Todd Snively is one of the well-known names on Amazon. He’s been a professional, third-party seller via the Amazon marketplace for well over a decade and is an established consultant in this field. After a career ending enforcement action in the commodity trading sector resulted in the failure of his brokerage firm in 2002, Todd was in desperate need of new revenue channels. He had a mountain of debt, which he needed to resolve quickly. Selling customer returned goods on ebay was the initial solution, but when Amazon presented itself with an opportunity in 2009, Todd hasn’t looked back since. Thanks to his online learning platform, Expert University, users can now follow in his footsteps and work towards the same level of success he and others have.
Todd answered some of our questions about his career and the value of becoming a third party seller on Amazon.
Thanks for your time, Todd. What would you say is your biggest regret in life, and how did you make amends for it?
I had a business that was failing and I had to decide whether to call it quits, admit failure, and simply shut it all down and start over. At the time I wasn’t man enough to do the right thing. I had made all the trappings of success part of myself. Without all the money, nice cars, big house, it would mean, in my mind at that time, that I was less of a person. I could have done the right thing, the hard thing and still have had a decent amount of money left over to start again. Instead I made some terrible decisions that ultimately resulted in an enforcement action, and the ultimate failure was ten times, no, 100 times worse than it had to be and it hurt a lot of people much more than it should have. That caused me to really examine how I was thinking. My thinking was irrational. Once I was able to realize that, fixing it was much easier than I could have imagined. There’s no way to make total amends. Acknowledging that I was wrong, and being transparent about what happened, has allowed me to move forward. I’ve spent the last twenty years becoming the kind of person I should have been all along. Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring change and I am just thankful I survived mine and was able to grow as a person.
Describe what Expert University does and why it is an important tool for young entrepreneurs.
Expert University exists because my partner, Chris Keef, and myself belief young entrepreneurs need mentors with some grey in their hair. It’s great to have role models your own age, but when you get to work with long term, successful businessmen, you have additional, unique opportunities. We try to level the playing field for anyone interested in learning the right way to sell on Amazon and getting the young folks involved and headed in the right direction can be life changing for them. Many times it’s the parents coming to us to teach them, just so they can incorporate their kids into the business. I think that’s an amazing thing a parent can do for their child.
Why did you switch to Amazon selling and what do you see as some of the benefits of choosing this ecommerce platform?
I started on ebay in March, 2002. Every now and then I took a look at Amazon, because when they first started up in 1994 it was actually on my birthday! They only sold books until 1998 when the moved into music and videos. Most people don’t know this, but Amazon had a tough time in 2004 with Toys R Us suing them for violation of an exclusivity agreement and again in 2007 the had a big problem with Borders. So, I was under the impression that selling on Amazon was too complicated, and not for a smaller seller like myself. Finally in 2009 I saw an opportunity on Amazon to sell customer returned goods, and the competition was not as stifling as it was for brand new goods. Amazon changed quite a bit in 2012 and evolved into a model that allowed for the sharing of sales amongst competitive sellers, which was a ground breaking change. We picked up on it right away and started training failed Private Label sellers how to add the wholesale model to their arsenal. Amazon proved that this buy box rotation model benefited their customers, and they haven’t changed it a bit for almost a decade now. It’s truly the only platform out there that provides so much to the Amazon seller, for so little.
How important is goal setting and financial planning for your business model?
This model is built for scaling. You cannot properly scale a business without setting goals and proper financial planning. It’s a little addictive actually. Once someone actually sees the proof of concept with their own eyes, the very first thing the want to do is initiate growth. Like with most things, there’s a right way and a wrong way. We teach people how to do it the right way.
What type of products/goods do you retail via Amazon, and which of these goods are generally the most successful? Why do you think this is the case?
We are category and product agnostic, which is to say we’ll sell any ethical, legal product that is profitable. Because of this we have products in almost every single Amazon category. The one thing that’s so important about our methods is that we never go after the most successful products. We go after products that are selling well, but have lower competition, and are in the beginning of the product’s lifecycle. It’s better to have 100 products selling 100 units each per month than 1 product selling 10,000 units a month. The diversity of your inventory is a big safety hedge for your business. The lower sales volumes generally allow for longer periods of profitability than the rocket scenario of a product taking off and burning out quickly. The good news is that there’s a huge number of already selling name brand products that need more competitive sellers. That’s what our software, Wholesale Inspector, is really designed to do – find the products that are already selling profitably that need additional competitive sellers. We have also made all the arrangements necessary for our members to actually purchase those products.
Finally, how significantly has the ongoing coronavirus pandemic affected your operations? Have you seen a change in customer buying habits/trends?
Overall the volume of sales at Amazon due to the virus have exploded. Amazon had to hire over 175,000 new workers just to attempt to deal with the increased demand of a country now forced to go online and buy everyday needs. Our business sold a years worth of product in about three weeks. We had to add more workers, a second shift and work weekend hours just to try to keep up with all the demand. Customers are buying more online, more often. Prior to the virus, 6% of all Amazon Prime members purchased every day – that number is now up to 21%. Everyone likes to throw around this term of the “new normal”. What is true is Amazon will not be returning to the sales numbers that existed pre-virus; the future looks incredibly positive for e-commerce in general, and Amazon specifically.
Todd, thank you for your time!