I love meeting other sellers and learning about their businesses. I always learn something new and find myself inspired anew in my own business. For this reason, I thought I’d occasionally interview some other sellers and share their stories with the community.
Recently I had the opportunity to speak with a remarkable young man who started selling Amazon FBA in December and is already on track for $100,000K in sales his first year selling on Amazon. A freshman in college, Steven Zollman proves that an inquiring mind is our best tool in this business. He lives in a rural area in Missouri with few stores, doesn’t own any tools besides his phone, a laptop and a regular printer, and yet he’s building a business while going to college. Steven’s story proves that the best tool for your FBA business is already sitting between your ears. The pictures are Steven’s from his Facebook page.
Q. How Did You Get Into Selling Online?
In high school I looked for ways to make money online. I originally started with eBay and I was mostly selling video games that I found at garage sales. At the time I thought Amazon was mostly books and I wasn’t interested. eBay was OK but I wanted a way to generate a bigger income and I kept looking online for opportunities. That’s how I discovered that Amazon was more than books. I started selling my video games on Amazon in July 2013. I started casually, but after the first month I upgraded to a Pro Seller because I was selling more than 50 games a month on Amazon. I continued this way for several months until I stumbled on the concept of retail arbitrage in a YouTube video.
I began sourcing toys in December and I’ve sold more than $80K worth of merchandise since then.
Q. As A College Student, You Must Be Very Busy Already – How Do You Find Time For Your FBA Business?
There are only a few stores near where I am. We have one Walmart and Walgreens nearby. Everything else is about 50 miles away if not further. My nearest Target is an hour away. I get paid every two weeks from Amazon and I plan my shopping trips. On Thursdays you will find me at ToysRUs since I get an additional 10% off by using my TRU card. Over the weekend I will shop in the cities that are hours away. I also go to my local Walmart and Walgreens, but they don’t have a lot of deals since they are the only game in town. I then fit in my packing and shipping around my school schedule.
I’ve also had success with online arbitrage. In addition to TRU, Walmart and Target, I will buy things on eBay or Amazon and re-sell them on Amazon.
Q. You Buy Items On Amazon And Then Sell Them Again On Amazon For A Higher Price?!?
Yes! I love online arbitrage because you also get free boxes and packing materials and it is so easy to get the merchandise back up to Amazon.
Q. What Do You Buy?
Anything that makes sense although I sell about 80% toys right now and about 12% old video games and specialty VHS tapes as I find them. I’m looking to diversify a bit and get down to about 50% toys and 50% other items like Health & Beauty. Toys are really competitive and the prices fluctuate a lot.
Q. What Tools Do You Use?
I run my business lean. I have my smartphone with ProfitBandit on it, a laptop and regular printer (which I already had) and that’s it. I use Amazon to list my products and I use the camera on my phone to scan barcodes. So far that approach has worked for me. When I tell my friends about selling on Amazon, I point out that they can start very small and build. I started with only $500 and look where I am now! My next tool purchase will be a Bluetooth scanner. I know it will make me faster at scanning. I spend a lot of time scanning right now and with my phone I have to sometimes scan a barcode several times before it is grabbed by ProfitBandit.
I buy my boxes and tape at Walmart. I don’t use polybags (yet) and I’ve not bought a lot of books about selling FBA. I get most of my information and support from groups like ScannerMonkey and videos on YouTube. And, of course, from Amazon itself. I am crowd-taught, basically.
Q. What Are Your Goals For Your Amazon FBA Business?
A. When I started school last fall, my goal was to sell about $100K worth of inventory by the time I graduated. It seemed like a stretch goal to me at the time. Now I have to set new goals for myself! As you can see from the picture, most of that $80K or so that I’ve sold has been in the past five months since I started retail arbitrage and FBA. My next goal is to double my sales each year from the previous year.
Q. How Do You Balance Putting Money Back Into Your Business With Taking Money For Yourself?
A. Right now I don’t take out much money for myself. I live with my parents and have minimal expenses. My strategy is to pour nearly all of the money back in and ramp up the business faster to where it is snowballing. I started with $500 and quickly realized that the biggest impediment to my business was having money for inventory. I take out a few hundred bucks for fun once in a while, but I would rather live lean and build faster at this point.**
[**Gross sales on Amazon.com doesn’t equal dollars in your pocket. I did not ask Steven for specifics, but when I look at reports like the one above or gross sales numbers from other sellers in general, I guesstimate in my head that they are spending about 1/3 of that figure on inventory, 1/3 on other expenses like Amazon fees, returns, shipping supplies, etc. and that about 1/3 is profit. In this case, it would be reasonable to guess that Steven has made around $26,000 ($80,000 X .33) so far from his business. He is plowing that money back in so he can snowball and grow faster. Many of us – like me – have to take out some of the profits each month so our growth is slower. It is inspiring to see, however, what is possible and that more inventory dollars = more sales!]
Q. What Would You Tell Newcomers To Do To Be Successful?
- Scan everything. I will spend hours at a time in one section of a store scanning. You have to scan a lot to find good deals.
- Keep it simple. Buy as little as possible in the way of technology and tools until you’ve got good sales building.
- Go to garage sales, thrift stores, estate sales, flea markets, etc., at first if you have limited money for inventory. The margins there are awesome. Start there and do retail arbitrage when you have more than $1000 to spend on inventory.
- Learn from other sellers. I share BOLOs (“Be on the Lookout”) and learn from other sellers’ BOLOs. I also learn from reading in groups and watching videos.
Q. What About Your Friends? Have Any Of Them Started Their Own Amazon FBA Businesses?
No. They think it is too much work and would rather stick to their jobs.
Q. I Bet They’ll Think Differently When You Start Taking Money Out Of Your Business! You Mentioned Watching Videos And FBA Groups When You Got Started – Which Ones Do You Recommend?
I had to remind myself as we were talking that he was a freshman in college! Steven is out there hustling and proving that if you want to build a business on Amazon.com you can. Period. It doesn’t matter if you live in the country, if you have very little money to start with or if you don’t have all the tools or books.
A strong desire backed by hard work and a willingness to learn are the tools that will serve you best in this business. Happy scouting everyone! By the way, if you would like to ask Steven any questions, you can find him on facebook or chatting with the monkeys on ScannerMonkey.