For many brand owners, success on Amazon can feel elusive, and any hope of reaching the million-dollar seller’s club can dwindle as quickly as it was sparked. But for Amazon acquirers, success is but a few strategic levers away.
Global acquirer, unybrands, has its own formula for success. With more than $25 million in growth capital, the company now manages a portfolio of burgeoning brands across eight core categories.
We uncovered their top strategies for growth in a recent chat between unybrands’ Senior Director of Growth Mark Goldfinger, Head of Investments Brendan Feinberg and our CEO Daniel Sugarman.
Watch the full conversation below or keep reading for highlights. Learn how to future-proof your business like an Amazon acquirer and take your brand to the next level.
Live Chat Highlights
Scaling your brand begins with identifying your strengths and amplifying it. It’s not a matter of retooling—notes Feinberg—even when an acquirer comes into the picture. Rather, it’s a matter of cutting out inefficiencies, doubling down on your successes and expanding when the time is right.
“I’ve spoken to a lot of founders who had the same idea as us [and tried to grow internationally]...and then later walked it back because either the administrative effort or cost of VAT filings and sending product over there [becomes too much],” says Feinberg. “Many people then hunker down and say, ‘The opportunity where I started…is so meaningful and I haven’t tapped it out yet. So rather than distract myself with all this paperwork, let me get back to product development, innovation, building my brand voice, my listings and competing in the areas where I had a lot of success.’”
Similarly, Sugarman notes that timing is key when it comes to expanding to new online channels, like Walmart Marketplace or eBay.
“Sometimes people try to expand too quickly when they’re not even seeing the growth on Amazon. Amazon is a really good place to grow. If you really focus your energy there and [become] successful there…then you’re going to do really well on other channels with all that brand equity you built,” says Sugarman.
The R-O-B Model for Growth
Dubbed the R-O-B model, unybrands’ approach to growth consists of three core pillars:
- Ready - Making sure that your product data and listings are optimized and compliant
- Optimized - Tweaking prices, launching promos and experimenting with various ad strategies
- Boosted - Exploring new markets, product types and other opportunities
This is bolstered by a 100-step checklist that unybrands follows when onboarding a newly acquired brand, Goldfinger later adds. This checklist involves auditing (and professionalizing) a brand’s supply chain, PPC strategies, profit margins and more. The original owner is usually involved in nearly half of those steps during the transition period between striking a deal and handing over the keys to the brand.
Looking Outside of Amazon
Even though Amazon is the current darling of ecommerce, it would be wise to start dipping your feet into other channels sooner rather than later, according to Feinberg and Sugarman.
“The opportunity to be [an early adopter of non-Amazon channels] is massive,” says Feinberg. “Think about what competing on Amazon was like in 2013, 2014, or 2015. That’s kind of what you’re doing in a Walmart ecosystem now [or on other smaller channels]. Those channels don’t replace your Amazon channel, nor should they. But they are all going to be growing channels, and they really want to support companies being successful on their marketplaces…you can ride the wave of [each channel’s] growth in a less dog-eat-dog competitive nature than you might on Amazon, and [you can use] the expertise that you gained [from optimizing] Amazon to the nth degree.”
Sugarman adds that the ever-rising competition on Amazon forces nearly every brand owner to invest in advertising (which is now pricier than ever), whereas on other channels, the playing field is green.
“On other channels, you don’t have to invest in advertising as much because there’s not as much selection, there’s not as much heavy competition and lots of people have all sorts of challenges getting set up,” says Sugarman. “So that gives people who are getting set up properly a real advantage…and creates a ‘review moat’ to help them dominate as they scale. Then as new competition comes, they already have this foothold in the same sort of way that we saw [in the early days of Amazon].”
Using Amazon as a Compass
Fortunately, if you’re looking to expand outside of Amazon, you don’t have to start from scratch. Your experience—alongside the content you built for Amazon—can translate to other channels.
“[I was talking to a founder once] and he was making the point that [his team had] spent a lot of time and energy learning how to sell on Amazon and how to present themselves on Amazon,” recalls Feinberg. “[They had] confidence that Amazon’s rules were the right box to be playing in. So if there was some regulatory language you couldn’t use or some certification you needed, they just figured, ‘If we did it on Amazon, let’s not go recreate the wheel when we build our own website or do our Walmart channel or eBay.’”
Sugarman points out that it’s not uncommon for sellers to semi-unconsciously create new content for every channel. This is usually a result of handling each channel separately or by hand, when in reality…
“The content on Amazon is really good. It’s really deep and there’s a lot of structured data there,” says Sugarman. “This can all be mapped cleanly to these other platforms…but everyone is doing it by hand [because in the early days, everything had to be done by hand].”
Zentail now exists to make listing automation more accessible to sellers. Through its SMART Type technology, Zentail is able to act as a “central brain” and automatically translate your entire catalog to new channels, maximizing the ROI of your previous content efforts.
A Common Mistake that Amazon Sellers Make
Between doing too many things by hand and getting a little too creative with how they source products, Amazon sellers tend to fall into various traps that stunt growth.
One of Feinberg’s earliest memories is of an acquired brand that used parent-child listings liberally across their catalog. One of their top-performing listings turned out to be noncompliant with Amazon’s rules, forcing them to disassemble the child-parent listing, which hurt conversions.
This issue stemmed from a popular strategy that many sellers still employ: grouping somewhat related products into one listing, relying on a best-seller (aka, a “hero ASIN”) to drive traffic to other variants.
While the logic is sound (variation listings, after all, are powerful on Amazon because they pool together reviews and SEO juice from every related ASIN), Amazon is strict about what constitutes a variation relationship. Grouped products can’t be loosely related. Rather, they must be tied to the same base product and pivoted by attributes like size, color or pattern.
Parting Advice: “What’s One Thing that Every Seller Should Go Home and Do Today?”
Put simply, don’t lose your momentum. Whether you’re just starting out or on the verge of being acquired, the biggest sinkhole is getting too comfortable or getting easily frustrated.
“There’s no one answer. It depends on what stage every business owner is in,” says Goldfinger, “but if they’re thinking of starting to sell [to an acquirer] then my biggest piece of advice is don’t take your foot off the gas even once you’ve started talking to a potential buyer—no matter what. Until you’ve completely handed the keys over, keep your foot on the gas and keep growing and strengthening your business.”
He adds that you should always be experimenting, learning and making mistakes—plus documenting those mistakes so that you don’t make them again.
“The tough part about the question is that it’s never easy…you’re a small business operator and a competitive entrepreneur. You have to lean into that and know that it’s going to be tricky,” encourages Feinberg.
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