In this article, we interview eCommerce entrepreneur, Jonathan Molendijk who reveals everything from his winning niches to winning product criteria, to actually building a proper eCommerce brand and successfully retaining customers. He also talks about his biggest successes and setbacks and how he actually finds reliable suppliers. Read (or watch) the full interview to learn more about his eCommerce journey!
Sean: “Hey everyone, it's Sean again from SaleHoo. In today's video, we get to interview a seven-figure dropshipper, Jonathan Molendijk. First, can you give us a bit of background on your eCommerce journey?”
Jonathan: “Yeah, I had a very small amount of money saved up. I had probably somewhere close to about $5,000 saved up. The initial year, so the first year of dropshipping that I was doing was pretty much me just going negative, but initially right off the bat, I already understood that it was a business that required positive cash flow.
So in the initial stages, I was just taking all the money that I was making, funneling it back into the business, testing products, basically just burning money to figure out this entire dropshipping business model, how to test products, how to run ads, how to even find these winning products.
But it wasn't until about a year down the road that I actually found my first successful winning product. And with that one, as anyone that's experienced success with dropshipping will tell you, it's just a snowball effect.
So I found that first winning product, initially it was doing about $200 per day. After a couple weeks, I was able to get it up to almost $1,000 per day. And then at that point, the interesting part was I did actually have a reasonably expensive car that I had purchased.
So after that period, within a month, I went and I just sold my car, took all that money that I had from the car sale, and just pumped it back into the store because I was now running at scale. So I had to pay for all these ads, I had to pay for all these products.
And we just managed to scale it up, went to $1,000 per day. And I think I ended up capping out at about $1,500, almost $2,000 per day. Because I was just, even after a year, I was still so inexperienced with scale.
So in that first year, that was the first win that I had. I can't remember exact numbers, but I think from the total run of it, it had about a three-month life cycle. And I came out of it with about $65,000 in profit. So that was the initial stage of success in the dropshipping journey.”
Jonathan's Biggest Successes & Setbacks
Sean: "What were the biggest successes and biggest setbacks you've had in dropshipping?"
Jonathan: "A little over a year and a half ago, I had my next success within the eCommerce space, not just dropshipping. I came to the realization of actually developing brands as opposed to just dropshipping. I'm sure something we can chat about in a moment here, but it's basically still using dropshipping in a sense, but it's a hybrid business model where you predominantly focus on brand structures while still integrating a bit of the dropshipping model.
So I would say that was the next success I had within dropshipping. The whole path was just littered with failures. It got burned a couple of times by suppliers, issues with payment processors, and account bans. Entire Shopify stores getting shut down, those types of things. It's really the problem with any business. You're going to face a lot of issues that come up due to the fact that it's not just you running the company; it's you working with other companies as well. Like if you're running Facebook ads, you're working with Facebook. If you're running Pinterest ads, you're working with Pinterest. So, right when you start integrating all these other companies into your business, there's just a high likelihood you're going to run into some issues. Especially during the initial stages, you're learning. You're not doing the best business practices typically, and you're going to run into some issues that these companies just don't like to see."
Sean: Can you let us know what type of products you sold, or at least the category if you're not willing to share the details?"
Jonathan: "Oh, no, I'm willing to share it all. Because it's no cost to me, I know I can still go out there and dominate. So, pretty much over the years, I've sold anything that was a trending product in the initial stages because that was the easiest way to catch a trend, make some money, and get out, and carry on. As I got better, after about year two, I started to really focus on specific niches that I liked, and I would play to seasonality. Even to this day, pretty much what I do is home and garden, clothing, and shoes when it comes to summer time because there are specific home and garden products, clothing, and shoe products that become very high demand in the summer. As we come into winter time, I really focus on giftable items coming into Christmas time. That's my major focus. I want to find very specific trending products that have high giftable ability. Just because there are so many different holidays as you come into the wintertime, those types of products sell incredibly well. So if you can get your targeting right, if you can get the product right, you can hit a really, really profitable viral vein. Once you get that, you can just absolutely blast off a product. It's a little bit less consistent than the summertime products, but it is definitely a great way to find trending products during the winter time."
Sean: "What other product criteria do you have for a winning product?
Jonathan: “It's really difficult to explain specific product criteria because one of the major factors in my product selection is gut feeling. I have so many years of experience using viral products and niche products and seeing how they actually progress out when they're selling. Another way is I'm often looking for multi-order products when it comes to the summertime. I love products, especially in the home and garden category, where you can get multi-orders because it may be something people will need. It's a consumer product, so someone might need multiple of them to complete their project. I love those because it increases your average order value and gives you a much higher chance of success. You can obliterate all your competition because you can spend more money on ads. That's where the next thing comes in. If I'm finding a product through a research method of actually seeing the ad of a running product, I'll use that as a great method of product criteria as well. A good ad is actually a good product criteria because typically you can find a great product just by finding a great ad as well."
Sean: “For suppliers, how do you go about finding the right supplier, though?"
Jonathan: “Me personally, it's something that I haven't used, SaleHoo, but just based on the information that I've gotten from the guys out there and their team and the structures that they have in place, it seems like they have everything that will take you from start to finish. You've got your suppliers, you've got your wholesale, so if you really wanted to even do the process that I've talked about where you transition from dropshipping to brand building and actually hold that wholesale inventory, it's super cool that the guys out at SaleHoo can actually give you that option as well."
Winning Product Criteria
Sean: "Okay, so we've gone through your eCommerce journey, product research. Let's talk about scaling and branding. How did you scale your store?"
Jonathan: “Mainly for dropshipping-specific stores, the scaling process really was starting out with either Facebook or TikTok ads, and then once you're at a healthy scale at that point, I would then transition from, depending on which one I started with. If I started with Facebook, I would transition to TikTok ads, and if I started with TikTok ads, I'm going to transition to the other platform and start doing multi-platform targeting. Typically, I'm going to do that just with Facebook and TikTok. If it's a very specific product that has a lot of female customers, I may start doing some retargeting ads on Pinterest, and if that starts performing well, I would then actually start doing some new customer ads on Pinterest as well.
So, it really just depends on the product, but predominantly, it's Facebook, TikTok, and Pinterest. The first initial scaling happens on the initial platform that I tested, and then after that, I scale into multi-platform targeting, testing out those different ad avenues. It's really just taking as much money as I can and putting it where it needs to go, testing so many different audiences. Like I said, when you start getting that data coming back, you've got to keep track of it because there's going to be a lot, especially on multiple platforms, and the data from each platform can be very different. Your ideal customer on Pinterest could be very different than your ideal customer on Facebook, even though it's the same product. It's really interesting the way that it works. So, I'll keep all that data, and once I'm looking at that data and I start to figure out what my ideal customer looks like, at that point, I'm no longer doing audience testing campaigns or campaigns.
Where I'm trying to figure out who this customer is, at that point, I'll start doing very broad-based campaigns on TikTok and Facebook. I'll actually target very large demographics of people but narrow it down to specific demographics of that audience. If I know my ideal customer is aged 44 to 55, I may run a campaign with no interest targeting, no gender targeting, and no specific country targeting, unless I've identified that in the past. Then, I might just run that campaign for the 45 to 55+ very small age group but one I've identified as my ideal customer age group. I'll test that out, so you can start doing audience pockets instead of testing a bunch of different interests.
Once you start doing that, those audience pockets can actually be quite large if you stack certain parts of what a person is. For example, if you identify your ideal customer as female, aged 44 to 55+, living in Australia, the UK, Canada, or the US, you can start narrowing down and creating these ideal customer audiences. And those ones you can actually punch like you can pump a very large budget into because it's not as small of an audience but it is your ideal customer so you can actually scale out quite aggressively with that and you'll typically get much more consistent results with those audiences as well. At least from my past data, that's what I've noticed. So, that's pretty much how I would scale out dropshipping."
Sean: “How about, you know, if you're building a brand, and you want to retain customers or increase their lifetime value? What are the steps that you take, maybe email marketing, that sort of thing?”
Jonathan: “Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, and that's the thing like brand building is completely different. It's so cool, and I love it so much because it's a lot more technical. You can start to get into those marketing avenues that aren't so boom and boss; they aren't so aggressive. They're more technical and engaging with your customers.
So, when it comes to brand building, there's a lot more focus on back-end systems like email marketing, SMS marketing, and even social media marketing through organic posts. "Like the amount of money that's being put into content that's specifically just for organic posting. That's a huge part. So especially with TikTok and Instagram Reels, you get a lot of exposure just through these organic posts. So, a large amount of budget when it comes to building out a brand for me is really building that organic audience. That's a huge portion of the budget that I allocate. Another part of what I do with brand building is I will do the same structure of testing different pockets within audiences using paid ads. The reason why I do this is that I still want to identify my ideal customer. And if you're running a brand, you potentially will have more than one product on your store. If you're running a single-product store, the same thing applies. If it's multiple products, you're just doing it for more than one product.
But you still need to identify your ideal customer, and the way that you're going to do that is predominantly through paid ads because you have access to all that data, whereas with organic posts, you may see some comments. You might be able to do some deep dives into profiles of people and try to narrow down things like what their age is, what their gender is, and where they're located, but that information is not as easily accessible. So, with paid ads, you have access to that information right in front of you, and you can create your ideal customer for each individual product. That's predominantly what I use my social media ads for. So, I'll do that audience testing, and then I also use social media ads for retargeting. I go heavy with the retargeting on my social media ads to catch those customers that potentially went to my store organically and just keep hitting them with my ads so that they can see that product. You can catch them, and typically by the third time visiting your store, I love the third time because that's when a lot of these people will actually convert. It takes about three times depending on the brand and depending on the product price point, but I've noticed three is the lucky point to get that customer to come back and actually purchase your product.
Another thing that I will do is, I will actually go through the process of running Google ads. Google ads, in general, are a very long-term strategy because you have to let those campaigns really optimize and grow. The cool thing about using organic posts and social media ads is that you're going to collect a lot of information on what people are actually interested in and what they're searching for. You may have a product title, and you may be running ads for specific keywords, but then you'll see a comment on one of your Facebook ads or multiple comments and someone is stating the name of that product, but they're using completely different words.
And then, you might go check and see that there's a high search volume for that exact way of describing the product. Now, you realize, okay, maybe I should start running some Google ads with that product title. Maybe I should start changing my product title to that description. So you can really come, combine the information that you get from it all, and the process is just a lot more patience, a lot slower, but you get to make very, very technical adjustments in every single area, and that's, I find that so cool because it's like the little technical adjustments can be so small and have such an impact, and it's just, it's so cool seeing it actually play out.”
Sean: “Final question: how do you think dropshipping or eCommerce will change in the next one to two years, and how do you think people who want to get into eCommerce or are already part of eCommerce should adapt to that change?"
Jonathan: "I mean the main change that I've noticed and that I think is just going to continually get more and more aggressive is the amount of light that's actually been shown on direct-to-consumer products. It's not just something where dropshippers are doing it now; it's something where there's actually massive companies coming out doing direct-to-consumer selling, tying that customer to the product to the wholesaler and having it shipped directly to them. It's being done by huge companies now. So, I think when it comes to dropshipping, even if you're not building a brand, I think a major importance is creating brand value, creating brand imagery, even if it's just a dropshipping product, making it seem like your product, even though it may be available on some other website that does these really, really low prices at wholesale. Make your product look like it's actually better. And the way that you do that is through branding. The way that you do that is through better-quality product photos, better ads, and just making yourself seem like you're better. Like there is a reason why a brand can go and sell the exact same product as some other place for almost ten times the price, and it's just that perception of quality that comes with a brand, that perceptional quality of the product and quality of service. Like better customer service, better quality products, better all-around customer experience. So, that quality of service that you create for the customer, that quality of product, or even just that perception of quality is what will set you apart from all these other big companies that are selling these products for insanely cheap or even potentially just wholesale." Suppliers that are doing the same business model, that are doing dropshipping as well."
Sean: "That's pretty much a wrap for the video. There's a lot of information, especially in marketing and branding."
Jonathan: "Yeah, if it's something where you guys want to learn more from me, you can go ahead and check out my YouTube channel Molendijk Media.' On there, I post a bunch of stuff about marketing, stuff to do with brand building, dropshipping, pretty much everything that you would need. And then also, in the links below that video and on my social media profiles, you can access my free Discord group. In there, it's just a bunch of entrepreneurs talking about their businesses, talking about their successes, failures, stuff that they're going through, and stuff they're trying to figure out. And then, of course, I'm in there personally as well, answering any questions that anyone has. So, it's just some cool tools that you have access to that could really help you out with your business journey."