14. How a UK seller is making money on Merch by Amazon

Meet Douglas, who is selling t-shirts on Amazon.com from his base in the north of England.

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Elaine: Welcome to the Merch Entrepreneur podcast. You’re going to hear the strategies, the tactics and the stories of people who are making money with Merch by Amazon. I’m your host Elaine Heney and today I’m delighted to be joined by a legend from the UK, Douglas welcome to the show.
Doug: Thanks Elaine. Legend, yeah.
Elaine: Yeah, yeah, I think that was a suitable introduction because I know where this going to go already. Just to get started, where in the UK are you from and what were you doing before Merch?
Doug: I’m in the North of England. I’m 50 minutes away from Manchester and before I used to live in Luton near London so I just moved a year ago. When I was in Luton I used to have a photographic business, and also into YouTube marketing. It was more like a service-based business doing websites for clients, SEO stuff and then maybe on the weekends doing photography.
Then we moved and I had to start everything from scratch because the customer base was in Luton and London. When we moved, two things I had to start building a new customer base or I focus on my Internet stuff. Ten days after we moved, that’s when I found Merch. Before that I was doing Teespring for about six months before then came to Merch.
Elaine: Very good. How did you find Teespring? Were you driving traffic through Facebook?
Doug: Yeah, pretty much. I think Teespring was, I started Teespring in June last year, 2015 and then having to learn, I’ve gotten into some courses using Facebook to sell. That was a steep learning curve because in the beginning you have to spend a lot to get the data for Facebook to see what you’re doing. When Merch came, tapping into Amazon’s huge traffic was just a blessing.
Elaine: Yes, I think it’s definitely a lot simpler than having to go and drive traffic and pay for ads and manage all that service. When did you actually start in Merch? It was late last year was it?
Doug: Yeah, it was exactly on the ninth of October.
Elaine: Oh my God, that’s near about when it started.
Doug: Yeah, that was exactly ten days after their launch.
Elaine: Oh my God.
Doug: Actually it was through a friend because when we were moving to Stoke, I came here to visit a friend who was living in Stoke. Then, I told him about Teespring and how to use Facebook to sell T-shirts and he was like, “How that can be possible?” Before we were using blogs and apps and stuff like that. I taught him about Teespring and Facebook Marketing a bit. Actually he saw the Merch opportunity in a forum that he was part of and he told me, “Oh Doug, the T-shirt thing that you told me about through Teespring, Amazon is doing that now.” I said, “No.” He sent me the link and I was like, “Wow!” I said, “No, Amazon. How
Elaine: Then at that stage you didn’t even have to wait for approval. You were straight in weren’t you?
Doug: No. There was no approval and there was no tier up. I told my friend, “Listen, by Christmas we shall get thousands online on Amazon,” and we were just uploading. When I hit 125 that’s where the approval, the tiering up came.
Elaine: Oh okay.
Doug: I think I got 125 live and then a tier up came and then that was the first time in December when they stopped … yeah, they had the over capacity problem it was the first time. They were not allowing people in and they were not tiering up until I think January.
Elaine: Oh I remember that yeah, because I applied last November and I didn’t get in but I was like two weeks too late.
Doug: Oh, I think you applied, you were two weeks late then.
Elaine: Yeah, I had to wait until February but I was reading in the forums and I could see that people were like, Oh no, they’re not tiering up and everybody was just stuck where they were all over December and January. Yeah.
Doug: Yeah, because I think I had 125 live, I had to sell 125 before I got tiered up to 500. Normally you sell 25 and then you get tiered up to 100 and then you get tiered up to 500 but because I had 125 live I had to sell the 125. In the beginning that was a lot. When I started it was like, you just uploaded T-shirts to see. They call it spaghetti marketing. Just put up the T-shirts and see which one was taken, which one would sell. I was just putting up T-shirts and not proper key wording and stuff so it took some time.
Elaine: Oh okay, and then … I don’t know if I read this correctly but at that stage, was there something about you couldn’t delete T-shirts so if you put one up you were stuck with it.
Doug: Oh yes. It’s true, it’s true.
Elaine: That’s crazy.
Doug: You need to send them an e-mail before they could delete your T-shirt.
Elaine: Really?
Doug: Yeah. It’s true. Yeah, I nearly forgot about that. You had to send them an e-mail and wait sometimes for weeks before they could delete a T-shirt before you could upload one.
Elaine: That’s crazy because I know from putting stuff up, you put up stuff that you look back and you’re like, “Oh that’s a bit embarrassing, I need to take it down,” and to not be able to do that. Ooh, that’s tricky.
Doug: Yeah, in a year’s time looking back, Merch has come a very long way. Merch come a long way. That’s how it started and I got set up in I think February.
Elaine: What tier are at at the minute? I guess you’ve probably gone up a few tiers.
Doug: At the minute, I’m waiting to be tier to 4,000 because I’ve sold more than 4,000 now.
Elaine: Oh fantastic, that’s really good.
Doug: Yeah, in a moment I come tier to 4,000.
Elaine: All I want for Christmas at the moment is to be tiered up. That’s my wish.
Doug: Oh yeah? What tier are you now?
Elaine: I’m at 4,000 but I should be tiered up to eight or six or whatever’s next but I’m waiting.
Doug: That’s nice. You know that it’s a volume game.
Elaine: Yeah, yeah, it really does seem to be. I’m curious actually, do you spend much time everyday on Merch? Is this a full time job for you?
Doug: Yeah.
Elaine: It is?
Doug: Everyday. I spend the bulk of my time on Merch because I stopped all the other businesses and I’m focusing on e-business now, e-commerce now. In e-commerce, Merch is the number one. The plan is to just focus on Merch, build it and then move to the other ones like Shopify and back to Teespring, Facebook, Red Bubble and the other stuff. Once the Merch income streams build, that’s where you can use the funds and build it a business. When you do Teespring, sometimes you win sometimes you lose but Merch you know every month, on the 29th, your money will come.
Elaine: Most months anyway. There was a bit of a hullabaloo there a month or so ago.
Doug: Did you get yours now today?
Elaine: I haven’t checked actually today.
Doug: It should be in because other UK guys have gotten theirs.
Elaine: Oh okay, hopefully it’s there.
Doug: I should have ten thousand in there now.
Elaine: Oh my God, yeah I wish. You were saying you did a, was it a photography business before.
Doug: Yeah, yeah, I had a photography business.
Elaine: Do you have design skills, computer design skills or had you used any photo editing programs before you started Merch?
Doug: Yeah, I used to do work with Photoshop but mostly for photography. Maybe not that much because I was the type of photography, I don’t do that much now. I’m just trying to venture into landscape later, but I did very little work on my photos because I always try to use the natural camera abilities to get it right so I didn’t do much with Photoshop. It was over a new Photoshop and stuff which was when Merch started. That’s where I decided to Ilustrator because the stuff that you do with photography with Photoshop is different when you design T-shirts.
Elaine: Okay that makes sense. Is there any other software that you use, like any apps or anything like that that you use in your Merch business.
Doug: I use Illustrator as well but I’m not as much as Photoshop. Recently I got introduced to Word Swag.
Elaine: Yeah, that’s good one.
Doug: Yeah, I used that for, for example for trends, sometimes I have to act very quickly so you just do it quick and then you upload it. I always try to make my designs stand out, because recently I started to upload before using Word Swag and then I decided …
Elaine: Yeah, yeah, do a little extra.
Doug: I always try to be different and that’s why I don’t use it that much. For example, when I get ideas I just put it on my iPhone and when I take the kids out and their playing then I’ll use Word Swag to create some designs for ideas just to have a look at how it would look like.
Elaine: Oh very good, okay. That makes sense.
Doug: I use Word Swag to bring the ideas to life and then sometimes I’ll use the inspiration from Word Swag and create the same with Photoshop. The good thing about Word Swag is that even if you don’t use it direct, I can take inspiration from how it’s created, the layout and stuff and you can use that for Photoshop and create your own and it comes out very nice.
Elaine: That’s a really good idea actually. Do you have any artists or anybody working for you? Any virtual assistants or anything like that?
Doug: No, that’s why I work a lot.
Elaine: All right, that makes sense.
Doug: I do my own designs, I do everything.
Elaine: Oh my God. In the future would you be interested in hiring a VA or an artist or are you happy just to keep going as you are?
Doug: It’s a bit tricky with the VA. For example, with the designs, it’s about trust you know? In this business, your designs are the asset. If you go on Fiverr, what scared me is I went on Fiverr to look for designers and I was just going through the designs and I found people were selling 200 designs for $10. I got in touch with one guy and he said, “This is all original designs.” I was like wow, they sell the designs from other people as well. It’s a matter of trust. If you have a solid team around you I think it helps, especially if you are going to upper tiers because I’m sure by February, I should be hitting the sixth scale and 8,000 tier. It’s a lot to fill.
Elaine: Yeah, it definitely is. I know from doing the earlier tiers you’re like, “Okay I have 25,” and then you get boosted up to 100 and then there’s a panic because you’ve got to upload 75.
Doug: There’s a panic.
Elaine: Oh that was a panic, but can you imagine when you go from 2,000 to 4,000. There’s a hell of a panic. You’re like, “2,000 designs.” I wouldn’t even see daylight if I had to do all those myself. You don’t want to leave them empty and take ages either.
Doug: Yeah, you feel bad when it’s the other slots bare. Other people are struggling to get 100 or 500, you’ve got thousands sitting there and if you see somebody like Daniel or Lanell, you see their numbers, you realize that it’s also because they have a lot online like Daniel, over 6,000.
Elaine: Yeah, they’ve done a huge amount of work and they have the numbers uploaded which is half the battle.
Doug: Yeah, and then you see their sales too. When you get to the upper tiers, you have a process going on and you know what to do so it’s just duplicating your efforts and you get more sales. That’s why when you have those tiers, like 4,000 you need to because that’s where you make the money.
Elaine: Definitely. Actually, if you could credit one thing to helping you reach your success on Merch at the minute, what would it be?
Doug: One thing, the one thing, the one thing and I got that one from a book called The One Thing. It’s focus. I’ve never been so focused in my life. I’m at this stage and I can see that. Before when I was in London, the best thing was moving. When you move, you don’t know many people around. You’re in a new place and it took maybe six months before going to the town center, the shopping center. Sometimes, even the whole year I’ll be there maybe two or three times. I know only two families here so I’ve cut a lot of distractions and I’m not doing other business again like chasing clients and payments and you build this website. All this going up and down. I’m so focused on Merch.
Elaine: You’re just putting all of your time and all of your energy into this one thing and it’s really paid off obviously.
Doug: Yes, and I realize that if I can focus … the thing is, when we moved to the north, the rent and the mortgages there are lower than Luton and London so we paid three months in advance. I was like, three months, no rent so I was able to focus, not on bills and stuff, just on building this business. The first month, that was October, I had only four sales.
Elaine: Oh my God.
Doug: The pressure was building up and in November I had like 23 sales. I was like, “Oh, it’s coming up.” In December, 60 sales.
Elaine: Oh wow.
Doug: Then I was like, “Oh, I need to get this to 125 sales so I can get up to 500,” because I knew if I’d get to 500 tier, that would be the equivalent of having a 9 to 5 job.
Elaine: Really wow, oh my God. You could see that it was just a question of time and more uploads.
Doug: I could see it, yeah. I said, I just need to get to 500. 500 is actually where I started seeing better results. That’s where for example, the royalties changed from $300 to $800 and started going up and started going up. Every month there was an increase and I always tell people, where else can you get a raise? Look at how long it takes people to get a raise in their jobs. Just a salary raise takes so long but here you can just determine how much you want to earn every month and month after month depending on the energy you put in.
Elaine: Oh my gosh, that’s actually completely true. You do decide, “Well, do I want extra this month? Well then I’ve just got to work more.”
Doug: Yeah.
Elaine: That stands, and then the next month you could even work less but then all the work that you put in the previous month will still stand to you for all the months in the future. It’s not like a one off thing.
Doug: It’s not a one off thing, and the thing is in Merch, all you need to get a sale on some shirts, just to get a sales rank because sales rank is everything. Once the t-shirt gets a sales rank then it sticks. Then you just have to duplicate it and get the other ones to get a sales rank. Once it gets a sales rank it tends to be a passive income. It’s really good. I always say, something I call the seven pillars of e-commerce. Those seven pillars are research and design, product creation, promotion, sales and the other one was analytics. If you look at the Amazon dashboard, you have those four there already. You have the .. on the Merch dashboard, you have to create it from Merch manage and analyze. If you add reset and design, the sales to it, it’s seven.
Elaine: So Merch, they have actually done more than 50% for you of the whole seven steps. Wow, that’s crazy when you look at it that way. Yeah, that’s mad. What are you most excited about for the future of Merch?
Doug: I think that the new products. Recently there was a survey regarding what you would like to see in Merch and I think having more product lines like apparel prints, marks and stuff, that would be great. If we can sell hoodies and stuff like we’re selling t-shirts if you compare it like Seller Central is tough to Merch because Merch is sold by Amazon, I think that algorithm works different because I’ve got some stuff on Seller Central that I was just testing and you have to do a lot of work there to get sales compared to Merch.
Elaine: Oh, so you think Merch is favoring the Merch listings because they get a bigger cut out of it because they’re obviously supplying the T-shirts. If there was two T-shirts that were pretty much the same but one was Merch and one was Merchant fulfilled … I think I read that somewhere where even if the Merchant Fulfilled t-shirts has actually gotten more sales in the past, in the search results, the Amazon Merch t-shirt will actually come out on top even with less sales because it’s Merch and Amazon … That’s just crazy isn’t it?
Doug: Yeah, it’s crazy. I think it’s because it’s theirs. If you look out for the Merchant shirts and you click the brands like Amazon only, you have only Amazon, sold by Amazon. I think of course they favor their own.
Elaine: Yeah, their own products.
Doug: Yeah, their own products. I can’t imagine. What I’m excited about is having the hoodies, and more products.
Elaine: Oh my God, I can’t wait to like, the hoodies. I’ve seen on … what was that on? Was it Red Bubble? Anyway, but they were doing hoodies and you get maybe double the royalties. It’s crazy.
Doug: It’s crazy, hoodies sell out.
Elaine: They’re popular, people buy, well I don’t know as many as t-shirts but they buy a lot of hoodies in the winter.
Doug: On Teespring, that’s where I started with hoodies and on K-bubble. K-bubble is where I do lots of hoodie stuff.
Elaine: Oh, and you find success with hoodies on those?
Doug: Yeah, the thing is that because of Merch, the time is so spent on Merch because Merch is where you have to do all of the research. The research takes a lot of time. Then in my case, I do everything myself. I’m the research department, the design department …
Elaine: Oh okay, busy, busy.
Doug: Yeah, you know how it is when you have the upper tiers. From 1,000, 2,000 tier. In your case 4,000 that is huge.
Elaine: It’s huge and it’s only going to get worse. I’m going to have the Merch pressure on my really soon when I tier up.
Doug: Yeah, fill all your slots.
Elaine: Yeah, I’ll have to figure it out. I’ll just not sleep and I can keep outsourcing. Listen Douglas, it was a massive pleasure to have you on the podcast. Thank you so much for sharing your time and your knowledge of this.
Doug: No, no worries. Any time. I hope to get back again.
Elaine: Absolutely. We’ll get an update. If anyone’s listening, if you’d like to join us to talk more about Merch you can find us if you go to Facebook and type in “Merch Entrepreneur,” you’ll find our Facebook group and then for show notes for this episode, you can go to merchentrepreneur.com.

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  1. Richard

    It would be useful if you leave links to any tools or sites that interviewees mention on the podcast. Helps us that listen to the podcast on the move. Fun podcast though. What was that keywords tool he was talking about Wordsmith?

  2. Ossie

    Hi, Elaine, an interesting an inspiring interview. I was wondering if Doug, would be interested in mentoring! A new Kid on the block. I have a number of innovative and authentic design. Looking to get on the fast track. Please make contact, with query.
    Kind Regards
    Ossie Brown

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