How We're Growing Our Amazon Sales Despite Fierce Competition And Copycats
This is a follow up story for Cooking Gift Set Co.. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 2 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hey there, Kim Cruickshanks here! I’m co-founder of Cooking Gift Set Co, a cooking kit brand that explores different culinary techniques. Cooking and new experiences have always been a big priority in my personal life. My business partner and I wanted to recreate that same feeling of accomplishment, creativity, and curiosity by making cooking more approachable with guided instructions and quality tools.
One of my biggest pet peeves is following a tutorial only to have the result be an absolute disaster. (Pinterest fails anyone?). Building our brand goes beyond stuffing a bunch of crap in a box. What makes us different is our care and dedication to designing an experience for our customers.
We always meticulously test every concept in our kitchens to ensure that we’re setting up our customers for success. Ultimately that comes down to the best tools for the job and writing instructions that steer people away from our failures with tips and tricks.
One of our most popular kits is our Chinese Soup Dumpling kit, but lately, we’ve been seeing a lot of traction with our French Tart Kit. I love getting photos of what people create with our kits!
Since my last interview with Starter Story, we’ve placed one of our kits with Sur La Table and are expanding into different marketplace channels like Walmart, Etsy, and Faire.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
Our business started on Amazon and the majority of our revenue is from that channel. So far our sales have matched YOY, and we’re starting to see an increase in YOY as the summer season begins.
Amazon’s advertising costs have increased and they have implemented additional fees for sellers like a 5% fuel charge, so the channel is becoming more challenging for everyone. In addition, Amazon-wide restocks limits have caused FBA stock to sell out, so we set up a 3PL as fulfillment for FBM.
The below chart shows that having an FBM backup helps curve a sharp decline, but still shows a disruption in sales trends.
What this means for us is that growth comes from maintaining efficient campaigns, launching more products, and expanding into other revenue channels.
Selling on Amazon has also naturally led to more direct competition as new sellers try to copy ideas. We had a lot of knock-offs of our Chinese Soup Dumpling kit that were direct from China. However, I’m happy to report that most of those product listings are now discontinued.
Ultimately, I think our product continued to stand above the copycats because we built a brand and invested in an intellectual property like design and copywriting for the instructions. We deliver an experience, where others deliver stuff in a box. We take extra steps to register all of our artwork with the US copyright office. We’ve issued a cease-and-desist to a brand that plagiarized and that's helped us protect our brand.
We’ve currently working on a new product that will be launching in the fall. Building a brand has also allowed us to streamline the product creation process and capitalize on cross-selling based on the data.
When customers bundled items, 24.95% bought the Wood Smoked BBQ kit and Variety Pack together. This data shows an opportunity to launch new related products that cross-sell with other current kits.
Me spending time teaching myself to be a marketer wasn’t doing the business any favors. You simply can’t stuff 10 years' worth of expertise into a 4-week e-course, but you can hire years of expertise with the right vendor.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
Competition on Amazon is increasing, which means you need to pay more to be seen. We used to have the majority of our sales from organic search and now that has flipped to the majority being from paid search. It’s not specific to our brand, it's just how the marketplace is evolving with so many sellers. I think the days of “get rich quick” with a China-sourced product are over. Competing on Amazon requires creativity and innovation to create a higher barrier of entry. The channel is still lucrative, but with these shifts, we know that diversifying is important for growth.
We deliver an experience, where others deliver stuff in a box.
Supply chain issues continue to be very challenging. The cost has increased 3x. We’ve seen some sellers pass these costs down to their customers with a price increase, which we’re testing to see if it's viable.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
I think the biggest lesson I learned was to recognize when my learning curve was costing the business. As an entrepreneur, I am used to figuring out everything myself. And there are a lot of resources out there to learn from. But ultimately, my spending time teaching myself to be a marketer wasn’t doing the business any favors.
You simply can’t stuff 10 years' worth of expertise into a 4-week e-course, but you can hire years of expertise with the right vendor. Educating yourself to be more informed about the hiring process is great, but pour your efforts toward finding the right people instead.
Another related lesson is to be sure to discuss and set your success metrics before you hire. Keep your partners accountable to their benchmarks, and if they consistently don’t deliver, it's time to look for a different partner.
You can’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20. So please keep that in mind when the internet blasts all the success stories in your face.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
I’m most excited about expanding the product line. We have a ton of new ideas that I think our customers will love. It also allows us to re-target our existing customer base with something new.
We’re also investing in growing our wholesale partnerships and our eCommerce shop. In juxtaposition to Amazon, it's been great to build a contact list that we own. We recently started Google Shopping ads and we’ll see how that goes.
What’s the best thing you read in the last year?
If you haven’t read Atomic Habits yet, I highly recommend it! I thought I was a pretty efficient individual, but this book provided some new ideas to work with your natural human inclination vs. against it. Another book I’d recommend for new entrepreneurs is The Compound Effect.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their businesses?
First off, you can’t compare your Chapter 1 to someone else’s Chapter 20. So please keep that in mind when the internet blasts all the success stories in your face (like this one).
There is always a lot of grit, doubt, and late nights that aren’t glamorous, don’t feel productive and are just shitty days. Stick with it and set your benchmarks of what you deem as “success”. That looks different for everyone.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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