Investing in Private Label Brands in Broad Marketplaces

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Christian Salza 4:13

Yeah, so what we see right now is there’s many people coming in obviously, there have been this, you know, business model has been created. Thrasio obviously, you know, being early and, you know, there have been a lot of niku needing to copy kind of business models. What differentiates us from this is that we are really, you know, we have brand people, we are product people, and we’ve been around for 15 years. And, you know, what we do well is, you know, focus on building brands and feel passionate about and then scaling them and other channels. So, and I think those people who will do that successfully will also succeed going forward. You know, I think that people who just come home with a financial lens, trying to do a quick multiple arbitrage by them. You Don’t try to optimize the sub sub well, because they don’t have the skill set, they don’t have the team or they don’t have the patience and the passion to really be product focus, I think those guys will probably not be as successful at those guys who continue to focus on on the product side. So I think there will be the ones that are financially focused, I think they will probably have it a little bit more difficult, versus the guys that are really passionate about brands and focusing on really making the product better and doing the better thing for the consumer. So companies like us, I think will succeed. And yes, and from the seller side, I also believe that, you know, the market will become more and more competitive, because now you have more, you know, we have the individuals trying to do an Amazon business, now you have people saying, Well, I can actually do an Amazon business and sell it quickly. Also, there will be a lot more competition. And again, I think the ones who will, who will succeed are the ones who do identify the neatest, the best service the customers the best and also build the best brands. And I think that’s a combination of skill sets. And not not everybody has it. So it might be some, you know, financially driven acquirers who may not survive, but it also may be that some Amazon sellers right now say, you know what, this is getting really capital competitive right now. So rather use the opportunity to sell my brand right now.

James Thomson 6:27

In one of the comments, I heard from a brand that was thinking about selling, they said, If I don’t sell now, and one of my competitors gets purchased, and all of a sudden, all this new investment goes into my competitor, I’m going to be at a serious disadvantage. So do I want to be in a situation where my market share starts to fall? Because one of my competitors gets a purchase first? Certainly some interesting challenges around thinking through when when’s the right time to sell?

Christian Salza 6:53

Yeah, yes, it’s really the, you know, it’s kind of like a war game strategy, you know, the art of war, they had a when do you do what move? And what is it some kind of move, we can, definitely sees that, you know, the bets are getting bigger. You know, in order to succeed, you need to place big events. That means a lot more money, at risk, from an inventory perspective. And, of course, when big companies also like us come in, what is the first thing we do? We buy more stuff, right? By inventory? Yeah, and all that. So in terms of like in stock, you know, being able to still be at the top with a high out of stock range, those times will probably be over, you know, so, so so the game is definitely changing.

James Thomson 7:38

Let me ask you what, well, you’ve had the opportunity prior to Berlin Brands to build brands of your own online and participate in that space. What kinds of issues have surprised you the most working with entrepreneurs who are playing in the Amazon space?

Christian Salza 7:53

I think it wasn’t very surprising, but I think what was good fact that we confirm this, that a lot of these people have, you know, of the of the sellers, and feel very passionate about the brand, you know, they spend a lot of time personal effort on identifying an opportunity, and then going after it and doing doing this very well, you know, and being on all the time, you know, the successful people are on all the time, they are very, very, very committed. So you can say that, you know, that was a surprise. But, on the other hand, it’s also kind of expected because it’s so competitive, right? So, but I would say, you know, most of them are super passionate about the brands dedicated, kind of, there’s 2x, two types. One is actually the, the, you know, housewives kind of thing, you know, I needed a job and I wanted to make some extra money fast. So I decided to sell, I don’t know, yoga mats, online. And today, I had two calls with, you know, two younger people, you know, university graduate straight from college, you know, studying, you know, technology and, you know, and economics, like super smart guy, three, three guys working for IT consulting companies just quit their job and saying, Hey, now we’re gonna go full throttle. And we’re gonna conquer that Amazon game. So you really have these two, two different types of profiles, which is also you can see like, you, you probably if you’re individual, you don’t want to compete with three students with a significant math background, access to funding, yes. You know, versus you know, the ones that do it kind of by themselves. And so the market is definitely changing.

James Thomson 9:43

So, let me ask you this. There are all these new entrepreneurs coming on to Amazon building their own brands. Once upon a time they were coming in to build jobs for themselves. Now they’re seeing the opportunity to build serious businesses with potentially a financially rewarding exit. How does an investment group like yours help leverage some of that early enthusiasm in these entrepreneurs as they’re just getting started?

Christian Salza 10:09

Yeah, so when we look at these brands, and we look at this, and this is also how we value them, because people, we often get questions like, how do you actually value us? You know, what multiplier do you use? The common question is like, we don’t really use multipliers, of course, we have our own, you know, investment methodology, but what we’re trying to do is actually simulate kind of what your product is doing on our platform. And so we kind of know, okay, we know how big your category is, we know what kind of search volume we can estimate on Amazon, as well as on Amazon, as well as our own shops, then we simulate the growth that we can see. And this is really also what we’re going to, you know, this is the value that we are creating by putting you on our platform, and we let you participate. But of course, we are keeping some of the value also. So what we are doing really is buying proven winners, because the items that are on top on Amazon are good products in general, you know that good products have been able to succeed in a competitive environment. So that’s a checkmark for us. So we can be good top sellers. So check mark for us, when we say Okay, now we’re going to put you on a different kind of platform, I’m going to launch you and our thing, and then the likelihood of this being successful is obviously super, super duper high. And that’s where we can capture value.

James Thomson 11:31

So let me ask you, with many of the new investors coming in, they’re specifically looking to FBA brokers to source deals initially. And as the investors become more sophisticated, there are other ways of being able to find brands that are potentially interesting to pursue. I talked with one colleague of mine who has a very successful brand, top of category in his particular subcategory. And he said he literally was getting a call a week from some investor saying, I’ve been watching you, and now I want to buy your business. Talk to me a little bit about how you think about this balance between using brokers, building tools of your own to go and source brands that don’t even realize they’re being pursued. How do you think about finding deals where others may not be thinking about going to find deals?

Christian Salza 12:20

Yeah, I think what is important here, I think that’s for every party involved is that you have a balance right? From a seller’s perspective, being bombarded all the time with the same message probably feels a little bit awkward, but also from you as a, you know, requires you to think about different strategies, right. So what we are doing is, number one, we we do things like today, where we talk about, you know, what we do well, and why we are so successful, and that is intriguing, especially for Americans who say, you know, what, I always wanted to go to Europe, you know, I thought I would never be able to make it alone. But hey, with BBG, bam, you know, I have an opportunity to do this. So, so we do this, this type of stuff, we also approach the brands directly, we also develop strong relationships with brokers, because it happens, of course, that some say, you know what, I rather do it with a broker, you know, I think it’s actually not necessary if you have good advisors. But what you have done is some transaction history, but I think some will always come through a broker. So of course, we always tend to also develop a strong relationship with the brokers and we are doing it in terms of like, how do we find them? So we have, of course, the brokers, we have our you know, inbound Kind of, yeah, some people like, based on this, people just contact us to say, hey, Christian, I’ve seen us in Peter I’ve seen, I’ve heard about this brand that sold to you. So that’s obviously also a big thing. And then of course, we are also looking at monitoring categories on Amazon and sellers on Amazon. And then if we do find them, you know, very intriguing, then we’ll reach out to them, as well. And so we analyze them. And that’s, I think, the combination of, of all these things around the kind of app and that’s the approach that we’re using. And, yes, we’re looking for, for, for , for sellers, really between 101 million and 100 million, so we can really do more than big, we can also do all kinds of transaction sizes. And by doing all this, we’ve been able to be very successful.

James Thomson 14:30

Let me ask you this, when you because of all the inbound, and all the different types of companies that you’re reviewing, you get to see companies and all different shapes of actually being ready to sell. I’d love to get your thoughts on the two or three things you wish more private label brands would do before they actually go to market and start having conversations about do you want to buy my brand?

Christian Salza 14:55

Yes, I think you know, that’s one thing. If you practice Want to sell, you know, I would ask you and expect you to kind of have your books ready, you know, your heavier, heavier, you know, have the, you know, when you want to sell your house, you make it pretty right to tidy the room to mow the lawn and do some painting, you know, so. So I think if you want to sell you have a business productivity, I think you would do that. There’s also something to be said about, you know, having the Amazon accounts either by the, you know, seller board or Seller Central accounts that have that claim. So people can really, once they dock onto this kind of information, have a full picture of what’s really going on. So, you know, the cost of goods sold can be uploaded there. So there are a lot of things that can make this transaction a little bit easier, and how you prepare it. And of course, you know, one thing that we always look forward to when we are one aspect that we specifically, also focus on if we talk to specific sellers is, you know, what’s actually your inventory planning. You know, if you tell me you wanted to grow to let’s say, 3 million, you know, but you only purchased stock for 2 million, you know, that shows me a gap, you know, if you say, Hey, I’m super confident I want to do it. And you know, it’s, it’s, you know, we can see that you really bet on you know, that others also believe it. So, so this, these are aspects that are quite, quite important for us. And, yeah, in terms of preparation, really, you know, have your stuff in order, have the numbers ready. And, and, and then but a lot of stuff we can actually do. And others also can do it from outside in. But numbers, clean inventory planning straight. Those are probably one of the top things that come to mind.

James Thomson 16:48

Brands want to be able to become bigger household names. Unlike most aggregators, you’re already operating in dozens of marketplaces, you’ve got warehouses, you’ve got web shops, you’ve got a mechanism by which you can take a successful brand from one marketplace, and quickly push it out to many other marketplaces, if it makes sense. What do you think about this process of sourcing brands that are going to have broad appeal to broad marketplaces? Yes, this

Christian Salza 17:19

is really what we’re, what we’re doing. I mean, we mean, the marketplaces also have sizes, right? So every marketplace has its own size, every marketplace has its own, let’s say demand and the demand, you can often measure, right, so keywords, you know, how many hits, how many keywords requests you’re getting? And so we know this, and we also do this, and and you can kind of estimate that, and that’s really how, how we are, how we are, how are we assessing it? And how are we also deciding on it? Which brand do we actually push? Which marketplace? You know, and let’s assume we buy a brand that has, you know, placed inventory for what they are currently doing, let’s say 2 million, plus inventory for 3 million. But if I put them on the entire platform, I could do 5 million? Yes. No, then I need to decide, okay, where do I put it first? You know, and of course I put them on the marketplaces first where I have the easiest, you know, the biggest potential market, right? So and then I kind of grew and grew up this way. So this is kind of part of our en de la DNA, and also part of our launch plan integration plan. So to really go through it in detail and also decide that also with the founders, we actually bring you up to date in terms of like, firstly, realize the business and launch it to the next big, biggest marketplaces that kind of scale, scale later.

James Thomson 18:45

That’s very exciting for brands that have only had the opportunity to focus on one marketplace and potentially, you know, maybe one more. You’re looking beyond just Amazon as well. You’re looking at marketplaces not called Amazon, which is, again, a little unusual for many of the aggregators where they are so Amazon centric. How do you think about the world of these literally hundreds of other marketplaces out there that are not called Amazon? How do you think about where they fit in relative to Amazon, us, Amazon, Germany, Amazon, UK. Now there are some very big established Amazon marketplaces. And yet there are other big marketplaces beyond Amazon that most brand sellers don’t understand. most investors don’t understand. You’ve got that expertise. How do you explain to some of the potential brands that you’re looking to buy that there is a world beyond Amazon?

Christian Salza 19:41

That’s a very good question, James. So you know, Luckily I mean, one thing is good on one thing you know, everything the good comes with the bad right so Amazon and the US is super successful, right? So we see a lack of chairs of, you know, 50% kind of on the online space. In Europe. If we look at, you know, all the different, like markets abroad in Europe, including all online, right. So Amazon is actually only at a 20% market share, of course, in different countries in Germany, for example, you know, they have probably the highest market share, then, you know, in entire Europe, but there’s still a lot of potential to be captured by, by other people and other players, and especially when you look at, you know, Eastern European markets, you know, Poland, Slovakia, Czech, the entire Nordic regions, you know, Amazon is not there or have just started to enter, you know, like Sweden or Poland. And they are super small. And, for example, you know, Amazon, Germany is 14% of our sales, you know, Amazon total Amazon’s 40% of our sales, right? So you can imagine, the rest is all the majority, and we are yet the number within the top five, we actually don’t know which number we have within the top five of Amazon sellers in Europe. Right. So far, only 40% of our sales are from Amazon. So it’s amazing. Yeah, that’s amazing. This is quite interesting. And yeah, so I think the the difference between Europe is that you have also so many different countries, you have so many different languages, you have different VAT requirements, you know, if you think about what you have to do in the States, you know, cross border, cross state border, you know, it’s much more complicated in Europe, if you want to go cross border, and so so therefore, there will be, there will always be a hurdle for others to climb in order to capture that market share. The same is true for Amazon, Amazon cannot just say, Hey, you know what, I’m going to do Holland, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland, Czech, Slovakia, Poland, all at the same time, it does work, you know, maybe eventually they will get there. But they’re still Turkey, you know, a huge market in Europe. You know, they’re still Portugal, you know. So there’s other markets where people don’t buy on Amazon yet. Then there’s France where people actually would like to continue to buy local. Right? So there’s actually a big initiative that happened on Black Friday, where the French actually didn’t participate in the Black Friday. I don’t know if you’ve heard about this. But yes. So so so there’s other movements. So therefore, the local players will always be around, if you know how to deal with them. If you know how they work, if you know how to connect to them, if you know how to push your product into them, you will always be more successful than the ones who bet on Amazon. Not a bad bet. But obviously, you have much more potential, if you bet on the other pocket players also who will still be around.

James Thomson 22:46

So let me ask you this, I’m sure you get this question regularly as part of the conversation with prospective brands looking to sell, they will ask the question, should I exit now? Or should I wait a little longer and continue to grow my business before I sell? How do you think about helping brands get the timing right, so that they don’t leave significant money on the table? And yet, they can free themselves from the onerous task of actually having to manage their business?

Christian Salza 23:14

Now, I think we do have this discussion quite often. At the end of the day, you know, why would you not buy and sell right now? Because you’re afraid you’re selling too low? You know, that’s the underlying assumption, right? Why do you think that because, because you think there’s a significant additional value that you can capture, that is not being incorporated in the price that you’re being currently offered? So that’s pretty much the reason why people are waiting, yes, yes. So then the question is, do you think there are parties and there are others like us, who actually can see your growth trajectory, and feel comfortable saying, you know, what, I believe in that, I come from that. And with you coming on our platform, I can certainly, you know, also price that in, you know, and there, there’s some that can’t and some that cannot. And and so I think that the number one thing is to understand, who should I sell to? And will they be able to actually price in the potential that I see? Right? So I think that’s the number one thing you need to decide if you decide if you want to sell now and who do you what do you sell to? And then the other question is, if, you know, we have all seen significant growth right now, you know, retail stores being closed. If you ask people what you know, what was your biggest problem last year? Everybody will probably be out of stock. But guess what, that’s not how it’s gonna stay. Yeah, you know, they will be overstock at some point again, you know, and there will be, as I said, just said, that will be the the team of intrapreneurs, who may have already some brands, who also will get some funding because they see the investors see they can exit, but competition will be getting tougher, and the bet bet getting bigger. And if you now feel like, you know, we do have some of the sellers, if you now say, You know what? I’m going to go for it, I want to bet, instead of, you know, one container, I’m going to buy two, three containers now for the summer season. And then I’m going to, I’m going to make it, you know, and then what happens, you know, the ship, you know, closes the Suez Canal, you know, yeah. And then what happens, you know, you don’t get access to your products, or you have the capital sitting on the chip, and you’re still running out a shop, and you need to pay it, pay this one, and you pay, you can’t pay because of that, right? So what I’m saying is the stakes get higher. And if you feel comfortable doing this, then keep doing it. If you feel like you know what, competition is getting tougher, I’m getting I’m getting, I’m noticing it, because you will notice it because all you’re trying to do is manage your rankings. And you are seeing already that the competition is getting tougher. And if you’ve, if you’re at a point where you say, you know what, I’m not sure if I’m up for that, then it’s the right time to sell. You know, if you’re feeling that the bets are getting too high, that I have to put too much on the table right now that I’m risking actually everything versus putting something in my savings or vault, you know, in my personal retirement account, yes. And putting some back to the business potentially, you know, if you feel like you can play high stakes poker, and you want to do it, do it right. But there are a lot of you out there that probably say you know what, maybe it’s a good time to sell, you know, the pandemic just made you grow, which our stores will open again, people will love to go shopping again. So I think this party will not be over. But you know, we will, we will probably plateau. But then at some point, there will be enough inventory in the market. And then it will be a tougher game. And ideally, you get out beforehand.

James Thomson 26:52

So how do Berlin Brands remain successful? Through the long run? As things evolve, and the types of brands that go to market change? And the economics of those brands change? How do you see yourself continuing to evolve? And I mean, you’ve been along for the ride a lot longer than most aggregators. So you’ve had to make some adjustments many, many times already. Where do you see yourself having to go in order to remain successful?

Christian Salza 27:20

Yes, that’s true. That’s a BBG that has been around for 15 years, and we have done a lot of changes. Also, you know, in terms of our product portfolio, we started with DJ equipment. And we did audio equipment, and now majority of the stuff is actually sports and household goods, and we still do some audio in high five, but, you know, it’s not our core, core business, not our focus at all. So number one, I think, is you have to stay flexible. And you also have to kind of, and this is what we do spend a lot of time on is, you know, continue to optimize your processes, and, and to to to build, you know, ways to scale your business and outpace waste time to automate your business client combining that with its immediate need for growth. It’s actually with supply chain infrastructure. You know, we are we have multiple warehouses in Europe, we’re constantly looking at, okay, where do we need another warehouse in order to, you know, serve our customers better, and have better delivery times, especially also in Eastern Europe, where they’re currently waiting longer, but they’re also getting used to, you know, shorter lead times. So this is what we are doing, we constantly invest in new technology, we invest in our organization, we do have big initiatives on how to drive AI and all different kinds of departments. And that allowed us actually over the last few years, to stay very profitable, you know, the first transaction that we have done, were actually all based on our own cash flow, you know, we didn’t even need it to go to a bank or anything. Yes, so we are a very profitable company, we’re a very aggressively growing company. And we are investing constantly in automation and processes and also great people. So there’s also a lot of job openings, actually opening bell in the right now. But also, you know, we invest in stock, and we need to make sure that we also have enough, enough products on hand. And I think, given that we are so big and given that we are so profitable, we have the funding to do so. And that will also be you know, that will determine, you know, who will win in the long run.

James Thomson 29:28

wrap up our conversation today by asking you about this whole concept of investors that are so Amazon centric, that there is an inherent risk of putting so many eggs into the Amazon basket. You’ve already diversified beyond Amazon. But what advice would you have for investors who are thinking about buying brands that only sell on Amazon, continuing to grow them only on Amazon? That creates an awful lot of Amazon centric risk.

Christian Salza 30:00

I agree. And I think if they have the skills, I mean, look, I believe a lot of these acquired they have a lot of money. And a lot of them also have a lot of, let’s say, a financial background. Right. So they, and, and, and I think what a lot of them are lacking is, you know, really branding brand building expertise. One thing, and number two is actually also logistical infrastructure. Right. So, you know, while, you know, they can only grow on Amazon, because they’re utilizing Amazon’s infrastructure, yes. And, and, of course, which, which is one way to do it, and you can do it successfully. But, you know, we are using our own infrastructure, and Amazon’s, you know, if we need to, yeah, and, of course, we have a much better, you know, cost structure. So we are much more profitable on this right. So, so, so, so I think, you know, if you want to be really successful in the long run, you have to continue to build also not only your, you know, buy more, one, buy everything on Amazon, but to kind of, you know, think about your capabilities on how to how to access and connect to different marketplaces, but also how to set up your own logistical infrastructure. That’s actually a completely new ballgame, you know. And that’s, that’s, I think, where, yeah, where the rubber hits the road and where in the long term, we will see, you’ll probably see two types of companies, the ones that are getting it right, and the ones who don’t, and the ones who get it right will probably be the more successful ones.

James Thomson 31:35

Christian, I want to thank you for joining us today on the Buy Box Experts podcast. For those of you interested in learning more about Berlin Brands, please visit berlin-brands-group.com. Join us again next time on the Buy Box Experts podcast. Today’s episode is brought to you by GETIDA. GETIDA is a global leader in Amazon FBA auditing and reimbursements. GETIDA analyzes your Amazon data, reconciles your FBA inventory and files claims reimbursements on your behalf. No obligations, no hidden fees, just catina recovering your money. GETIDA helps you get your money back into your pockets so you can focus on investing in more inventory and growing your business. To learn more, check out getida.com. That’s getida.com.

Outro 32:24

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Meet the Speakers

Christian Salza

Christian Salza

Managing Director of Berlin Brands Group

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