EveryPlaceISell Merchant Profile: Amazon Seller Franklins Toys
By Ina Steiner
Melynda Rush began selling moto-cross gear online in 2004 to expand sales of her brick-and-mortar retail store. She has branched out to become a full line toy store with an online presence at FranklinsToys.net and a warehouse locations to support her strong Amazon.com sales. Melynda talks about some of the strategies that have worked for her in the online retail toy business.
What is your first and last name?
What are the names of your businesses?
My Doll Rush and Franklins Toys
When did you start selling online and why?
We started selling online in 2004. My Dad came to visit me and I had a moto-cross store and he suggested I try eBay for selling online.
Was your moto-cross store a real-life brick-and-mortar store? If so, do you still operate it?
Our moto-cross store was an actual brick & mortar store until we closed it due to calculations of income vs. expenses of selling online and actual walk-in traffic, it was then decided selling online was a much more profitable avenue for us and closing the brick & mortar store was a smarter choice.
A few years later we opened a brick & mortar store (Franklins Toys) for toys and kept it open for 2 years until Amazon sales out-did actual walk-in traffic and finding employees became difficult. We now have 2 small locations that are part of brick & mortar locations and mainly concentrate our selling efforts to online sales only.
We now also have 2 warehouse locations also that we sell our toys from for online sales only.
What was your background?
I had never sold online before until my Dad suggested it. I self taught myself by reading every stitch of info I could find and then began my online selling career.
What do you primarily sell and why?
I started off selling moto-cross gear, then eventually moved into Barbie dolls. Now we are a full line Barbie and toy store. I don't think there is anything more fun than selling toys!
What are the unique challenges you face with the types of items you sell?
Competition is tough and keeping up with recalls and certain site standards can be a challenge. Also, finding enough help to ship and run the online business is a challenge since we live in a small town.
How do you keep up with recalls?
We utilize the Recalls.gov site when we are not sure about certain products, but all of our vendors are very good about notifying us if a product is recalled so we can get it pulled right away.
On which marketplaces and venues do you sell?
We started on eBay in 2004. Four years ago we were invited to try Amazon by Amazon, it is our main focus now. We tried eCrater, Bonanza and iOffer but eventually shut down selling on those sites as the traffic and sales were not enough to keep up with.
What are the pros and cons of each marketplace and venue?
Bonanza, iOffer and eCrater have no traffic. I think it is due to them being virtually "unknown" to the common person. eBay and its policies with DSRs has made us focus more on a company with more open-ness and honesty as far as our customer metrics are concerned, so basically eBay has driven us to invest more in Amazon. The traffic and sales figures from Amazon are 5 times more in one month than they have ever been in the 7 years we were on eBay.
We still sell on eBay, but have chosen to only sell vintage Barbie and toy items there since Amazon is not set up nor allows the ability to sell vintage or used toys.
When considering all the places you sell, which channels are most profitable?
How does your revenue break out by channel (what percentage of sales come from each channel)?
Amazon 95%, eBay 5%.
As EcommerceBytes readers may know, Amazon restricts sellers in the toys category during the holidays. Are you allowed to sell toys on Amazon during the holiday season?
We are going on our fifth season of selling toys on Amazon during the holidays. Since our main product line is toys and games we have not had a problem with being allowed to be part of the toys & games category during the holidays. We continually pay attention to our selling metrics and policy compliance on the Amazon site through out the entire year to maintain our holiday selling eligibility, since holiday sales make up for 80% of our online business and yearly income.
Which payment methods do you accept?
Google, Pay Pal and Amazon Payments.
What are the pros and cons of each payment method?
Amazon's system is smooth and easy to understand as far as fees. Pay Pal has been fairly easy to set up and use.
I have only received a few payments from Google and their messaging system to notify us of a pending payment could use some improvement as we don't always get notified of a pending transaction from Google.
Background (URL, when launched)
MyDollRush has been parked for some time and we have not really done much with the site. It is a site from Go Daddy and we have not found a designer as of yet to set the site up as an ecommerce site for us.
We have added FranklinsToys.net using Shopify in October of 2010 and have received some sales from the site. Christmas time 2010 we had our most traffic.
What was the impetus for starting your own website?
More control over product sales and customer satisfaction. More profit potential.
What software/service powers your website, and would you recommend it to others? Why or why not?
GoDaddy - Not a very good support system for the MyDollRush site. Very difficult to set up and no easy plan available to start a shopping site.
Shopify for the Franklins Toys site - great customer service when a question needs answered, fees are reasonable and the site is very easy to use as far as customization.
Does it have a checkout system, is so, what do you use, and what do you like/dislike about it?
We use Pay Pal and Google Checkout on Franklins Toys, PayPal has been good and fees are easy to understand - Google is good and easy to use.
What did you pay to set it up, and what are the monthly costs of running it?
$99.99 a month for Franklins Toys - no initial set up fee (Free trial). Shopify has several plans available but we chose to go with one where we could add the bulk of items in our catalog to the site.
How difficult was it to set up?
Shopify was very easy to set up and there are discussion boards for help when needed and customer service has always answered emails in less than 12 hours.
Does it have analytics, reporting?
What features do you wish it had?
The ability to add Amazon checkout for payment processing.
What are the challenges you faced in starting your own website?
Driving traffic to the site.
What would you do differently if you were setting up a website today?
Hire someone from the start.
How did you create the logo/branding for your business/site?
I created my own logo. I took classes on how to do logos and bought the software to produce them.
How do you differentiate yourself from others selling similar products?
Top notch customer service. We also make selling fun! Our customers love the notes we send in packages and the extra care taken when items are packaged and shipped.
We also choose products that are environmentally friendly and we have a child of our own whom we will have "test" a lot of the products with before we choose to go full steam ahead with the company selling them.
How do you drive traffic to your listings, and which channel do you primarily drive traffic to?
We use Amazon and have a learning website we push traffic to. We also add our website address to all packing lists and use Facebook pages to direct people to our site for Franklins Toys. Amazon has also added the Facebook "like" button to item pages and when we are the only seller on the catalog page, we will "like" the page and add to Facebook.
Can you talk about some of the SEO techniques you employ to drive traffic to your site(s)?
Shopify already has SEO built in and we have inquired into using Facebook and Amazon ads to drive traffic to the website.
Do you participate in social networking sites? If so, which ones?
Twitter and Facebook.
Which ones work for you? Which don't?
Twitter helps drive traffic to particular listings or promotions we offer on Amazon. Facebook helps drive a lot of traffic to our website. We also post specials and coupons on Facebook for the website.
Do you sell on Facebook, why or why not?
We have tried a few items on Facebook, but have not ever sold anything on Facebook as of yet. I do not think a lot of people think of Facebook as a place to go buy something, only as a socializing site, so I do not think Facebook selling will really ever take off and do well. Advertising (on Facebook) to get the traffic to your site works well, but actually buying and selling on the site has not.
Do you have any advice for other sellers about how to utilize social networking?
It's a lot of work, but you have to stay with it and commit a few minutes each day to actually and eventually see results.
Visit Melynda's listing on EveryPlaceISell.com for the links to all of her storefronts and websites. If you are a multi-channel merchant with your own website, you can learn more about being featured in EcommerceBytes on this page. And set up your own listing on EveryPlaceISell.com.
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to email@example.com.
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