By Manuel Becvar
How to find a profitable product in 2019 and onwards
How do you find a private label product to sell? This is the number one question I get asked on an almost daily basis. Be aware this is a very long post as I tried to really include my entire thought process.
There’s no one method that’s right for everyone. Instead, there are many different methods you can use to find the perfect private label niche and product.
In this post, I’ll explain ten of my favourite research methods. Take a look and find one that works for you! The first few methods are traditional methods that still work well but in the last part I want to let you in on how I find or develop successful products to sell.
1. Follow your passion
Let’s say you love the outdoors, hiking, camping, and exercise in general (like me). There are so many products to choose from, but you have two advantages:
- You know what you like.
- You know what your product should be able to do.
So you already have an edge over many of your competitors.
Put your passion for this category into your product. For example, if you were disappointed about the quality of camping mats you purchased in the past, you already know what to tell your supplier to improve upon. Choose products you can talk about, improve and be passionate about selling.
Here’s a real-life example. A friend of mine was really into hiking and trail running but not satisfied with the products on the market. He started a outdoor gear company a few years back. Today he has a portfolio of 20 different outdoor gear products and making 6 figures every month. It wasn’t an easy journey and I followed along but it was well worth it.
2. Use your industry knowledge
Let’s imagine you have 17 years of experience selling electronics (like me). What was the first product I picked? It was an electronic item. Why? Because that’s where I had my experience.
I believe you should not just have passion about your product, but also experience. If I sell a product online I want to be able to answer customers’ questions and inquiries. So when I started my own brand I improved an existing item based on my industry knowledge and felt confident answering questions as well as re-presenting my brand.
What if you don’t have experience in an industry? Do you have a hobby? Or are you a parent? If you are a parent you’ll have lots of experience with your children and could perhaps start in that category.
3. Brainstorm and research
You shouldn’t worry if you don’t have a social media following, products you are passionate about or industry experience. Most people I know are in this scenario and there are still many success stories.
Here’s a brainstorming and research approach that I recommend:
- Take out a notebook and list your interests, hobbies or responsibilities. Yes, actually write it down. Call me old-fashioned, but I still find writing to be the best medium for generating ideas.
- Subscribe to newsletters from companies that talk about or sell products related to your interests. You’ll find some ideas for this in Part 2 below.
- Over time, gather a list of at least ten product ideas in that niche.
- Research existing products, consumer demand and selling prices using Amazon, eBay, Jet.com, local shops, tools like Jungle Scout etc. Is there space for one more seller (you)?
- If there is no demand, is it because the product is in its fledgling stages? If you can improve the product, create a to-do list of improvements based on reviews, feedback from friends and family etc. Then move onto finding a supplier.
- If there is no evidence of demand and you can’t improve the product, but still think it could sell, then follow your gut feeling and also ask around your friends. Move onto finding a supplier if you remain sure.
- Move onto the next product in your list of ideas.
Let’s say you have found your niche, category or general product idea. You are now ready to find your first private label product.
4. Lose yourself on Amazon
You can look for hours on Amazon in the different categories and niches, if you already have a product idea.
If you have no idea at all, I suggest you start with the best seller lists. Many categories are saturated on Amazon already so I recommend that you look into emerging and trending markets. This could be drone-racing, augmented reality or any other industry that’s just getting started. Be careful however not to choose a hype that’s going to fade in a few months. By that I mean a category like fidget spinners.
5. Blogs, gadget and trend sites
One of my favorite sites to find interesting blogs and trend websites is Kadaza. It’s a collection of the best sites in many different categories. Click on any of the categories and you will find websites in that niche.
For example, I found The Gadget Flow through Kadaza, and by subscribing to their newsletter I get weekly updates on trendy items that may not even be on Amazon yet.
They have a lot of products that are currently on crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter. But you know what? If it’s only on Kickstarter now, it means it isn’t on Amazon yet. You can take the product idea and even improve on it.
The point I want to get across is not to copy these companies, but to find ideas on blog sites and see how quick it is to buy from Alibaba or Global Sources. Add an accessory, change colors or do whatever you feel could improve the product. The best thing about subscribing to these sites is that you get ideas delivered for free to your email address.
6. Research tools
You may have heard of Jungle Scout already. Jungle Scout is probably the most advanced tool when it comes to navigating Amazon and finding best-selling products. It integrates into the Google Chrome browser to streamline product research. Jungle Scout can extract sales rank, sales volume, FBA fees, categories and more. From the early days only available to Amazon.com it is now available to track sales in almost all countries where Amazon is present. Last time I checked it didn’t work in Australia but all other countries seemed to work.
Junglescout has several tools at your disposal, from the “Niche Hunter” to the “Chrome Extension”. It is a paid tool but it has helped me many times to confirm a validity of a product that I wanted to sell. Personally I love their chrome extension that you can simply install and then scan the Amazon category pages. You get a lot of data from sales per month, potential profits and much more. My favourite has to be the “Opportunity Score” which can quickly tell you whether a product might be worth it to pursue. It ranges from 1-10 and while anything below 7 isn’t considered great with some of my following strategies you can still have an opportunity. The market might be saturated but I can still find gems with scores 7 or higher. Just the other day I found a product for one of my clients with a score of 10 (which is nearly impossible).
7. Get out in the world
There are hundreds of trade shows each year in many countries. You get to meet the supplier, see the products, and talk over details such as prices, models, and much more. On top of all of that I guarantee you that you will get inspired.
To find local trade shows just Google an exhibition center near you, then browse their upcoming events and apply for a ticket. You might need to provide a business card and contact details, but you can order cards online for a few dollars these days. Going to a show prepared and with a professional image gives suppliers a great impression of you.
Another way to find new products is simply when you are out in a shopping mall or a local store.
To start your own import business means that you also working when you are out shopping with friends or family! Keep your eyes open, and when you see something cool make a reminder for yourself on your smartphone to look the product up later.
Traveling is also a great way to find ideas. When you are out of your country or state you are likely to see items that you can’t find locally. There are many reasons why a product might not be available where you live, but it’s always worth checking an idea out.
I remember about ten years ago, a friend told me about Bubble Tea and Fancy Green Tea drinks sold in Hong Kong and Asia. She was from Germany and she had never seen these drinks back home. She didn’t pursue that idea but a few years later back in Germany these drinks started to pop up and were a smash hit!
Even an idea that at first seems like nothing could be worth millions! Share it with a few friends and brainstorm it.
8. Sourcing sites
When you sign up on Alibaba you generally need to say which product categories you are interested in. Based on this criteria, and your recent product searches on Alibaba, you’ll get automated emails with new product deals.
You can also simply type “newest products” in the product search function and you’ll find a lot of the newest and trendiest items from their suppliers.
It’s pretty similar with Global Sources. After signing up you’ll get automated emails with great product deals.
They also have a section with the great product as well as an “Analyst’s section over HERE newest products in every product category: But my favorite part is their Sourcing Magazines that are updated on a monthly basis with the hottest and newest products on the site. Whenever the magazines are updated you get a free e-copy delivered to your email. It doesn’t get easier than this and I’ve found some gems in their magazines sometimes.
9. A combination of trends and existing markets
Sometimes I look at existing products and see if I can improve them with a design trend. Let’s say for example you Google for “design and interior trends 2019”. You then visit these sites that have reports on them and see what trends there are for the particular year.
The other day I combined an existing product with a design trend. So if for example floral patterns are in for 2019 perhaps I could sell bed sheets or pillow covers with floral patterns (just an example).
If the color “millennial pink” is in for 2019 I could think of a few products where I could apply that color.
If vintage is a trend for 2019 I could look into furnitures, lighting, or decorative items that exist and give them a vintage look or color. All you have to do is find an interesting and potential niche and see if you can implement a design trend into that particular product.
What also helps is Google Trends and Google Keyword Planner (It’s free if you have a Gmail account). Just head on over there and type in a keyword and look out for the monthly searches. Anything with a search volume greater than 1-10,000 is a good indication. Google trend also helps me because it also gives me keyword related keywords that I may not have thought of. So for example if I type in “vintage decor” I can see other suggestions or trending keywords in that niche below:
I could now look into vintage bathroom decor or vintage suitcase decor on Amazon with Junglescout and see if I can find an opportunity.
10. Innovation before Improvement
Now that we’ve discussed traditional methods I want to discuss what is in my opinion the most important part on having a successful product on Amazon – innovation before improvement. Meaning that you actually listen to what the market needs and wants, ideally develop your own product, instead of thinking what you think the market needs. This may be contrary to above methods but I suggest that at some point you develop your own products.
Here’s my step by step checklist on developing a successful product:
There’s a saying in the tech industry: you’ll succeed by setting the industry standard and not to improve existing standards. Just think about Apple or Nike. These companies are leading the way in their industries.
Let me explain how I go about developing products. The goal is to create 1 or more rockstar products that define your brand and guarantee the success of your company. Think about a seed that you plant for the future, everything takes time.
Ideally the first product is what defines your brand and you should also stick with these values. Just like Nike or Apple are famous for their expertise in their field, you should be known in your field. Same goes for every industry. For example if you think about the best Italian restaurant in town they are probably famous for their pasta or pizza and not for having a fusion of Italian and Mexican food. Stick to your assortment and branding strategy. I am not saying you shouldn’t sell underlying product groups or assortments but don’t sell Bluetooth speakers and shower heads. Focus on 1 core assortment.
That’s were many people make their first mistake, starting with a product without defining their niche. Yes, 5 years ago you could go onto Alibaba, select anything and it would sell on Amazon and later you’d think about other products that would fit. But those days are over. What you’ll need is a clear branding and marketing strategy as well as a “product to market fit”. This term is one of the most important factors in the commerce.
Find your niche
First, find your niche. I’ve already discussed a few ways above but I want to give you an actual example later. Many people start with the idea of a product first and then notice that the market entry level is too high (either dominated by brands or too much capital needed). So find your niche first and have at least somewhat of an interest in the niche. All my brands are selling things that I have either a passion for or that I have an interest in.
Amazing products connect with the target audience
Finding interesting and established markets
If it were so easy to make money online everyone would be doing it right? A lot of people fall for marketing gurus that sell you pipe dreams like “make 40,000$ in 1 month with little to no work”. I can promise you that business does not exist.
You need to finding existing markets that have reached a mature size otherwise you don’t have customers – this is the most crucial part- product to market fit. These markets/niches can also give you the best feedback. If you don’t have a mature market where you can collect feedback from it will be very difficult as you would have to establish a whole new market by yourself.
If you don’t have a product to market fit and you need to establish the awareness or market at first you’ll need a lot of capital for marketing.
Suggestions on finding your niche
Make a list of your areas of interest, split this list down into niches. Only list general interest at first and then research each one. This could be something that you identify yourself with, a hobby, an expertise, part of your profession or similar. Break down the niches and go into the smallest niches. For example if you are into outdoor sports go down into sub-niches:
In an ideal world you’d find interests that you’d be totally enthused about. But don’t be an artist. Artists don’t survive on Amazon. Don’t try to invent trends that don’t have a future or demand. Don’t fixate yourself on one idea or industry because you personally are enthusiastic about it. Remember – product to market fit.
The right mindset
At this point it’s also important to leave your ego out of the business. I saw a few people in my time (including me) that were too attached to ideas and convinced that there idea is what the world needs. You need to see your business objectively and don’t let your personal emotions or preferences interfere too much. Only concentrate on what the market needs and not what YOU think the market needs.
Of course it is important to invent, develop and look into new markets but always keep the product to market fit in mind.
Do something that you aren’t comfortable with. That could even be items in a higher price range assortment. Most items that I release, cost more than 15$ in buying price.
Few people actually go into higher priced or difficult categories. But that’s where the air isn’t so thin as in low priced and common items. You could argue that you may not have the capital for it but on the other hand this is a business as any other and sometimes you need to take the risks. 15 years ago it was unimaginable to start a business that could generate 100,000$ within the first year with just a 5-10,000$ investment.
We have all the tools today that make it possible; social media, Junglescout and others. So it takes a bit of the following components: gut feeling, data analysis, community access and brand building to succeed.
I often hear that people don’t want to invest 200$ into a custom made sample for their idea. If you aren’t willing to invest 200$ into your business then maybe this is not for you anyway.
Research problems in the industry
Obviously you want to tap into mature markets but also into markets that are still growing. A bad example would be fidget spinners. Not kidding you, when the trend came out I got 20 people within 1 month asking me to source fidget spinners for them. Imagine how many people went to other sourcing companies or sourced on their own? This really confirms that the majority wants to make quick and easy money without too much work.
You have to be the one who doesn’t jump on these trends but bring innovation to the market. This does not mean that you redesign the fidget spinner or bring it in other colors. You have to convince customers from the beginning and not bring a great feature only on your second product. Customers want to be wooed.
Your 1st Rockstar product should also be something that you can sell over and over again for a long time. Basically a cash cow in the long run. Sure, competitors will come and copy you, but you’ll always be ahead and ideally work on your next product once the competition catches up. Thus the competition will always try to catch up.
Your focus should not be on your competition but developing new products and think one step ahead. If you have 1 or 2 cash cows that bring a constant amount of money in, you also act much more relaxed when developing new ideas.
Access to the market
Let’s say you had the idea of a women’s tote bag, found a supplier, ordered the product, listed it on Amazon and now you come to realize that people are not buying your bags. Naturally; because women want to buy branded stuff like Gucci, Louis Vuitton etc. You’ll also have difficulties getting magazines or influencers to write about your bags because they usually promote the big brands.
So again, you need access to the marketplace & its customers. Access to market is critical and you should be thinking of that right from the start, otherwise you are constantly in survival mode and run after sales. If you are constantly in survival mode, you simply have no time for product development, long-term strategies, or other important things that will shape the future of your brand. So – cash cow products, audience and access to the market.
Once you’ve settled on a niche, you should think about product ideas. For example what is currently selling well in this niche? Are there any technical or groundbreaking trends coming in the future? For example when I heard rumors in November 2015 that Apple wants to remove the audio jack on the iPhone and only offer the earphone with lightning connector, I was thinking about what that means for the future and the iPhone 7.
So I spoke to some suppliers and developed earphones with lightning connection. Granted it was a big risk to develop a product based on rumors but then when the rumors became true in September 2016, I was the only provider of iPhone earphones with lightning connection (other than Apple). Obviously many sellers came after but for about 12 weeks I was the only seller of certified iPhone lightning connector earphones and I made nearly $30,000 on a $6,000 investment. The moral of the story is that you sometimes have to take a risk but more importantly listen to the community or solve an existing problem.
What does the community want?
Listen in on what communities are saying in your niche. What are people talking about right now? Is there a certain problem within a niche? Here the community work is really very important. You can be active in 1-2 communities and really listen in on what customers prefer, what brands are popular, what are those brands doing or not doing at the moment etc.
A great indication of whether a product is needed is when people say that they have to use other products in combination with the actual product to make it work more smoothly.
For example, when Bitcoin and all the other cryptocurrencies came out, you could download the wallets to your computer or save them online on exchanges. Many people worried what if the exchange goes belly up or if their computer dies on them?
Then Ledger came and developed a hardware wallet that would store your cryptocurrency. You could then put your Ledger hardware wallet in a locked up safe or store it somewhere safely. Ledger was sold out for months and couldn’t even cope with demand. Again, someone listened to a problem in a community and solved it by offering a solution.
All these things will define your product. The more you incorporate problems of the community and try to solve them with your product you’ll minimize the risk of failing with your self developed product.
You will always see the following attributes for successful products:
1) A great solution,
2) Quality that you can trust, easy to get and easy to handle.
Imagine you are your own customer. Would you be satisfied with your product? Why would customers not buy your product? What does the product do for your customers? What doesn’t it do? At this point, you also have to come back to the point: Are you your own biggest fan or are you solving an actual problem with your product? Consider the product or idea objectively.
To further define your product, split your product into 3 categories:
2) The emotional part (how do people feel when they buy or use your product?)
3) The social part (is this product an icebreaker? Does it show a certain social status?)
Remember your product should solve a problem or be part of your costumer’s daily life. Why does someone need your product? Can your product solve complexities or frustration with other products that the customer experiences?
At this point, it is important to take another step back and look if there are any other entry barriers. For example, sometimes industries are tied down and all suppliers are actively working for these brands or major customers. Like smart-phones. This industry is dominated by 4-5 big brands. Do you have a chance to even work with the suppliers of these brands? Are there any patents, license or royalty fees? Sometimes the costs, licenses or certifications required to succeed are simply too high.
Sometimes you also need to be honest with yourself and ask, “Do I have the technical know how” to develop such a product?
Ask your supplier which certifications; costs (including tooling) could arise. Or are there continuous product costs, royalty, licensing fees etc.
Another point would be your selling price. Can your target audience even afford your product? You could talk to your active communities and just ask what people would pay for a certain product.
Another option to validate a product or its price would be to simply start a PPC campaign on Facebook with a “buy now” button that leads to a listing where people can buy samples of your product at a certain price. Obviously there is no stock but this method makes it easier to show if people are interested at all. You can then look at the analytics and data and make better decisions for the price & product development.
Can you scale the business? Is there a point where you just cannot expand the business? (E.g. fidget spinner)
At this point, you are probably overwhelmed with all the theories and work ahead when developing a product and you are already thinking this will never happen.
Simply put, good things take time and you don’t need to rush. Imagine a long hike that you have to plan ahead of time. For example I always wanted to hike the Pacific Crest Trail in the US. The whole hike lasts between 4-6 months and you just have to prepare yourself with good equipment, read about how to find water and food, get maps etc. So it’s a long process to get prepared.
There is no shortcut in any business. Sometimes you can be lucky and struck a gold mine quickly but you can’t rely on that.
There will also be days when you have to ask yourself unpredictable questions or face unpleasant situations. There will be days when you are super excited about your idea, going to bed unable to sleep because you love your idea. And then on the next day, a difficult situation will bring you down and make you feel depressed about your idea. At this point either continue and ignore your ego, make improvements & changes to your product or actually say – ok this is too much to handle.
Once you’ve answered all these questions for you, it’s time to start sourcing with suppliers, negotiate prices, ordering prototypes, and putting everything together. Also, don’t give up too soon just because the first suppliers don’t want to do what you ask or completely redesign their existing product. Just because you haven’t found a supplier after 7 days doesn’t mean you won’t find one.
For one of my own products, I looked for a supplier for 6 months and I finally found them that at a trade fair. Of course it also makes sense to go to China (or go to local trade shows in your country) when it comes to selecting suppliers.
But also be open for suggestions from the suppliers you talk to. Talk to suppliers about modifications or suggestions that could improve your design. Do not cling too much to your ego when 10 out of 10 suppliers say it doesn’t work that way.
Now that the community, trend & general research is done you should have a pretty good feeling with your product. Often you actually don’t have to go through all the above steps and sometimes results will come much quicker in a way you didn’t anticipate. My point is to be aware of these situations.
Once you’ve actually cleared all doubts and realized “yes the world needs my product and it will even sell very well” then there is actually no reason left, not to do it.
If a big investment of say $ 20,000 is your only problem, then entrepreneurship or this business is not for you. A certain risk will always exist but with this strategy and calculated risk, there is really nothing left to stop you.
Now you could say, yes but should I not start with something simple first? Sure, I’ve explained how and when in Steps 1-9. But considering that the competition is getting bigger and bigger and the strategy I just laid out for you worked on many of my products, you may want to ask yourself if you want to improve or set standards.
Because if you are always just making me-to products and just trying to improve other products with an add-on or other colors or more accessories, you are behind the market. But if you have several self-developed products on the market that bring you more money in the long and always put you ahead of the competition wouldn’t that be worth pursuing? To make simple products at first is totally OK but if you want to do this as a full-time job, you have to think innovatively over time and follow this process.
Remember, you don’t have to reinvent the wheel but just adding a different colour to an existing product in today’s market won’t be enough. Listen to what your customers want or need and take it from there.
Manuel Becvar is the founder of “Mandarin-Gear Ltd Hong Kong” a sourcing company based in Hong Kong. Previous to founding his own company Manuel had been working with large retailers as a buyer in Hong Kong for over 10 years. Apart from Mandarin-Gear, Manuel runs a blog: www.importdojo.com that focuses on helping buyers to import from China; especially for Amazon FBA buyers. He has also written 4 best sellers books about importing from China that are available on Amazon as well as in his online course on www.importdojo.com.