What makes a good supplier?

As I have previously discussed, there are dropshippers and there are companies that you need to stock their products. As I have continued to grow and have many of both types of relationships, these are the factors that make for a successful long-term relationship:

  • Do they stand behind their product? I had a situation today where I shipped product to Alaska. The item shipped was a module neon system. Two of the modules did not blink as described. I called the supplier of this product, and they gladly agreed to ship the new product up to Alaska for me. If my supplier would have refused to do this, I would have had to order new inventory and ship afterwards. It would have been a couple of weeks before the customer received the product. This would also apply when a supplier issues the call tags and takes care of all product warranty issues where an product exchange is necessary.
  • Will they ship either 3rd party or use you UPS/FedEx account? Often suppliers will kick up the handling charge a bit when using their own account number. Since my website typically sells things with a set shipping price or a built in shipping price, it is critical I can minimize these extra cost.
  • How will they receive POs? One of my best suppliers likes to receive faxes. And, since I fax from my PC, this works out very well. Another of my good suppliers receives email POs. Although email is good, I like it when I fax and receive an email confirmation. (I recommend eFax.)
  • How do they provide tracking information? This is an area of EXTREME weakness. My two best suppliers usually have a tracking number in my email box within an hour OR within a day of shipment. (And, a couple of suppliers also send a hard-copy invoice.) In most cases, I am not provided tracking information. I get the tracking info after being prompted by the customer. OR, I get the invoice from the supplier with the tracking # included. This is an area of excessive busy work as we try to get the customer all of the information they require.
  • If dropshipping…how quickly do they drop ship? My two best suppliers typically ship same day if the order is received by 1:00. This is of great comfort to both me and my customers. My other suppliers typically are prompt, but since they don’t communicate immediately upon shipment, we are never 100% confident the item has shipped.
  • Do you have access to “head guy(or gal)” at the company? When I need custom quotes or when I want volume pricing, this is key. No matter how big of a company you are, you look much bigger when you can get the customer information VERY specific to their project.
  • Do they pro actively let you know about new products? Not many of my suppliers do this very well. Those who do, make me feel guilty if I don’t get new info or new products up on the website quickly.
  • Lastly, speaking of websites, does your supplier help you get their product on your site? Many will give you graphics and access to their website. BUT, if you find a supplier that will give you a spreadsheet with most of the information needed for your website, you are doing VERY well!

None of my suppliers do all of these perfectly. And, I am not always perfect as well. I am fortunate to have the suppliers I have. And, I will always accept new ones that provide many of the bullets listed above.

Website upgrade headaches

The website, www.signsseen.com, has had its share of headaches lately. The most recent was necessary (upgraded for more secure checkout), but not completely smooth.

Some of the problems encountered:

  1. The error pages were not set up correctly. As part of the secure checkout process, the shopping cart URL was changed to www.shop.signsseen.com. And, many Google, Yahoo and other spidered links were not available. And, the subdomain needed its own set of error pages. So, for about a day, this was broken.
  2. Check out problems. Not sure about this entirely, but I have received calls that the order could not be completed online. A few customers mentioned bookmark issues. And, there is the occasional issue with not providing the correct “bill to” address, so until I see a definite pattern, I will trust this is the case.
  3. Some modules not generating the correct link. When using osCommerce, there are many modules that can be installed. And, it appears the modules may need to be changed when the a sub-domain is added. This should be fixed later tonigh by the consultant…
  4. We are behind a software patch-This has caused the removal of the “breadcrumb” navigation across the top. This occurred due to a combination of things–the subdomain was only a part of the problem-I think…
  5. And, the upgrade was delayed. Certain modules did not work with the subdomain. So, my consultant worked for awhile to make them work before the upgrade took place. I HATE delays…

Now, I hope the only fallout of the upgrade is waiting for Google to catchup. Once this is done, I anticipate more sales, MORE products and MORE upgrades.

Who are you sharing your server with?

At first there were just occasional periods where the site was slow. Then, they became more frequent. Eventually, customers called me and were having trouble getting to the site. And frequent sales of some of my top sellers had dropped off.

I started trying to look for patterns and track. Was there to much load on the server? Was it my chat software? Was the database to big? Nothing was giving me answers until my host told me about my server-buddy. Apparently, he just recently joined me on the server. And, although he was not getting much traffic, he was doing LOTS of database queries. And, when I (or a customer) was trying to access the database server at the same time as he was running his site queries, my loading times went up 3 or 4 times. (I consider anything short of instantaneous unacceptable.)

After excessive Instant Messages to my host, he got the hint. He gave me access to a couple of additional features on the server AND he found a new home for “server-buddy”. Now, the server is again smoking and ready for your orders once again.

I walked away….

Over the past month to 6 weeks, I became aware of a VERY good business opportunity. It was an on-line B2B business. All orders were faxed directly to the manufacturers represented, and a commission was paid within a few weeks. I had put some money down on this business, and I met with the present owner. At the end of our meeting, there were some “details” to clean up. One of those details was making an additional installment. When my “hand” couldn’t write the check, we soon parted.

Why I became interested in this business?

  1. Guaranteed revenue stream. Although margins seemed to be suffering, it still seemed to generate a low 6 figure income.
  2. It was a nice niche area. There are distributors and retailers that provide this product, but this site enabled a customer to get the freshest product directly from the manufacturer.
  3. Home based. Since everything was drop-shipped, the business could be operated from anywhere.

This is why I couldn’t go forward:

  1. My original agreement had a payment schedule. The existing owner (let’s call him Fred), wanted to revise the schedule. Even eventually agreed not to revise, but this went down into the column where I was developing Fred’s profile.
  2. Another part of the agreement was Fred was going to stay on for a period of time and he was targeting some customer and manufacturer goals. Once these goals were reached, he would receive an additional bonus on top of the sales price. The payment schedule for this was also spelled out in the agreement. He wanted to modify the agreement on these points. And, there is nothing wrong with doing this, but the original agreement would no longer be valid.
  3. Our agreement was a piece of paper that no business lawyers had looked at. It had holes and “outs” for either side. Both of us knew this. At our first meeting, Fred mentioned that an attorney jokingly told him, he could just keep my down payment, and have no legal obligation to return it. And, I countered with, if this doesn’t feel right, I am content to call this down payment my “mid-life crisis”. Translation: Neither of us gave much credence to the contract.
  4. The website needed rewritten. I have many changes from my existing website (www.signsseen.com) that I wanted to bring to this website. And, although Fred didn’t say not to, I believe in his capacity he would have been a barrier to getting some of these changes completed. And, the Fred “negative” column was beginning to get a few bad marks.
  5. Fred didn’t have much of a plan to get things moving forward. As Fred and I talked, I saw Fred taking my money for buying the business and then being able to play with my money as he tried out his ideas. We can get telemarketers; we can get distributors and not manufacturers; we can cut the commission rate; and we can do some other costly thing to the website. As I continued to listen, I heard no budget and no guarantees. I heard a spaghetti on the wall approach with my money that was already being stretched with the purchase of this business.
  6. The business brokers were involved. As I was driving down to our meeting point, Fred called me and told me a business broker had a buyer who was willing to spend more than I had offered. After receiving this info in a “crackled” form, I dipped into a valley and lost the signal. And, when we talked again, I had enough time to become concerned as to where this whole thing was going.
  7. All about the money. The arrangement was to pay for the business on a schedule. And, once Fred had completed additional sales efforts, the pay schedule would kick in for his sales efforts. Knowing the broker was out there and knowing how quickly Fred wanted to completed his sales [it would be a year before he received full payment], I could not help but classify his motives as “anxious to leave the business”.

And, in light of all of these things, I was concerned his involvement for even the next 6 months would be difficult to manage. I didn’t not want to place my existing business in danger, and the financial strain of the purchase plus managing a rather ambiguous Fred, made leaving the best option.

Fred has called the brokers and hopes to have the business sold very soon. I look forward to receiving my down payment check back. [Fred said keeping it would be bad karma.] And, I anticipate incorporating many of the processes used by Fred into some of my websites.

Am I dissapointed? Yes. Is Fred disappointed? I am sure. But, if Fred wanted the money and I wanted to inject some freshness into my site, we are both winning–I think…..

Dropship, stock or mix?

First, to dismiss any concerns that I am an idiot…..dropshipping is good. It is a money saver, and my cash doesn’t get tied up. I understand its merits to my business. I am not going to stop doing this-no room for negotiation.

Second, there are certain issues that are a natural part of stocking items:

  • Do you have warehousing space or garage space or some other space you can scrape together?
  • Can you guess best what your customers will want?
  • Do you have enough cash allow your money to sit in your warehouse?

And, obviously in my mind, stocking big items is not even an issue. I am willing to take less margin and make whatever margin I can off of the larger items. The issue here is are there some items that are worth stocking while dropshipping the greater portion of your product?

And, the answer to this question is my present quandry. Here are what I view as an acceptable option to stocking items:

  1. I “bought” into a distributorship last year. I had a product line I really wanted to have. And, the only way to get “in” was to have a certain size initial order. And, I bit and bought in. I now have some clearance items I need to get rid of. Fortunately, I have had to reorder the items I really wanted. “Stocking” was necessary here, but a Clearance sale is coming soon for the other items.
  2. Buying in volume to get better pricing on items sold on existing websites. Frankly, this is the reason I am writing this entry. Should I buy items at 80% off the price the individual item is available on a import website OR should I discontinue the item entirely? Based on sales, I am leaning toward discontinuing the items. [Translate: see the Clearance portion of my site]

In quick summary, I am certain a mix is the best option. I believe a business/website needs to weigh its overall goals. If a product is a “must”, then you negotiate and stock a few things. But, if the profit is minimal and the product is not one of your core items, I recommend strongly emphasizing the dropship products made available to you by your manufacturer…..I think I will. 😉

A Good Omen?

I have bought 3 or 4 businesses on eBay. And, with the exception of my sign business, they have all had very limited potential. They have been much more hands on than what I am willing to manage with my hands already full with other businesses responsibilities. Unfortunately, my most recent business falls into this category, but it did lead to a fit….

My most recent eBay purchase involved a business with both equipment and product. Although not very complex, the equipment allowed the product to be converted into something that was much more valuable than the raw materials. And, it was this possibility that lured me into spending some of my hard earned money on its potential. Once the many boxes showed up from the eBay seller, I went through them. And, they everything he promised. The most exciting part to me was having a distributorship of a specialized printer. I thought, “I can make my money back reselling the printer.” And, to do this, I needed to ensure the printer was maintained on the sites it was already being promoted. And, it is here our story begins……

I received a casual email from the eBay seller about a site where the printer was being promoted, and the owner of the “promotion” site was being CCed. I looked at the promotion site, and emailed the owner as to what the site did. He explained it was a B2B site, with over 5,000 products. He explained how the orders came in and how they were all processed–it was a VERY automated process. And, by the way, he was interested in selling the site. And, after some discussion, terms being bounced around, and a willingness to throw in the towel more than once, I put down a deposit check. I felt good about it and went off on our post-Christmas trip.

As, a slight aside, I also started a sister site to my sign site. And, I had been wondering when the first sale would come. Well [here is the omen part], my first sale from my new site came from someone who is in the industry of my new business. And, if it is not an omen, it sure is a convenient occurrence to keep me positive on the whole idea….

And, unless I miss my guess, additional entries will follow about this whole process…..

Past was Exorcised

The haunting was fully evidenced Sunday morning. It wasn’t screams of an unknown origin, objects moving without visible physical assistance, or smells of events from the past, it was the disappearance of my website on the search engine. I do a link:www.website.com and site:www.website.com and there were no results. I knew that this was no accident-the haunting had begun. And, the 7050 results that I received the night before, were now completely gone. So, I accepted my sentence and hoped it would not extend to far beyond the 30 days I was serving.

I continued to get used to the idea–I did my mourning all day Sunday. And, when the day was over, I was very used to the idea of having more free time over Christmas and New Years. And, I slept much better this night than the previous two nights.

Monday morning I did another check to make sure the site was still gone. Then, I was talking to a supplier and telling him my story. He went to the search engine and typed in my website, and it appeared. Then, I did the same thing. My first reaction, “It is a caching issue. I have 29 days left in my sentence.” Then I closed my browser, and afer opening it, I tried again–my site was still there. Then, I received a couple of phone calls, and I had them check my site–it came up in their search results, too. Then, I checked my Shopping Cart Tools — it showed I was getting hits from this search engine. Gradually, it started to sink in–I was being paroled! I may have a virtual ankle bracelet on, but I have no reason to summon the authorities as I breach my parole.

Bottom Line: First, don’t do anything to violate the search engine guidelines. Second, if you page is in violation and you receive an email from the search engine, clean up the problem and as to be reconsidered as quickly as possible. Third and finally, expect the search engine to honor their 30 day threat (or whatever the time frame), but be grateful if you are given a reprieve…and don’t be ignorant of the guidelines again!

My websites past haunting me….

When I bought my sign site on eBay last year, I knew it had very good placement on a few key words. I didn’t think about it much. I just knew I did not want to change the site. I change a product here or there, but I didn’t do anything to all of the other baggage on the website.

Well, today my ignorance is haunting me. I received an email from the search engine telling me that my site has been bad, and all/some pages will be removed. I will need to make changes and reapply for consideration on this search engine.

I did make all of the changes (the text mentioned in the email was hidden at the bottom of the page), and I reapplied for consideration on the website. My pages are still on the site, so I don’t know if they will all disappear or if some will disappear or what will happen due to my infraction. I get about half the traffic from another popular search engine as I get from this one. So, if I am removed entirely, my business will not dry up. However, it certainly does fill me with dread…

Why did this happen? I reviewed the pages at this search engine. I can only guess someone who covets my spot in the rankings turned the site in. I used to be #1 on a few key terms on this search engine, and I have since dropped to #3. And, once this all plays out, I don’t know where I will drop in the result rankings. And, if the sales slow down, I will just put up more things on the site to sell. And, I will continue to count my blessings for the opportunities the site has provided…