Interview: Marc Joseph, Founder of DollarDays

Marc Joseph is the founder of DollarDays, the […] online wholesaler that helps small businesses compete against larger enterprises and [helps] nonprofit organizations find the products they need to support their causes. DollarDays offers more than 225,000 high-quality products at wholesale and closeout prices. Mr. Joseph has helped build some of America’s most known retail stores, including Federated Department Stores, Bill’s Variety Stores, Everything’s a Dollar Stores and Crown Book Stores. Most recently, he started a chain of hair salons in Arizona and built it up to 11 stores before selling them to devote [his] full time to DollarDays. He is the author of the book “The Secrets of Retailing…or How to Beat Walmart,” which provides expert advice to independent businesses of all sizes on everything from the psychology of buying and the hiring of great employees to working successfully with vendors and promoters, as well as how to expand your business on the Internet. Mr. Joseph is also a frequent contributor to The Huffington Post and the Alibaba Global Biz Circle news websites.

IdeaMensch (IM): Where did the idea for DollarDays come from?

Marc Joseph (MJ):When we started back in 2001, small businesses were getting crushed by chains moving into their towns, so we wanted to help these small businesses survive and thrive against these big-box competitors. At the same time, the Internet was emerging as the new way to quickly communicate, so I saw the Internet as the next channel of distribution of wholesale and closeout products by the case so the small guys could compete on a level playing field with the big guys.

IM: What does your typical day look like, and how do you make it productive?

MJ: The Internet is really the last true vehicle to still be able to use guerrilla marketing to promote your business, so we start every day asking the question, “How can we find new customers and begin to brand ourselves?” in this sea of millions of websites currently trying to attract the eyeballs on the World Wide Web. We make this a productive exercise by reviewing sales from the last day, week and month and analyzing the customers, both new and existing, [who] created these sales. Our short-term goal is to market out to lookalike customers who don’t know about us today. Because of this, we get our report card each day. This month, we get a “B+” because we are averaging 1,500 new customers now joining us each day. Our long-term goal is to convert these new customers into repeat, loyal customers.

IM: How do you bring ideas to life?

MJ: Unlike traditional businesses that need a three-month timeframe from idea to implementation, being a company focused on the Internet, we can come up with an idea in the morning and have it live on the site that afternoon. This gives us the opportunity to test even the craziest ideas, because if the idea does not work, we can immediately take it off the site with a click of a button. So just about every day our site looks a little different, and the winning ideas become part of our culture, while those that do not click with our customers go away quickly.

IM: What is one trend that really excites you?

MJ: Adult coloring books are exciting. Why adult coloring books? I just use this as an example of how ideas become trends that become sales. About a year ago, one of our better small-business customers told us that in his small town, he was seeing 20- and 30-year-olds put down their cellphones and pick up a sketchpad or coloring book and begin to doodle. He assumed it was for stress relief from the constant pressure our modern society puts on itself in this electronic-driven age. With that early knowledge, we went out and sourced all kinds of adult-type coloring books from geometrics to nature to animals. Just this year, we have gone through hundreds of thousands of adult coloring books—[and all] because one of our salespeople developed a strong bond with one of our customers who trusted us to help them build their business. Adult coloring books are to this generation like pet rocks were to an earlier generation.

IM: What is one habit that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

MJ: I keep a pad and pen on my nightstand. For some reason, some of my better ideas pop up in the middle of the night, and if I don’t write them down when they wake me up, I just can’t remember them the next morning. Taking this a step further, whenever I am away from my desk to exercise, have dinner, etc., I now always have a pen and paper in my pocket just in case that million-dollar idea jumps in front of me.

IM: What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?

MJ: To help put myself through college, I became the housekeeper and the weekend cook at my fraternity. Who knew that college guys could be such slobs? No matter how often you tried to train your brothers to pick up after themselves, if their mother could not teach them, I certainly could not, either. This was the beginning of my learning about the art of communication, and for negotiations to be successful, you could not use the tact of telling people what to do—you need to get them to buy into your dream or, in the case of the fraternity, working together for a cleaner, more appealing environment.

IM: If you were to start over again, what would you do differently?

MJ: Cash is king when starting a business. Opening your own business may be a dream coming true, but paying for this dream is an entirely different story. The vision of digging through your couch to find all the lost change to make your business work is a myth. Raising money is the toughest challenge you will ever face. You cannot put every penny you have into your business, because you will need dollars to cover your living expenses for the first six months, and if you do not have enough cash flow in your business, you will be scrambling for years. So my advice is to make an extremely strong effort to raise as much cash as possible before going into business.

IM: As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over?

MJ: Pick up the phone and always be reaching out. Don’t wait for people to reach out to you. Whether you like it or not, entrepreneurs are always selling. They are selling their idea to raise funds to start the business. They are selling their idea to potential employees to get them to join their dream team. They are selling their idea to customers and suppliers to trust them to help improve their businesses. So entrepreneurs cannot get complacent. Every day, you must relive those days and months in the beginning when you were the only one picking up the phone. Pick up the phone today and find new customers.

IM: What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

MJ: Hire good people. I try to hire people who are smarter than I am in areas that I am not the expert. This way, you can build a team with divergent expertise, yet when adding up the sum of the teams’ knowledge, it is first class.

IM: What is a failure you had, and how did you overcome it?

MJ: For years, our site, which is homegrown, did not give the perception that we were a top-notch company. It was slow and cumbersome to use, and, because of this, our sales were stagnate. We finally bit the bullet and put all of our financial resources and human resources into taking our site into the 21st century. It has paid off, because this year, we were one of the three finalists for the Internet Retailer B2B E-Commerce Marketer of the Year [award].

IM: What is one business idea for those reading this article?

MJ: The relationship we as businesses and entrepreneurs have with our customers is changing. It is a trend that has always been part of the millennial generation, but is now also part of all generations, and that is [that] customers want to do business with companies that care about giving back to their community. We do it with three different programs—$5,000 a month through our Facebook giveaways to nonprofits, creating free wishlist sites for nonprofits, and letting all of our customers donate 5% of their purchases to nonprofits. I am sure there are plenty of other ways businesses can give back to their communities.

IM: What is the best $100 you recently spent and why?

MJ: We donated a case of baby blankets to our local Kiwanis Club K-Kids group at our Boys & Girls Club. This is an organization that helps young kids learn the value of service and helping others. This young club was helping the homeless families in our area. You should have seen the look on these kids’ faces as they were unpacking the carton of baby blankets. The joy they had in helping brought many of the adults in the room to tears. This is emotion that cannot be bought.

IM: What software do you use?

MJ: Because we have an inside sales team that works closely with our existing and new customers, we have just initiated Salesforce to help keep us organized and alert us quickly for followup with our customers. Making us more efficient in the long run will make us more money.

IM: What one book do you recommend?

MJ: If you are only going to read one book this year and you are an entrepreneur or small-business owner, you must read “Shoe Dog” by Phil Knight, the create of Nike. I could not put it down. The ups and down of starting a business are on full display in this compelling story. I must mention two other books also that gave me real perspective on growing a business. The first is “Alibaba,” which is the most accurate telling of the story of the largest e-commerce company in the world, and the second is “Elon Musk,” which tells the true story of this billionaire and gives you some insight into what our future may look like.

IM: Who has influenced your thinking?

MJ: We can learn so much by studying history. I can’t get enough of George Washington, whether it is his biography or the current TV show, “Turn: Washington’s Spies.” But the real influencers of my life were the entrepreneurs of my father’s generation, brave men who I watched in action just about every day. Most of these guys fought in World War II and then came home to build their dreams for their families. None of them had anything handed to them, and they built their businesses by hard work, dedication to their dream, and the understanding of what it takes to build and service a loyal customer base.

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