So in this article, we’re harvesting lessons learned from selling over 200K GBP worth of supplements from fellow UK seller and blogger Chris Jones – a guy who, one night, Google’d ‘how to I make money online’ and turned his whole life around.
He got started on amazon in 2015 after being broken down mentally by his 12+ hour day work schedule. At one point, shit got so real that he had to become a medical guinea pig for a week just to pay his rent. But, he committed himself to making this business model work and the gamble paid off.
What’s cool about Chris, is that unlike most sellers, myself included, he talks about his exact products, sales, brand names – the whole shebang.
So, I sat down (virtually) with him to pick his brains and hopefully do a good job of digging into his journey and lessons – which aren’t just supplement specific.
Also, FYI, you can have a listen to the whole freeform interview on youtube. It’s over an hour long, has some sound dips because of connection issues but has some more fleshing out, more meandering and also talks a bit about Chris’s coffee business too. I’ve not kept all the speech quoted exactly as I had to make it a bit more text friendly.
Anyway, here’s the gems of wisdom from Chris
Learning about the private label world with ZERO selling and business experience
If you are reading this right now, you’ll either be an established seller or, most likely, someone who has seen a few of the webinars, podcasts etc and are thinking ‘Is this even real, or all bullshit?’ ‘Do people really even make any money on the internet’?
Well, the answer is yes, but it takes learning and work and doesn’t come easy for most, especially if you are still in the employee mindset.
Chris was coming from a point where he couldn’t make rent some months but he went into hardcore learning mode and balls deep into private label with laser focus.
Chris: “Things got to a point where I felt like I was going to make myself ill if I didn’t make a change.
So I moved back home. Initially, I thought of the amazon business when I was working in the gym in Bristol and I was pretty set on the supplement I was going to do. But when we say starting out with supplements and going balls deep, I actually held myself back and made the sensible choice of moving back home. So I lived up in my granddad‘s house in a small room for 8 months.
My girlfriend at the time moved to Switzerland to work as an au pair for eight months so I thought, if she’s going to be over there, how can I capitalize on this time right now and really escalate this idea. I knew I wanted to sell supplements and knew I wanted to sell on Amazon, I didn’t know much else.
So, I actually didn’t dive straight in. I just went into my room in my grandad's and I pretty much learned the whole process. 12-16 hours a day watching videos, blog articles and I just engulfed myself in the whole amazon seller industry – the algorithm stuff, the review process. Every single thing, for seven months, day in day out and it was that point after those 7 months that I incorporated my first company on May 18th, 2015.
After waiting for approvals and getting ungated, on the 16th of August 2015, I went live and I made 92 sales on my first product, L-Carnitine. Two hours later I hit best seller in that category and since then I’ve been selling nothing less than 12 units of that product daily.”
For anyone wanting to start, pay special attention to this: “12-16 hours a day watching videos, blog articles and I just engulfed myself in the whole amazon seller industry”.
Another thing Chris had going was his focus on where he wanted to be. Usually, we only are forced into action when we are really sick of everything, hitting rock bottom, but it doesn’t have to be this way. You can leverage your day job and salary to start building your escape plan right now.
Focus on the goal
Chris: “I’m just like go on Chris, go! go! go! Don’t worry about this, don’t worry about that, and don’t worry about anything around you.
Honestly, that was my mindset. But I knew what my product was gonna look like, what my packaging was gonna look like, what my annual turnover was gonna look like. No worries about anything else, just pushing forward.”
This reminds me a bit of an Arnold Schwarzenegger quote: “The mind is the limit. As long as the mind can envision the fact that you can do something, you can do it-as long as you really believe 100 percent.”
Product selection – Headfirst with no research
These days, Chris takes a far more calculated approach to picking his products, but to start with, he went with products he knew were popular thanks to his time in the trenches as a personal trainer.
Chris: "Not that I planned on going into supplements, but I think it just came very naturally from being in the fitness industry.
I just thought OK, if I am going to release some sort product, not that I knew anything about the private label process at the time starting out, I just thought it was sensible and wise to go into something that: 1- I have passion for and 2- it was in an industry that was making money, year on year, growing more popular.
So starting out was pretty much a risk for me. I didn’t know how Amazon works, I didn’t know what supplements were selling well online or on amazon. I just kind of gambled. You know my 2nd product was the green tea, my 3rd product was creatine and my 1st product was the L-Carnitine which is an appetite suppressant.
If I could be totally honest I guessed the whole of that process, I guessed my 1st, 2nd & 3rd products, I didn’t know. It was only because I was taking those products in life and saw others using them.
So I thought people have to be using them so I’m going to release it. it was from there that I just built that supplement line.”
So while Chris actually rolled into one of the most cutthroat and saturated niches, he did know two important things: 1 He found the products useful and knew lots of others did too and 2: the supplement industry has huge market depth.
Setting up a limited (LLC for US readers) is key with anything that goes in or on your body
Anytime you have a business that involves stuff going in that sweet body of yours, you want to have a company that at least gives you some liability, especially in todays fucked up lawsuit-happy society.
Chris: "It was for the liability protection and at the time I was going by the advice of my business partner. With the LTD company it was about having protection if something went wrong, therefore it wouldn’t come back on me so much as an individual.
You can just go to firstformations.co.uk, sign up for different levels of their tiers. It takes like ten minutes to set up a company with all the allocated shares. It’s very simple and a couple of days later you get all the documentation."
Launching - Facebook and giveaways
Back in the day it was much easier to launch and while Jeff Bezos would chop Chris’s balls off faster than a prime delivery drone if he tried the same launch stat today, you still can and should think about using social media for your brand - doing giveaways to build your email list and launch that way. Just don’t do the whole family and friends thing.
Chris: "I created a page for my fitness company and I called it ‘I love fitness’. I didn’t give it the company name because nobody would know what that was so I just thought about targeting the demographic so people would see it and agree with me and think ‘yeah, I do love fitness’.
From there over the next eight months I built up to 9000 likes, engagement was growing.
But back then, and I hope amazon doesn’t watch this, I was clueless and had no real knowledge of what to do at this time. So before my product went live (on amazon, but status was currently unavailable) I was thinking how can I capitalise on this and supercharge reviews.
So what I did was order 100 supplements from my supplier as samples and then I started to send the samples to people around the area, friends, and family. Then I followed up with them and sent them the link to my (still not live) product page and asked for a review.
Later that week, 6 reviews came in and I was thinking ‘what’s going on?’, then I started to get tons of reviews and in the end, I had 68 reviews. So, when the listing went live, something must have ‘clicked’ in the algorithm and I instantly went to the top of the fat burner category!”
How much did it cost to start up a supplement line and how could he afford it?
After Chris switched from personal training to turning tricks on the mean streets of Cardiff, he eventually saved up enough…Kidding!
To start out, Chris teamed up with one of his former clients from the gym – Chris would bring the amazon knowledge and the partner would be the daddy purse, for a percentage (more on the partnership dynamics a bit later).
As Chris explains in his bio, he launched with 3 products for a total of £4000. Personally, as a general rule, I’ve found about $1500 is a reasonable amount to totally land a low MOQ of a new product.
Here’s how much one product cost:
Chris: “I would buy my green tea extract for £3.41 ($4.41), all in. That’s for 850mg daily dose and 120 capsules. I’d buy that in tubs and the tubs would come with a sealed top (membrane) and lid. Vegan or vegetarian-friendly capsules were more expensive.
So all that, including 20% VAT and delivery to amazon made the landed cost £3.41. I would then go and sell that for upwards of £19.97 ($25.82). The amazon fee was about £4.41.
The moq for new sellers in supplements is usually 250-500 units, with some of the bigger companies it might be up to 1000 units, but when you start to build a relationship, you can drop down to lower MOQs.”
Keys to competing in a saturated marketplace
I don’t usually advise newbs to get started with supplements, especially on amazon.com, but hey, if you’re going to do it anyway, make sure you differentiate!
Chris: "We’re not reinventing the wheel, we’re redefining certain products, redefining the image. Something could be selling well now, but the branding, vision or concept could be wrong or at least not in line with the proper demographic.
Therefore, you need to put the structure in place and be clear about what you’re going to do to redefine what you’re going to do to define that product and bring that branding up to where it needs to be.
I wanted to go for more of a lifestyle range, relaxed, white, bubbly kind of graphics (not that I knew much about branding at the time at all). I wanted something fresh, clean, white, vibrant.
I looked at the market and most of the tubs were black, they had black bottles and I thought ‘ok, this is going to be an easy differentiation. I’m going to bring out a white bottle with a white label with good colours, leaves, sky and clouds on my label.
Maybe that was enough to stand out on that page on amazon and make people want to give it a try.”
Customer service 101: Dealing with unhappy supplement customers
Unfortunately, selling on amazon means we live and die by the reviews, even when they are unfair (I won’t even go there for now). But I was especially interested to ask Chris how he deals with the often fickle supplement customers.
Chris: “I’m not gonna say I didn’t have that happen (negative reviews from customers who felt the product didn’t work) because that happened quite a lot. People would message me saying things like ‘Ok these have not worked, I have been dieting for the last 8 weeks, taking your recommended doses (which are recommended by the manufacturer).
Then they might have a grunt and a moan etc but at the end of the day I would just reply very professionally and say: I’m so sorry this hasn’t worked for you, certain individuals respond differently and so on.
Well, you don’t know if they are telling the truth about their supplements, their overall training, their cardio, are they lifting weights, their recovery, other supplementation, their stress level, their sleep time…
All of this comes into the equation so it’s very hard to just accept that from someone who says ‘yep, these don’t work but you can’t argue that too much because that will extend a bad review, bad feedback, and bad company exposure all around.
So what I did was professionally sent a very personal message back, an apologetic email. I refund them and then I also refund them an extra 10%. Usually about 7 times out of 10, they would leave either a good positive review or good seller feedback.”
Chris: “With the first fat burner, L-carnitine, it was part of my vision. So, just like with my daily planner, I wrote down: L-carnitine – 10 sales per day for the next 12 weeks before considering number two, which was green tea extract.
After hitting that, I then set another goal for the green tea extract but became impatient and then released a caffeine product then I set a goal for 5 sales a day before releasing a creatine product and just went on like that.”
1st big mistake: spending money
Chris: “A huge mistake of mine was to grow so fast. Because you know, I didn’t have any business experience, I was a personal trainer. I’m not like one of the ‘manger guys’ I’m more on the creative side. I need someone to push me forwards when needed and someone to push me back when needed.
At the time, I saw so much money coming in, and I think people need to hear this, these 6-8 thousand pound payments every two weeks from my amazon business (going from a wage that paid me less than £1200 ($1500) on certain months), I started hitting the business account for money. I was feeling like the top dog and was thinking, I’m going to enjoy life. This really wasn’t good for the business, especially as a start-up.
I was taking money out of the cashpoint (ATM), was buying rounds at the bar, bought an Audi, moved into my own place and I felt like I could do anything, but then finances started to go downhill. But I thought this was fine at the time.
But there were other expenses, amazon FBA fees and more. So I just want to tell people to be careful and set yourself an income limit."
Incoming mistake 2 – expanding too fast
Chris: “For the first three supplements, I just looked around and saw they were popular. I didn’t do any research, but in my mind, seeing they were popular was enough – and it was enough to get sales moving on those first three (L-Carnitine, creatine and green tea extract).
Those products were doing great and I probably should have stuck with them for the first 12 months but then I started to roll out more and more products. I was pretty much just looking on the amazon supplement section and just adding those products to my list. There was no research.
I ordered a load of vitamin D even though that category had lots of sellers with massive review numbers. I soon started to think ‘what have I done!’
After the success of the first three products, I gained so much fake confidence in a way that I got overly confident in my releases and that’s when all the trouble started to happen.”
This is a bit like ‘what I learned losing a million dollars’. I’ve done it myself, although to a lesser degree.
Because of rapid expansion and launching a coffee product, Chris ended up with a lot of slow-moving inventory.
26 new products in 14-16 months + slow selling & liquidation
Chris: “So I had come across these (new) products on Jungle Scout and I had hundreds of each sitting in my inventory and because I paid them so little attention (because my main products were selling so well and I wanted to focus on my strengths) all of the other inventory was like dead money.
Because I ended up with so much inventory sitting in FBA my focus was on clearing the lot out as fast as I could. So I started running discounts, and here’s where I went wrong again and really affected things.
I jumped on AMZ Tracker and set up a load of discount codes for these products for 80 to 75% off - thinking I was going to sell them off fast. But when you set such a deep discount, factoring in amazon FBA fees and PPC, I soon started to notice that I was losing a ton of money clearing out this inventory.
I went from up high to rock bottom because of these two mistakes. It’s was only about 4 months ago that I managed to clear out all that stock and managed to build back up again which is why I’m rebranding and restricting now – to give myself a fresh head and vision.”
The lesson is: be careful when expanding and don’t forget about those filthy amazon fees – which is easily done. And for more on Chris’s philosophy for rebranding and implementation, have a listen to the full interview.
Theoretical – The first three were a hit, but what if things had gone differently?
I wanted to dig in a bit and ask Chris what he would have done if his first products had been slow. The first 3 were successful, but the subsequent ones – not so much. When starting you have be ready to maybe fail and never give up too soon:
Chris: “Maybe I would have gotten deterred if a lack of sales had gone on and maybe if I had people asking me all the time ‘Chris, what’s happening? Is it failing?’ Looking back, it might have gotten to me and I might have thought, I’ve fucked up here, let me move out of this situation as soon as possible and move onto the next best thing.
Or it could have gone the other way and I would have thought ‘right, let’s structure a plan and really dive deep into the research for the next product.
But if that was now, with my mindset, I wouldn’t have chosen a bad product!”
Partnering with investors and parting with investors
People want to partner up for different reasons, but the key thing is this: you should have complementary skills, but usually, amazon can be run as a one-man operation.
So, unless you need the money to start or simply want to have a kind of walk through the process, like mentorship, don’t rush into partnering.
Chris: “We became really close friends. You know I’d do anything for him and he’d do anything for me too. At the start, it was great. We honestly thought that we would be set for life. We were seeing these big numbers and just thinking it was going to be great.
But I am going to take the blame for this because I hardly had any business experience, he had 12 years and I ignored most of the advice and recommendations that he was trying to give me, like a stupid youngster trying to think he’s the big man.
And I’m not afraid to say that because I was splashing money that I thought we had at the time. And if I hadn’t have been so stupid and bought all these watches, taken people for holidays, bought all the rounds for the boys while we were out, then I really think business would be much better now as opposed to just steady.
So we had a conversation. I personally had made so many mistakes so I thought I was putting him at risk, therefore he saw that risk and wanted out.
There was also a recollection that you don’t need more than one person in an amazon business because it is so automated.”
What’s changed on the amazon UK supplement space in the past few years
Chris: “I’ve been seeing so many more people pop up, I mean every time I click on my category there is a new supplement seller and I think, that’s new, that’s new and that’s new.
But these guys, they obviously heard about the trend, they created a company and they just get a product up, totally dismissing what it actually takes to be successful at this. They don’t do the research, they contact a supplier and send them a label – a fucking shocking quality label – and they put it on amazon.
They’re using ppc with no reviews, bad listings, bad images so that’s what I’m seeing. So with all due respect, I’m seeing a lack of experience and a lack of passion come onto the platform that will only dig an early grave.”
So again, If you’re starting out, make sure you have done your homework and brought something different to the table!
Chris’s final advice for people starting out
Chris: “I would take my time through every single process, big or small, and another piece of advice would be to consciously notice your excitement when seeing numbers starting out and not to go crazy with the finances.
Like I said in a facebook post, earn like Richard Branson, live like a student and I think that’s something that will benefit you in the short and long term when it comes to business.
You’re going to fail at something, no matter what – whether at the smallest little thing of the biggest but try to fail fast and learn from that mistake because that’s what’s going to propel you into faster success."
If you read this far, let me just say thanks and I hope you got something out of this interview.
What I like about Chris’s attitude and journey is that he had a goal and he hunkered down and did the work, did the learning then, most importantly pulled the trigger and learned lessons along the way. There is no easy way, there are just easier ways.
So whatever your goal is, figure out your ‘why’ and stick to the plan.
If you want to find out more about Chris, head over to www.zonlifesuccess.com and dig into some of this long form articles. Chris is also super active on Facebook in helping new sellers (you can hit him up here).