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407 : Mike Ward – Thrift Books Story – How to sell millions of books and create your own story
23rd September 2019 • eCommerce Momentum Podcast • eCommerce Momentum Podcast
00:00:00 01:00:31

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This really is a story. A story of making a real difference and impacting the earth. See in  today’s technological world one small company can touch people around the world through commerce. Small chunks of love (Books) can end up in the furthest places by caring for customers and caring for the team members. A big takeaway from this episode is not to make the necessary financial adjustments on the backs of those who serve your business. Rather make them through technology. Very important not to forget this.



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Here is transcript- It is automated so it is not perfect but it does seem to get better over time.

Mike:                                    [00:00:00]               The physical inventory spread out around the country. And so there are times where, you know, take for example, you know, a book that sells very, very quickly, very, very popular book. We may not have a hundred copies spread out where there’s some in every site. You may just only literally have one copy that came in one hour ago. And if somebody buys it, I’m just stuck shipping it from wherever it happens to be. And so, uh, you know, that’s, that’s the challenge we have to face.

Cool voice guy:                  [00:00:30]               Welcome to the e-commerce momentum podcast where we focus on the people, the products, and the process of ecommerce selling. Today, here’s your host, Steven Peterson.

Stephen:                             [00:00:44]               Hey, it’s me. It’s Q4 got to bring up my Amazon seller tribe. Um, this is probably, you know, one of the last chances you’re going to get to join this year. So I’ll run this for a couple of weeks. But, um, the good news is you could still get in, right? They are allowing people in, but at some point they’re gonna cut it off. So I suggest you join today. Try it with 14 days for free. Okay. So you don’t like it, you don’t get value drop. Um, however, don’t only measure on the value of what you’re buying, measure on the value of the impact it has on your business. And what I love about this group, the Amazon Seller tribe is the amazing way they invest into your business. They will help you with all the questions. Go out and check out, uh, amazing, forward slash momentum dash arbitrage.

Stephen:                             [00:01:27]               Look at the testimonials. Those are real people. Reach out to them, right? You can kind of figure out who they are and go out and figure out, uh, an sm. Is it real? Are they really helpful? Will they help my business? And you will be blown away again. You get 14 days free if you join through my link only and they do pay me. So I don’t want you to, I don’t mislead anybody. Um, but I believe in them. I’m in the groups, you’ll see me and you’ll get to talk with me too. So amazing., forward slash momentum, hyphen arbitrage. I know it’s a lot momentum, hyphen arbitrage, and you’re going to get 14 day free trial on the daily fine list. Make a purchase, get your money back and then say, Huh, I can do this again. Wash, rinse, repeat, wash, rinse, repeat.

Stephen:                             [00:02:12]               Amazing., forward slash momentum arbitrage. They are going to close it. Q4 is here. It’s going to happen. Get ready. Welcome back to the ECOMMERCE momentum podcast. This is episode four Oh seven, Mike Ward of thrift Um, get ready to have your mind blown on the ability to sell millions of books a year. It still happens still to this day. Um, he dropped some stats that just blow my mind. Um, 15 million plus skews, uh, thousands of a particular book copy, ah, eight locations, some of them over a hundred thousand square foot, big as a Costco, all filled with books, no retail locations, all done online and up. Well, well over 50% of their books are sold on their site and it’s their site. They’re no third party. That’s them. And you know, obviously the rest is sold on Amazon. Um, and all grew from them starting selling on Amazon. It’s a mind blowing.

Stephen:                             [00:03:12]               Um, and Mike Ward clearly has his pulse on the company. Um, then there’s some pride in there. I mean it’s, that’s a pretty awesome thing that he’s been part of. Um, to be able to create and man, there’s employees must be so proud cause it’s an amazing story. Let’s get into the podcast. Hey, welcome back to the ECOMMERCE momentum podcast. I’m very excited today. Slurring my words here a little bit cause I’m kind of excited. This is an old school bookseller who’s made book selling my term sexy. We’ve just having a pre call conversation. How books are not sexy and some I, I think in this guy’s eyes they’re kind of sexy. Mike Ward, welcome Mike.

Mike:                                    [00:03:50]               Hi, great to be here.

Stephen:                             [00:03:52]               Would you agree books are sexy in your world?

Mike:                                    [00:03:55]               Yeah, they are. In fact, you know, when I have people in interviewing for positions, I have a bookshelf in my room with a bunch of old books on it and it’s definitely a conversation piece. I’d love to go through those. Yeah, I love books, new books and old books, but I have some books on my shelf that are from the 18 hundreds and they’re just, they’re just neat. They’re neat to look at. Um, so I, I would say that’s true of myself and it’s true of the people that work for my company to, you know, they, they’re drawn to books and so it’s a, you know, no offense to the folks, you know, for your listeners that maybe sell aquarium filters. But that’s Sorta my joke is like, hey guys, look, we’re not selling aquarium filters. We’re selling something people really mowed about. So it’s a, it’s a fun product for sure. It’s an emotional

Stephen:                             [00:04:34]               product. I mean, that is one thing about, um, oh, I just read finished. I just finished, started reading a John Adams and books like that giant big giant books. And yet you get absorbed in them. I mean, you literally can, cause I’m used to reading business books and I don’t get absorbed into them because they’re telling me, Steve, you need to make a list. You need to follow through on your list. You need to execute. You need to get up earlier. He Blah, blah, blah. All the same stuff. When I go into these other books, all of a sudden I can, I’m jousting or I’m climbing tree. I mean, it sounds silly, but it’s the truth. They really, it’s an emotional experience.

Mike:                                    [00:05:08]               Yeah, absolutely. You know, and we, we love that part of what we do. Well,

Stephen:                             [00:05:13]               let’s talk about what you do. So you’re, you have a little bookstore, right? Just a little dicky bookstore, a couple people working in it. Uh, what’s it about? Tell us about that.

Mike:                                    [00:05:23]               Uh, yeah, so more than a couple people, you know, we’ve got almost, yeah, almost, almost a thousand. We’ve got fulfillment centers spread out around the country and you know, we are selling millions of books a day. I’m sorry, a year. I wish it was a day. Um, you just large, large, large quantities of books and the model is pretty interesting. I mean, if I meet somebody and they asked me what I do for a living, I usually tell them I run an ecommerce business and you know, all of the normal ins and outs that you would expect with an ecommerce business. But there’s a big portion of our business that really looks a lot like a manufacturing business. I mean, we’re buying books from thrift stores, um, and from some libraries, uh, places like that. And we get them in large, large quantities, literally in semi-trucks and you know, hundreds of semi-trucks are going to be backing up into our network and we’re going to be offloading all of the books off of those.

Mike:                                    [00:06:20]               And then we use a lot of technology, uh, to process those and figure out what the market’s going to potentially sell using predictive analytics and a bunch of sophisticated, um, you know, some sorting equipment. And, you know, there’s also the human touch in there too. So, you know, we have to grade those books appropriately so that our customers know what, what quality the books are that they’re going to be getting. So, you know, there’s a lot of sort of processing that looks similar to what you would see in a manufacturing environment where we’re taking in a, a raw, unprocessed, you know, product or ingredient. And then after we’re done with it, we’ve added value to it and we’ve put that on the shelf and that’s what’s going to get sold online. And so we’ve got a large portion of our business that’s in that processing and fulfilling a section, you know, involved in those parts of the business. And then we’ve got what you would imagine two significant number of folks doing the listing management, the pricing management, uh, all of those things that you would typically have to manage in an ecommerce business

Stephen:                             [00:07:24]               when, when you think about, uh, cutting costs, right? Cause as I was sitting there and thinking about this because you’re talking touch points, all this operational stuff that, that technology is where the efficiency is, right? That’s it. Cause you can’t, you can’t cut wages, you can’t let people do, I’m sure. But in today’s Day and age, people have options. You really have to squeeze margin out of that technology piece. Right. And it has that really happened for you?

Mike:                                    [00:07:50]               Well, yeah, and it’s allowed us to scale. So you’re absolutely right. I mean, we can’t, um, you know, we can’t skimp on wages, especially in today’s Day and age. I mean, unemployment is at an all time low. So yeah, people have a lot of options with places that they can go to work. So yeah, we’ve put some equipment in place that makes those jobs easier, allows us to scale a little better. But yeah, fundamentally the technology is what allows us to find the right books that we’re going to put for sale and to skip over the ones that are not going to be able to be sold. And so, so yes. So you’re trimming and you know, you talk about cutting and trimming, that’s where you do it, is you just avoid touching the books that, you know, you’re not going to be able to make money on. So smart. TCIS all right. So I,

Stephen:                             [00:08:40]               uh, I want to get to the story about inventing systems and that spirit of entrepreneurial innovation because to me, you’re a big company, Mike. You’re not supposed to be that way. So I want to get there, but I want you to go back. Okay.

Mike:                                    [00:08:53]               Talk about how, how, how does, how does the reef books come about? I mean, where does that come from? It was just something, you know, uh, well take me all the way back. Tell me how you, how we performed. Well, so to be fair, I wasn’t there at the very beginning. I came in sort of, uh, at the entry level when it was small still. But the idea how many staff were on there when you were there? Oh, so we had one facility, well, when I came full time, I, you know, that was a small facility with maybe 20, uh, warehouse workers working part time for the most part and maybe six or seven people working in the office. So this is early stage. Yeah. So, and prior, prior to that I was attracted to the business. Um, you know, like a lot of entrepreneurs that listen to your podcast.

Mike:                                    [00:09:41]               I was always interested in, you know, ideas that I saw out there that looked interesting. And, and this was one that a friend of mine had started. And so I was doing some work for them. Just moonlighting, you know, my full time job was writing code. I’m an engineer by background. And so I was writing code for a mutual fund facility and leading a development team there. And then in the evenings I was helping them, my, I was helping thrift books write some code for their shipping department and uh, interfacing with the u s ps we were using at the time and uh, and putting our first website up as well. So the genesis of the company really goes all the way back to Amazon, which I know a lot of your listeners, listeners are interested in. But, um, you know, Amazon opened up their API, opened up an API, allowing third party sellers to list books at the time was the primary category.

Mike:                                    [00:10:34]               And we, they’re the guy that founded the company, had access to books and he said, let’s, let’s try and put these online. And so it worked. And uh, kinda grew fairly slowly and organically over about three years. And that’s when I was helping a little bit from the sidelines. And then we came full time. Myself and a couple of other guys decided to come full time and do the proverbial quitting of the day job and going to the startup. And then we put the pedal to the metal and really sought to scale the business as quickly as we could. But you know, the genesis of the idea was Amazon making that decision to open up their platform to third party sellers, which is really fundamentally a very, very strange idea if you think about it. I mean, I bought the other company I see is Elon Musk doing it with these Tesla stuff,...