Whitebox Does the Heavy Lifting for Online Merchants
By Ina Steiner
What if you could concentrate on big-picture planning and analysis and let someone else take care of the daily operations of your business? Whitebox promises to take on the tasks of an entire ecommerce department for their clients, from product setup and fulfillment to customer service and analytics, with no overhead for merchants. Is it too good to be true?
Rob Wray saw the need for a solution like Whitebox as he worked to scale his own ecommerce business called Mp3Car.com. He's also the founder of Innovative Technology, a consulting and computer repair business focused on helping small businesses profit with technology.
Whitebox is a unique service - in this interview, Wray explains how he conceived the idea and what it offers to etailers and brands that want to scale.
How did you get started selling online?
Rob Wray: We got started with Mp3Car.com back in the early 2000s. This was before the iPod came out, and the only way to listen to digital audio while driving was to put a full desktop PC into your car. We saw an untapped market, and began importing products from Asia and from other small manufacturers to help hobbyists install PCs in their cars.
Do you still sell online, and if so, what do you sell and where do you sell it?
Rob Wray: Both Mp3Car.com and Whitebox have inventory in five countries and products in six languages. Our products include computer processors, Arduino boards, touchscreens, and much more. We ship to over 100 countries, through a variety of channels including Amazon, eBay, and branded websites.
Can you give me stats on your retail business, including # of customers, gross sales and gross revenue?
Rob Wray: At the moment, Mp3Car.com ships about 400-500 items a day, and our revenue is in the upper seven figures. We serve more than 100,000 customers in over 100 countries.
Even though we're shipping in high numbers, we continue to focus customer satisfaction. In terms of Whitebox's retail clients, we currently work with about 30 companies, shipping more than 130,000 products. We're adding about two new customers per week.
What is Whitebox?
Rob Wray: Whitebox is an entire ecommerce operation in a single package. By combining all functions of the ecommerce process into a single service, Whitebox makes it easy for small manufacturers and brands to scale sales to a global level without adding overhead.
Why did you decide to launch Whitebox?
Rob Wray: Back in 2013, Mp3Car.com was facing a number of fundamental issues. At the time, only 85 percent of our customers were satisfied. Also, we were shipping orders directly from our office, and so we had no inventory control systems and no financial transparency. If we didn't have cash in bank, we didn't know why. It could be we over-ordered inventory, or it could be we had a bad sales month. At that point, I was seriously considering closing down Mp3Car.com.
Instead, we decided to overhaul our systems at Mp3Car.com, so that I could either sell or hand off the company. We took a hard look at the business and began automating every repetitive task that we could.
On seeing some early results, I started to think about how many other manufacturers and brand owners need help with similar problems. After two years of implementing our automations, Mp3Car.com's profits were up 607% and orders took a fraction of the time to fulfill. Today, our customer response time is under four hours and our customer feedback rates are 100 percent positive. We're very proud of our return rate, which is below two percent.
And of course, after such clear results, we decided to launch Whitebox. We knew there was a market for it because we'd already looked around for solutions to help out with Mp3Car.com's growth and we couldn't find anything.
What are some lessons you've learned about selling online that you think other sellers may be missing or under-utilizing?
Rob Wray: Overhauling Mp3Car.com's processes is really what led us to developing Whitebox, and it's also taught us an important lesson. We've learned the importance of preemptive problem solving. This means looking at all your existing problems and thinking about permanent solutions, then building operations and procedures that solve those issues systematically.
In general, the more you incorporate solutions into your process, the better. It's much more sustainable. It's cheaper than being reactive on the backside of transactions, and increased customer satisfaction means higher brand quality. And of course there's less staff frustration since you're not stuck solving the same problem over and over again.
Once those problems are solved, it becomes easier to grow the business. Suddenly, you're getting reliable financial reports, and it's easier to make financial decisions based off that data.
Also it's far easier to expand internationally, because you've already worked out most of the hard parts domestically. That way, you shouldn't encounter complex, on-going operations problems in a foreign language.
What kinds of sellers are a good fit for using Whitebox?
Rob Wray: We can work with all sorts of products, including anything that's non-perishable, shelf-stable and not temperature sensitive. Other than that, as long as your product is smaller than a kayak, we can accommodate you. In the future, we'll be adding warehouse capacity to support refrigerated and supersized items.
Is Whitebox for brands/manufacturers only?
Rob Wray: Whitebox is for any company that wants to build or expand an ecommerce operation without having to add overhead of warehousing, inventory management, customer service staffing, etc.
For sellers who have their own branded product line and are already selling on multiple channels, what services would you offer?
Rob Wray: Whitebox can help sellers sell more. If they're already selling on Amazon, for example, sellers can use Whitebox's analytics to know a variety of things they may not already - such as profitability per sale or per product. They can use this information to optimize pricing, processes, etc.
Additionally, because Whitebox takes over the entire ecommerce process, sellers don't have to think about warehousing, staffing, various pieces of software needed to manage their operations, and more. A full list of services is available on the Whitebox website.
What can merchants expect to pay for Whitebox services?
Rob Wray: Whitebox charges a flat 10% of gross sales.
Whitebox founder Rob Wray has been around the block with his own ecommerce business, Mp3Car.com and with a variety of products from other clients, giving the company a deep knowledge of the ins and outs of ecommerce. As a result, you'll find some interesting content on the Whitebox blog, such as posts on improving your seller feedback and tips on pricing products on Amazon - check it out at Whitebox.co/blog.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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