How Marg & Kev Built Profitable Made-in-India Brands
India Sourcing Network Co-Founders, Margaret Jolly and Kevin Oldham are life partners and business partners. After running multiple businesses throughout their careers, they ventured into Amazon FBA around 2017.
Like most other sellers, they started by sourcing from China. They stumbled upon their Indian supplier at a trade show in Hong Kong. It was love at first sight with the products on display, and the rest is history.
Today, they have two brands and source all their products from India.
Read on below to find out how they built these brands, and the lessons they learnt along the way.
You can also watch this live video where they talked about their journey.
Lessons learned early on
We started selling on Amazon over five years ago, and that was before a lot of the tools like Helium10 were developed to assist you to make a calculated decision. Compared to what’s available now, the tools at that time were very basic.
If it is not selling on Amazon, nobody is searching for it so you can’t find many relevant keywords
Our first lesson learned was finding a product that was not already selling on Amazon – there was only a similar but very small version that was out of stock.
Oh, how easy can this be without competition! We sourced the product from China, made our own larger design which needed a mold and then had a minimum order of 2,000 pieces.
Molds, especially in China, are quite costly and you should never start out with 2,000 to 3,000 items on a new unproven product.
We also did three different bundles of some other kitchen products which we managed to sell out of after some time.
But once again nobody was doing bundles of these products so the keywords were not really there in the volume needed to rank well.
There are many costs to consider when selling on Amazon.
We learnt that there were a lot more costs than we anticipated and that by doing cheaper products, the margin was not there with all the hidden costs of an Amazon business.
At the start we were told to find a product, differentiate it, and do beautiful packaging. Not really the best strategy – we spent far too much on the packaging.
Now with all the additional 3PL related costs, higher shipping, higher PPC costs etc, it has become even harder.
Our supplier also copied us, so we then analysed the products and although we sold out of most SKUs, we decided the margin was not enough to make a decent PROFIT.
Time to start again armed with the knowledge we had gained.
We were going to Canton Fair to look for more products, and made a stopover in Hong Kong to go to the Mega Fair.
It was there walking down the isles we found some great handmade Indian products that just jumped out at us. We also found the owners (BKP Metal Concepts) to be extremely helpful so this was the start of our Indian experience.
Also, while in Hong Kong we stumbled across a Korean supplier making the cutest cornstarch baby products — plates, bowls, cups, cutlery and more — that were break-resistant, microwave safe.
On checking all the baby plates made from melamine, we found they would break, could not be microwaved, and once again we thought — Yes! This is eco-friendly, and everyone will want this for their kids.
Most items were selling for around $20 on Amazon, and we needed to sell at around $45 to be viable, but shouldn’t be hard, ours is better. These sold over a few months, and we only did 300 of each SKU, but were not viable to continue with as people didn’t seem to want to spend that sort of money in that niche and for a complete set.
Premium products, premium price
For our Indian find, the niches the products fitted into were already on Amazon but the products were of different materials and look to what you could source on Alibaba from China. (Lesson 1: it is already selling.)
We decided to build a new brand from this look with products in several different niches in the home products category and thought that we would see which sold best and cull a few. Some sold better than others but we have maintained all the SKUs as we can just top up the slower selling ones in our orders but they would not all be viable to keep on their own.
We sell a lot of products as “Frequently Bought Together”, and they cross sell very well through our Store and A+ Content as we show a collection of all products together.
Being handcrafted and different in appearance to most products in the niche, we can command a much higher price. They sell between $40 and $70.
We are on the higher end price in the niche and may not sell thousands of each item but as the margin is much better, we can make a nice profit. So, we sell less and make more dollars with less hassle.
Ease of communication
One of the key differences we found sourcing in India was that language is not a barrier, as English is commonly spoken. So things are not lost in translation like in China.
You can use Zoom, WhatsApp and by regularly checking in with your supplier, you will build a trusted relationship. Jump on calls to look at samples, check production progress, packaging etc.
Branding & trademarking
We now have two brands, both are trademarked in the US. One is specific to material and finish, and the other is a broader one.
We are building up the first brand with products that are of the same materials but not in the same niches. We can promote in our Store under different tabs and advertise in A+ Content under more from the brand.
If you have used a narrow and specific brand such as “Marg’s Salad Bowls”, you are stuck selling salad bowls but a broader brand such as “Marg’s Collection” gives you scope to sell different products under one brand.
Tips from our experience
- Amazon is not a hobby. It is a real business that takes time and money with no guarantee of success.
- Know all your costs.
- Choose products with demand and a need/benefit or will help solve a problem, and has reasonable sales volumes for many keyword phrases.
- Make sure you have a good margin for a great PROFIT.
- Don’t do too small of a first order. In most cases, around 500-600 pieces is a good order size.
- Ensure you have enough capital to restock if sales do better than expected.
- Product development in India takes time – from the initial supplier contact to going live, it can take about six months. As most handcrafted products take 10-12 weeks to produce, and add to that sampling, shipping etc.
- This is the time to prepare for your launch. Make sure you have the best listing, great images, copy that demonstrates the benefits or solves a need or a pain point, A+ Content, Storefront complete so the day you go live you are dressed the best you can be. Be ready to do Sponsored Brand ads, Posts, Vine and more.
- Amazon FBA is not easy. There is so much to learn and you need to be a jack of all trades at the start. You really need to learn how all facets work before you can employ people to take on some tasks for you, if that is the road you wish to take or scale into a large business.
- Don’t believe the hype. You see lots of marketing saying, “In a few weeks you can give up your day job and just work a few hours a day.” If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is!
- Amazon can give you a great lifestyle. You can make a lot of like-minded friends and with a lot of hard work a good income.
- If you have a product that does not go as well as you expect, DO NOT GIVE UP! Get back on the horse and try again. Any honest Amazon seller will tell you they have had a not-so-good or failed product.