I Quit Selling On Amazon, Nearly Went Broke and Made My Company Even Better
BY GRACE DRUECKE
When a friend and fellow mom told me she had begun selling her own line of bedding on Amazon, I was captivated. “Tell me everything,” I said. Entrepreneurship was in my bones. At that point, I’d had a few false starts with businesses that didn’t take off, and I dreamed of creating a long-lasting company that aligned with my passions. Listening to my friend describe her newfound success as an Amazon seller, I didn’t need much convincing to sign on, too.
Choosing my product was easy: Turkish towels. It had to be Turkish towels, a longstanding obsession of mine. I happily struck out in search of the right manufacturer. I had high standards. I was picky. I didn’t want to be like everybody else. After samples from several manufacturers disappointed me, one finally stood out. I ripped open the packaging and nearly cried with happiness. My towels would be perfect.
I shipped a bulk order off to Amazon’s processing center and waited. And waited. My sales were off to a slow start. Maybe I chose the wrong product, I worried. Maybe there’s too much competition on the site. Plus, Amazon buyers expect to see reviews before they make a purchase. For a novice seller, it’s tough to establish trust.
I hustled to get reviews from the few people who did take a chance on my towels. I personally emailed each one and respectfully asked if they’d consider leaving a review. The painstaking efforts paid off. Soon my towels were featured on Amazon’s first search page. My sales picked up. I was getting five-star ratings. After a few months in the game, I racked up $30,000 in sales. Admittedly, my profit margin wasn’t huge—Amazon took 28 percent of every sale in exchange for processing and shipping the orders—but I felt like I was finally getting a grasp on this whole running-a-business thing.
Breaking away from the behemoth
Things were going great—that is, until I ran out of inventory. Amazon doesn’t like that, apparently. I reordered from my supplier quickly, but by the time I was back in stock, 6 weeks later, my towels were no longer showing up on the first page of Amazon’s search results. Sales slowed. I began floundering.
Adding to my worry, I realized I wasn’t exactly building the business I had envisioned. I didn’t have a brand of my own—not really. Amazon offered millions of eyeballs and wallets, but I was lacking the authentic connection that I really craved. If anyone asked my customers where they got their towels, they’d inevitably say Amazon, not Bali Market.
This seemed like a sign that I should venture out on my own—as terrifying as the idea seemed. Amazon was a huge safety net that provided traffic, fulfillment and customer service. Now I’d have to take on those critical tasks myself.
Selling independently also meant I needed a website, along with a brand image—fast. I had no way of researching who my past customers actually were because Amazon keeps that info top secret. I had to take a shot in the dark. In my panic, I randomly decided my customer was a twentysomething fashionista who spends her ample free time sipping margs on the beach.
Big mistake. My e-commerce site bombed big-time. Three months after going solo, I had made one sale. That’s right: ONE.
I was getting more broke by the minute. I had to fix this, but how? Why couldn’t I make a business fly? What was missing?
As it turns out, I was.
I was a mom with two kids under 5. The weight of my responsibility was heavy. I couldn’t fail again.
Building a brand—for real this time
In the midst of my professional struggles, I was settling into a new home in a new state with my husband, toddler, baby and dog. We had just moved cross-country and dragged a ton of stuff with us—too much stuff. I turned to minimalism to bring balance back to my home.
Meanwhile, time and money were running out. In late 2016, I heard about an online business course called my My Own Irresistible Brand. I could barely afford it and signed up anyway. It was do-or-die time. I was a mom with two kids under 5. The weight of my responsibility was heavy. I couldn’t fail again.
I ended up learning a lot in that course. I learned that people don’t buy from companies that are merely good at selling. Customers buy because they feel a connection so powerful, they can’t even explain it to themselves.
I thought back to my original target customer sipping cocktails on the sand. Who is that person? I asked myself. Sure, her life seemed pretty nice, but I couldn’t relate. I realized my message was about simplicity—living better with less. That was my brand.
After that realization, I changed everything. I invested in pro photography. I spent hours researching my new target customer: what she wants, what she needs, her pain points, where she shops, what she reads and how she aligns herself. I got to the core of her beliefs, which weren’t much different from mine.
Once I made that shift, The Bali Market bounced back. I saw steady sales, repeat customers and an ever-growing email list. I was able to connect genuinely with my customers through meaningful emails and blog posts. My message—once I figured out what it was—was finally getting through.
Today, I’m seeing steady growth month over month. Authenticity has been the fuel behind The Bali Market’s success. People don’t buy from brands, they buy from people. And thanks to the right branding, I found my people.
Heymama member Grace Druecke owns The Bali Market and lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., with her husband, two daughters and fluffy white dog. As a Minnesota native, she’s naturally nice with a funny accent. She spends most days covered in yogurt, Cheerios and “washable” marker.