We Got Into Urban Outfitters, yey!
As some of you already know, my girlfriend and I started a little side project business by making and selling beard oil. (doesn't matter if you don't know what it is)
As of last week out product is being sold at Urban Outfitters in the USA which is completely crazy. I never imagined that some day I'll create my own physical product that would retail at a huge store chain! At this point though I started reflecting on the whole process which made me realize why some people get these kind of results while others don't.
Please allow me to share the whole story with you as the lessons I learned from this venture apply to most businesses, online and offline.
p.s. warning, this is a long post. read at your own risk ;)
1. Idea is worthless is you don't take action.
We made the oil for my beard than thought: "Why don't we try selling it?" So the very first action we took was listing the product on Etsy. Besides simply listing it we enabled PPC and sales started coming in. We proceeded doing some instagram and other social media marketing to get more sales.
2. We got noticed.
Because we started getting sales, we started getting reviews, and because of sales and reviews are rankings within Etsy went up. This means more exposure. At some point in December we got a message on Etsy from a purchasing agent at UO asking for a sample. The very same day we ran to the post office paid for express shipping and sent a free sample to UO.
3. Being persistent.
A few weeks went by (and tracking showed the item was received a while ago) but no reply from UO. So we email them asking for updates. They reply with: "We got the sample, please send us your price list.
What the heck is a price list? I mean i have an idea of hat it is but how do you create one, specially for a single item, not much of a list... So at first we needed to research how to make a proper price list. Then we spent time researching what out competitors charge the wholesale buyers. Based on all that research we finalized the price list and sent it to UO.
2-3 weeks go by, we are now in mid-January 2016 and no response. So we decide to keep being persistent and email them again, asking if they are ready to go ahead and place an order. The same day UO replies: Yes, we would be interested in placing an order
I am sure that Urban made the same offer to other sellers. However, I am also sure that many others gave up on the idea because they didn't get a reply from UO. We were persistent and kept showing that we are serious and want to move on.
4. Corporate road blocks.
So we get the instructions from Urban. There are loads and loads of documents filled with words we've never heard before. We are extremely overwhelmed. I am su many new members at WA feel the same but thankfully WA offers a step by step training which makes everything clear. At this point we decided to take the WA approach and move on step by step. One thing at a time.
We had to register as a vendor on one service that works with UO, then we have to register with another service for the actual fulfillment, then register at UO itself... what a mess. I realize that not everyone would spent countless hours and sleepless nights figuring all of that out. But we don't give up. Finally at the end of January everything ready for the first order, and here goes silence once again.
5. Big companies are slow.
At this point we are getting used to such slow process. We understand that a huge company like UO has a lot of stuff to take care of, every decision and document must get approval from different departments. So we are expecting a delay of several weeks. Here is the problem though, we are leaving on a 4 months trip to Asia on February 1st.
So we decide to make 50 bottles, package them and leave them with my sister who would ship them out if needed.
6. The purchase order
We are in Asia and it's around mid-February 2016. All of the sudden we get an email from UO asking if we can deliver the product by the first week of March. We are super excited and awaiting further instruction.
As we look through (yet more) documents we realize that UO wants very specific information on our labels, as well as specific packaging which we do not have. Their first order is also quite a big larger than 50 bottles. Here we go again. Should we just give up? Should we fly back to Canada? What do we do?
7. Problem solving
I call my sister and ask her if she would be able to make the product to which she agrees.
So we go to our local supplier's website and order all of the raw materials, bottles, etc. However they are unable to give us an estimated delivery date. They buy the products from smaller suppliers and sometimes it might take a lot time to get a hold of some organic oils. This is when we start panicking. We call them and explain that this is an emergency and we would really appreciate if they could fulfill the order asap. We get luck and the items are delivered 2 days later.
At the same time we also re-designed our labels and ordered them online. We also ordered packaging supplies as per UO instructions. We also order UO specific bar code labels from their partner company - all of that is delivered to my sister's job.
There were other complications and setbacks which I wouldn't mention because I'd have to write a novel on that...
8. Sending in the shipment.
The final product is ready, packaged and is going to be shipped with DHL from Canada to USA. We chose DHL because they act as broker at the USA customs which will allow us to pay the import fees online (if there are any) because UO made it clear they aren't dealing with the customs. Fair enough.
Our delivery due date is in one week so we pay quite a high price tag for rush delivery which DHL promises to be 2-3 days. Yey.
2 days go by then 3... the shipment is stuck at customs. We call DHL and all they can say is: "an agent will get in touch with you with more details..."
9. The deadline
So now we're calling DHL every single day as the deadline for delivery is in 2 days. We're going though a roller coaster of emotions and we're feeling helpless. There is nothing we can do.
Finally DHL gets back to us stating the shipment got stopped by US customs for verification and they need more details. What is the value of the shipment? I get angry but try to keep my cool. I tell that what the value is and I explain that the same value has been declared when it first shipped out from Montreal (you can't ship across the border unless you declare the value in advance).
DHL takes 24 hours to get back to me: is that US dollars or Canadian dollars? wow... I get back to them and explain it was Canadian dollars and remind them it was already mentioned. The duty declaration sticker on the package clearly states what's in there, how many items and what is the exact value in a specified currency.
another 24 hours go by.
I've sent quite a few shipment to US in the past, often of higher value but never had issues.
10. The customs
At this point UO is asking questions. We kindly explained that the shipment got stuck at customs and that we're dealing with it every single day. Thankfully the people at Urban are super supportive and understanding, they also know that we can't control how customs work. Urban offer to extend our deadline by 1 week. Love them!
A big problem here is that I we are in Thailand, 12 hours ahead of Eastern US. This means that when DHL and customs start their working day, it's time to sleep in Asia. So I give up sleep. I have an alarm to wake me up several times a night to make sure that I reply to their emails ASAP. On most days communication happens between 1am and 5am... And they reply only once every 24 hours or so.
They proceed by asking really weird questions, such as "What is Your Relationship with Urban?" Seriously? At this point I am starting to think that DHL in Montreal must have messed up the customs declaration, this is why US customs are asking all these questions.
Finally they ask us for some legal papers which we simply don't have because we are not a US registered importer. We find a company in the US that is willing to work with us, so they provide all the required paper work. Now DHL is asking for more proof of the company and other stuff. Mind that we have NO IDEA what these documents are, where to get them and so on. But remember what I said before? Step by Step.
11. The release?
Finally DHL says alright you're good to go... but first you need to go through FDA approval which should take 1-2 weeks. WHAT?????????????????
This is when I am 100% sure that DHL messed the whole thing up. They didn't declare the product in the right import category. You see, products like food, soap as well as medicine need to be approved by FDA. Our product does not fall into that category. In fact I made sure to consult a specialist who confirmed that our product is not controlled by FDA or any other agency of that sort.
Wow DHL, well done.
I reply to the email right away supplying even more information which explains the right category for our product. The very same day the product is released from customs and delivered to UO. At least the last DHL agent I dealt with read my email and understood where DHL messed up.
The express 2 days delivery took 2 weeks.
Now once again, I did not mention every single roadblock we ran into because honestly I do not remember them all.
However, as we were going through all of that we were talking to lot of people and pretty much everyone told us "it's way too complicated, you should just forget it and move on". I think this mentality separates our product from many others that are not for sale at UO.
You want to succeed? Get out of your comfort zone. You are overwhelmed? Take things step by step. This applies to any online and offline business. Be ready to push harder than the guy next to you, only then you'll get better results.
Sorry for the long rant but I had to share this story with someone.
I know that many of my acquaintances will say: "they got lucky, made a product and it got picked up by Urban". If only they knew what we had to go through.
It's very important to note that ALL of this happened because I stumbled upon WA in 2007. If I didn't, I'd probably still be a miserable $15/h employee at some mediocre office.
Keep grinding Wealthy affiliates,