Footnanny: An Amazon Small Business Success Story
This week, Amazon published its 2020 SMB Impact Report highlighting the success that small and medium-sized businesses have had on Amazon.com despite Covid-19. While most people tend to think of SMBs that work with Amazon only as sellers, the over 2 million companies that do work with Amazon go well beyond selling goods and include authors, content creators, developers, IT solution providers and delivery providers. Over the past 12 months ending on May 31st, these companies made an average of $160,000 in sales, accounting for more than fifty percent of all units sold on Amazon.com and outpacing first-party sales.
Considering the current scrutiny on tech overall, the timing of the report, just a week before Amazon’s CEO Jeff Bezos, together with other tech CEOs, is due to appear in front of a congressional committee, seems more than fortuitous.
Speculation on timing aside, it is interesting to dig a little deeper into how SMBs relied on Amazon during Covid-19. I was certainly curious to hear from business owners themselves and I reached out to Amazon to see if they could make an introduction. I was particularly interested in talking to a female founder of a minority-owned business. Amazon put me in touch with the CEO of Footnanny, Gloria L. Williams. I had come across the Footnanny brand while I was checking out the Amazon Small business blog and was eager to know more about the relationship between this brand and the online giant. As full disclosure, I want to share that I conducted the interview independently and Amazon did not have access to this article prior to its publication.
Williams gave me the shorthand story of her career, which sounded to me like the perfect mix of dedication, passion, talent, and a little bit of luck. She told me how she had her own business as a pedicurist for 20 years, including landing a job at HARPO Studios in Chicago as an onset nail technician. One day she went to work wearing a Footnanny t-shirt and Oprah Winfrey tweeted about her brand and products changing her life forever. This was 2011. All of a sudden, Williams was getting requests from all over the world, not just the US, and she needed help. “I read a book that said that to be successful as a business, you need to make money when you sleep,” she told me. “I knew I could not do that without help, so I turned to Amazon.” In a way, she feels like her business and Amazon grew up together. I am not sure if Footnanny has a mission statement, but listening to Williams tell her story, I put it down to delivering the healing touch and feel good factor she learned from her mother and her grandmother. In 2014, one of her creams made it into Oprah’s favorite things list, giving her business yet another boost. Her business grew even during Covid-19, as her successful line of products became even more appealing as people did not have the option to go to their usual spa. Williams said she was able to meet demand because earlier last summer, she had made the decision to drive even more stock through Amazon’s fulfillment.
I wanted to know from Williams what Amazon brought to her business and she did not hesitate to give me her reasons. She said that, at this point, when she considers her business to be well established, it boils down to two things: data and customer relationship. Amazon provides her with a dashboard that gives her the ability to see her business all in one place. From her inventory to her sales by product variant, Williams says she gets a level of detail that would take considerable time and financial effort to replicate if her sales depended more on a multi-channel go to market strategy.
The second factor she equally values is the ability to retain the relationship with her customers while letting Amazon take care of the order fulfillment. The ability Footnanny has to instill its personal touch on the packages that are then delivered by Amazon as well as having a direct line of commination though the comments session on Amazon.com is critical to Williams.
When Footnanny was a brand-new business, the biggest reason to turn to Amazon was peace of mind, both financial and operational. Williams recalls with trepidation her trips to the shipping company before she became an Amazon fulfillment seller. For a new business, some of those upfront costs are the difference between investing further in the business or even tapping into personal funds to help the cash flow.
Operational peace of mind, however, does not have to be confused with smart business planning. After all, Amazon does not run the business for you. Williams suggests that companies that are critical of Amazon’s fees might have to reassess whether their products are priced in such a way that incorporates the fees. As a fulfillment reseller, her planning around inventory is also critical, as inventory storage has direct fees associated with it. This is where the dashboard, with useful inventory data and orders’ run rates analysis, will help to balance having enough inventory to meet growing demand without storing the products for such a long time as to incur in extra storage fees.
A Seller’s Wishlist
As my time with Williams was coming to an end, I was curious to learn what she thought could be done to raise visibility for small and medium businesses further. I have to admit that as a big amazon.com user, I had to go and do some digging to find the SMB page where different types of businesses are highlighted and where I found Footnanny for the first time.
Williams would like to have the ability to create her own storefront and she would like to do so not using a third party but a set of Amazon’s tools. Big brands like Crayola or Levi’s or even Beats have storefronts, basically, a landing page where you can find all the different products that a specific brand sells on amazon.com, all reflecting the brand’s look and feel. While Williams could afford a third-party service provider to build a storefront, she does not like the idea of bringing a middle man into the relationship she feels she created with Amazon.
My conversation with Williams touched briefly on the topic of minority-owned businesses. While she appreciates that more visibility might benefit the business, she thinks there is sometimes a misunderstanding that products coming from a minority-owned business only address a specific part of the market. What Williams would like instead is to be able to bring sales back to the local community. I am not sure whether Amazon has the data to make this decision given how at times, businesses have their legal address being different from their operations one. Still, I seem to remember a few years ago that Amazon did create some community-based storefronts and I do wonder if the current drive to support local businesses through Coovid-19 might be the perfect time to retry the experiment and see what happens.
The last wish Williams shared with me is the ability to have “how-to” videos so that she can guide people through how to use her products to get the best benefit. It seems like a reasonable request to put forward when video continues to grow as a medium and would provide brands with a more personal touch in their customer engagement.
I know Footnanny is just one story out of the two million brands on Amazon, but I thought it was important to give voice to the other side, the potentially overlooked side, the side that makes Amazon as successful as it is. As the negativity around big tech seems to be growing, we might want to consider that rather than boycotting big tech, we could support those initiatives that have positive ramifications on society. In Amazon’s case, we could stop turning to big brands that have been our go-to for years and invest time in getting to know some of these two million small and medium-sized businesses making a conscious effort to support them and their practices that often favor more personalized quality and environmentally friendlier products.
This article was ooriginally published on Forbes
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.