In episode 60, hosts Elizabeth Larkin and Gene Marks answer a question about how to get started selling online:
“How do I know if I’m ready to start selling my products online in addition to my brick and mortar store? What do I need to do to get started?”
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Elizabeth: Alright, we’re back another exciting episode of the Small Biz Ahead Podcast. Gene, I’ve always wanted to ask you, since you’re a big baseball fan…
Elizabeth: Have you ever traded or sold baseball cards?
Gene: I had it when I was a kid, I had baseball cards. And my kids had them for a number of years, and then they… But they still have them, actually, like, in storage. Why? Did you?
Elizabeth: No. No. Cause I wasn’t a big baseball fan…
Gene: Baseball cards was very, very cool, yeah. For a bit, when I was a kid, and I still am a big baseball fan now… Yeah, I went to my first game at Wrigley Field…
Elizabeth: Really? How was that?
Gene: …just, like, last week, first game ever. You ever been to Wrigley Field?
Gene: So, if you have not been to Wrigley Field and you like baseball, even if you don’t like baseball, it’s absolutely a place to go. First of all, it’s very, very cool. Very, very young. There’s no parking there cause it’s in the city.
Gene: You take the Red Line there, the Chicago transit, and it drops you off, like, right there. The food is terrible. It’s, like, the worst ballpark food ever. It’s basically the standard hotdogs and peanuts… You go to ballparks nowadays and there’s a lot more selection.
Gene: And I think they do that on purpose because it keeps it old-school. And then there’s tons of stuff all around the park, you know, to go to. Because the Cubs won the World Series last year, it’s a whole… If it was a great atmosphere before, it’s a great atmosphere now. People are really into it, they love their team, and they’re all whatever. And then just the design of the stadium, there is terrible seats in that stadium that you can’t believe because the stadium was built… It’s first game was in 1914.
So, they didn’t have, like, the kind of-
Elizabeth: Older than you!
Gene: Yeah, by a couple of years. But they didn’t have the architects that they have today, so the seats are, like, geez, who would…? You could just picture people, men primarily, I’m assuming, smoking cigars and wearing hats, you know? The scoreboard is from 1934, and it’s the same scoreboard. They have a guy up there switching the numbers, you know, between innings.
Gene: For all the games that’s going on. It’s all manual.
Elizabeth: Oh, wow! I didn’t know that.
Gene: And it’s so cool, you know. And then the ivy wall as well. And then, of course there’s the rooftop seats all around, and there’s a whole story about that as well. Fun thing to do if you’re in Chicago is to see the Cubs play at Wrigley. It’s classic.
Elizabeth: With the food, I feel like people go to the games, as long as there’s beer and peanuts, people are happy.
Gene: Yeah. People expect… I think everybody eats at baseball games, like they… Hotdogs is also, like, sort of a big draw.
Elizabeth: So, Hartford has a new baseball…
Gene: Baseball team. Yeah.
Elizabeth: …team called the Hartford Yard Goats.
Gene: The Yard Goats?
Elizabeth: Yard Goats, apparently, is a railroad term.
Gene: Is that? Okay.
Gene: You got me. Okay.
Elizabeth: It’s like a railroad yard goat or something. So, we used to have a team, a hockey team, NHL, called the Hartford Whalers.
Elizabeth: And they took a lot of the fun stuff about the Whalers and brought that over to the Yard Goats. Like, they’re using the same colors…
Gene: Cool! That’s a cool idea.
Elizabeth: And they use… The Whalers had a song that they played whenever they scored a goal in hockey called “Brass Bonanza.” I will link to that in the show notes. And the Yard Goats play that when they get a run.
Gene: Dig it.
Elizabeth: So, it’s really fun. But, the food situation there is crazy.
Gene: I’m sure it’s amazing, right?
Elizabeth: They have a barbecue deck where they have this …
Elizabeth: …other small business from Hartford called Bear’s Smokehouse.
Gene: Smart. Ribs and all that kind of stuff. So smart.
Elizabeth: Yes. They sell something that’s pulled pork with cornbread and macaroni and cheese.
Elizabeth: All kinds of like, yeah, everything.
Gene: Only for like $47!
Elizabeth: But it’s funny because since it’s Minor League Baseball, I feel like a lot of people don’t even watch the game and they’re just going more for the social aspects of it.
Elizabeth: And there’s tons of people there, like college students and people in their 20s.
Gene: Now, I travel a lot so I try to go… I like to go to out-of-town baseball games, but I love going to Minor League parks as well.
Elizabeth: Yeah. They’re really fun.
Gene: Really fun and it’s really … I like watching. I’m a big baseball fan. I love the kids playing. I’m in to that kid 20 year old kid from Oklahoma City that’s playing for some farm team for the Yankees and… Could this kid possibly make the bigs? I love those stories, so it’s… The Major League parks are great. They’re just expensive as well. I paid $110 for my ticket to go to Wrigley Field.
Elizabeth: Oh my gosh!
Gene: I, go like, “it’s only me,” cause I was out on my own traveling, so I went by myself, which I love to do and I got the best seat in the house. So I was in like two seats, two rows off the field. Sometimes you have to spend that amount of money, but regardless it’s still expensive. I mean, the average ticket’s like north of 50 bucks, and then you’re buying the food and all. You’re still dropping 100 bucks on this.
Elizabeth: Yeah. The Minor League tickets are like $10.
Gene: I know. It’s great.
Elizabeth: So, it’s awesome. Alright. We are going to be right back with our question, which oddly like kind of does relate to this, after a message from our sponsor.
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QUESTION: Am I Ready to Start Selling Online?
Elizabeth: Okay, we’re back and our question is from Gabriel in Wisconsin and he’s a vintage re-seller, so that’s why I was asking you about baseball cards. If you ever sold anything when you were young.
Gene: I see. Okay. A vintage, so it’s like sort of like old clothes and old stuff and-
Elizabeth: Yeah, or even furniture. That type of thing.
Gene: Okay. I’m with you.
Elizabeth: Okay, so, Gabriel writes:
“How do I know if I’m ready to start selling my products online in addition to my brick and mortar store? What do I need to do to get started?”
So, we answered a similar question to this recently and I think the answer was Shopify. Would you think that still applies in this situation?
Gene: Maybe, you know, it’s funny, when you talk about selling online he’s… It’s an odd question. “How do I know if I’m ready to sell online?” You’re always ready to sell online. If somebody’s ready to give you a credit card or write you a check, I don’t care if they’re in Wisconsin or if they’re in France, you want to sell it right? So, if it were me, I would dip my toes just to see if-
Elizabeth: Maybe Etsy.
Gene: -my products were selling.
Etsy could be sort of… Craigslist? eBay? I mean, these are you know… Even Amazon… It’s very simple to set up a Amazon store, an eBay store, a Craigslist store. Alibaba, if you want to, is very easy to set up a store where you’re reaching… That’s actually reaching the Chinese market, but fine, their checks cash as well. To set up a store is very simple to do. Shopify and BigCommerce and those other, these are more point of sale technologies that they can give you like an eCommerce site. I would think like, you wouldn’t have to do anything with your website. You don’t have to like build it out. Just go and set up a store or just to start things off, just start selling, pick half a dozen or ten items and offer them for sale on Craigslist and see if they go.
You and I, we keep getting back to the same topic and whenever I talk to people that are selling stuff online, online merchants, I’m telling you right now, the people that make it there they have somebody do it for them. You know? It’s just like the whole marketing thing. You’re running your store… What’s his-
Gene: So, Gabriel you’re running your store right now and that’s taking up your time. If it were me, I would probably be researching and maybe thinking like “Okay, I’ll pick Amazon, or I’ll pick eBay.” I might just set up something rudimentary, but then once you understand the process and how it all kind of works, you have like a knowledge of that, I would hand it off to somebody else. I would hire a part timer and I would say, “Listen. We’re going to be selling everything I got here in the store. Catalog it. Let’s get it sold on. Put it up for sale on eBay as well and design out our store on eBay,” because they give you a bunch of tools and all of that to make graphically good and all that. And then, you say to the person and people say like “Oh my God! This costs. You got to hire somebody.” No, you never have to do that. You can say, “I tell you what. I put it on the eBay store and 20% of the profits are yours.”
Elizabeth: Oh. Nice.
Gene: Yeah. There’s your incentive. Go out there and… Gabriel, you can pay for whatever the graphics are on eBay or you want to get good, professional photo refs made of these things, so maybe put up that money, but then you say to the person say, “Look. You want to make some money on your own, I’ll give you ownership of my eBay store and you take 20% and I’ll take 80%,” and see where that goes.
Elizabeth: That’s a good idea.
Gene: Yeah. And then you’ll see how it goes and if it turns into a business, then you renegotiate that.
Elizabeth: Great. Alright. Great advice. We’ll be right back with our Word of Brilliance.
WORD OF BRILLIANCE: This Old House
Elizabeth: We’re back with Gene’s Word of Brilliance.
Gene: This Old House-
Gene: We’ve talked in a previous podcast about Mister Rogers, so maybe I’m on this PBS thing right now, but you ever watch This Old House?
Gene: You ever heard of This Old House?
Elizabeth: Yeah, of course I have.
Gene: Yeah. Okay. So like, it’s this show where… And what was the name of the main guy? Now I’m for-
Gene: Yeah. That’s it. It was Bob. They would go and they would like renovate some house in New England or whatever and it was the very first of the home remodeling shows. It’s like 30 years old. I mean it was introduced like in the 70s or something is when it came out. It started out in Boston then it went nationwide and now it’s like you can’t change the channel without hitting some Flip It or Flop It, or this or that, or you know whatever so…
This Old House though was the one that started that whole trend. Do you know that when This Old House started over 30 years ago they were afraid and they were getting complaints from contractors, complaining about the show? They did not want this show to be aired.
Gene: Because the contractors were concerned that Norm was giving away their secrets on air. That crazy? And there was this whole thing. There was a bunch of contractors that were like complaining to the station boss at the time saying that the… Happily they ignored them and whatever and what it turned into was This Old House, all that the shows that it ultimately spawned turned like this huge industry of renovators and home … I mean it turned it out to be a gold mine for contractors.
Whenever I hear business owners that are so afraid of their so-called “proprietary information” being stolen by a customer, I was always think like, “Dude, you are being very, very short-minded.” You know what I mean?
Gene: You and I have talked before about when you educate your customers. I mean, we do events. We do training of our products. Like, if you’re a client of mine, come. We do it once a quarter. We’ll train you for free. “God. You’re giving that away for free. Aren’t you afraid…” Believe me for the people that come there’s a small percentage maybe that won’t ever use it again. Most of the time they’re like, “this is great. We’d like you guys to come in and do more work for us,” You know what I mean? “Thank you for the help,” or “thank for the training. We still don’t understand it. Why don’t you come in here and fix this for us?” Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge and to educate. Nobody’s going to steal… They’re not going to figure out what you do and then do it instead of you.
And your employees, don’t be afraid to teach them things thinking that they’re going to go somewhere else and start their own business and compete against you. If you’re that… If you lack that self-confidence that you can beat them into the ground because you’re that good, maybe you shouldn’t be in business, you know, on your own. So, don’t be like those contractors that were protesting This Old House 30 plus years ago. Don’t be afraid.
Elizabeth: I remember we gave this advice, or your brought up a story about I think it was dog groomer and she wanted to start sending out emails and she didn’t know what to write in the emails and you said-
Gene: Give dog grooming tips.
Elizabeth: Give dog grooming tips because people are going to read them and if you send it to 50 people only one person is going to say, “I should do that.” The rest are going to say-
Gene: Yeah. Right. They’ll be some people that will do it, but like you just said right-
Elizabeth: Yeah. The rest are going to book an appointment because they’re going realize “I don’t want to trim my dog’s nails or clean his ears.
Gene: Do you cut your dog’s nails?
Elizabeth: No. No.
Gene: That’s so gross. My daughter, she wants to go to vet school. She comes home, we have her bathe the dog, she cuts the nails. She does that like in the-
Elizabeth: Does she like doing that?
Gene: -in our kitchen. And she like has no problem doing that or… Nobody’s going to do that. If you sent out an email explaining the importance of and step-by-step instructions… Nobody’s going to do that.
Elizabeth: Only Gene’s daughter will do it.
Gene: Only my daughter will do it. But they’ll appreciate the information and now that they know… And by the way, not only do they appreciate it, now they have a deeper appreciation for what you do and also a little more confidence about if they hire you, the dog groomer, they now know what you’re doing, so they can talk intelligently about it with you and that’s helpful.
Elizabeth: Yeah. When I watch a home and garden show, I don’t suddenly think, “Oh, I can do that.” I just think, “Wow, that’s a really impressive thing they do.”
Gene: Absolutely. And then also, if you then hire one of those contractors you can have an intelligent conversation about, “Hey, you know, I saw on this show that they did this. I understand,” whatever. So, you know. It’s just gets back… It’s just this short-mindedness of some people or the short-sightedness sometimes drives me nuts and that, you know, This Old House story resonated with me. I was thinking “these contractors are so silly,” and of course they were proven wrong a million times over, it’s like, “Nobody’s going to steal your ideas dude, you’re fine.”
Elizabeth: If anything-
Gene: This is helping educate your community find you more work.
Elizabeth: -it might actually make some people decide “hey I want to redo my kitchen.”
Gene: Yeah. Yeah. Absolutely. Absolutely.
Elizabeth: Okay. Good advice Gene. We’ll be back in a couple days with another episode. Thanks for joining us.