I exactly wanted, but I could work with it. the manufacturers were capable modify the design. So I started planning
I never did anything like this before so I approached with caution. Here are the steps that I took.
Step 1. Finding and contacting suppliers
I decided to go with AliBaba for a couple of reasons. I heard that there are a lot of scams using WorldWideBrand, and other sites to find suppliers.
Alibaba has Gold members. These are suppliers with a proven history, verified on Alibaba and they ACCEPT PAYPAL. Please only use paypal if you want to deal with Alibaba. this will save you payment issues in the future. If I pay 700 bucks, what happens if they just keep the money? Am I going to pay $1,500 on a ticket to main land China?
After hours of not knowing what I was doing, I narrowed my list down to 10 suppliers. After a while I came up with a system.
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Note: Simple system to find suppliers fast
- Use the filters. narrow down with Escrow and Gold Members
- Talk to people on skype on with the Alibaba online messenger. You can narrow your tops picks down quicker.
- Create a template of what you will send them. Be general at first then get more specific when you find a good supplier. Here is the template I used. It would have been better but hey, I was new.
“Hello, I am starting a business and am in need of adhesive cotton strips that can be applied on the inside of a collared shirt. I want to order 1,000 but would like a sample first. Can you assist me on this?”[/box]
Step 2. Negotiate the prices & get a sample
I am from Harlem New York, so I know how to drive down a price. But DAMN, those Chinese suppliers are hard to crack.
A lot of the suppliers have MOQs or minimum order quantities. And they are usually the high. Small items will have a MOQ of 1,000 or more per order. But You can usually talk this down.
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Note: Make sure that you ask for a sample. A good supplier would want to get a sample out to you because to them, it is a possibility that you will become a hit and business will grow. Shipping will usually cost more than the sample itself.
I ordered from a suppler that took PayPal and Escrow. Make sure your protect yourself. Paypal and Escrow allow you to pay the 3 party payment processor but doesn’t release it to the other party until you confirm the order was received. It takes 1-3 weeks to get the sample.
I got 100 samples to start with.
Step 3. Set Up the Website
My original site was on Shopify. They had a great inventory system, checkout, and some cool templates, but it was expensive. $30 a month. For a while I wasn’t making money. Now I use regular hosting. If you are thinking about validating a business idea, I recommend using BlueHost. Easy 1 click install.
Here is the first site
I also decided to put the product on Amazon and I got some sales from there. But it was poorly done from my side.
After making some good money, I got a new job and put it on the back burner. After getting a new take on marketing and business, I found a new way to market it.
Other Stuff I had to order
Being a newbie to the process I wanted to make the product look cool. So I wanted to find a cheap way to pack the product when I shipped it out. So I ordered 1,000 padded envelopes and for 1,500 stickers made from two different manufacturers. I would put the strips in the envelope and put the sticker on it to spice it up. If I had a single order I would just put the sticker on the plastic the strips came in.
The Website Redesign
After making the site from hell, I promised that the new site would be a simple clean, validating site. I hired a writer on oDesk to write some articles for SEO. I had the writer watch a couple Mad Men youtube clips to get that whole Don Draper vibe.
I took some pictures and did a video.
Here is what I wrote for the oDesk posting.
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I need 10 articles written on fashion.
The articles will be simple how to’s on basic fashion.
The articles need to be produced quickly.
If you are interested send me a message with “I CAN WRITE” in the subject line.
If good work is done then more articles will be produced
My First Sale
2 weeks after publishing the articles, I got my first sale for $19.99 off of pure SEO and link building on other fashion blogs. No ads at all. It was awesome. I was excited.
I put the post on reddit and they showed me a bunch of love. Shout out to all the redditors! Check out the reddit thread here.
The costs were pretty low given that I ordered so much of everything (pretty silly of me, looking back at it). I have a great mark up on the product because I had the manufacturer modify a basic design.
Never tell them what you are trying to make. They will definitly steal you idea. Think I am kidding look at what happened to Bob Maydonik of “Square 36″. Ripped off by the man.
So the per unit cost of each strip is DIRT cheap. I get great margins because it is needed by men and housewives a like. The price it would cost to replace a $50-$100 shirt doesn’t compare to spending 20 bucks a month for something that will save you $30-$50.
Plus you can reused the strips. So the benefit factor is there.
I won’t reveal the cost of the actual product because I have an agreement with a buddy of mine that went in on it with me. But I will give the costs of everything else.
- Website Hosting: $5
- Domain $3
- 1,500 labels $170 with shipping
- 1,000 envelopes $200 with shipping
- oDesk writer to do 5 articles and back-linking on blogs $25.
Mistakes I made
- Choosing shopify instead of making my own site on Wordpress with WOO-Commerce
- Not doing keyword and market research – I thought I knew what I was doing in the beginning but I should have done research for low competition key words instead of “stain removal”. “Collar Grime” would have been a better keyword to target.
- Buying too much inventory
- Not finding a drop-shipper - I can still do this and not do touch the product
- Ordering all the stuff for packing. I could have just kept the packing simple
- Not having a backend system set up to upsell and survey customers
Plans for the site
I am going to continue link building and writing articles. I want the site to become the go to place for shirt care and dressing advice. I may also add some other products here when I get traffic up to a certain level.
Targeting more keywords will bring more traffic to the site. Market Samurai will help me i.d. the best keywords to find.
Visit the Site here
What has been you experience with Alibaba or dealing with online manufacturers. Would you do it again? What would you change? Share this post and leave a comment below and let’s talk about it.