A Grand Experiment

Choosing a product

It's always easier to make decisions based off the past. An example: If I was to invest in a company tomorrow, I'd likely want to review their financial history, study the history of the market they're in, all in an attempt to try tell the future.

Another way of saying 'the past' could be 'the experience'. So when we had the idea to start (and run in public) an e-commerce store, we looked to our experience as customers. What had we bought recently? Which sites have amazing e-commerce experiences? What products do we have experience with ourselves?

Through that process, we ended up thinking of our dog, Jarvis (a magnificient corgi). Like most dog-owners, we tend to go shopping every so often and buy ridiculous outfits and accessories for our dog. Occasionally we'll go to a physical pet store, but the experience is often depressing (dogs on display in glass cages) and time-consuming (ie. need to get off the couch), so most of our purchases are made offline.

Around 6 months ago, we bought Jarvis a 'glow in the dark dog collar'. It's actually a dog collar with an LED inside of it, but I guess 'glow in the dark dog collar' sounds better. When it came time to choose a product to sell, LED dog collars made perfect sense.

  1. They're affordable (both for wholesale and consumer purchase).
  2. They're easy to buy online (sizing is pretty simple since dog collars are adjustable and dogs aren't too picky about the color).
  3. They're an easy sell - who doesn't want their dog to look awesome and be safer on night time walks?
  4. They're cheap to send to customers due to the light weight and small size.

So we'd decided on a product, but that decision was useless if we couldn't actually source it at a reasonable price! I'm sure if I set up a legitimate store selling iPhones for $100, I'd have no problem selling out - but if I can't actually source the iPhones for under $100, I don't really have much of a business.

I started by doing some research. What were the other LED dog collars out there? What do the designs look like? What are the colors available? What kind of sizes do they normally come in? How much do they sell for?

Once I had a rough idea what I was looking for, I put together a simple grid of the sizes and colors I wanted to buy:

I then contacted a variety of suppliers on Alibaba with that grid and a request for pricing. Within a couple days, I had a few replies and picked one that looked reputable (they'd be on Alibaba for 10+ years with lots of good feedback). There was a bit of back and forward with regards to pricing and shipping. I originally only wanted to get ~100 or ~200 collars to begin with, but it was practically free to make that number 500 due to the shipping.

What's the lesson here? It's always worth asking for pricing (including shipping) for different quantity amounts so you can compare and make an informed choice, even if it doesn't align with what you originally had in mind.

The next stage was paying. That in itself is always a little scary when dealing with moderately large amounts of money and suppliers you've never met in person or had any experience with. I figured that paying by PayPal was the safest option (besides some kind of escrow service, but suppliers don't really want to use one unless you're buying a lot since the process is longer and the fees are larger). The supplier agreed, and provided me with a PayPal email, to which I sent the money.

Of course, I was still a little bit nervous. A few days later, I had a couple tracking numbers and it was just a matter of waiting. Wait I did - it took a couple weeks, but eventually the doorbell rang and I signed for 2 big boxes!

The next part? Let's take some photos!