#EcomLaunch 1: Choosing My Niche and Procuring Stock - Sellbrite

#EcomLaunch 1: Choosing My Niche and Procuring Stock

By now you’ve probably noticed that Nail Polish UK has launched – but before I start sharing information with you in real time, I want to take a step back for a minute. I’ve told various friends, family and business associates about this project, and the first thing they ask is “Why did you choose nail polish?”. The second thing they ask is “Where the heck do you get it all from?”.

So, in this post I’m going to discuss why I chose to launch a webstore selling nail polish, and how I managed the process of procuring stock to sell on the website.

Why I chose nail polish

I touched on this briefly in the intro to #EcomLaunch. Somehow I fell into the beauty industry around three years ago, selling false eyelashes. I’ve gone on to grow a great business in False Eyelashes, but we’ve found that sales growth has slowed somewhat over the last six months or so. That was always going to happen – so it was nothing for me to be concerned over. To that end, I knew I had to expand the business in order to continue achieving growth.

I looked at a few different niches within the beauty industry (and outside of the beauty industry), and nail polish stuck out at me. The sheer number of searches that all things nail polish get is just ridiculous – take a look in Google’s Keyword Planner: lots of searches = lots of demand. As I said in my previous post, I estimate the nail polish market is around 10-20 times bigger than the false eyelash market – that’s a lot of potential sales.

As a company we’ve grown into the beauty industry and made lots of great contacts. This plays nicely into my hands because a lot of the suppliers I already work with tend to own or distribute nail polish brands. The second I mentioned I was thinking about selling nail polish, I had three or four suppliers thrusting their wares upon me – a couple of which were amongst the most respected names in the industry. Existing relationships and accounts with these suppliers meant less time reaching out to new distributors – which can only be a good thing.

Believe it or not, demand for nail polish is likely to start declining soon (if it hasn’t already). The increase in popularity of “gel nail treatments” means that less people are likely to want to paint their own nails at home (gel nails are a treatment offered at beauty salons, using a special type of nail colour that’s cured with a curious looking machine – it lasts far, far longer than standard nail polish).

Hopefully not this kind of shrinkage.
Hopefully not this kind of shrinkage.

I’m just throwing this in here so you know the nail polish industry isn’t the perfect setting to start a business – every market has its drawbacks, and gel nail treatments are nail polish’s nemesis. That being said, I’ve weighed up the possible shrinkage in the nail polish market, and I still think there will be more than enough demand for the polishes we stock, justifying my reasons for starting a business in this market.

So to condense an answer to the main question, why did I choose nail polish? Because I already have an active interest in the beauty industry, and because a lot of suppliers I have a relationship with also distribute nail polish. In addition, nail polishes tend to be small enough to pop in a padded envelope and send in the mail – they don’t take up a great deal of room in my warehouse either. They’re very small, medium to high value items.

How I set about procuring stock

After deciding to start a nail polish adventure, the first thing I did was to talk to my girlfriend – she’s a professional beautician. Hollie is always my “go to” when it comes to sounding off ideas for new projects, and lately for procuring stock. I picked her brain for the top 10 nail polish brands. There was no use launching the site stocking brands no one had ever heard of – in order to see immediate traction it was important for me to bring in established, respected brands from the word go. People may not be familiar with my website, but they’ll definitely know all about the products I actually stock.

I wrote down a list of nail polishes recommended by my Hollie, then did a broad search in the Google Keyword Planner for “nail polish”. It turned out Hollie was right on nine of the top 10 brands. Looking at search volumes I whittled down a short list of five top brands. These were the brands I wanted to procure and stock for launch.

I’m one of the most impatient people you’ll meet. If a line is more than one person deep I’ll take a rain check – I’m just that kind of guy. As much as it pains me to say this, you’ve got to be super patient when procuring stock. To put things into perspective, it took me seven months to procure one of the brands we’re now selling. I sent a message through their corporate website and it took them six months to reply to me. It then took another month of going back and forward with their head office in the UK before I received my first shipment of stock.

One of the other brands we currently stock took a good three months to respond to me. Another of the brands we wanted to have onboard at launch still haven’t agreed to supply us – so we’re still waiting that one out at present. Procuring stock isn’t an exercise where you can click your fingers. It takes a whole lot of time. The earliest email I managed to dig out of my trash folder relating to nail polish was back in February 2013 (and I’m sure there were some earlier than that) – so that’s roughly 14 months it has taken to get things off the ground.

During the procurement process I had two of my key target brands turn round and refuse to supply us. They flat out said “no”. This is the point where most people would throw the towel in and give up – but instead I demand to speak to the sales directors for the companies involved. With a little gentle persuasion I was able to get both of these brands to change their minds about supplying us.

Remember in my last post I mentioned that some nail polish brands are a bit snooty? Well I stand by that. The fact they won’t just supply anybody means there’s less competition in the market (although if I’m being honest, there’s more competition than I’d envisioned initially).

To round up the procurement side of things, some of the brands we stock are distributed by existing suppliers. Bringing in those brands was a piece of cake, I just had to ask the suppliers really nicely if we could stock them – and they all said yes. Bringing in the brands from companies we hadn’t worked with before was a little tricky – it was more of a waiting game than anything. Of the five major brands I wanted to stock initially, we’ve been successful in procuring and stocking four of them. We’re still waiting on one brand to decide whether or not to stock us – it’s taken 14 months to get to this point, so another couple of months of waiting will probably be what happens next.

Key Takeaways

Here’s what I think you can learn from the early stages of my ecommerce journey:

  • Leverage existing contacts and relationships with individuals and suppliers – it might just be the foot in the door you need in order to burst into a market or industry.
  • Be persistent, suppliers will inevitably turn around and refuse to supply you. Don’t just take no for an answer, think of ways to convince these brands to work with you.
  • Be prepared to wait a long time for brands to respond to your procurement queries. Typically, the bigger the brand, the longer you’ll have to wait.
  • Remain focused – it’s easy to lose focus and motivation when you’re making baby steps to achieving your vision or goal – it can feel like you’re an eternity away from achieving success. Just remember what’s waiting at the end of the road for you.
  • Be realistic about potential drawbacks in your chosen industry. There are always drawbacks – don’t bury your head in the sand. Recognise those drawbacks, analyse them, and decide whether it’s still viable to start your business in light of them.

Next in the Series: #EcomLaunch 2: Prepping Logistics And Finishing My Website