Veterans MUST Read This Post! Key Transition Tips from Mo Johnson, Owner of Better Display Cases

This is Part Four, the last portion of our interview with Mo Johnson, the owner of Better Display Cases.  For Part One click here, Part Two, click here, and Part Three click here.

I want to be respectful of your time, I know you’re busy.  Last question.  Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Showroom at Better Display Cases
Showroom at Better Display Cases

One thing I want to say is vets have a big leg up.  I don’t know if people understand that.  There is a lot to being successful on Amazon and on the Internet.  Of course, you need to have a good product.  The most important thing of all is your reviews by customers.  So that’s super duper important.  So generally speaking, people want to help out a vet.  That’s what I put on every product we sell, which has a little slip of paper in there explaining who we are.  The business was started by a vet.  We get a lot of good feedback.  You’ve probably seen those things.  We just get a lot of good feedback.  We have a good product, and we have outstanding customer service.  I believe that vet thing really is the difference.  The key thing that has put me over the hump.  It’s the difference maybe between 90% positive and 99% positive.  That difference is everything.

Who doesn’t want to support a vet?

Yeah, all things being equal.  On Amazon, the difference between ranking #1 and #10 is everything.  #1 gets 90% of the sales, and #10 gets no sales.  #2 maybe gets, 10% of the sales.  That vet thing is huge and I don’t know if vets really understand that.  I just point that out.  Especially if you’re competing in a big way.  I’m sure people like to help vets locally, too, but I’m not sure there are a lot of vets that sell locally.  It’s a good thing.  I just stumbled on this, I didn’t know.  I’m competing against big sellers all across the country and when the buyer looks at two things all they know about it is “vet” or “no vet.”  It’s a really big advantage I think.  A lot of people comment on that and say “thank you for your service” so I know it’s a pretty big deal.  I know it’s not much of a difference between the good sellers and the outstanding ones, as far as the metrics go.  It’s not just Amazon, it’s eBay, it’s Walmart, Etsy, all these places we’re on now.  That’s been a really important factor.

If you have more thoughts, send them my way.  This is probably going to be a two or three parter, which is good.  Thanks!

Mo Johnson sent the following thoughts via E-mail after the live interview:

Hey Jerry, thanks for the interview.  Love the blog you are doing — great idea. One thing we didn’t talk about is how we came up with the motto:  “display your story”.  That happened after I was floored by customers contacting me, sharing very personal stories about how much our cases meant to them.  Usually it involved an item that they were displaying that had belonged to a loved one who had passed away.  I mean people have called me, literally crying and telling me they wanted me to know that our cases were much more than just a display case.  That all really surprised me and changed the way I thought about the business.   We weren’t just in the business of creating, manufacturing and selling a product.  Rather, it is more about the item the customer is displaying.  More about their story.  Displaying their story.  That’s really what it’s about.  We are helping people to display (and thereby tell) their life stories, the things most important to them.
OK, so that’s one thing I wanted to mention.   Also, one point of that is that once you start down the entrepreneurship road, you really don’t know where it will lead.  So, that’s both scary and exciting.

Another thing, related to that, is I think you and I spent a good amount of time with me dwelling on the negatives of entrepreneurship — the long hours and stress of it.  And the impact of that.  That’s definitely true and important to understand.  I was tired yesterday so thinking more about that side of things 🙂 

On the other hand, it is also very rewarding to know that you are building something from nothing to what it has become.  The impact that it has on so many people.  It may sound corny but in its own way, Better Display Cases has changed the world — for the better.  Many display cases we design, make and sell are new and different and never been seen before.  Most were things customers asked for.  They are being used to display people’s stories that maybe would never have been told otherwise.

That’s what I was getting at when I mentioned before that I work all the time.  That’s true.   The business is on my mind pretty much all the time (unless something more urgent replaces it) — but my mind is always wandering to what we can do better and solving problems.   And, I have piles of notes and calendars and audios — all with notes of ideas I’ve had that I wrote down or recorded and need the time to go over again and implement.   I also have a never-ending flow of emails and online blogs, audios, articles, etc — all with ideas, tools, etc that can improve the business in one way or the other. 

Right now I’m initiating a huge change that hopefully will put all our selling channels on one place where we can change all listings from one central locations if we want to make changes and also keep track of inventory — and also do shipping.  Part of that is negotiating a better deal with FedEx — anyway, all that is a long story, but just a small example of the kind of things I’m always working on.  Many things you try don’t work.  So, it’s not a straight line.  Which is part of why the process of innovating and getting better is never ending.  Each one of those things involves not only the technology but the people and the partners and all the issues that go with all that.

Then, as a small business owner I’m also building manager (yesterday just before you got there, a pipe burst that I was dealing with).  I’m chief technology officer (anything breaks, my problem).  Chief tax officer (have a part time accountant, but I still have to gather all the info for her which is the most time consuming part).  Custodian (thinking of hiring a cleaning crew, not sure if worth the money).  Head of HR.  On and on.  There’s no substitute for the owner.  Only the owner cares like an owner.

Theres nothing as hard, or rewarding, as starting and building a small business.  So, there is not enough time in the day to do all I would like to do.  Which is why, there’s never a spare moment because I always have good stuff I could be doing.    That’s the working all the time piece.

But, importantly, I don’t think of it as work at all.  It’s just me.  It’s who I am and what I do — as much as I can.  There’s almost no where I’d rather be than in my office, “working”.  So, I both work all the time and not at all — if that makes sense.  It’s very cool to wake up every day and know that your time will be spent building something of your own — rather than something that belongs to someone else.
Another thing — I mentioned how being a vet is a big advantage for me.  The other thing that has really helped is that I have little competition.  The reason for that is that my business is a terrible business in many ways.  When I started, I mentioned those groups I was part of that were looking at importing from China.  I mentioned my idea to them.   Unanimously — everyone said it was the stupidiest idea they’d ever heard.  “Of all the things you could import from China, why pick something so large, expensive to ship, and so likely to be damaged in shipment — nightmare.” 

I replied:  “yes I agree, show me something else I can import that has the same profit  margin” 

crickets.. 

So, I gave it a shot (by the way the profit margin has turned out not to be as great as I thought when I started, but still, fortunately, it’s good) .

Really that is a common thread in the business.  Most of the important things I’ve done that have proven to be really successful were things I was told not to do. 

1.  go into the acrylic display case business
2.  sell them on Amazon
3.  make cases without mirrors
4.  make cases with silver risers (in China they told me “no body like silver; everybody want gold” — this is what I began to tell you at one point yesterday — if one of my competitors wanted to do something like sell with silver risers — first they’d have to convince their supplier to go to the manufacturer and then the manufacturer would have to agree to make them.   Plus, the big supplier in the U.S. is HUGE and orders millions of cases many months in advance.  So, probably won’t even listen to a small seller.  We are small, nimble, responsive, willing to take risk.  We cut out the middle man and design/manufacture ourselves and sell direct to the customer..    Anyway, China was wrong.  Lots of people want silver risers.    
5.  make cases with black risers (see 4 above) 


So for me, it’s truly been the road less traveled that made all the difference.  Well, that should about cover it I think.  Again, thanks for the interview.  Talk to you later
***
Sorry, one more thing, then I’m done.
I didn’t talk much about all the customization work we do.  I’d say about half the cases we ship require some major customization — changing riser color or mirror or turf, etc.  You probably had the impression we just ship what we receive from China.  But, because we have soooo many options, it doesn’t usually work out that way.  Which is a huuuge challenge.
Many thanks to Mo for not only his time during the original interview, but also taking the time to document and send his thoughts after the interview.  I don’t know about you, but I learned a lot listening to his story of success!
To visit Mo’s company website click here.
To read our first entrepreneur (Amazon best selling author Lawrence Colby) interview Part 1, click here.
To read our first entrepreneur interview, Part 2, click here.
For our second entrepreneur (photographer Richard Weldon Davis) interview, click here.
Stay tuned for another entrepreneur interview next week!

 

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