The Amazon and ZonSteps Journey
Like many people my
story is not uncommon. The delicate balance
of working long hours in a job, family life, a social life and
planning for financial security and freedom.
In 2017 I was introduced to the e-commerce platform called Amazon. By early 2017
I had completed my first Amazon FBA course. Over the next 4 years I would experience
the extreme highs and lows of being a Private Label Seller on Amazon.
During this journey I was told less than 3% of sellers ever go live, WHY?
Well sourcing, manufacturing, negotiating, inspecting, photographing, packing,
shipping, promoting, branding and selling physical products
on Amazon is an extremely complex process.
Where is the checklist style project management tool for Amazon Sellers? Nowhere!!
Here is the ZonSteps story.
Amazon FBA Course Enrolment
After seeing so many Amazon FBA Facebook ads promoting the opportunity of financial freedom via an online business I investigated as much as I could. The result - I enrolled in my first Private Label Amazon course.
First Amazon Product
From day 1 of commencing the Amazon course I started researching potential products. 6 weeks later I had decided on my first product. after deeply analyzing the market and opportunity – a fetal doppler.
Canton Fair and Factory Meetup
The canton Fair in Guangzhou China is an event that every physical product developer or seller should experience once in their lifetime. Thousands of manufacturing companies all under the one roof. Also took this opportunity to meet with the manufacturers of the fetal doppler I was going to sell on Amazon.
My Medical Devices employer was purchased by another company. Over 60% of the staff was made redundant. Unfortunately, I was one of the 60%. The Amazon prospect now had a new level of importance.
Amazon prohibits the sale of Fetal Dopplers
Due to newly developed FDA guidelines Amazons updated policy now prohibits the sale or listing of products that require a prescription or a medical professional's supervision or direction for their use. Fetal Dopplers would require FDA approval. This announcement made just 5 days before paying a 30% deposit on 1,000 Fetal Dopplers
New Fulltime Job
Fortunately secured a fulltime role with another pharmaceutical company as an Infection Control and Wound Management product specialist. Luckily, I don’t have a weak stomach for open wounds.
Second Amazon Product
My second product of choice was a Wifi Smart Plug. This product was associated with the online home automation industry. For a point of difference, we were the only smart plugs available with an integrated USB charging port.
First Sale on Amazon
I‘ve always embraced the notion “Work Smarter not Harder”. I’m also disciplined when it comes to creating efficient systems that I can just “Rinse and Repeat”. This is how I managed to select a second product and launch so quick after the Fetal Doppler debacle. First Amazon Sale November 8th 2017 – this Amazon thing really works.
Highs and Lows of Selling on Amazon
$90,000 in sales for the single month. BSR of “665” in the Tools and Home Improvements category. 1,500 Wifi Smart Plugs twin packs held by US customs for random examination and inspection. December 23rd my listing is “Suppressed” the reason, an Amazon technical error.
Stock Seized by US Customs
The reason for the Smart Plugs being seized - “Issue with USB Logo” on our packaging. The USB logo we had paid for via a licensed Stock Photo platform was “… too similar to a Trademark Registered USB Logo”. Stock moved from California port to Laredo in Southern Texas.
10,000 Units Repackaged
In lieu of the unresolved seized stock by US Customs we had to repackage 10,000 units. The new packaging did not contain the contentious USB logo.
Because my listing was suppressed for nearly 2 weeks our BSR slipped from 665 to 48,000+. From Page 1 to page no-where to be seen.
USB-IF Legal Letter
Receive letter from the organization USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) explaining our USB logo was too close to their trademark registered USB logo’s. Engaged a US Attorney to assist. 18 days to resolve the issue.
Government Department Shutdown
Due to a US Government induced Filibuster all departments including the department for Customs and Border Protection immediately shut down. 3 days prior to due date to submitting documentation.
Launch to Canada Marketplace
Demand for the Wifi Smart Plugs continues to grow. Expanding our reach and listed on the Amazon platform in Canada.
Assigned Customs Officer
Finally assigned a Customs Officer to manage our case. We were informed it would take 90 days for him to review the case.
$500,000 in Sales Milestone
Took a while to recover from the “Suppressed Listing” etc but 6 months after going live we hit a significant milestone. $500,000 in Sales. However, competition was increasing and prices were dropping.
1 Star Reviews
This is a common trick if you’re product is too successful. I was inundated by competitors buying my product and posting inaccurate reviews. 5 star overall review rank slips to 3.5 stars.. Ouch!!
Launched New Smart Plugs Variations
The original wifi smart plugs were now established and selling well at approximately $35,000 / month. Re-invested the capital into new smart plug variations.
Amazon Wifi Smart Plug Released
No No No!!! On the back of the success of Amazons Echo and Echo Dot speakers they released an Amazon Branded Wifi Smart Plug.
Amazon Account Suspension Risk
We received notification from Amazon our account was at risk of being suspended due to the “Misuse of Keywords”. Our home automation products integrate with Google Home. We were not allowed to use the keywords “Google Home”.
Seize Stock Update
Despite being told 8 months ago “my seized stock case would be reviewed in 90 days” unfortunately there was still no progress. $30,000 worth of capital & stock in Limbo now for 12 months.
Good Sales No Profit
On the back of pre-xmas sales, more Smart Plug competitors, PPC price increases and the dominance of Amazon’s own newly released Smart Plug sales are up but net profit margins are quickly eroding.
New Product Search
We had 6 – 8 months of stock of left in Amazon and we were unlikely to restock. Time to look for another product, another range.
ZonSteps Is A Concept
Whilst researching new products I found myself wasting hours and hours replaying the video content from my Amazon course. I was still working full time and just needed to recall the intricate tasks required at specific stages. I searched and searched for a detailed list of the required Amazon FBA steps in sequential order and found nothing … If You Can’t Find It Make It.
ZonSteps Content Creation
Recalled all my notes and documents associated with finding, manufacturing and launching the range of smart plug products. Broke the process down into manageable phases. Each phase with a number of associated steps.
Amazon Listing Closed
There was a change in the process for syncing Wifi Smart Plugs with the Google Home’s integrated system. Unfortunately, the instructions enclosed in Smart Plugs manufactured 6 months earlier differed from this new process. We were inundated with returns.
Initial ZonSteps Platform Design
Utilizing the same software developers from previous projects we engaged them to help design and development the ZonSteps End User Platform.
Seize Stock Update
Still no progress. $30,000 worth of capital & stock now in Limbo for 19 months.
More Work Responsibilities
My pharmaceutical company employer struggled to find a reliably suitable representative for a neighboring state. I was informed I’d need to look after this state account as well. More time away from family.
Business Accelerator Program
I enrolled in a comprehensive business development program to ensure I could project manage, develop, deliver and promote ZonSteps whilst still working full time as an employee. Not an easy task.
New Product Development Failure
We had been working with a new factory for nearly 6 months. They were responsible for manufacturing a specific product in the Arts and Craft category. Unfortunately, we had to cut ties as they were unable to meet the level and standard of product we required.
The development of the ZonSteps end user platform was progressing nicely. Now we needed a website where people could Sign-up or Login. Initial ZonSteps Website Concept thrashed out and developed.
Seize Stock Update
US Customs Officer finally makes contact. We have a limited time to “Manipulate” our packaging and permanently cover the Offending USB logo before the case expires and we lose the stock
Customs Vetting Process
I engaged someone in Houston to perform the Customs Manipulation on packaging of our 1500 units. The US Customs have to perform a security clearance on my contractor for entry into their compound.
ZonSteps Platform Finished
The ZonSteps end user and back-end admin portals are finally completed. With the help of my daughter we commence uploading all the content, documents and images.
Security Clearance Granted
My Houston contractor is given Security Clearance to enter the Customs and Border Protection compound. Houston to Laredo drive - 5.5 hours one way.
Customs Compound Closed
Receive an email from Customs Officer informing me the compound is closed due to Covid 19. The packaging Manipulation is again put on hold. Covid 19 a Global Pandemic
ZonSteps Beta Testing
We put the ZonSteps platform to the test. Engage Amazon sellers with varying degrees of experience to try and break the platform. Great feedback.
To recoup the cost of our remaining Smart Plug inventory in Amazon we had to take a more conservative sales and marketing approach. Unfortunately, this meant it took longer for product sell through. But we finally got there.
We were asked to present to a small Amazon Seller specific Facebook groups. The response was amazing. We had our first 40+ subscribers.
As a result of the first presentation we were invited to demonstrate ZonSteps via ZOOM to another larger Facebook group – the Endgame Network. Another 100+ subscribers.
After working closely with our customers and listening to their feedback we started development on their suggestions and ideas. We held off any more promotional activities whilst finalizing these concepts.
Seized Stock Destroyed
After nearly 3 years of fighting to have $30,000 of stock released, we made the unenviable decision to surrender the smart plugs which meant they’d be destroyed. With no Covid 19 end in sight and no Customs Compound opening date the ongoing costs of storage was becoming a major issue.