May 16, 2018
In the last six years I (Joe) have only had two people tell me that Vendor Central is a great opportunity for Amazon sellers to grow their business. The first was at IRCE in Chicago in 2015 when an ex-Amazon Vendor Central executive told me his view of Vendor Central. The next time – was on this podcast. Both opinions were very favorable! And you know…I believe them both.
If I owned an Amazon FBA business or was purchasing one, I would look very closely at Vendor Central and at least test it out with a SKU or two. That’s right – you do not have to make the leap of faith with Vendor Central. At least not any more. According to our guest expert, Fahim Naim, Vendor Central is a viable option that most Seller Central sellers should consider. He openly states it is not for everyone, yet he took his first client from $4,000,000 in Q4 revenues to $16,000,000 by expanding the customer reach using the Vendor Central tools. Do I need to say more? Yes (apparently)…you do not need to be selling 4m per quarter to make Vendor Central work for you. Listen to Fahim’s expert advice and make your own decision, it could be the best investment of time you have ever made.
Mark: Joe how are you?
Joe: I’m doing great Mark. How are you, sir?
Mark: Good, good I heard you explored the depths of the mysterious Vendor Central recently?
Joe: Yeah. Listen, the good, the bad, the great Amazon sellers that we know…that we’ve talked to over the last decade for the vast majority they all say no way don’t lose control to Vendor Central, don’t do it, don’t do it. When you when I went to IRCE in Chicago in 2015 I talked to somebody that was an ex-Amazon Vendor Central manager, he’s the first person that ever told me that it was great and that he could double somebodies business using vendor Central and I believed him. We never reconnected afterwards; this guest today is the second one. His name is Fahim Naim, he’s from…originally he was an Amazon Category Manager and he left and went and started his own company called eShopportunity. And he gave me one example and this is a huge one so don’t get scared away if you’re doing $50,000 a month in revenue listeners. His first client he took and quadrupled the revenue in Q4 alone by using Vendor Central Tools. So he took it from 4 million dollars a quarter to 16 million by using Vendor Central.
Mark: Oh wow, a huge growth.
Joe: So that alone is reason enough to listen. And as firsthand information from somebody that’s actually done it, and seen it, and uses it services and he’s quite honest and open about it. It’s not for everyone and it’s not take a leap of faith and you no longer run Seller Central anymore. It used to be that way and I think that’s why people feared it. He’s got some great ideas on how to take just one skew and test it out and slowly move over and things of that nature. I’ll make a whole lot of sense if I were a seller, if I were a buyer, I would very very closely at Seller Central.
Mark: Fantastic. Well, I can’t wait to get into this before we get into the episode though I’m going to make a public plea to the listeners out there. I want to know what conferences you guys go to because we like to go to conferences. We’d like to meet you so send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org with your favorite conferences to go to throughout the year and I know that’s completely unrelated to what we were just talking about but you mentioned the IRCE and it just sort of triggered that. All right with that, I’m actually anxious to hear this because like you I’ve heard the same sort of feedback from most Amazon Sellers. They’re saying no way, I don’t want to do it but it’s really hard to ignore quadrupling revenues by jumping over there so let’s get into the episode and hear what he has to say.
Joe: Hey folks it’s Joe with Quiet Light Brokerage and today I’ve got Fahim Naim with me on the call today. How are you Fahim?
Fahim: Wonderful how about yourself?
Joe: I’m doing good man. Welcome to Quiet Light Podcast. Listen, you’ve got a ton of experience from being at Amazon as a Category Manager and now running eShopportunity I was going to try to do the intro and talk about you a little bit but I just want to make sure it’s done right. So if you could brag about yourself a little bit, tell everybody that’s listening about your experience in e-commerce world, then Amazon, and now at eShopportunity that.
Fahim: Wonderful. I was previously a Category Manager at Amazon, managed one of largest category at Amazon retail, managed a team of vendor managers, and one of the categories in Consumer Electronics, super sexy stuff like computer components and portfolios and things that are going to computers; very exhilarating as you can tell.
Joe: That’s exciting, yes.
Fahim: All jokes aside it was tons of fun, it was over a half billion dollar business, they booked to double the size of my category while I was at Amazon even though the market was flat. Had a fantastic time but ultimately made the decision to leave and start my own venture. I started eShopportunity about a few years back, we wanted to help companies grow and be on the other side of the table of some of those conversations that happened at Amazon. Started off with one initial brand, hard time, we grew his Q4 business from four million dollars to 17 million dollars that year eventhough he’s been set in declining he was excited, introduced me to a couple of other brands, I started tailing the team and I guess fast forward about three years we’ve worked with over a hundred brands to date. Some fortune 500 brands, some brands we’ve seen a shark tank, a bunch of startups and companies in between. Either brands that had been on Amazon for a while but really wanted to take it to the next level. Brands that have had successful businesses off of Amazon and finally wanted to launch on Amazon or a [inaudible 0:05:06.5] of the type.
Joe: That’s an impressive resume. You took somebody from four million to 17 million and he was only excited? I would think it’d be ecstatic.
Fahim: He was probably more excited when we went on the phone. I think he did a good job keeping his poker face that I’d imagine based out of his expectations when we started he threw a pie in the sky number saying if you help me go to twenty million this quarter that would be beyond real and I was pretty angry that we fell just short of it. So my take is probably a little bit different than his. I was hoping that we could get to 20 and again his Q4 business the previous year was maybe…it was about flat to where he was that year so it was a…he had some phenomenal growth and the good news is that after I checked in whenever the project concluded the business had continued to grow. So I think a lot of Amazon is how do you start the right foundation, how do you get the things clicking, and then organically if you’re doing the right things and you [inaudible 0:06:07.9] screwing up which is probably easier said than done you see that your business continues to scale which is obviously great for the business owner’s standpoint.
Joe: Right. Now you mentioned you manage a team of vendors and Mark and I talked in the intro about Vendor Central, you and I are here to talk today mostly about Vendor Central and your expertise in that area and why some people should start paying attention to it. As I told you I don’t think I’ve talked to a single Amazon seller that has a seller account whether they’re doing fifty thousand a month or a million or two or three or four million dollars a month in revenue, they all say there’s no way I’m giving up control to Vendor Central, absolutely not and there’s a huge paranoia about it. The only time I’ve ever heard that is a good thing is from you and from someone else that I met at IRCE in 2015. Tell us if you will with the basics what’s the difference between Seller Central and Vendor Central and then let’s get in to the details of Vendor Central and who’s a good candidate for it and how you can help somebody grow their business by using it or how anybody that chooses to use it can use the cheat sheet that you and I have talked about that we’re going to share in the notes and to go ahead and do it themselves if they want to go that route, the difference between the two as well.
Fahim: Well first off, Vendor Central is often treated as a red-headed stepchild, people not very optimistic based off of what they’ve heard in the seller communities especially. I’m in the forums, at speaker conferences, I do a fair amount of publishing and I’ve similarly heard a couple of things. One is I think that’s a misinformation that hopefully we will dispel at least a certain degree in just doing this podcast and some of it is probably warranted. I think the decision between Seller Central and Vendor Central depends so much on the specific details of that brand that anybody who says hands down this platform is better than that platform is probably doing you a disservice in that Seller Central certainly has some benefits, Vendor Central has some benefits. Back to the matter as most of the largest brands or the businesses that are doing the most amount of volume on Amazon all have Vendor Central. It seems to be working for people that are growing very quickly and have larger business. Yes there’s probably some bias on it that a lot of those are large companies anyways and are Fortune 500 brands that sell across the board but I can’t tell you the number of times we’ve taken a brand and got their business from a let’s say a couple of hundred thousand, two or three hundred thousand dollars on Seller Central per month and got that business grow up three or four X when they made the transition to Vendor Central when all things align. Things don’t always align and again we delve with the details and we’d get to that but there is certainly an opportunity. If you want to scale your business and become a five, 10, 15, 20 million dollar brand on Amazon and more, Vendor Central offers you a set of tools that are much tougher to get to than Seller Central or possibly not even available to Seller Central. So to answer your question more specifically, Seller Central you do have more control, direct control of the pricing and inventory. Seller Central they’re starting to open up some of the things that used to be available just to vendors, things like A+ Content like me deals, catch deals. headline search, so certainly this becomes this a little more parity to come into the seller part [inaudible 0:09:29.8] but when you sell your products directly to Amazon Wholesale, a couple of things, one is it’s not you sell it to Amazon and then take care of the rest of it. It’s very similar to Seller Central in that you get a tool kit that you can use to grow your business but it’s not Amazon’s going to optimize your pages, Amazon’s gonna run all these ads for you, Amazon’s gonna give you higher search results and check out what the right pricing is for you and run promotions by themselves etcetera. Vendor Central is very similar to Seller Central in that it’s how much you put in to it and you have access to tools in Vendor Central in many cases that you may not have access to on Seller Central. For example, let’s talk about deals, lightning deals on Seller Central are recommended only and even that just we can’t go build on the last year to; at the Vendor, you can submit a proposal. It doesn’t mean it will always get approved but you can submit and be a lot more proactive on lightning deal on Vendor Central. There is something called Best Deals which most people on Seller Central don’t have access to unless you have an account manager that’s idea that you show up on Today’s Deals Page which is the most popular page on Amazon after the homepage. And you can run a deal for up to two to even four weeks but they with less aggressive discount at the Lightning Deal. In many cases, Best Deals has been phenomenal for [inaudible 0:10:47.8] that’s another option. Coupons just became available to Seller Central until a couple of months ago that had been a popular program that many vendors have utilized for a long time. Subscribe and Save Again started on Vendor Central before it became available on Seller Central. Programs like Amazon Prime Now, Amazon Fresh, Prime Pantry are primarily not exclusively focused on Vendor facing brands so that’s another example. If you want to be on the homepage of the furniture page on Amazon to be…go to navigations click on Amazon Furniture Amazon Computers Components and Peripherals and there’s a lot of people that search for products that way, most of those placements are available for vendors only. If you want to be on Gift Guide and Amazon has done a great job over the last couple of years holding some excitement over this idea of having a holiday gift guide we can browse through products. Because Amazon obviously has been a great place to shop if you know what you want, it hasn’t been ideal if you want to browse for things and Amazon has [inaudible 0:11:46.8] most if not all the brands in many of the gift guides or vendor. So again there is a unique set of tools that vendors have of or have access to. That set is certainly not all rosy; things get a lot more complicated. You have a little bit less direct control on inventory, you get a weekly purchase sorted that Amazon cuts every week and that’s the amount that you can send tens and more. You could send less although that’s probably not a good idea unless you don’t have inventory- [crosstalk]
Joe: So you…holding on right there in terms of that inventory because as I know as people are listening to us they’ve probably written down twenty questions there hoping I asked. Let’s just talk about that inventory for a minute. So many Amazon Seller Central folks send money to inventory directly from their manufacturer to Amazon, in this case do Vendor Central folks have to have a 3PL where they store the inventory in between and ship on a regular basis?
Fahim: That’s what most people do. There are some variants where you can get around that. Amazon and on the Vendor Central site has a direct import program where you can import all of your inventory likely from Asia directly to Amazon. Not the easiest thing to work with setup to be transcribed but certainly exists and I know some brands that have done well with that. I think the vast majority of brands on Vendor Central either have their own 3PL or use a separate 3PL to fulfill those orders. And in some cases, you could do a little bit of both. You can have some inventory and multiple warehouses and you get PO’s from different warehouses and you have to send it to different places. So there is some level of flexibility although it tends to get a lot more complicated on how this passes works in Seller Central. Seller Central, I want to send 500 units I go on create a shipment, it will tell me what [inaudible 0:13:33.3] I want to use, I even have the option in inventory placement service dependent to just [inaudible 0:13:37.8] and I’m done. And then Amazon manages all the interactive shipments, Vendor Central doesn’t-
Joe: [inaudible 0:13:43.2] for [inaudible 0:13:44.0] center right?
Fahim: Correct. On the Vendor Central-
Joe: [inaudible 0:13:47.2]
Fahim: Yes, no that’s good. Stop me because I live in acronym words so if you will-
Fahim: It’s good to get clarity. On Vendor Central when you get a weekly Purchase Order or PO they can have you send it to eight or nine [inaudible 0:14:03.0] but sometimes less, sometimes more. So the process again works all over differently, for some brand that’s not a big deal and for some brands that’s probably a little bit more complex and they want to be…especially early on in the lifecycle of the business.
Joe: Okay, so you just used the word brands this is in assumption maybe everybody already knows this or is thinking this that Vendor Central is really for brands, not resellers simple?
Fahim: Yes or no, I think primarily most of the brand…most of the companies that are on their own brands. There are a good number of distributors that also have Vendor Central accounts. Some of the largest, most of the large distributors or many of the large distributors have Vendor Central accounts and they supply directly at Amazon. And even if you are a brand meaning manufacturer and you sell to Amazon, if Amazon consorts your product cheaper to a distributor they’ll buy from the distributor in many cases. And that sometimes business pisses off brands but yes you…it could be either in the context of a lot of things I’m talking about I’m probably talking more down the brand manufacturer route but you, to answer your question you could be a distributor and have a Vendor Central account and you could be the company that’s been selling Purchase Orders from a variety of different brands or distributor. I know some distributors that are doing 10, 20, 30 different vendors, different selling inventories for 10, 20, 30 different vendors-
Fahim: That are not exactly their brand.
Joe: Well the fear that I think a lot of the brand owners have that I speak with is that they lose control and going back to that you mentioned it they don’t lose control. They still have control, they can…can they write their copy? Can they work on their keywords? Can they send organic traffic to it? Can they…and then do all of those discounts and promotions you talked about as well is it essentially Seller Central on steroids where they’ve just got access to more things?
Fahim: I like that. I like the Seller Central on steroids, I’m [inaudible 0:15:58.2]. Yes, it’s…I would argue, you probably have more control on Vendor Central than Seller Central. [inaudible 0:16:04.0] common that very often even if you’re a brand registered on Seller Central, I hear it all the time brands say somebody changed my copy, somebody changed my picture, somebody changed my variation, even if you are the brand owner and you’re on Seller Central there’s a brand hierarchy in terms of who owns [inaudible 0:16:20.9] page edits and at the top of the list is vendors. So anybody who has an Amazon Vendor Central account has ultimate [inaudible 0:16:28.4] goes on. Even if you are the brand owner and you have a Seller Central account and you have brand registry but the distributor is selling that to Amazon and they have a vendor account, they actually have ownership over that page copy. In most cases over the brand that’s on Seller Central. So I’d say you can change titles, you can change bullets, you can update images, it actually works much easier on Vendor Central than Seller Central. At Seller Central sometimes doing things like variations could be fairly complex with Vendor Central it could be as easy as a ticket and somebody would do it for you. Images similarly the turnaround time of Vendor Central is pretty good but ultimately up to you have at least as much control probably more control over your page copy, and content, and landing on Vendor Central than Seller Central.
Joe: And then all of the other things that Seller Central folks do whether it’s striving outside traffic, keyword optimization, discounts, reviews, YouTube social media reviewers that are talking about and driving traffic to that Amazon page they can do the same thing it’s just an Amazon vendor page correct?
Fahim: Correct. You can do all that and to the average customer, they can’t tell the difference of a vendor and reseller.
Fahim: Most people don’t even realize it so yes it works the same way. You can send X number of traffic, you can run discounts, you can run promotions, all of the same-
Fahim: As both cases the same way at Seller Central.
Joe: Is…I mean we’ve got people that you know if they’re doing a million dollars a month and running a lifestyle business meaning they’ve got some VA’s and they work from home part time they don’t want to really risk very much. There’s no sense in going I’m going to just lose that million a month and I’m going to jump into Vendor Central. Tell us about if they’re doing Seller Central what the leap is from Seller Central to Vendor Central? So they have to shut down the Seller account and then open Vendor or can they have both running simultaneously, is it a one way street? Talk to us from that perspective as if you were that guy running a lifestyle business making a million dollars in revenue on a monthly basis.
Fahim: A couple of things, if I were running a lifestyle business and I was happy at my current run rate and didn’t want to…if I was more risk averse I’d potentially keep it as is. If I wanted to grow that business and take it to next level I think Vendor Central becomes a lot more interesting.
Joe: What’s the risk part in terms of Vendor versus Seller? You said risk-
Fahim: Well you know-
Joe: More riskier?
Fahim: Yeah if you’re risk averse you already know what to expect, you know how to manage everything as the current process that takes on Seller Central. When you transition to Vendor things change. Typically for the better if everything aligns. But the way pricing works changes, the way pricing should work certainly changes, the way inventory fulfillment work changes etcetera, etcetera. At the end of the day once you get on boarded and in most cases not all cases but in most cases you do a good job in negotiating with your inventory manager which we’ll talk about a couple seconds but imagine on your terms and you are not paying that net much more on Vendor Central than Seller Central I think there’s a little bit less [inaudible 0:19:35.3]. If you are going into a category where your net margin expectations from Amazon is severely higher on Vendor Central than Seller Central there could be some risk that at the same amount of volume Amazon is taking a bigger cut of that. So I think there are some nuances but I think the risk is the unknown and it’s a new process and you have to manage that.
Joe: And do you have to shut down your Seller account or to open the Vendor Central obviously that it’s not you lose days or weeks of revenue, I would assume that its very seamless.
Fahm: It’s semi-seamless. Amazon has changed their stance on this on the last couple of years. A couple of years ago it [inaudible 0:20:14.6] have both a Vendor and Seller Central account. And in many categories now and the Vendor Manager technically has the ability to shut down your Seller Central account if they want to. If you were doing anything to really damage your Vendor Central business, there’s officially a clause that says if you sale wholesale and you have a Vendor account that they can shut down your Seller Central account. I actually haven’t seen that happen although I’ve seen some threats but that exists for a couple of good reasons. In the last couple of years, Vendor Managers and teams at Amazon have been a lot more open to the idea of having both but being strategic about it. The idea is the Vendor Manager owns the retail or what they would call the retail part of the [inaudible 0:20:54.5] and Seller Central is almost a competitor to that Vendor Manager. And they do that to keep more competition on the platform so better for that costumer at the end of the day. So the Vendor Manager doesn’t get a lot of benefit when you have a Seller Central account. If you’re competing on the same skew and you have lower prices on your Seller Central it actually hurts this plus on the metrics, they’re out of stock, their loss by box, a bunch of their metrics or sales are going to be a lot lower here. What many brands do today, they do which…a little bit more strategically with is I’m gonna have both the Vendor and the Seller Central account, I’m going to do some skews on Vendor Central to start. I’m gonna keep some skews on Seller Central to start and see how that process goes. Depending on how close that brand is with the Vendor Manager that person may push to get more and more of the catalog from Seller Central to Vendor Central. But think of it as like you’re negotiating with a buyer at Walmart, or Best Buy, or Target, there is a lot of negotiation that goes back and forth. So maybe you decide that it’s not a good idea to transition your entire catalog or maybe things are going so well and you want to everything overnight. I think that’s where it’s a very personal decision. For many brands the way they started, they open a Vendor Central account, get a couple of skews on Vendor Central, get used to the process and things work a little differently. One thing we should mention is pricing because a lot of people worry and I hear this misconception a lot that Amazon will lower your prices and you lose control of it. It’s not really true, and what Amazon’s pricing and there’s certain things that I’m allowed to say and not allowed to say. Ultimately, Amazon [inaudible 0:22:23.6] in a game of let’s proactively lower your price so we can sell more inventory and create a price war in the market. That’s not Amazon’s idea, that’s actually what a ton of other retailers do and I can tell you firsthand many of the big box retailers like to put things on the go back and promotion and discount pricing. On Amazon Vendor Central if you have control over your pricing in the market, so externally and third party wise there’s nobody undercutting your price, you have a lot more control on the pricing than many people think.
Joe: And most of the cases I think the people listening to this podcast, they own their brand and they do not sell it to distributors so it’s not going to be an issue. They’re the sole person or company selling that brand so-
Joe: They’re going to get their wholesale price from Amazon anyway. It doesn’t really matter if the Amazon decides to sell it for two dollars above they’re still going to get their wholesale price from Amazon correct?
Fahim: Yes but it’s a dangerous way to look at it because let’s do an example. Let’s say you’re selling the gross sales price of [inaudible 0:23:24.6] but the price the customer pays is 20$ and I’m just making up some numbers. The price that you sell it to Amazon is 16$ net of all cost and whatnot. If you then have somebody selling your product on third party or let’s say externally at Target. You have a small assortment that Target decides to lower that to 18$ or let’s call it 17$, Amazon will match this 17$ likely and in your mind, you may say you know it doesn’t matter Amazon paid me-
Joe: [inaudible 0:23:55.9] they’re not gonna buy any from you again obviously it has to be profitable.
Joe: Yeah what I was referring to is that most of the people I think listening to this podcast are not selling to Target and Walmart retail big boxes display. I really like the idea for I just want to repeat it that you don’t have to take a leap of faith from Seller Central to Vendor Central. You pick a couple of skews and you test Vendor Central with that. And you talked about negotiating with Vendor Central, do you actually get to talk to a live person and have that one person as your contracted contact, your trackling? For those that are not watching this on YouTube he smiled and he looked up to the left going oh my God could I tell you some stories I think, don’t but is it a human that you get to talk to or is it email?
Fahim: It depends, like with everything else it depends. There is a human that lives behind the desk that ultimately manages that and the team that manages that. It depends on if you’re able to get a hold of that person. So sometimes the Vendor Manager is a lot more proactive especially for brands that have a larger business whether on Seller Central or externally and the Vendor Manager or somebody on that team reaches out and you have that direct line of contact. Sometimes people find the Vendor Manager Buyer on LinkedIn then and they start a relationship [inaudible 0:25:18.6]. That way sometimes a leverage, consultants and agents and people like myself, I get a hold of the buyer and broker a meeting and start some of those conversations, and many times the invite comes from a separate team. We get on boarded to Vendor Central and your business is not large enough in the eyes of the buyers [inaudible 0:25:38.1] you get a whole lot of time and attention. And you’re often told to use Vendor Central’s tools and file tickets to get answers so it does depend on the brand some of the brands that we work with…some of the larger brands or brands that more potential has better chances of getting some of that one on one relationships with the buyers. And some brands especially when they’re earlier on their business isn’t fully at scale form an Amazon perspective. They’re often told to use Vendor Central, file tickets and try to leverage from the automated processes that exist. So it’s possible but-
Joe: Let’s talk about that then. Two points, number one I want to hear your top negotiating tactic with vendor Central that you want to share with people today. Number two, maybe start with number two, size wise when…how big does a brand have to be in terms of let’s just say that I’m going to peel off a couple of skews again what kind of revenue does that have to be producing in Seller Central to make a difference to the point when I can actually negotiate your top negotiating tactic? So if somebody is doing 50,000 $ a month is that enough, if they’re doing 25 is that enough, do they need to be doing a hundred, what’s the number?
Fahim: It differs so widely by category as you can imagine. I’d say generally a lot of times I put the benchmark growth sales you want to be doing over a million dollars a year that will probably get the attention of the Vendor Manager. Again, it differs; if you’re in a category, a huge consumer electronics category that number may need to be five million annual gross sales, if you’re in a growing category, if you’re in help and personal care, if you’re in grocery, if you’re in passion that number may end up being even lower than one million dollars. But I would say if you’re doing less than a couple hundred thousand dollars annually on Amazon it’s probably a lot of low hanging fruit to scale your business from Seller Central initially. If you’re already doing north of a million plus dollars annually on Amazon then it depends on your category, it depends on your ranking and how big you are as a portion of that catalog but certainly the bigger your business the higher the likelier that you’re gonna get the ear and the attention of that Vendor Manager. If you’re doing some 10 million dollars annually in almost any category the Vendor Manager should not always does but should want to convert your business. Figure out how they can scale your business and they have tools again that you wouldn’t have in the [inaudible 0:28:09.7]. So they really could if they wanted to help you grow that 10 million dollar business to be 15 or 20 million fairly quickly. Which is doing that on Seller Central is certainly possible but it’s almost like you have one hand behind your back because you don’t have access to the same set of tools.
Joe: All right tell me about the negotiating tactics you and I have talked about. You’re gonna create a little cheat sheet it’s in the notes for people to download in terms of top negotiating tactics with Vendor Central. Can you give me one or two that we can share with folks? And I know it’s going to be…it’s going to depend upon the category and all that but throw something out.
Fahim: Yeah, take them to dinner create a-
Joe: Take them to dinner?
Fahim: Yup take them to dinner or when you go to Amazon [inaudible 0:28:50.3] you want to create a relationship with that person and treat it like you are sitting from their side what do you want to hear. So it’s less complaining and demanding it’s more this is what I’ve been able to do so far I know you have the tools to help me really grow this business, I want my brand to be a big part of your business-
Joe: You’re not gonna say what I tell every buyer which is just be likeable. The more likable you are the more people are going to work with you is that? I mean this is part of the secret [inaudible 0:29:17.6] likeable?
Fahim: I think that’s certainly some part of it. I mean I think in the context of the conversation put yourself in their shoes again and why should they…this person literally has thousands of brands that technically fall under them. Why should they spend some time trying to invest in you? And being likeable certainly a part of it explaining why your brand has a big opportunity. Whether that’s your growth rate on Amazon, whether that’s things that you’ve done off of Amazon, whether that’s new products that are coming on, whether that’s quest and things that you’ve been able to capture externally, make them care. The more they care about it and certainly it helps if you likeable, although that’s not always the case, the more that person is gonna want to invest in it. This person literally has to make a…there’s not enough hours in the day for the Vendor Manager to keep everybody happy. And I know now being on both sides of the table how difficult that job can be and it can be very frustrating from a brand’s perspective. But every day as a Vendor Manager you have to pick who are the 95% of people I’m going to piss off by not answering them by giving them the time of the day. Just because they have so many things going on and by creating a relationship, by understanding what they need, by taking care of the easy things yourself and not bothering them with things that you can complete by yourself by filing tickets on Vendor Central you’re certainly gonna increase the chance that that person is going to invest in you. If they feel like their time on the phone with you, or in meetings, or doing annual planning meeting from Seattle, or meeting at trade show is valuable and they’re actually helping you grow the business they’re going to want to invest more. If most of the time you’re talking to them it’s about I filed this ticket and it’s not working, or can you help me with this bank account issue, or I can’t figure out why this [inaudible 0:31:06.8] of a thing is not working that person’s again going to be stretched up and the answer is probably going to be file a ticket, reach out to somebody on Vendor Central anyway. So I think the more you can keep the picture on the long term and understand there’s going to be some bumps along the road the better the chances that that buyer is going to want to invest in this relationship. So nothing, no silver bullet except for be likable, think about long term, think about it from that person’s perspective.
Joe: Got it, geographically where are you located?
Fahim: In San Francisco and I spend my time in Texas as well. But between San Francisco and Texas.
Joe: And the vendors, the Vendor Central Managers are they all up in Seattle, are they located around the country, where are they?
Fahim: For the most part, most of the Vendor Managers are in Seattle yup.
Joe: Okay and if someone wants to learn the basics of Vendor Central to make sure that they’re understanding it as much as they can, is vendor Central on Amazon.com? The best resource and knowledge base to learn the basics out there or is there another resource that you’d suggest?
Fahim: Vendor, so there’s certainly less and this is a little bit frustrating I think for brands, there’s less information about Vendor Central than there is for Seller Central externally, there is lot of tutorials, there’s a lot of training, there’s a lot of information, there’s Seller Central’s forums etcetera that exists for Seller Central and not a lot for Vendor Central. There is a lot of information on Vendor Central if you get an invite. The help section has tons and tons of guides probably not [inaudible 0:32:33.5] to go through all the different guides. So it’s a little bit [inaudible 0:32:36.0] by fire. I would certainly spend a little bit more time on the operations and figuring out how inventory management works and if you want EDI support and what that looks like and managing that part of the process early on and getting a feel for it. There are some pretty good documents on Vendor Central again but they’re pretty long and exhausting. So I think you have to scour Vendor Central support, talk to other brands that are on Vendor Central potentially, pop in to the Vendor Manager and kind of just learn by doing. The good news is that you-
Joe: Sounds like there’s a [inaudible 0:33:11.0] in the making here. Somebody should be creating [inaudible 0:33:13.7] and teaching Vendor Central.
Joe: And you and I get a royalty for that right? Now it’s just an idea.
Fahim: I like the idea.
Joe: It’s just an idea. Now, okay this is just a theory but I want to hear what you would say and this is really not just for sellers but it’s for buyers of Amazon businesses. We’re running short on time so I’m gonna just say I’m launching a listing this is all theory quote unquote for air quotes for those not watching, it’s going out next week, the brand has been around for about three years growing quite rapidly, there’s 12 skews and 60 variations doing about 1.3 million dollars in revenue in the trailing 12 months and there is a design patent on the product as well; Seller Central only. I’m going to come to you or I’m going to try to figure out Vendor Central myself. It’s in a category of well I can’t really say what it’s in but it’s not in a massive category with tons and tons competition. It’s just something that you’d look at me if we were having a beer right now you’d say, Joe, you’re nuts not to look at Vendor Central.
Fahim: Potentially I think you could I mean within your interest to evaluate it. So maybe you’re nuts if you’re not thinking about it and evaluate it. Not necessarily that it’s the right decision but you need to start doing your homework to figure out if it is. And the interesting thing is it may not be right now, it may be next year or maybe six months from now. But I think if you’d simply wrote it off and say it’s too complicated I don’t want to do it then I’ll tell you’re nuts. If you said I looked at it here’s the pros here’s the cons, ultimately Seller Central makes a lot more sense then I think you’re doing exactly what you should do.
Joe: What’s the first step in evaluating it?
Fahim: Getting the invite. So Vendor Express used to exist and fortunately that platform is retiring in this month. It was the idea that you can sign up…anybody can sign up to be a vendor on Amazon through this Vendor Express platform and you get a lot of the same tools, not everything, but a lot of the same tools with Vendor Central. Vendor Central is an invite only platform so you need to get invite from somebody at Amazon. Whether that’s your category manager or there’s a selection team or somebody who lives within that retail team. So it’s tough to get a lot of information until you actually get that invite because when it comes down to look to your total margin, and what is this going to look like, what’s your payment terms, you don’t get that information until you get the invite. So I’ll tell you the first step is starting to figure out who your Vendor Manager is and starting to have some conversation. Before that I think you could probably do some level of research and see other brands in your category; how many of them are vendors, how many of them are sellers. If you are continuously being ranked in the top 20 but never in the top 10 for your category look at…you should be looking at who those top 20 are on a regular basis, what are the brands, what are the skews, what are they doing that you’re not doing. And if you find that 80% of them seem to be vendors and they have access to much better A+ content than you have and videos and they’re all over holiday gift guides and you see them all over Today’s Deal page, and they’re getting Deals of the Day, and they’re on Amazon Prime or Fresh and what not then I’d certainly be keeping that at mind. If you look at the list and say nobody’s doing any of that everybody has the same tools as me, maybe you come out and say I’m not getting hurt or maybe you’d say there is an opportunity just for the go. So I get…prior to getting the invite and having a conversation certainly wanting to understand what you’re dynamics are. I’ve seen categories like luxury beauty for example, where the vast majority of brands [inaudible 0:36:40.0] are vendors. And again it’s because of a variety of different tools that they have access to that are not on the Sellers Central side. So in that category if you’re a brand that wanted to do north of a million or two million dollars a year I would probably very heavily consider Vendor Central and start looking into the process of figuring out who the buyer is and what can I offer and how do I get a hold of them and what would this look like for example. So I think unfortunately there’s not a whole lot of prep and information out there on exactly what your margins and your…would be ahead of time and some of those other details and how much inventory they’re going to order or anything like that until you actually get the invite so just the first process is research, second process is find out who the Vendor Manager is, where you could get an invite off.
Joe: Yeah if you can find out who your Vendor Manager is through LinkedIn or however you might be able to strike up communications and get that invite if need be. This may be a simple question but how do I look at Amazon and find a competitor and tell if they’re Seller Central or Vendor Central, is there an obvious way?
Fahim: So if you’re going through a listing and you look under the price there’s three different options that you’ll see one of them for ships from and sold by Amazon.com, one of them will say sold by ABC and fulfilled by Amazon.com, and the third one will say ships from and sold by ABC.com.
Fahim: The third one which says ships from and sold is a seller who is also doing their own fulfillment, most cases are not Prime eligible unless they’re [inaudible 0:38:09.8] prime. The second option when it says sold by ABC.com and fulfilled by Amazon means they’re a seller that’s [inaudible 0:38:17.7]. And the first one that says ships from and sold by Amazon.com means that Amazon is buying that. In most cases that means that brand has a Vendor Central account but again there could be a case where the brand actually doesn’t sell to Amazon but a distributor does. But either way that is what they would call retail or Vendor Inventory is a ships from and sold by Amazon.com. And a final tidbit is there’s been a lot of research done that shows that it differs by category but customers have more [inaudible 0:38:49.4] when it that ships from and sold by Amazon.com and conversion could be significantly higher even than an FBA listing. Certainly, both a retail and FBA listing would have higher conversion than something that’s not Prime eligible than something that’s not SFP but in some categories I’ve heard the conversion could be 30-50% higher, all else equal for something that’s been shipped from and sold by Amazon.com. Not all customers understand the difference but people are becoming a little more savvy and if you’re on the fence and you say I’ve never heard of this brand but if Amazon is buying it it’s a little bit easier. But [inaudible 0:39:23.7] work a little bit easier because the brand doesn’t even need to get involved. I can just reach out to Amazon Customer Service, sometimes that’s the difference [inaudible 0:39:30.9] when somebody is making a difference.
Joe: I hadn’t even thought of that conversion rate on things 30, 40% percent maybe that’s just even if you divide by four and you get a 10% bump. That’s a pretty big bump for a lot of people that are listening today. Well, listen Fahim you’ve been great, we’re running out of time I know you’re gonna put together a cheat sheet for negotiating with the Vendor Central, maybe you can throw in some links there for any place that people can learn about Vendor Central. You’ll share some details about eShopportunity as well and how do people find you if they are listening to this now and are driving down the street and they don’t want to go to the notes. How do they find you right now?
Fahim: Probably the easiest way is going on eShopportunity.com and there’s a contact us form. I also do go to a bunch of conferences so oftentimes I meet and talk to brands there. I’ll be at IRCE, I’m the Chairman of the Amazon conference for this year so I’ll be around all day so if anybody would love to have a conversation in person that’s certainly possible as well.
Joe: Fantastic. Man, you’ve been great I appreciate it. You’ve cleared up a lot of things I think a lot of people are gonna ask a lot more questions and hopefully look at Vendor Central more realistically both sellers of businesses and those that are investing in them to help take it to the next level. Appreciate your time, thank you so much.
Fahim: Absolutely. Thanks, Joe, wonderful time. Thank you.
Joe: Talk to you soon.
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