Spotlight on The Nile
Jethro Marks operates one of the largest eBay booksellers in Australia, having started TheNile.com.au in 2003 to sell books online. As he grew and diversified his store, he earned top seller status and opened warehouses in four different countries. Today, his business brings in several million dollars every year on eBay alone.
Jethro Marks and The Nile: Starting a Business
The Nile began when three young professionals sat down in a room to face a question all new sellers face: “What am I going to sell?” Starting an online business can be overwhelming at the best of times, so Jethro and his peers decided their best bet at finding a “golden egg” was to divide and conquer. The three decided to test the waters by selling everything they could: books, Jewelry, clothing, games, toys, and more. As they sold, they gathered data showing which items performed well and which items faltered. They used what they learned to decide which product categories were worth pursuing and which weren’t. Slowly but surely, they eliminated dead weight and narrowed in on a specialization.
Under Jethro’s guidance, what began as a brainstorming session in a small room has grown into one of Australia’s premier online booksellers.
Jethro didn’t believe that a variety store would serve them in the long run. He wanted to specialise in one product, establish a solid customer base, and then diversify when the time was right. After researching the items that had performed well, they settled on the books category.
Book sales checked all of the requirements that the entrepreneurs had come up with: they were easy to ship because of their predictable size, easy to market because everyone knows what they are, they aren’t very susceptible to problems with fit, damage and wear, and publishing houses were willing to supply them at wholesale prices. Jethro bootstrapped the business himself, starting with a five thousand dollar investment, then slowly scaling.
Initially they sold university textbooks, using the profit they generated to branch into fiction and non-fiction books. As they grew they opened warehouses all over Australia and built a website—thenile.com.au—to drive additional traffic and sales. The business grew steadily and the founders were pleased that their multi-marketplace strategy was working for them.
Strategy, Adaptability, and Success
After six months of eBay and website sales, Jethro’s team encountered a growing problem. In 2003, their listings had to be individually created and uploaded, one at a time, unless they were willing to pay a bigger cut of their sales to eBay. Labor requirements and costs made scaling difficult as The Nile grew into a business with several thousand books in stock. Jethro’s team searched but found that usable bulk-uploading tools weren’t yet available to them at costs that they could bear. Though disappointed, Jethro was faced with a decision: stay on eBay and list what they could by hand, or pull off of eBay entirely and focus driving sales through the website. Jethro chose the latter option. Only six months after starting their business on eBay, they moved in a different direction.
Disappointed but not discouraged, the team continued to build their business using the company website. They worked hard to differentiate themselves from competitors, offering free shipping within Australia, selling in Australian dollars, and developing a customer service team that strived to provide quick and friendly assistance. The Nile continued to grow independently for six years until—finally—a bulk listing tool was made available to Australian sellers.
Jethro and his team were thrilled to once again have access to eBay’s marketplace and customers. The Nile was one of the first Australian brands to use mass onboarding and within six months they had uploaded one million listings. Today, that number continues to grow with millions of books in stock, and shipments being sent regularly to over 50 countries.
Jethro's Tips for Other Sellers
While it’s clear that Jethro and his team found a niche that worked for them, they also employed several key strategies to navigate their business towards success.
1. Make a business plan and stick to it.
Sellers often allow the limitations of e-commerce sites to limit their businesses as a whole. Some sellers find that their listings aren’t ranking highly enough, while others can’t achieve top seller status because they ship in two days rather than one. Still others face the same challenge that Jethro and his team did, struggling to list items quickly enough. The truth is there are many things that can stand in the way of making money online. Jethro says that when you have clear goals and plans, it’s easier to work around these challenges with creative solutions.
A lot of people try to build their business first and only then determine what the outcome will be. You need to think of the outcome first and reverse engineer it from there. Find out where you’re going and then work towards that goal every day.”
For The Nile this meant changing their strategy when they realized that eBay couldn’t help them to progress early on. Instead, they focused on their own website, improving SEO, establishing relationships with publishers, and offering free shipping and other incentives to boost sales. When eBay’s technology caught up, they were well-positioned to return to eBay profitably and expanded their reach to include eBay’s 164 million buyers once again.
2. Remember that research saves money.
In 2007, Jethro’s team began to diversify their inventory, selling items other than books. His team used Terapeak to analyze market saturation, revenue potential, and demand for each product. In each stage of the diversification strategy Jethro’s team created a business case to justify the addition or removal of a product. He says that taking the time to research each item before sourcing saved the company time and money in the long run.
Sometimes my staff will look at an item and say ‘I think that is a good opportunity.’ As a CEO I tell them to bring me the numbers to support that feeling. Is the competition high? Are the items steady and have they been selling for a while? Can we make a profit with our current sourcing connections? If the answer to all of those is ‘Yes’ then we can move ahead.”
3. Understand that the lowest price doesn't guarantee sales.
The final piece of advice that Jethro gives is for sellers to think outside the box. While good prices may be enough for some customers, Jehtro has found that quality, speed of delivery, customer service, and accessibility play an equally important role.
We use Terapeak to verify the numbers. Then we ask ourselves what we’ll do that will make us stand out. What are we offering that others aren't? Can we offer free shipping and still make a profit? Is the quality better than our competitors? Do we have a comprehensive return policy?”
For Jethro’s business, this meant building a relationship of trust with Australian buyers. The Nile intentionally set up warehouses across Australia so that they could offer free shipping within the country. They offer a 30 day return policy and have customer support agents ready to answer questions or concerns seven days a week. Each of these additions increased peace of mind for buyers, ensuring a good first experience and, hopefully, repeat business.
The Nile has been successful because of its clear business plan, understanding of customers’ needs, and flexiblility in business operations and strategy, and we’re thrilled to count Jethro Marks and his business amongst our success stories.
Visit The Nile's eBay store at: http://stores.ebay.com.au/The-Nile-Store
Visit The Nile's primary website at: https://www.thenile.com.au/
Visit The Nile's Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/TheNileAustralia