Robert Weisberg Interview with Nick Shucet

Nick: (00:03)

Alright. What’s up, everyone? Welcome to the Million Dollar Sellers podcast. I am your host, Nick Scucet, today we've got Robert on the call. Thanks for coming on with us today, Robert. Why don't you let the audience know where you're calling in from?

A Brief Introduction of Robert Weisberg

Robert: (00:20)

Hi, I'm Robert Weisberg. I'm calling in from Coconut Creek, south Florida. I'm near Boca Raton for people who know the Southeast part of Florida.

Nick: (00:31)

Nice. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you're from New York, right?

Robert: (00:36)

Yeah. Originally from Oceanside New York. And I actually came down here to go to college, FIU Florida International University many years ago.

Nick: (00:46)

Cool. So you just decided to stay down there or did you go back to New York for a little bit?

Robert: (00:51)

I actually didn't go back. I decided to stay here. There were a lot of reasons especially business reasons as well.

Nick: (00:59)

Oh, gotcha man. So you know, we'd like to know a little bit more about how you got into this crazy journey on Amazon. I know you're kind of like a legend in the e-commerce arena. You've been in the game for a while. Definitely seen a lot of things. How'd you get started, man?

Entrepreneurial Journey

Robert: (01:17)

Well, I could say that we've been in e-commerce before it was even called e-commerce. It was called back in the day, Mail order or Direct mail.

From Analog World to Digital World

Robert: (01:28)

You know, when e-commerce came along, I always said to people, that this was not reinventing something that wasn't there. The difference was taking something from the analog world and taking it over to the digital world. So how we actually started, our roots were that my brother and I, when I was in high school, was in junior high. We started a mail-order business, selling baseball cards and advertising in trade publications.

The Competition

Robert: (01:55)

That's when baseball cards really started taking off. Instead of having just one company make the cards which was tops, we had Fleer and Donruss enter the picture. We had three competitors in a business that had been very old and stagnant and just a very conservative type of business. And here were two new upstarts trying to expand on the business. 

The Basement Factory

Robert: (02:18)

So it really started taking off we're filling orders out of our basement. And we had a daily pickup from UPS and I tell people, nobody in the 1980s was doing anything in their house where they had a daily pickup from UPS. I mean, it was really something else and it was completely manual. We had no technology whatsoever. We're talking about pencils and paper.

We're talking about writing labels for the customers and filling out a UPS book with their address and their name. And I mean, even though on a daily basis, it's not like we're filling hundreds of orders. Everything we did was manual from opening baseball cards to sorting them to you know, just putting the orders together. There was no such thing as some fancy inventory system, you worked with what you had.

And so the business started to evolve. I ended up going to college down in Miami and we continued the business. While I was in college, my brothers were in high school and we still did mail orders. And eventually, he came down to Florida, he went to school down here as well.

The First Warehouse

Robert: (03:29)

And we got our first warehouse where we started with wholesale. We decided to pivot from retail mail order and go to wholesale, and we ended up later selling to big-box retailers. It was a complete, as I call it, pivot from dealing with retail orders, kind of one at a time to dealing with big-box retailers. And learned the ropes from there, with names that are even around today, like Big Lots was one of our first customers.

Later we sold Home Shopping Network to just a multitude of people and it was a heck of a journey.

The Evolution

Robert: (04:11)

As the business evolved, we at one given point pulled back from the big box retailers. We went more to a wholesale distribution model, where we stock the goods. And then as things evolved later on in early 2012 or so, we realized that we had to do some retail online, again. That started with eBay then it came on to Amazon. And believe it or not, back in those days eBay was actually a better place to sell a lot of the products that we had.

Nick: (04:46)

That's pretty impressive, man. So what, you got started like 40-something years ago? It sounds like. right?

Robert: (04:52)

It's a weird thing, but I basically have been in business my entire life. I could say that about my brother as well because he's been with me. We even sold chocolate bars in the school. I mean, we did all sorts of things. So neither of us has really worked for anyone else other than a few minor things along the way for college purposes and things like that.

Nick: (05:18)

That's impressive, man. I always love when I hear about people who I know, they've worked for themselves more than working for other people. Do you feel like you were always kind of meant to be an entrepreneur? Why didn't you just get a job and follow in the footsteps of everyone else?

Robert: (05:38)

You know, I don't know. I don't think either one of us, my brother's name is Tom. I don't think either one of us had sat down and said, “Okay, this is it we're gonna be working at this forever.” But after a while, you've been doing it for years and years. You have setbacks, you're able in some way to overcome them or to bootstrap past them.

And at some given time we just felt okay, we're gonna make a go of this, one way or the other. I mean, it was not something we really talked about, but just something we felt and it's been that way along, you know, we've been hands-on with the business. That's one thing I could say is we've been hands-on throughout everything, so we're involved and that's the way it really has been.

I mean, neither one of us really takes sick days or anything. I mean, obviously, if you have to whatever, or we do have some vacations here and there, obviously not without the COVID situation. But it's always been a situation where he's been on top of things here or if he goes outta town, I am. So it's just something that really evolved over the years. Not something we definitively planned on initially.

Nick: (06:56)

Nice man. I can really just imagine you and your brother in that basement grinding out some work, writing out addresses, and opening up cards. You know I think of when I started, which was, you know, like 2014, 2015. I had my computer and stuff like that, but we didn't have all these fancy research tools and all this stuff. And it was a little different for me doing things manually, but you just completely blow that out of the water.

I can only imagine all the things you've done and seen and run into. And you know, I know in our group in MDS, if you get a stamp of approval from Robert and the group that is huge because you provide a lot of feedback to people in the group. And you've just seen so many things not work and you know what works. And when Robert says something works you better try it out.

You better look into it because there's a good chance it's something that's going to really have a good impact on your business. What are some things that you've really seen recently that are just really different from how you started out? That has really helped take your business to the next level for you.

From Manual to Digital Systems

Robert: (08:20)

Well, you have all these like software tools and you know, going from a manual system. I mean, when I say manual, everything was like picking up the phone, and trying to reach people. Trying to, let's say, hope that those people have what you want and know what you want and chasing after people on the back and forth. Well, you know, when the internet really started to explode, so many things, so many resources were available.

For example, let's say Upwork or Fiverr. Just single tasks that you need to get done on the technology end of things that you need just resources like Facebook. Obviously resources like the MDS Facebook group, where so many people have different talents. They're in areas that I've never been involved in, or they're doing marketing that I've never done before.

And you know, everyone's got their little talents and I point out different people I feel are just amazing in what they do. And I think of how hard it was because we were kind of insulated. You can't get that kind of feedback. You can't get answers so quickly. Even in the MDS Facebook group, If you need an answer to something, you could just post it and someone's gonna have an answer or some ideas for you.

You could not do that before and it was difficult to get people that you could trust obviously.

Nick: (09:56)

Yeah, I agree, man. One of my favorite things about the group is that something that might take you a couple of weeks to figure out could literally be answered within minutes. Just by posting it in the group, because they've already figured it out. Or maybe you check out the template library and like someone already put a process together up there on how to fix something that you've been struggling with.

I really think this speaks to your adaptability as an entrepreneur because you'll see a lot of people who have been doing something as long as you have. Like they get stuck in their ways, right? They get stuck in their habits, but clearly, you have just adapted constantly found new ways of doing things, and are very open-minded. You know, I think a lot of entrepreneurs start out doing everything themselves.

And it can be pretty tough for us to go on Fiverr, Upwork, or even hire someone locally to take over something that we used to do ourselves. Did you ever struggle with that at all?

Struggling With Change 

Robert: (11:08)

Well, I'll say it can be a struggle to change things, even with employees when they've done things a certain way, and especially with technology as well. I will say there are definitely bumps along the road when I implement something new. I'm very cautious about that. Take for example a product like Shipstation, which is one of the most functional software tools that we use. It's very consistent.

It's rarely buggy, it works, it gets the job done, and then it becomes sort of an appliance. And one of the things I'll say is when we started in business and then years went by and then there was something called the computer. Back in... I remember the first one I bought was like $2,000. And I had a green monitor. And when I got a yellow color monitor, like 16 colors, it cost me like $600.

Even a dot matrix printer, that old printer that you see at the auto shop still has the carbons and all that was like $300.

I mean, back in those days, it wasn't like it was a small expense. And when we finally started to get involved with technology there were bumps along the way. It was more of a hobby and experimental. So it was not considered an appliance.

What Was Ordered vs. What Was Delivered

Robert: (12:24)

Now everything's taken for granted. Things like that are an appliance, but you do, when you start relying on them, you want them to work and it can be frustrating when some of the providers drop the ball and they kind of leave you out in the cold.

That hasn't really happened with Shipstation, I just use that as an example, but with other software tools yes, they make promises, we implement, you spend a lot of time in trouble and not just the money aspect, it's the time aspect. Yeah.

when you start relying on software, you want them to work. And it can be frustrating when some of the providers drop the ball and leave you out in the cold.

And then you find out that it doesn't work the way they say it's supposed to work. And the CEO of the company tells me, well, we've gotta be patient through bugs.

Amazon and Other Platforms Don’t Care About Your Bugs

Robert: (13:02)

And of course, Amazon and other platforms don't want to hear you've had bugs with some third-party software, you know, there's no excuse as far as that goes. So we do adapt. I don't say we change processes or things drastically just like that. And it is a process, even with a small team, we have just a few employees and as such you just have to show them certain things. And I just try to make things a little easier bit by bit, rather than try to do everything all at once.

Nick: (13:34)

Gotcha man. So just thinking back on your journey, getting on Amazon, what were some of those early hurdles you faced? 

What year was it when you got started on Amazon? 

The Challenges of Starting Early on Amazon

Robert: (13:44)

We got started in 2012. It was like October, so just the time of Christmas. And I'll tell you there were many challenges.

The Difficulty of Listing New Products

Robert: (13:54)

The main challenge for us was that many of the items that we sold and offered were not in the Amazon system, getting listings made was very difficult when we had to do hundreds to thousands of listings. It was actually easier to make listings on eBay than it was on Amazon. Lots of buzz, you really didn't have flat file uploads. It was kind of one at a time, everything was very primitive. 

If there were uploads, just making the listing, there were too many things that went wrong in that process.

Sorting Through Junks

Robert: (14:33)

So on the Seller Central side of things, there were a lot of problems there, but one of the things I got a joke about as we've evolved with Seller Central is, the way I see it, a lot of the stuff there is just the same, like junk that's been there for like 10 years. I mean, it’s under a nicer front end, but there's a lot of shortfalls in there. And I just kind of wonder, I mean, they are things that are completely obsolete that they've gotten rid of, that they still leave in there.

They don't clean up, you know? So I kind of wonder about that. I see that there are changes in Seller Central. They have improved things like feeds, they have improved a lot of things, but in some ways, they haven't. You know, you're trying to upload or create some sports t-shirt, and in the listing, it'll say how many gears does this have? What about the engine? 

I mean, these are things that Amazon can do a far better job with if they really wanted to, you know, it doesn't seem to be a great effort other than let's say kind of the look of it, which is again, somewhat better than it used to be, but do we really need that? So in a lot of cases, it's trial and error for us to get things working or to have gotten them working.

So from the beginning, the biggest challenge was getting the listings up there.

Nick (15:52)

Okay. Yeah. I can agree with you, man. I was looking at the inventory file template this morning and it's just like, you know they have their category-specific ones now. But even the category-specific ones, still have stuff in there that doesn't really seem relevant. And it gets a little confusing on why it's actually in there. And then you feel like you need to fill it all out.

Right? You don't want some competitor to throw some crazy keyword in there that gets your stuff shut down.

Do You Know That You Can Customize Your Flat File?

Robert: (16:22)

Well, I'll tell you a secret. I don't even know if it's a secret, but there are some things that are out there that you don't even know. This was told to me by Keith Mander, who is in MDS and he's like a software guru, He's developed products and stuff. And I reached out to him and even though we're in completely different time zones and he's in Europe and everything, he made time for me.

Well, believe it or not, I've been doing this for a long time, but I didn't even know this. You could take the flat file, and the initial product sheet from your category, and you can delete columns. Now, the first time you do this, you wanna do trial and error. You wanna make sure, you gotta be careful, even though it says you may not delete, there are certain specific columns that you absolutely need.

So you have to be aware of that, but where it says like I'm doing, let's say apparel and it has gears and just all sorts of weird stuff, whatever, like what's the size of the motor, and all these other weird fields that make it like hundreds of columns wide. You can delete those columns, save the file, and work. It just makes it a little easier to work with something that's not unwieldy because it really is.

And I never knew that. I never knew that till he said that. And no one from support will ever tell you that.

Nick: (17:44)

Yeah. So I guess you could delete those columns and then you just save that as your own template. And when you gotta throw up another listing, you just use that one, if it's in the same category.

Robert: (17:54)

Right. And I will say... you know, part of the things I say, which is weird. If you go and sell in central, if I go in one of these apparel items still, if I manually look inside there, sometimes we have to make a little minor change or something. You see all these weird fields that again there's no reasoning for it. It's just no one bothered to clean things up.

I think it just creates a lot of confusion for new sellers, and things like this.

Nick: (18:21)

Yeah. It can definitely be pretty intimidating, I know. When I first started, I was doing listings just like, you know in that user interface on Seller Central, creating a new listing and it was tedious. And we had a large catalog that we wanted to get up and, I remember the first time I looked at a CSV file, I was like, screw this. And I just threw it to the side.

And it was like another year before I even considered it. Cause I've turned myself into a spreadsheet guy, but naturally I was not. So I shy away from it.But man, once I figured out how to put like a thousand listings up at one time, that was a game-changer. You can literally accomplish some pretty amazing things, literally overnight. And it's a little different from the private-label game, right?

I was involved in arbitrage and wholesale, so we had all these items we could throw up and you can literally be doing thousands of dollars in sales the next day if you figure that out. I know most of the stuff you started out with is reselling on your own, just buying small amounts of units, right? And then you got into the wholesale stuff. What are you doing mostly now? What does your business look like now?

A Hybrid Model Amazon Business

Robert: (19:47)

Right now it's, I would say, a hybrid model, we still have a lot of branded items. We have some private-label items. In the next couple of years, I hope to release more private-label items in what I call my main company. I do have a second company that's strictly private label. So that model is the branding model. The management of it, everything's all the thinking behind It is just one way because it's a private label.

So that in a way, makes that company simpler to operate. I mean, I'll just say from top to bottom, when you really think about it compared to my operations, which I will say lean more toward branded items.

But we do have the private label and we're looking to expand on it. And possibly some partnerships or whatever as well, you know, in areas that we either are familiar with or we're also looking for areas that are new to us, you know, that we're willing to take a shot on, knowing Amazon somewhat over the years.

Nick: (20:53)

Have you guys done anything or are doing anything, on other marketplaces at all?

The Challenges of Selling at Walmart

Robert: (20:58)

We're doing Walmart. Which for branded items is extremely difficult and problematic. And I think that is gonna lead to Amazon always having the far upper hand on them. Because what made Amazon big was the size and depth of the catalog. This puts them at a tremendous advantage over anybody who would want to enter the marketplace.

It’s extremely difficult and problematic to sell branded items on Walmart. But, Amazon leads the space with the size and depth of its catalog. 

The millions and millions of listings. The depth of it. The brands have it.

Walmart Blocks Brands Without Notice

Robert: (21:32)

Walmart basically blocks huge amounts of brands. They block entire categories without notice, without any documentation. There's no such thing as Amazon, with UN gating and things like that.

The Uncertainty of Listing

Robert: (21:47)

So with Walmart, it's far more challenging because until you try let's say a given brand, you don't even know if they will accept a listing from you. And as far as selling on Walmart, there's no interaction whatsoever. I mean, as far as what abilities we've had, I think that they have a lot of problems in that area. I've actually spoken to them in person a few years ago when I got started.

And when I got started, I was far more Gung-Ho about the future possibilities at Walmart and much less so now. And as far as the private label goes, it's okay over there.

Growth in the Future Will Be Restricted by Amazon

Robert: (22:27)

Any seller that can't sell on there or get an account? I wouldn't worry that much about it. And I think that their growth in the future is also going to be restricted by some of the things that Amazon has already laid the groundwork on.

The Challenges of Selling on eBay

Robert: (22:43)

The other platform, we still sell a little bit on eBay, and I kinda wonder if we were to do a seminar on what you could do wrong to run a corporation from the CEO standpoint, eBay would be the case study because they were number one.

No Improvement in Appearance Since the 90s

Robert: (23:02)

And the problem that they have, I'll say there's two problems they have; The first, it's a throwback to the 1990s. That site looks a lot like it did in 1989 or 1990. 

Lack of Credibility

Robert: (23:15)

The second problem they have is, that they built their credibility, I think in some minds, customers feel safer with Amazon per se. But I think what happened was, while they were asleep at the wheel all these years, Amazon was picking up their customers. They were not getting any new customers so a lot of eBay customers are still loyal. 

They still are great with collectibles. If you have collectibles or limited or eyeball things, eBay's actually a good marketplace for them. But the problem that they did have was that over a seven or eight-year period, all the new customers were going to Amazon. And that is just a killer. I mean, it's just unbelievable people don't realize how strong and how good eBay was back in the day.

Nick: (24:00)

Yeah. I actually got started on eBay, man. That was my introduction to e-commerce. It was retail dropshipping on eBay back in like 2014. And once I made enough money there I moved over to Amazon and you know, kind of left eBay behind. But yeah, it did kind of like stagnate and didn't really change. The website does still look the same, you know, ever since I remember being on there.

And you're right though, there are certain items that do really well. I went to a conference a while back and this guy was talking about selling like nineties app CDs that you couldn't really find in a lot of places anymore. And it was really interesting, just like super, super niche stuff that was selling for ridiculous amounts on eBay. You go to a Goodwill shop and you buy it for like 10 or 20 bucks.

And somebody bought it for like $300 on eBay. It was like, you know, some artist made a rap CD like that was from some small place in Southern California or something like that.

Robert: (25:21)

Yeah, eBay. There are some very big sellers on there and I've met them in person. I mean, like just enormous sellers. And I met some guy in automotive a few years ago in Las Vegas. And I think it was just bad from the top. An idea that I had many years ago that they did not implement, and nobody really did. I had the idea that why couldn't do kind of a home shopping channel online? 

Once, we had good bandwidth, video, and such. In other words, to take that home shopping kind of thing. And somehow, I don't know if it would be like a section of eBay to do that, because that kind of format actually still works to this day. With a lot of customers, QVC, and HSN, they're still big. No one in e-commerce thinks about them or whatever. 

But believe me, I still know some people at Home Shopping Network. They do an enormous amount of business. Obviously, they do a lot on their website now, but the TV component is still a good part of their business.

Nick: (26:33)

Yeah. My mom still buys me stuff off the QVC. Like the TV thing all the time. She'll like, take a picture of her TV and be like, “Nick! Nicholas, what do you think of this ring I saw here? I wanna get this for you and send it to you.” Like all the time she's doing that type of stuff.

Getting Your Electronic Products Out There

Robert: (26:53)

You Know, when you think about it, a lot of those items, in that realm, you think of like housewares things that appeal to a wide amount of people. But you know what? Even when it comes to technology, selling people technology items is always difficult. Especially on Amazon.

Demonstrative Videos

Robert: (27:10)

They could see it, but they couldn't touch it. There may be some videos on there and they may think that's good enough. But if you are demonstrating the shark vacuum, you know, the self-vacuum thing… We got one here and we bought a large wholesale deal and there was one thrown in there. I hadn't used one of those in years, because the one I used years ago was really primitive by Roomba, whatever.

And this one, which was fairly inexpensive, I just set it doing like the upper floor of my offices here. And I go, “Wow, this is really doing a great job.” But I wasn't even gonna think of it because I really haven't, You know, I had an original Roomba years ago. And I thought it could only do this if you have these segments where you're trying to show different things like that to customers, not usually buying those items, you know.

I see it as an opportunity rather than just a video. Here's a product video, a quick little commercial-type thing. It's a different kind of selling, it's gutsy, but I don't think it takes that much with the technology we have to have a little studio and to test something like that.

Creating Shopify Website for Products

Robert: (28:16)

The other thing I want to get into is Shopify websites. Okay. On myself from my company, I've had a wholesale website since 1997, which is kind of funny. And just like an informational, not something where they could place an order due to the complexity. On the Shopify site, my second company, which is all strictly private label, has a Shopify site.

It does relatively okay. Compared to certain other people, it is not where I want it to be. And I want to also, for my company, with the branded stuff, I really need to develop some websites, not just one due to the nature of what we sell. And I need to try to get a little bit of traffic and some sales, I have no choice, you know, just based on blocking of brands and difficulties and changes and all that kind of stuff.

Nick: (29:12)

Yeah. I'm in the same boat as you man. Like I have all these ideas and, and I've, you know, some of them are already in motion and we have like a Shopify store, but it's nowhere near what I want it to be. And you know, the hot topic right now for Amazon is, external traffic, drive external traffic to your listings. And then it's like, well, why don't I just drive external traffic to my own listings right on my Shopify store?

You Get More When You Own the Customer

Robert: (29:42) 

It's a difficult thing. And I know there are some people in MDS talking about this, who've had success with Shopify. When you own the customer, especially with selling online, there are so many more things you could do down the line. If you have lines that continue to grow and expand. Amazon is difficult because they own the customer. It's their customer. 

And you know, when you really look at it, it becomes a decision. And I think that sometimes you have to modify that. You have to make some changes here and there. Maybe you try both, you know maybe you try your website for a little while.

I've heard people say different things the way they look at it. And it's no easy task. And for me, it's just getting some of the right advice too, because of the complexity of what I need to do, and how I need to execute that, It's been a tough one. I'll tell you, I mean, we have a framework of something in place, but it's the marketing and the final touches on the website per se. 

And for me, in some cases, my websites may be what I consider a website of items and not necessarily have the cohesiveness I would like to have ideally.

Amazon in the Next Hundred Years

Nick: (31:10)

Yeah. You know, what's interesting is a lot of us that get some success on Amazon, we all kind of end up saying the same thing, right? Like we hate not owning the customer. We want to have more control over our business. We hate waking up to a suspension and all of a sudden we're missing out on thousands of dollars in sales. And it kind of makes me think about the life cycle of Amazon.

Like is Amazon going anywhere… and I'm wondering if you think about like over the next hundred years or something. And guys like us say, “Hey, you know what, we're gonna depend less on Amazon and do our own thing.” Do you think, like in the world of entrepreneurs, that there are enough entrepreneurs that are gonna walk the path that we already have, that are gonna keep Amazon afloat? 

Because the majority of their sales come from third parties. We know that. So in your opinion, do you think that is just kind of a cycle that's gonna go on for a very long time?

Previous Wrong Prediction

Robert: (32:15)

Well, I've been wrong about some things. I kind of thought over the last few years that Amazon would make, let's say policy adjustments to try to actually squeeze the smallest of sellers. The really small sellers. And there are a lot of really small sellers on Amazon too. There's nothing against them, by the way.

They made policy changes over the years, but they have not tightened the screws completely to eliminate them or to almost say, if you're not selling this much per month, we don't really want you or whatever it may be.

They have made changes with storage allotments for people that were storing large volumes of books and things and stuff like that. I mean the next 50 years of technology, everything, it's a very tricky thing to kind of predict.

Total Focus on Amazon Will Produce the Biggest ROI

Robert: (33:07)

I think that when you focus your efforts on Amazon and this is where it's really tough, you get your biggest ROI on your time, on your money, and the total performance. So I've seen people that take a really bitter stance at Amazon because Amazon does something that really impacts them. And boy, I know it. There are a couple of things recently that are gonna impact me possibly to a substantial degree. 

Don’t Go Around Burning Bridges

Robert: (33:43)

Okay. But you still have to think, okay, what's best for you? You don't want to go out and just burn bridges because I'm gonna show them, I'm gonna show them that I can triple my eBay sales. And maybe you can, and maybe you can. But the biggest problem is saying, okay, here we are. We're listed on Walmart. Walmart's gonna be the savior. We're gonna focus a hundred percent of our efforts.

Or this month, we're gonna put 80% of our time into Walmart instead of 80% of our time into Amazon, because we want this return. And we know in a few months that Walmart's gonna be, you know, substantial. And it's gonna be half of our Amazon sales, or whatever you think it might be. And then you find out... I say the bitter pill is, the biggest return on time, money and resources is gonna be Amazon.

If you deploy a lot of your company, resources, whatever they are, even if you're a one-man show. If you focus on those other channels or your own website, your return on that, at least in the short run is going to be very small. And that's where it becomes tough. So I think each business has to look at its model and has to look at what they're selling and be aware of everything around them as much as possible.

But you don't wanna dump and get out of something and make something drastic where it's gonna cost you sales or money on Amazon.

First, See the Smoke Before the Fire

Robert: (35:05)

Because one day they may make some kind of change. I always talk about pivoting. We've done it a number of times here. It's not something to be taken lightly, and it's not something to even try to forecast like saying, okay, I know this is gonna happen. And so I'm gonna do that.

If Target was gonna make a third-party marketplace, I think it could be much bigger than Walmart. They have a much higher demographic of customers... but Amazon has a bigger catalog size.

There is smoke before fire sometimes, and over years of business, you can make a judgment call, but you don't wanna be rash or drastic about it. I do think Amazon is going to keep this model because this model is what has the advantage of Amazon over anybody. If Target tomorrow was gonna make a third-party marketplace It's not a problem.

I mean, I think they could be much bigger than Walmart, actually. They have a much higher demographic of customers. They have more of an Amazon demographic customer at Target, but if they were to do it, Amazon would have major advantages over them as far as the size of the catalog. So they have to figure out a way to deploy a very big catalog as fast as they possibly can.

Other Platforms That Could Do Better

Nick: (36:12)

Yeah. I think that's definitely some words of wisdom coming from you, man. Like at the end of the day, Amazon has so many people on there just ready to buy stuff. And there's like, I don't buy stuff on Amazon very often, which is kind of funny. But like you see the emails that they send in the marketing that they do.

Like, even if you're not running PPC or doing advertising on Amazon, they're still showing people your products in ways that are different than just the search engine, right? Like, “Hey, this is back in stock” and they send an email or, “Hey, we recommend this product to you.” And they send an email or someone gets a push notification on the app.

And you know, those are things they don't even really... as far as I know, they don't really fill us in on those details, but I know that that stuff is happening. And people just trust Amazon. So they buy stuff. And you know, they've got that one button that you can click and say, “Hey, is this the address you want this shipped to?” Yes? bam. They bought it. 

And that leverage is huge. And I agree with you 100%, man. Like when you put your time in on Amazon, they're handling so much stuff for you that it is just such a good use of your time. And that's what makes it hard getting off, like doing your own thing. Not necessarily getting off Amazon, but like you try to go on Shopify and build your store, and like, no one is just gonna show up and buy your product.

Right? You gotta make this happen and being dependent on Amazon, we don't learn that skill. Are there resources you've found recently that are kind of helping you that you've found to be valuable to kind of learn those skills that you need to make that happen?


Robert: (38:12)

Well, I've looked randomly at different websites and what they... you know, “tips and tricks.” Some YouTube videos. Sometimes YouTube can be helpful too, but I have been reaching out to MDS guys and asking specific questions. Everything's different. You can't just take someone else's idea and just modify it. And now it's going to work for you.

You have to just think about different things that may have worked for them or even better things that have not worked for people. You know, why chase something down that five people tell you did not work out for them?


Robert: (38:46)

And when you look at e-commerce, I will say something else I'll point out, which is Google. They dropped the ball completely. So as big a company as Google is, and boy, they were certainly aware of e-commerce. But they, Google shopping, is not even a fraction of what they wanted it to be. There's always been a thought “Why don't they just buy eBay.”

But would that be such a great fit for them? The way eBay is? It's almost like a step back. Google has completely failed on e-commerce to what I understand. When I say average person, I'm not talking about people like you and me, okay? Amazon has become a search engine for merchandise. And that has been the failure of Google. People used to go to Google.

I'm not saying that they don't go to Google. Let's say products. They don't know that they're Googling. You know, they don't know the specific product, but they're Googling to find products, to find a certain type of need—to fill a need. Let's say so they may go to Google, “Hey, I need something that can do this.” And then it puts them on the trail, but they go to Amazon to search for products.

And that has been the failure of Google in a major way. People think Amazon is a search engine. I'm not kidding. I've seen, you know, data that shows that some of the things they search there, sometimes they search like Google terms in Amazon. They consider it a search engine, you know, for anything, not just product. That's crazy.

Target and Walmart

Robert: (40:15)

So I will say that Google's dropped the ball. Ebay's dropped the ball. I think Target can do a heck of a lot more. And Walmart also. Obviously, they waited so many years. So, when people hear that like, “Oh, Walmart is growing like crazy.” When you start a little lower number, you grow bigger, you start at zero, and tomorrow... I tell you, Nick, we got a thousand dollars in sales, we've got a thousand dollar increase.

And then I say, I don't want to tell you that. But we sold like two items for $500 a piece, you know, when it comes down to it, When it comes down to it, you know, Walmart, I think they've done... they started that very slow. I think things about the confusion there is that it's a store. Are you searching for online? You had the store element.

I think that confuses some customers. There's no doubt about it. And target. I think the advantage they have is the store pickup thing. They're getting much better delivered to your car, things like that. Like I said, a better demographic, and somehow I think there's going to be other ways for us to sell.

Facebook and Other Platforms

Robert: (41:24)

Or to sell on places like Facebook or other social media that just have not been developed yet.

Any Exit Strategies?

Nick: (41:32)

I agree, man. I've seen... I get updates on some of the technology. Things or the patents that some of these companies file for. And I've seen some interesting things come up like, you know. Facebook's in there trying to create this technology where they can just, you can check out on Facebook. And you can just buy stuff on Instagram.

And I really... my opinion is that is really going to become the future of e-commerce where people are shopping on these platforms. Where they're hanging out, where they're already spending their time. And I think that's why Amazon launched Amazon Live, right? Like they want people to hang out there and buy products from these influencers.

It's going to be super interesting to see the way that it all plays out. It's such an interesting space to be in. You know, that being said, man, like, what's your... you've been in this game for so long. Do you have an exit strategy? Like what's your vision for your way out? How long are you gonna stay in this man?

Robert: (42:40)

It's a good question. And I tell people, I look at people like Warren Buffett. The guy’s in his upper nineties. His partner, Charlie Munger, is in his upper nineties. Let's see I'm going to work into my nineties, but I think that you have to have something to do. And I really... for my companies, there is what I call some hands-on. And like I could be on vacation in Europe or something.

And there are still things I'll look at. So I'm not concerned about answering emails or taking a look at something. Or there's some, “my website went down when I was in Africa and I'm like, let me get ahold of the ASAP. And that was my wholesale website and it wasn't a crisis, but my business partner asked me about it. So I got it done. I kind of think that I don't have a specific exit strategy.

I really don't. I kinda think that for us, we'll operate it. And then at some point, depending on the scope of certain assets and things, how we would sell it off.

I’m either in or Out

Robert: (43:39)

But it's like I don't really know a number of people who have worked and have continued to work. And it's not a question of like how many hours you work or whatever. But I just, I didn't want to hang it up, pull the plug, you know. And it's funny because we just recently signed the lease extension for our warehouse. But I just think I'm going to be in the business. I like it.

I kind of warn people about stepping back from their companies. I've seen bad things happen. I know a lot of people want to do that. They go, “I want to step back.” And for some people that may work, but I've seen in a lot of cases where it has not worked. So for me, I kind of feel, I'm either in or I'm out. And if I'm out, I may still have some business work, you know, going on somewhere.

But I don't want to take the business that I have currently and just step back away from it and let other people handle it. Because I think at that point there are just too many chances for things to go wrong.

Warning for People Who Want to Retire Early

Robert: (44:43)

You know, it's just, it's my philosophy. So I know there are a lot of younger people that say they want to retire at 30 or retire at 40. I don't know. I've seen some people retire very young like I said, just blow, add to the stock market or investments that have gone bad. Or the idea that they could walk on water. And I try to just warn people who have had tremendous success.

They think everything, they can just jump right in. I'm going to jump into real estate. I'm going to make a fortune. My other buddy, did you know that I'm going to jump into Bitcoin, I'm going to go crazy. I'm going to make a fortune. This money is here. The money could be there and it could be gone in a blink of an eye, you know. And you know, things that I really don't know about, especially things like real estate.

I really don't. I, you know, I, I know about real estate in a general sense. I own my own home, things like that, but I don't go into, you know, rental properties and things like that. I say the simplest way you can invest in a real estate ETF. You can, you know... there are ways of investing in a passive way that's “safe.” Where you don't have to worry about the management of it, the collection of it to the operational end of it.

I, over the last few years, you know... I've met the Airbnb millionaires and the... But you know, it's just, I kinda think that you have to be careful. There's a conservative end of how you want to live and there's room for speculation.

Investing in a passive way that's “safe.” Where you don't have to worry about the management, collection, or operational end of it.

It's just that you don't want to say, “Well, I was really successful in Amazon and that's going to translate to every other business” Because selling on e-commerce and Amazon is far different. You have a much better, faster ROI on your money. Or things work out better faster, or worse, faster. Whereas in another business, it may take years to find out that it's wrong.

It may take hundreds of thousands of investments, which are completely gone, to find that that franchise didn't work for you or something like that. So that's the benefit of e-commerce is that you can see if there's something there in a relatively quick period of time.

Experience-Based Advice

Nick: (46:59)

Oh, Robert, you've dropped a lot of nuggets on this call, man. But if there was one thing, a piece of advice, you could give people that are listening to this podcast, you know, they're hustling. Maybe they've tasted a little bit of success. What's one piece of advice that you could give them based on your years of experience?

Stay Humble

Robert: (47:19)

I'm going to say stay humble. And I am also going to say, try to be aware of the marketplace. Stay, you know, you want to network with people like at MDS. It's just so incredible in that way, because maybe the future you can't see, they can. So they've said, “Hey, I've been doing this. This is working for me. But the be humble part, I think, is an important part there.

I mean, everyone likes to pound their chest and do all these sales and everything's great. But there's going to be ups and downs. And you don't want to go too high because you know, you come crashing down. You don't want to get too low because things are working against you.

Nick: (48:03)

Nice man. Well Robert, if people want to find out more about you or maybe find out more about your business, is there anywhere they can come check you out and learn more about what you got going on?

It’s Tough, but Keep Trying

Robert: (48:14)

I would say the best way would be, for you could email me. I'll say that you could email me at So you can email me and on a key, you know, I try to help other people too, that are new to Amazon. You know, when I can and pipe in. And, you know, my experiences, it's as simple as that. If something has never worked for me, you know, you might be the one at a thousand it works for.

At least you should know that “Hey, this is something really tough. You know, this is something that you might not be able to do, or it might not work for you.”

Nick: (48:41)

Robert, thank you so much for coming on the call today. It's been an honor to have you on, man. I really enjoyed chatting with you and I look forward to seeing you sometime soon, man. Thank you very much.

Robert: (49:04)

Thanks a lot. I appreciate it. It was really good seeing you. And we will be in person sometime here, hopefully within the next year. It's been a really rough one.

Listen to Weekly Conversations Featuring Top eCommerce Experts

Catch Every Episode First

Get every new episode straight to your inbox before anyone else does.
Yes, I Want to be First