Launching a Store With a Full-Time Job

One of the biggest obstacles to launching an online store is finding the time to do it.  And while I think focusing on your business completely is a great option, most people just aren’t in a position to quit their full-time job.

That’s why I was impressed when I met Kamal Taylor at my recent eCommerceFuel reader meetup in Austin, TX.  Despite working full-time jobs, both he and his co-founder have managed to research, build and launch CurbSide Air, an eCommerce site specializing in humidifiers.

Due to his success – and the fact that he’s an all-around stellar guy – I invited him to share his experience on the blog.  He’s also offered to answer your question in the comments section below.

Take it away, Kamal!


 

My name is Kamal Taylor and my journey began back in 2004 when I sort of fell into a career in online marketing. Since then I’ve been honing these skills at a few different employers, learning and applying many different strategies and tactics to drive results online.

In 2009 a longtime friend and I had several long discussions about our futures and where we wanted to be career-wise in 10 years. We both agreed that whatever we were doing in 10 years we wanted to own it 100% and be calling the shots.

Fast forward to 2011 and we really began giving serious thought to what sort of business we wanted to get into. After several months of research and soul-searching we settled on e-commerce as a medium that could leverage our marketing strengths and help us meet our personal goals.

 

Doing It With a Full-Time Job

“If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” –Frederick Douglass

A valid question we asked and that you may be asking yourselves is: “How can I possibly launch a full-fledged eCommerce store when I have a full time job/social life/wife/children, etc.?” There is no way to sugar coat this – in order to create a feasible online store there is much sacrifice to be made. If you have a regular job and are looking to launch an eCommerce store in your spare time, be prepared to give up nights and weekends to work on your store on a regular basis.

At the beginning of this journey, I had a tough conversation with my wife to set the expectation that there would be times where we wouldn’t see much of each other during nights or weekends. I frequently had to turn down friends for dinner and other social gatherings. I also gave up watching television for the most part.

My weekends no longer consisted of a lot of fun outings, staying out late and sleeping in. On weekends I was up early at my desk cranking. The one extracurricular activity that I didn’t give up was working out. I think it’s important to maintain both mind and body even in the busiest of times.

It takes a great deal of patience to get through the tasks required before launch, but if anyone ever told you would get rich quick from eCommerce, they lied. There is definitely a TON of opportunity in eCommerce. However, in order to capture some of that opportunity, you’ll need to make sacrifice and bust your tail.

 

How We Picked Our Niche

How in the world did I select a single product niche out of thousands of possible choices?  For several weeks I carried a notepad with me and any time I saw or thought of a product niche that sounded like a good candidate for eCommerce, I wrote it down.

At the end of those few weeks we had a list of about 300 niches. We then proceeded to pull as many data points as we could about each of those product niches, which included:

  • Search traffic estimates for main niche keywords using the Google Keyword Tool.  We made sure to use “exact match” results only.
  • Keyword difficulty, average linking domains, and average links for the top 10 Google results for a niche using SEOMoz
  • Average product price in Amazon
We used the following assumptions to further narrow down our list:
  • Estimated that we could capture 5% of total search traffic in 1-2 years being in business
  • Estimated conversion rate at 1.5% based on industry data we’ve seen
  • Estimated revenue for each niche by using 5% of traffic, conversion rate and average product price

Being able to put traffic and dollar values next to our niche ideas was immensely eye opening! It’s an exciting feeling to say, “A potential dehumidifier site has $1 million in annual revenue opportunity.” If that isn’t a motivator I don’t know what is!

In your head, you may be poking holes in our niche research methodology. I’ll be the first to admit that it isn’t perfect. However, it was what we needed in order to make an educated guesses as to where to put our focus, given our limited time due to our busy work schedules.

The final step in niche analysis was to review each niche based on revenue opportunity and difficulty/competition level. We focused on 5 or so niches that fell into the mid-range of revenue and difficulty. If you do an analysis similar to ours, you’ll find that, as expected, difficulty generally scales up with revenue opportunity.

This niche research project took us about a month but could certainly be condensed to a smaller amount of time for someone more determined than we were at the time. We also found immense value from the eCommercefuel eBook during our niche analysis project.

 

How We Found Suppliers

This step was actually easier than we thought it would be. We found that the hardest part of finding suppliers is getting over the fear of calling them. Overwhelmingly, the response we got from suppliers was very positive. Most are very eager to sign on new stores who will sell their products.

In our experience, calling the manufacturer first yielded the best results rather than trying to find distributors. If the manufacturer didn’t offer drop shipping themselves, they were happy to refer us to their suppliers that do drop ship. This often yielded great results due to the fact that most suppliers carry multiple brands. So talking to one manufacturer could actually lead you to forging a drop ship relationship for several brands.

One challenge is that some suppliers/manufacturers may be hesitant to sign on a new re-seller if you don’t have a live website. So, we got creative and simply sent the site mockup that our designer made. This proved sufficient for quelling suppliers’ fears that we weren’t serious about launching our store.

My advice to you is to not fear calling suppliers or manufacturers. For one, it shows how serious you are if you’re willing to pick up the phone rather than opting to simply submit a contact form. Also, manufacturers and suppliers want new business so it’s in their best interest to talk to you.

 

Launch, Marketing & Next Steps

We launched CurbSide Air on October 15. It was a glorious day! But now the real work begins.

The first thing we did after launch was send out an email blast to close friends and family to let them know about our launch and ask for feedback. After you are “head down” working on launching your store there will certainly be broken links, typos and other things you failed to find or fix before launch. Your friends and family will be willing to help you out in finding those issues. And with any luck, one or two of them will buy something from your store!

With the site live, it was time to start in on marketing.  I’m a huge proponent of both paid and organic search marketing, so I think a lot of focus should be given to those areas in the beginning and an ongoing basis. Some other areas of focus on our 6 month marketing plan include:

  • Find relevant and quality directories to list our site on
  • Build relationships with bloggers in our niche and collaborate on content or guest posts
  • Launch paid search campaigns on Google, Bing and Yahoo! for “bottom of funnel” (long tail) keywords
  • Write buying guides and other high-value resources (it’s all about great content)
  • Write 3-5 blog posts for the store blog per month
  • Contact additional manufacturers to expand our product selection

I’ve soaked up an immense amount of knowledge since embarking on launching our store. Reading amazing blogs like eCommerceFuel, SEOmoz, and others, I’ve gained enough knowledge to feel confident launching a store of my own. You should feel the same way. If there is anything you’re not sure about, Google it. Chances are there is an amazing blog, resource or community out there to help you through it.

 

What Questions Can I Answer?

I hope sharing my story has inspired you to either take the leap or helped you solidify your desire to launch an e-commerce store!  And I’d love to answer your questions about the journey and process I’ve been on.  Ask your questions in the comments section below and I’ll be happy to answer them.

 

Photo by Mark Sebastian

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Comments

  1. Andrew says:

    Thanks for being willing to share your experience here on the blog, Kamal! And a big congratulations on the recent launch of your site – it looks gorgeous. It’s much better looking than MY first attempt at an eCommerce store and looks like you guys have been in business for years.

    I’m very excited to follow your progress, and wish you guys the best! Thanks again for sharing…

    • Kamal says:

      Any time, Andrew. Thanks for the compliment!

      I hope my story helps others in their own eCommerce journeys. Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share it!

  2. Josh says:

    Kamal,
    Thank you for sharing your experience and your research methods. Plus, your site looks great. I live in Dallas and I’m in a similar situation as you whereas I’m working full time but have several niche products I’ve been researching with the hope of starting an eCommerce presence in the near future. So it is always helpful to read posts like this to help with the learning curve.

    Since you already had a background in online marketing, did you also have experience with coding and web design or did you use a hosted platform/cart with available themes similar to Shopify to help you get your storefront up with the help of your designer? In your experience what is the most effective way to find a designer if you have limited contacts in that department?

    Lastly, when you were doing your pricing research did you rely on different product discounts offered by the manufacturers/suppliers (I assume discounts are mostly based on volume) to set your pricing and do the manufacturers/suppliers ever dictate what price ranges you have to charge?

    Thanks again.

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Josh,

      Thanks for the compliment! I’m happy to share my experience. I (or my biz partner) do not have experience with with coding or design. For that very reason, we use the BigCommerce hosted shopping cart solution. Before going down the path of finding a designer, and because we knew we wanted to use a hosted solution, we first came up with a list of features that were necessary for the shopping cart solution we would ultimately end up with.

      From there we selected BigCommerce after doing a bunch of research about them and the other options on the market (Volusion, Shopify, etc.). Once we knew we wanted to use BigCommerce, we then searched for designers that are BigCommerce experts both using the BigCommerce designer directory and a lot of searching on Google.

      We didn’t have any designer contacts at the time and were able to really get a feel for dsigners just by talking to several of them on the phone with a pre-set list of questions we came up with. It’s definitely interesting to see the varying levels of service and professionalism amongst the designers we talked to. You’ll quickly get a feel for those that are worth pursuing. Of course you’ll also want to see many examples of their work and ask for previous client references that you can talk to.

      At the research phase, we didn’t consider volume discounts. Any volume discounts we achieve in the future will just be gravy for us.

      Regarding your last question… Yes, some manufacturers do dictate a minimum price for their products. In the industries we sell products in, this is called Minimum Advertised Price (MAP). If we had a choice, we would prefer that all manufacturers use MAP pricing. Without MAP pricing there will always be competition out there willing to compete on price, which makes it more difficult for us to compete and earn a healthy profit, and reduces our chances of making a sale, because we are not the lowest price in the market.

      Let me know if you have additional questions and I’d be happy to answer.

      • Roberto says:

        Hi Kamal,

        First of all thanks for sharing your experience, very valuable. And congratulations for your website, it looks very professional and I’m sure will bring you guys the right rewards.

        I see you’ve decided to implement your ecommerce using BigCommerce as shopping cart. We are going in the same direction. BigCommerce seemed to us very feature reach and capable to handle stores with 1,000+ product items… while we didn’t get the same impression with Shopify that seems more focused on the design side.

        You’ve been using designers through the BigCommerce experts directory. Can you please elaborate a bit more on the critical aspects to consider in hiring a designer and key steps of the designing process? Did you hire your designer after or before you had already built your version 1.0 of your store with products already loaded? Did they do the logo design as well or it was a different company?
        We are in the same process right now, but we’ve no experience on design. We’ve chosen a standard free template from BigCommerce to start and populated our store with products. But we know that image is key for eCommerce and so sooner we will have to approach a professional designer, probably when we’ll have a good idea on our key customers. At that point we’ll focus the design for our specific audience.

        You also mension in another answer that design took 2 months + logo design. Which are the key deliverables of the process and why it took 2 months? I’d also appreciate if you could give us a rough idea of how much it cost to you guys a professional design.

        Thanks and all the best with your venture!

        • Kamal says:

          Hi Roberto,

          Happy to share my experience and thank you for the compliment about our site.

          We hired a designer before we had product information and other content loaded.

          I think the two most critical items to consider when hiring a designer are:

          1. expertise or technical ability to do the work you need done
          2. History of actually completing projects on time and on budget, and previous clients that will speak to you to share their experience
          3. design aesthetic that matches the aesthetic you like, Examples of their past work should give you an idea of this.

          My recommendation is to write a list of things that are important to you and ask any designer you speak with questions that will answer if they can meet those needs.

          Design start to finish took us 2 months (from first mockup to completed site) but the actual time for you will probably vary wildly. Keep in mind that we have full time jobs so finding time to hop on the phone with our designer to discuss revisions often delayed the process. Additionally, our designer had a queue of projects in line before us so some of that time was spent waiting for our “turn”.

          Cost of project will vary a whole lot as well depending on how much customization you want and how much the designer charges for their work. I recommend speaking to several designers and discussing price with them based on your design needs. I think that’s a better approach than me sharing our project cost. Let me know if you have any other questions.

          • Kate says:

            We’re on BigCommerce too. I think I’ve tried every store platform out there and none of them are perfect. Magento is definitely the most customisable but.. and this is a big BUT, you need to expect to apply some resourses to managing it. If you’re a small store starting out – not the best use of your time.

            When you decide on a cart solution, my advice would be to not base your decision on how pretty your store will look. Honestly.. all the cart solutions can be made to look pretty. What you really need to do is look at how you will load your products to your store. If you have many products with options and so on that you expect to load and manage via CSV or XML, then BigCommerce is a good choice. Shopify becomes pretty challenging if you need builk upload and are constantly adding new product lines.

            Once you determine the best solution based on your product and store management needs, then you can get to the design bit. The way we do that is to hire a good designer, have them create what we need and deliver PSD’s. We then convert that to a theme for the store (either internally or hire someone from one of the various freelance sites.) By having a design ready to go, you are giving your dev a very clear spec of what you need so in theory, you can go offshore for your dev work, reducing your costs and reducing the chances of them making mistakes due to miscommunication and time difference.

            I find that if you do the above, you won’t save a lot of money perse – but you will have a very custom, beautifully designed online store.

            Anyway.. my two cents! We love BigCommerce. It could be better, it could be worse but none of them are perfect and absolutely base your ecommerce solution decision on your product data needs – not look and feel out the box.

    • Coy says:

      Hey Josh,

      I live in Dallas as well and would love to meet for coffee or lunch one day to discuss ecommerce. Feel free to reach out at coydmorgan AT gmail DOT com

    • Brent says:

      Josh and Coy,

      Make that three people in Dallas. I work full time at an internet marketing agency and have just launched a drop ship biz. If anyone is interested in meeting up I can bring some knowledge/talent to the conversation. fyi I’m in the Knox/Henderson area.

  3. Kamal,

    Great article, and congratulations on your launch!

    Just curious, I noticed you do not have a 1800 number, or any customer service telephone number for that matter, listed on your store’s website. A lot of times this can lower consumer confidence of a seller, and in return, result in a loss of a sell.

    Do you find this to be true? Have you guys ever had potential customers e-mailing you asking if you have a phone number or asking how they could talk with someone over the phone?

    ..Just curious!

    Thanks again, and congratulations!

    All the best,
    -Alex

  4. Kamal says:

    Great question. We decided against a 1-800 number because we don’t have the option of answering the calls during the day. We do expect there to be a drop in customer confidence without it, but given that we both work during the day, it isn’t an option at this point. As an alternative, we have considered putting up a 1-800 number that simply goes to a voicemail box. In that case we could return calls as needed and it would hopefully boost confidence even in shoppers who don’t need to speak to someone. 

    So far, we haven’t heard any feedback from customers about this, but I can imagine it being an issue for some. For now, in cases where a phone call is warranted we will arrange that via email with customers.

    • Roberto says:

      Hi Kamal,

      Isn’t it mandatory in US to have a phone number on your ecommerce website? I’m based in UK and here it’s a mandatory requirement. Worldpay, the payment gateway, that we are using would not allow us to use their service if we don’t publish our contact phone number.

      Thanks!

    • Craig Tuller says:

      Congrats on your launch Kamal.

      We launched an e-biz in late July via Amazon and used a google voice number. It is a simple alternative and you can set it to forward to a cell or other phone number, along with parameters of when it can or can not ring your forwarding number.

      In the 5.5 months we have had 3 calls. Of course, our products are a lot simpler than dehumidifiers, fwiw. Also, most people these days do not pay long distance fees, so an 800 number is mostly for looks.

      Now that we have proven that our e-biz model works, we will be building a e-commerce website on our domain, which currently points to our Amazon store.

      Kamal, are you using Shopify? If so, what do you think of it so far?

  5. theresa says:

    Hi Kamal – Thanks for the great article!

    May I ask how do you manage your orders everyday since you have a full time job?

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Theresa,

      Managing orders isn’t much of an issue today because volume is low. We have a schedule where we each take turns processing orders. It’s just a matter of forwarding confirmation emails to the correct supplier so it’s not a lot of work. This is something that can be done once at lunch time and again at the end of the day. My business partner and I are in different US time zones so that works in our favor for splitting that part of the work.

  6. Matt Keck says:

    Kamal and Andrew, thanks very much for sharing. You’re an inspiration to the rest of us. The site really looks great, and I really feel I’d strongly consider buying from you if/when I’m in the market.

    Definitely pulling for Curbside Air to go from success to success.

  7. Carissa says:

    I dream to have my own e-commerce store to apply my knowledge about e-commerce. These are good tips Kamal, starting from product creation down to marketing. Superb!

  8. Richard says:

    Kamal has done what many of us wish and just think about. Sacrificing time to do your WHAT.
    One question I have for Kamal is, if you we’re not living in the United States where your target market is and where most of your manufacturers are, would you say talking to manufacturers and getting them to sign up for dropshipping would be more challenging?

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Richard,

      I’m not sure what of all of the roadblocks would be for doing business outside of your home country. However, one issue that comes to mind would be that some suppliers may require that you have a business entity (LLC, corp, etc.) in the country in which they do business. It would definitely be worth contacting any suppliers you are interested in and working through that question with them on an individual basis.

  9. Kate says:

    Hi Kamal,

    Thanks for sharing your experience – its helpful for everyone thinking of starting an online store to understand the work that can be done ahead of time to establish viability. Can you expand some on your research regarding search? Customer acquisition is the biggest cost for any online store so I wondered if you could expand on how you estimated and applied cost to your search predictions?

    FYI – this is my second store having sold my first so I’ve been through this wringer more than once and know my personal formula for starting and growing a store but didn’t want to chime in on my own cost predictions on what is an excellent post from you.

    The very best of luck to you =)

    Kate

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Kate,

      To be honest, we didn’t look very closely at customer acquisition cost in the research phase. We went in with the assumption that most of our customer acquisition would be done through sweat equity (building relationships/links, content creation, etc.) to build our organic search presence. The customer acquisition tactics we plan to use early on that do require direct monetary expenditure (AdWords, etc.) can be scaled up or down based on our observed cost to acquire a sale/customer, so our plan is to extract as much profit out of those channels as possible. The unknown piece is how many customers we can profitably acquire through those channels. We we’re OK with going in blind in that regard.

      I’d be happy to hear your cost estimation methods given your experience and I’m sure others would as well so please do share!

      • Kate says:

        I’m a big believer in customer profiling. This basically means that after you have identified your market and product, you need to identify your customers. Who are they, where are they, what do they earn, what $ do they spend online, when do they typically shop? Without identifying who you’re trying to market to, I think it renders you blind when building your site. How can you build the look and feel for your store if you don’t know who you’re trying to appeal to?

        In our case, we have three types of customers – I am a big believer in generating revenue asap (a sentiment I’m sure everyone embraces here). So we went after what we considered the easiest group which in our case are people that are shopping for the best deal (don’t mistake the lowest price for the best deal – especially with lots of suppliers utilizing IMAP). People looking for the best deal know the brand and model of the product they want to buy. They’re at the last step in the purchasing cycle. They will find you through the shopping engines and Google product search – and through organic too although this traffic can take longer to build.

        Its pretty easy to calculate your marketing costs based on this customer. Work out an average CPC across the engines you intend to market through and apply that to your conversion. In Kamal’s case, 1.5%. He is right about conversion. Ideally I want to be at 1%, closer to 2% with 3% being the holy grail so he is on the money with 1.5%. So if Kamal’s average CPC is 50 cents, he will spend roughly $20 getting an order. So he then gets to apply that math so his margin and where his average order size needs to be.

        Our other potential customers are flash sales (mailing list – longer to build overall although populated from existing customers too) and browsers (the hardest to convert to customers as they have no real idea what they are looking for).

        My advice is to identify your customer and the easiest/quickest way to acquire them and evolve your site and business from there. We use heatmaps and user feedback tools to guide our store build. We started out with a fairly basic 1.0 and have evolved from there, letting our visitor and customer interactions develop the next step in terms of look and feel. Right now we’re getting ready to launch a new product page and cart/checkout experience. These have both been designed and built based on our findings from heat maps.

        I hope this helps! Oh and its a great business!

        • Kamal says:

          Thanks for sharing, Kate. You make very good points about how to guide the design and research for how to evolve one’s site. I’m a big believer (even more so now) in getting something out to market and iterating while in motion. I think if we had it to do over again we would have launched sooner with a stock template and content.

          One of the nice things about paid search via Google or Bing is that your customer acquisition costs can be fixed based on how much you’re willing to pay for a click so long as your conversion rate is constant. The volume of customers acquired then becomes the variable.

          What customer feedback tools/methods do you use? Your site looks really good, BTW and I see you are also on BigCommerce. Cool!

        • Larry says:

          Kate,
          Would you mind sharing a little more on how you do your customer profiling?

          I’m very interested in how you find the info and compile it for the
          “Who are they, where are they, what do they earn, what $ do they spend online, when do they typically shop?”

        • Sarena says:

          Can you (Kamal & Kate) include your website link for us to peruse. I really would like to see what you both have accomplished on your sites.

          Thank you kindly,

          Sarena :)

  10. James M. says:

    Andrew,

    Awesome interview, thank you again. From the book to the course to the blog your stuff is top notch.

    Hi Kamal,

    Thanks for sharing your story and congrats on the new launch. I have 2 online stores I am partners in and I can say it’s truly exciting when the orders start rolling in. I want to ask about drop shipping profitability. What was your target in profit margins on products when selecting a niche?

    My latest store is in a market where products are made in China and can have quite high profit margins. We are negotiating with suppliers now and my thought is we’d like to get 30% margins on the drop ship orders. This is due to the fact that we’ll be promoting via AdWords as well as offering some free shipping and other promotions which won’t get passed to the shipper. Were their drop shipping rates negotiable? If so, how did you approach that topic to get the best margin possible?

    All The Best,
    James

    • Kate says:

      James – I’m going to toss my 2 cents in here. You want more than 30% – I wouldn’t bother with a supplier that offered you that kind of margin. I often see online stores treating themselves like second class citizens where suppliers are concerned. You’re no different than any other retailer – online or not. You don’t need to make concessions – they want your business or they don’t and remember, more often than not you’ll outsell their brick and mortar customers.

      Kamal made some excellent points about people being scared to call suppliers – you’re offering to make them money not asking them to do you a favour =)

      Kate

      • James M. says:

        Kate,

        Thanks for your feedback. I would love to be getting margins higher than 30% which I will on certain accessories and consumables that go with the main products we are selling. But, it seems that with a drop shipping scenario you don’t have the pull that you would if you were investing in $30k in inventory with them.

        Can you elaborate more on your experience in getting higher margins for drop shipping products? If 30% is unacceptable for a drop shipping site, what is the right target and what have you achieved? I do have limited experience with drop shipping so I am learning, but according to Andrews book which I have read twice it could be more like 20% to be expected on products in the $150 price range where I am at.

        I already am a partner in an Ecommerce site that did 6 figures in it’s first year acquiring over 3,000 customers and shipping over 6,000 orders. We stock all the inventory and make a range of margins on our products depending but they are much better than 30% (higher margins are because we make some of the products ourselves). My thought is that without making a big investment in product up front, getting a deal with a drop shipper is the way to start out and that even a 30% margin could be profitable with using the right system. The only other costs are web hosting, advertising AdWords / shopping engines / remarketing /etc., SSL, free shipping promotions, email marketing (free up to 2,000 subscribers),

        If you did $200k in gross, you would make gross profit of $60k (30%). Then after expenses above estimated to be $20k, you still made $40k in net profit. Not bad for a side-income on your drop shipping site. Not to mention the 140,000 miles on my Chase United Card after I paid the drop shipper with CC =)

        Anyway, I am learning the drop shipping model and want my new catalog on my site by December 24th (my target date) and have already spoke to 3 different options and visited ones facility which was 2 hours from my house. All three are big players in the market and have similar pricing on the items from what I see. Unless I invest about $20k into inventory I think 30% at drop shipping may be where I am at. Help me on that!!!!

        -James

        • Kate says:

          Hi James – okay 30% gross profit after shipping, discounts and merchant fees? Yes, that is acceptable. We run about the same. I’m looking for net margin of around 12-15% so essentially gross profit less marketing, site and app costs, ongoing dev and so on. I have you beat a little on the first year with my old store.. 7 figures here =) But fantastic! Good for you guys!

          Sorry for the confusion over margin. I’m guessing that puts you in the 1.8-2.2 region in terms of IMAP? And on the subject of IMAP, the UI and UX of your site is vital with everyone on the same price basis. But you already know this.

          • Kate says:

            And James makes a good point everyone – get that rewards card ready to go. We don’t have terms with any of our suppliers by choice for the above reason.

          • Andrew says:

            Love hearing this! Rewards points are one of the wonderful little perks of drop shipping. Thank you, Capital One Rewards for another freebie.

            Overall, Capital One isn’t the best for general credit cards / terms, but their rewards program is absolutely spectacular and incredibly flexible. I actually just purchased a new pair of skis in my local ski shop using rewards points from my credit card! The best part? I didn’t have to do anything slimy to redeem the purchase / get a statement credit. The reps are super flexible and told me ‘Hey, you need to travel to use your outdoor equipment right? No problem’.

            Awesome!

          • James M. says:

            Kate,

            Awesome, 7 figure first year must have been exhilarating! I was literally dancing when I had my first over $1k day. I am hoping to break $3k on Cyber Monday next week =)

            Thanks for sharing and your feedback, it’s much appreciated. I am still working full time as this is my side income with a partner but I am going to keep working and trying new niches until I can succeed at this full time. Feedback and sharing like this not only helps me find models and examples but also stay focused on top priorities that drive results and make for a viable business model.

            Thanks again Andrew, Kamal, and Kate! Look forward to more content and discussions soon.

            -James

          • James P says:

            Kate and James,

            Those first-year figures are pretty astounding, especially from an outsider’s perspective. I would really love to know what products you’ve found to be so profitable. Or even just the industry, if you’d rather not share many specifics :)

            And a big thanks to Andrew for some much-needed inspiration. I’m now plotting my own corporate escape plan, and eCommerce might be the ticket. I’ve already taken care of some of the legal work, I’ve identified a few niches, and I’m putting together a site too. Perhaps it’s a poorly-timed entrance, since I’ll be missing the holiday craze, but I can’t wait for the new year!

            -James P

        • Andrew says:

          Interesting conversation guys, hope you don’t mind me butting in. In my experience, a 30% margin for “primary”, more expensive items is pretty good for drop shipping. While drop shipping does have a lot of benefits (no need to purchase inventory up-front, no need to develop a product), you do pay for them with a bit of margin compression. And even in the standard world of retail, a 30% margin is pretty decent if you’re simply re-selling an existing product.

          Obviously, less expensive items and accessories can have margins significantly higher than this which is why I advocate selling lots of accessories in a confusing niche that requires lots of different components. It’s a way to boost that overall margin easily.

          • Kate says:

            Totally.. 30% gross margin is decent – and when I talk about gross margin I mean;

            Sale – Cost of goods – shipping – discount – merchant fees = 30%

            If its 30% before the above.. no thanks.

    • Kamal says:

      Hi James,

      We are on the same page as you… Our target gross margin was 30%+. If we didn’t think that margin was achievable on a blended basis (across all products we offered) we didn’t pursue further, unless we were talking about higher dollar items like trolling motors (hah!), because the profit per transaction due to the higher item price would make up for the lower margin. I think everything is definitely negotiable but given that we had no sales or a live store, we took the pricing that was given to us. Once we have some sales history behind us we may attempt to negotiate better margins from our suppliers.

      • Andrew says:

        Great strategy, Kamal. In my experience, trying to negotiate pricing discounts from the beginning with suppliers isn’t a great idea because 1) you come across as very cheap, and someone who may be difficult to work with and 2) you have no leverage!

        When you’re trying to build a supplier network and make industry connections, you don’t want to lead by beating people up over price before you’ve ever bought anything.

        It makes MUCH more sense to wait until you build some volume and are a valuable customer to the supplier. Then, with your newly built leverage, you can go in and ask for better pricing.

      • James M. says:

        Kamal,

        Thanks for answering my question. I think you have a great site and have selected a nice range of products that are merchandised well on the site. Well done, and again, thanks for sharing!

        I like your 6 month strategy. If you want to put your time into AdWords to start, setup a Google Product Ads Campaign. The cost per click is very inexpensive in comparison to text ads. I am paying on average of .16 cents per click and making back 750% Return On Ad Spend (ROAS) in my product ads campaign. It greatly improved my revenue and profitability of AdWords investments overall. Just thought I’d share as this just changed 2 months ago and is worth doing. Also, I am working now on being a Google Trusted Store which will also help AdWords with their new badges.

        Good luck man and we look forward to a follow up on here down the line when you’re killing it!

        -James

  11. Tony says:

    Site looks great, Kamal. Definitely wish you the best of luck. Love seeing that your product descriptions are steeped in original content, and not just pulled straight from your suppliers. People underestimate the importance of taking the time and effort to do this.

    One thing you might want to take a look at is your H tag implementation, as well as consider adding in some broader terms to your laser-specific catalog image alt tags.

    Cheers and good luck,
    Tony

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Tony,

      We spent a lot of time rewriting product descriptions. We also tried to add some flavor/humor to them so they weren’t completely boring. In hindsight we would have launched sooner and re-wrote the descriptions post-launch. It is what it is though. The writing process certainly taught us a lot about the products we sell. 

      Thanks for the suggestion about the H and alt tags. The H tags is on our list of things to update and we will certainly look at testing different image alt tags. The though with the alt tags was to try to rank for longer tail and less competitive terms out of the gate, but you make a good point about trying to go a little broader. Go big or go home right?!

  12. Brian says:

    Nice site Kamal and looks good on my android phone. (I’ve looked around and was going to choose BigCommerce over Shopify and Bigcommerce has made big push into mobile technology for their sites)

    On Air cleaners, I thought about that niche 1 time as I have dealt with air purifiers as a landlord and I can tell you that there are pockets of people with “real pain and urgent need for a solution” and need for air cleaners beyond the cheapo ones at the local walmart.

    I had 1 tenant with a $3000 portable air cleaner(Air-O-Swiss) and seems like you could really target those pockets of people besides the typical seasonal allergy sufferers that use air cleaners- people with Asthma, Pet lovers, people sensitive to building materials used in a home(Formaldehyde/Offgassing) so you could target environmental/organic building materials blogs as that market is exploding (You see all the ads for Non-VOC paints)

    Do guest posts on sites (and forums) that target those people in niches above (Asthma/pets/environmental) and send to targeted buying guide landing pages (or blog post) on your site for those target market needs and get some shocking photos of dirty air filters from an air cleaner that shows what they removed from a household air to create some emotional urgency.

    I would focus on that type of content where you are targeting specific needs of people because they are buyers vs. cleaning/maintainance type of articles which are read more by people who already bought.

    Also I thought about getting your email autoresponder to email the client on a certain time basis after purchase for when their air filter needed replacement with some type of coupon.

    I have a HEPA air filter in my home HVAC system and the filters are specialized to I know I have to buy them online instead of the local home repair store. I know the same is true for Air Cleaners.

    Sorry for the ramble but those are some thoughts.

    PS – Another target market I can relate to as a landlord is requiring air dehumidifiers for people who grow medical marijuana as they are protected class in some states….so you target some guest posts on property manager/landlord sites. Sounds crazy but that topic is becoming a big issue and landlords require them or provide them.

    • Kamal says:

      All great suggestions, Brian. I’m going to run with some of those ideas. We do want to get into offering more high end products like those you mentioned. In due time.

      I’m curious, what made you decide against the air purifier niche as a target for yourself?

      • Brian says:

        Not something I could focus on at the moment so I thought I would just share my thoughts since you were running already in that market.

  13. Tim Huff says:

    Hi Kamal,
    Congratulations on a beautiful site and a great post! Could you elaborate a bit on why you chose BigCommerce over Shopify or Volution? I’m in the very early stages of my second ecommerce site, and I’m considering Volution. My first site uses Shopify, which I’m very happy with, but would be interested in having more control over site design and functionality. Best of luck to you!

    Andrew,
    Thanks for allowing Kamal to share his story! Very motivating for those of us slogging it out in our day jobs and spending nights and weekends on our projects to learn about a successful site launch story.

    Tim

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Tim,

      Thanks for the compliment about our site! We elinimated Shopify from our consideration set early on because it wasn’t as full featured a solution as BigCommerce and Volusion. They also charged transaction fees which we were not excited about. I still think Shopify is a great shopping cart but it wasn’t the right fit for us.

      The decision between BigCommerce and Volusion was more nuanced. BigCommerce seemed to be innovating at a faster rate than Volusion and also had recently taken on a big round of funding, a large part of which was earmarked to nurturing their developer community. That was attractive to us. We also read a lot of articles about issues with downtime at Volusion. Other than that they do seem like a worthy shopping cart that should be considered depending on your situation.

      We also considered Magento but shied away from it due to our lack of technical know-how.

  14. Mitesh says:

    I would have liked to see some more information on your niche research process as I am currently making/brainstorming a list of niche ideas. What do you think of astronomy, geocaching, flying air planes or boxing?

    • Kamal says:

      To get some very specific instructions on how to pick and evaluate niches, I would encourage you to check out the eCommerceFuel eBook that Andrew put together. The eBook has an amazing amount of detail on this very topic and you can the niche ideas you listed above as niches with which to go through the process Andrew outlines. You can gain access to the eBook by signing up right at the bottom of this post, just before the comments section starts.

  15. Rob says:

    Great post and very interesting comments.

    I too am attempting to build an ecommerce empire with one active site and a new one in the works.

    Re. margins, I currently net approximately 10% on larger items and 20% on accessories. I do not do any paid marketing and my hosting is under $10 per month.

    My site is more of a “passion” business but it does bring in some extra spending money each month and I’ll tell you, there is no better feeling than waking up in the morning to see another $20 – $50 in my PayPal account…although another $200 – $500 may be better ; )

    Keep up the great work and all the best to you in your new venture.

    • Kamal says:

      Great to hear about your own eCommerce adventure, Rob. Money truly is a great motivator! Are you looking to experiment with paid advertising via AdWords or other areas? It can be a good revenue driver when done carefully. Best of luck to you as well!

      • Rob says:

        I’ve played with adwords in the past (not seriously) but didn’t find it very helpful. My current focus is learning all I can about SEO and long tail keywords.

        I also use YouTube to generate free traffic. You may want to give that a try too. You can see my very low quality videos that have 80,000 views by searching youtube for my username “heyguysitsrob”

        Hopefully you’ll do a follow-up post in 6 or 12 months to talk about your progress

  16. Owen says:

    Thanks for some great advice and insights to running an e-commerce store.
    I was thinking of switching over to Shopify but keep hearing a lot about Big Commerce.
    So, whats the difference?
    Good luck, Kamal and thanks for e-commerce fuel, Andrew.

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Owen,

      I think in a lot of ways Shopify is very similar to BigCommerce. I’m not sure of what the main differences are in their feature sets is currently, but when we were looking at different shopping cart options BigCommerce’s feature set was more robust than Shopify. That may not be the case today so I encourage you to look through their documentation and possibly hop on the phone with them. I’m sure each of them has a pitch for why they think they are better than the other guys.

  17. Jason says:

    Hi Kamal,

    Thanks for sharing your story. It’s very inspirational for folks getting into the business while still plugging away on other ventures. Could you share your timeline with us? You took a few weeks to think about niches. What about the time to develop the site and acquire dropshipping relationships? More to the point, what about timelines from when you launched (what is a great looking site by the way) to your first sale to a stranger. Length of time to a multiple sale day, etc…

    Again, thanks for sharing your story and following up on the conversations here.

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Jason,

      Happy to be able to share! Site design took about two months (a little more if you include logo design). Finding enough dropship relationships, and going through their paperwork, etc. took about a month. Writing all of the site content took another several weeks. Keep in mind this is all done in spare time (except for design which was outsourced) so time to complete these tasks could have been cut down significantly for someone working full time on this. We’re not ready to share sales info just yet, but our numbers are still pretty low. We have a lot of irons in the fire though so we expect that to change rapidly as we build momentum.

  18. James says:

    Hi Kamal,

    In your post you mention that you calculated/estimated a 1.5% conversion rate based on industry data.

    I was wondering where one might find such data. Also, do you have any other recommendations on places to find useful data (for predicting possible future revenue)?

    • Andrew says:

      James,

      Conversion rates vary widely by industry and site – anywhere from 0.25% to 5% or even higher – but 1% to 1.5% is a fairly good estimate. But again, it’s just that – an estimate. To my knowledge, I don’t know of an resource that lists conversion rates by industry. I think that data is hard to get as people are fairly protective of it. But if it was available, I’d love to see it!

    • Kamal says:

      Hi James,

      Andrew is absolutely right. The 1.5% number came up from seeing tons of different numbers being thrown around and wanting to choose something that was conservative and that we thought was achievable. I don’t know of a resource that lists them out by industry either. whichtestwon.com is a nice resource for split testing that a lot of times mentions the conversion rates of the sites they feature. I highly recommend signing up for their newsletter.

  19. Paul says:

    Kamal / Andrew,

    I have been thinking of building my own business for many years and after a long conversation with my wife just a day or two ago, we finally decided to start research and attempting to build a business. First, we are in the very early stages, no company name, no specific niche yet, but we are beginning to flush out some of the wants. I did make the first step and just ordered your e-book Andrew and I can’t wait to start reading it.

    I’m not going into this completely blind, as I have a BS in Business Management and a minor in Internet Marketing, but I do have some questions that come up right out of the gate. My main question is that my wife and I had an idea of the kind of business we wanted to start but it does not focus strictly around one product, like humidifiers or trolling motors. It instead would involve many products, built around a specific sporting industry, more specifically, training hunting dogs.

    My main question is if you think we are potentially starting with to broad of a scope? Obviously it would be easier to become an expert in one specific area/product (like dog hunting collars) but we also realize that our potential customer base is going to be looking for more than a website built on dog whistles, or hunting dog collars. So, what say you? Are we, in your opinion, likely to find more luck with something more specific or spreading a little thinner and having more products for the industry available?

    Thanks ahead of time! I really look forward to any insight either of you could provide.

    -Paul

    • Kamal says:

      Hi Paul,

      First off congrats on taking that first step. That’s the hardest part. I think your plan to start a site focused on the hunting dog industry is a great one. In my opinion, one doesn’t need to focus on a single product. A category where all of the products fit together and gives you the ability to market to a particular niche of shoppers is what really matters. Like you mentioned, I can imagine that folks looking for products in the hunting dog training category could potentially buy several products from different product categories and setting your store up to meet those needs is in your best interest. I would also guess that there are a ton of sites out there (forums, blogs, etc) that focus on this category that you can use to get the word out. I think you are definitely thinking about this in the proper way and are on the right track by thinking about niches of “customers” and not necessary niches of product categories.

    • Andrew says:

      Definitely agree with Kamal – I don’t think you’re being too broad. As long as your numerous product categories all lie under the same niche or area of interest, I think you’ll be fine. Problems occur when people try to sell a number of unrelated items that can’t be marketed to similar customers.

  20. Michelle says:

    Jamal, you guys have a wonderful website, very well put together. This is a wonderful niche that you have. I had to buy a humidifier a couple months ago for my newborn, unfortunately I didn’t know about your website or I would have purchased from you.

    Having said that I think I would have hesitated a little bit because of what you have on your about page. When I shop on any website that is not the big names like amazon and the likes, I always check the about page and am sure many others do that too. I guess am looking for some kinda connection with the seller so when I see you emphasizing on your marketing experience, its a little off putting. The customer service bit is not that bad, but the marketing bit makes it seem like all you care about is the sale. Maybe am assuming since am not in e-commerce yet but I believe most consumers (females especially) are looking for some type of connection with the seller that says “am looking out for you the buyer” not “I have the skills to make you buy from me” even though ultimately that what you the seller is striving for.

    Basically the majority of the infomation on your about page is what you put in a business plan. You don’t have to tell me about how easy it is to you your site, I already see it and I love that it is easy and well organized. Humanize it a little bit just like you did with the product description.

    Just my two cents :-)

    • Kamal says:

      Michelle,

      Congrats on your newborn! I hope you and baby are doing well.

      Thanks very much for your candid words and your honesty. You make some excellent points. I spoke to my biz partner about your feedback and we’re working on a new version of our About Us page to do a better job of telling our story while not overtly talking about sales and marketing. I’ll post here once the page is live and you can take a look and tell us what you think.

      • Andrew says:

        Kamal, if you guys are already using some A/B split-testing software, it’d be interesting to see what % difference it makes. Based on Andrew Bleakley’s advice that a personal ‘About Us’ page is the #1 thing he’s seen increase conversion, I’ll be doing this later shortly (with A/B) on my sites, too. Would be interesting to compare notes.

        • Kamal says:

          That’s a great idea. We don’t have enough traffic yet for a test to be able to complete in a reasonable amount of time and get to significance, unless the conversion rate difference is drastic (which it definitely could be) but something we will definitely consider. Curious to hear how your test goes either way, though!

  21. Kamal, many thanks for sharing your story with us. It was truly an inspirational read! I am in the process of mind mapping an online store for Wedding related products (like yourself I have a full time job) and your story has helped to demystify part of the process for myself. Wishing you and your business parner the very best of luck!

    • Kamal says:

      Best of luck to you as well! Please come back and share how everything is going once you are up and running.

      • Richard says:

        Kamal,
        You mentioned that you’d have loved to start your store earlier by starting with a stock template. Are you aware of any stock template for BigCommerce?
        Although BigCommerce offers template but I think they are not good enough for me and custom design like yours is really expensive. Any idea of ready and nice templates for Bigcommerce that you know of?

        • Kamal says:

          Hi Richard,

          I just logged into our BigCommerce control panel to check out their free templates and count how many there are. There are a whopping 101 free templates to choose from. With a small amount of HTML and CSS knowledge someone could take one of those free templates and make small adjustments to it to get their store off the ground. I didn’t identify a specific suitable template from their free list but I’m confident that I or anyone could find one of the free templates to be “good enough” to launch and iterate from while pushing the custom design out into the future a bit in order to get some sales in the door first to help pay a designer to really customize the site.

          • Richard Esq. says:

            That makes lots of sense Kamal.
            I just spoke with a designer now and their prices are outrageous. As you said, I think it’s better to get something going sooner and then get all the bells and whistles later.

          • Richard says:

            One more thing Kamal…
            From your comments on “How We Found Suppliers..” I figured that you source you products from multiple warehouses and suppliers. But, BigCommerce’s shipping calculation method allows you to calculate shipping based on products originating from Single location (in this case, YOUR location).
            So how do you calculate shipping charges when your products are dropshipped from suppliers that are located in several places?

          • Kamal says:

            You’re correct. We do source our products from multiple suppliers. It seems you did more homework on BigCommerce than we did at the start. We didn’t realize the limitation you described until it was too late. So in order to work around the fact that we can’t choose a supplier or source address on a per product basis, we used our biz address as the shipping source address. Doing it that way means that in some instances we will eat some of the shipping cost. After figuring out the shipping limitations we also decided to do free shipping for any purchase over $99 which will cover a big chunk of our products. We do need to call out that selling point more prominently on the site. Let me know if you think of any other questions. I’m happy to answer.

  22. James P says:

    Loved the article, Kamal; it’s quite the inspiration. I would love to know how CurbSide Air is doing these days! It’s a beautiful site.

    How important was having a co-founder?

    James P

    • Kamal says:

      Having a co-founder definitely helps in our situation. First and foremost we’re friends and have always enjoyed talking business, even before we owned one and we agree on a lot of things (but not all). We definitely have healthy debates about a lot of topics regarding our site. Second, it’s also helpful in knowing that you can outsource certain functions of the job to someone else who you know is capable of handling it well based on their own strengths and desires, and I get to work on the stuff that I most enjoy as well.

  23. Kate says:

    Hi James P,

    I don’t see a link to reply inline to your comment. Do you see this?

  24. avi l says:

    Hi quick question i didn’t see or read in your article about how did you come up with a domain name once you have the niche??

    thank you

  25. Eddie Tsang says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us – it was very insightful.

    I have a question in regards to your niche choice, you can buy purifiers or air dehumidifiers at your local home depot or Lowe’s. Did this deter you from picking this niche? Does competing with big box local stores that sell similar products affected you?

    Thanks!

    Eddie

    • Kamal says:

      This didn’t deter us. The big box guys are going to sell for sure. And a lot of times they will sell at a lower price. However, we plan to become a resource to users to learn about our product categories, not just a place to buy. So, we’ll have a competitive advantage in that regard and users purchase from us (in some cases despite the fact that we sell at a higher price) because of that. I’m perfectly happy taking a small bite out of big retailers’ sales.

  26. Nav G says:

    Kamal – Thanks for sharing your inspirational story. I am in initial stage of opening an online store for child learning kits. I was not planning to approach suppliers directly and only looking for dropshippers. Following are few questions

    1. How are you managing warranties and returns, if you are working with multiple suppliers?
    2. Have you formed a written contracts with suppliers before publishing their products and price? Like any type of revenue or quantity commitment for getting better price?
    3. Are suppliers ready for partner with small online sites ? I do not have much in hand to commit to suppliers.
    4. Initially I was planning to launch store with out of box templates. How important it is to have customized site and links.
    5. I am not sure, if is confidential or not. Can you suggest, how much money you have spent in site customization and who are the developer.
    I wish you all the best for your business.
    Regards,

  27. John says:

    Hello Kamal, many thanks for sharing your story with us. It was truly an inspirational read! I am wondering if you used drop shipper or did you stock up inventory? since you work full time it would be hard to pick one pack it up and ship it….but again like saying”And faith creates motivation which in turn leads to commitment, hard work, preparation … and eventually success”….

  28. Hilda Segura says:

    Kamal, I know you have been told like a million times but once again thanks a lot for sharing your story with us, it is truly inspiring but above all honest and true, your site is very neat and well organized, these are products we don´t ususally buy in México and nevertheless I even considered getting one! I would also like to thank Andrew for contacting you and for all the important information he shares with readers through his blog…

    I am deeply interested in starting an internet based business and drop shipping sounds like the best option for me, I am kind of following my passion and already have a niche identified; before I buy the domain and set the page I would like to research the feasibility of my selection by starting to call manufacturers which I suspect do not do drop shipping nowadasys but even before that I would like to know, by your experience (both) what kind of proposals/requests I should be doing, in other words can I request for pictures and information about sizes and models? In which terms can I present my drop shipping idea to them so they can show some interest. Hope you still have time to respond!

  29. Matt says:

    Hi Kamal,

    This has been an awesome story and very inspirational. I read your article a few months back and I was wondering if you had an update for us. I would really like to know how things are going for you and if you making plans to quit your job.

    Thanks

    Matt

  30. Jeff says:

    Hi great post.

    When you were narrowing down often list of 300 possible niches what SEOmoz difficulty score did you try not to go above? I am looking at a 52, really like the niche, will be doing w a full time job and have some online marketing experience.

    Thanks!

  31. Anthony Castrio says:

    Hey Kamal, you wrote a great article thank you!

    I noticed your about section at CurbSide Air was a little lackluster. I re-worded and formatted to better convey your and Danny’s message, I’ll paste the text below. Take a gander and let me know what you think/feel free to use it on your site. If you want the html to insert into your site I can email that to you. Congrats on all your success and best wishes!
    -Anthony Castrio

    About CurbSide Air

    CurbSide Air was founded to deliver customers quality air products and to create healthier homes.

    The CurbSide Air story began about 2 years ago when my son was born. Like many first time parents, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I was going to provide my child a safe and comfortable home to grow up in. For the first time in my life, every choice I made would directly affect another human’s well-being.

    The birth of my son was the beginning of a new life for me, and I found that my new life centered on him, this wonderful gift that my wife and I somehow created. I realized the only thing really important to me was my family’s health.

    I started looking at humidifiers soon after my son caught his first cold. I put on my research hat and discovered just how important air quality is to our health. Cleaner air benefits childhood lung development and could even reduce the effects of my wife’s allergies (we all know that a happy wife is a happy life!)

    I became determined to improve the overall air quality in my infant son’s bedroom and in our home. I found myself talking about the benefits of air purification with my friends and family. I was obsessed with clean air!

    I became an expert on clean-air technology and decided that I needed to share my knowledge with others. I founded CurbSide Air with my good friend to help educate our customers on the benefits of air purification and air quality. It is our mission to deliver the best air products including air purifiers, humidifiers, and dehumidifiers to help our customers create cleaner and healthier homes.

    Cleaner air can have amazing benefits, as I found out for myself! Now we, CurbSide Air want to share our expert knowledge and our high quality air purification products with you. We want to arm you with knowledge and provide you with a premium source for air quality control products so that you can clean up your air and help your families too.

    After all, your friends and family are the most valuable things in the world. We hope you enjoy shopping for air quality products that improve both yours and your loved one’s lives. Please drop us a note and let us know how our air quality products have improved your life.

    Danny – CoFounder, CurbSide Air

    • Sarena says:

      Good JOB
      I hope Kamal appreciates this. IT was Incredible of you to take time out and do what you did. I appreciate that there are still some AWESOME people out there ( Kamal for being brave and sharing his story, Andrew for posting very valuable information at no-cost and you) that just like to help out!
      KUDOs to U– ALL—! :)

  32. Mike says:

    This is awesome – I am in the niche research stage as of now and love reading articles like this. Great stuff!

  33. Khairul says:

    Hey Kamal & Andrew, i’m glad i came across this article!
    It gives me the motivation that nothing is impossible if you have the drive.

    I had a couple of questions though; Kamal mentioned about calling the manufacturers which, in his personal experience, lead to suppliers whom provide drop shipping services.
    Do you mean ‘suppliers’ as ‘wholesalers’? Bcos in my knowledge, wholesalers are the ones who buy bulks with multiple brands and sell it to retailers isn’t it.

    Also, Kamal said about the suppliers being reluctant to offer reseller account if you do not have a live website. In this case, how do you go about doing the mock up website? I’m currently in the sourcing for suppliers phase and I’m using shopify to build the website, but i’m not sure how do you go about doing that. The CurbSideAir website seems more professional and the budget for it seems to be on the higher end and I presume that helps a lot to quell their fears. How about Shopify in my case? Can I still do the same?
    If you don’t mind sharing, what was the cost for your website design? if it really helps to have my own customized website, i would need to calculate my budget for this! Lol.
    Hope to hear from any of you guys the soonest!

    Thanks and Regards,
    Khairul

  34. Wow – I am going to need to read this article (and the comments) again because they were both so informative and inspiring! I just launched my online store ( http://showercurtainhq.com ) last week and made my first sale today – after paying my supplier, $30 never felt so good! My long term goal is to be able to make enough so I can retire from my day job and be home more for my daughters and husband. Thanks for sharing and you site looks great – I agree with a previous poster – females always look at the ABOUT US page and love a good story. Here are my questions:
    1 – you are just drop shipping – correct? Do you ever plan to have your own merchandise for a bigger profit margin?
    2 – how do you and your partner divy up responsibilities and make sure everything gets done?
    3 – do you have any virtual assistants?

    Thanks for sharing your story!
    Jennifer

    • John says:

      Hi Jennifer,

      I like your site. I see that you went with Shopify. I am starting a gemstone and jewelry business that will include some drop shipping but we own most of the merchandise and can get the rest on consignment on favorable terms. I read with interest Andrew’s piece on picking the perfect shopping cart. I was leaning towards Shopify prior but wanted to see if you would share your reasons for choosing this hosted solution as well. Also now that you are up and running, how has your experience been — pros and cons?

      This is an important decision and I am taking the necessary time to research the best solution for my business situation.
      Any thoughts or feedback would be greatly appreciated. Thanks. John

      • Jennifer says:

        Hi John, I am so sorry it took me so long to respond – I got way behind on my email and I am just reading this now. I choose Shopify because I am not very tech savvy and it was super easy to set up my store. I also like how everything is included – I once started a business and I had to get a separate hosting and separate merchant account – it just makes sense to have everything included in one place. So far I have been happy with Shopify but right now I am at the point where I want to make some changes to my site and you are very limited to making major tweaks if you do not know html and css. I am looking into hiring a Shopify expert to make a few changes and would probably have the same issue with any other cart. You are smart to do your research but I would also advise not to over think it – it did that for a while and it caused me not to take action for a long time – you are going to make mistakes no matter what but once you get going you learn as you go and everything gets easier. Good luck and let me know what you decide!
        Jennifer

  35. also – thanks James and Kate for the tip on getting CC rewards for drop shipping orders – I will be taking care of that ASAP!

  36. Kenneth says:

    Dear Andew and Dear Kamal:
    Thanks for making this infomation available.
    could please explain a bit more how you gone about your pricing structure in comparison to amazon.com/amazon.co.uk prices which often unfairly lower than other websites.
    thank you for your attention.
    Kenneth

  37. Chris Mercer says:

    Gents,

    Great article and congrats to all three of you on pursuing your dreams of breaking out of the 9-to-5 and operating your own successful stores! I’m currently in the 9-5 career world. Great job; it doesn’t suck; but, like you, long-term, I want to be in control of my own destiny. I have an online retail drop-ship business already, which I’m currently pumping juice into, with the goal of it one day soon replacing the 9-5 income. While I know how to setup sites and go through the motions in that regard, I have a very unique, niche product and don’t have much experience with lower cost, higher volume products, such as humidifiers/dehumidifiers. My question is kind of lengthy, but you’ll understand it =):

    When contacting suppliers and working out the logistics of your dropshipping agreement(s), did you find that dropshipping offered lower margins, as opposed to, say, pre-paying or warehousing and shipping the goods yourself? If so, did that factor into your marketing plan (e.g. “We want to dropship, to be hands-off, with lower margins, we need to strive to sell X vs Y if we were to warehouse the products.”?)

    Thanks,

    Chris

  38. Dillon says:

    This post was amazing and shed light on someones first attempt at building an e-commerce site. I finally launched my site a couple days ago. Slow traffic but we are focusing on adding valuable content which is all SEO optimized to get that traffic rolling in. I would like to see some sort of challenge happen where a group of people take one month to choose a niche, find suppliers and launch a site.

  39. J says:

    Thanks for sharing Kamal. I went through and still going through the same thing. Just launched my eCommerce store and I think this is where the real work begins. I’m one of those weirdos who loves their job so I didn’t want to quit my 9-5. I agree that there’s no real exact science in picking a niche. You can just make educated guesses based on the data available. I had a similar process. But in the end, I just went with what I know and love. More power to your biz!

  40. JLamb says:

    Kamal, Great story and website, is this your only store, and are you still working full time.

  41. Rucker says:

    Awesome post Kamal.

    How did you come up with the $million/yr revenue estimate? When I use your methodology (5% of total traffic, 1.5% conversion rate, $200 average product price [guess]), dehumidifiers would have to generate 555,555 monthly searches. I haven’t seen anything like that number for dehumidifiers when using the Google Keyword Planner. Am I just making a really dumb math error?

    Thanks,
    Rucker

  42. James says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for your post. I am just starting to learn about ecommerce and this topic was exactly what I was worried about from the get-go. Did you ever return phone calls to customers after work when you got home? Did that create an issue that you were calling people back around 5:30-7PM? Or did you wait to return calls on weekends? Thanks!

    James

  43. Michael Vickers says:

    Andrew,

    Any idea what happened to CurbSideAir.com? I had looked at it before, as you cite it as a success story, but now when you go there, it says:
    “Down for Maintenance
    We’re currently working to bring you the most amazing shopping experience for Air Purifiers, Humidifiers and Dehumidifiers.
    Stay Tuned!”

    Looking at the Wayback Machine, the most recent entry was from May 2014.

    Offline for 5 months. Doesn’t look good. Have you heard anything from Kamal lately?

    • Spades says:

      Hey Andrew,

      I have just read the article and the comments, and I am curious same as Michael, what is it going on now with Kamals’ webstore.

      All the best to everybody

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