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Many people who want to build an online business choose to sell on Amazon because of the massive audience it provides. Unfortunately, a lot of Amazon sellers overlook the need to build a strong brand that resonates with customers. The combination of Amazon’s seemingly endless reach and powerful branding by third-party sellers can lead to incredible success, as Ben Leonard and Beast Gear proved.
Ben had no previous experience with e-commerce or online business, but he achieved incredible success in just three years, reaching $6 million in annual revenue. Beast Gear’s rise to dominance can be attributed in large part to the branding that created passionate, loyal customers.
Speaking on the experience, Ben Leonard says, “Beast Gear was more than just a business. It was a passion project that ultimately changed my life.”
In 2016, Ben was working as an ecologist in Aberdeen, Scotland, when he was forced to take several months off work and physical activities due to pericarditis, a heart condition with potentially serious health ramifications.
Being a fitness enthusiast, Ben was upset about the reality of not getting physical exercise. A few years earlier, he had the idea to start a fitness brand, but never took action. Now that he was looking for a way to stay connected to his hobby without being able to exercise, he revisited the idea. With some encouragement from his girlfriend (who’s now his wife), Ben decided to take the plunge, and Beast Gear was born.
Ben believed there was an opportunity to stand out in the market by offering quality, affordable products. Most of the fitness products he used were either low quality or overpriced. Ben wanted to change the game by providing better alternatives.
At the time, Ben didn’t know anything about e-commerce or selling on Amazon. In fact, he didn’t even know it was possible for third-party sellers to offer their products on Amazon’s massive platform. However, he jumped in and immediately started learning everything he could about e-commerce.
Ben started by selling products in the UK through his own website and on Amazon.co.uk. Beast Gear’s first product was a jump rope (“skipping rope” for those in the UK) called the Beast Rope. The initial inventory order was for 500 ropes, and cost about $2,500 to manufacture and ship. Ben used his own savings and a loan from his parents for that initial investment.
The Beast Rope’s first sale came in June 2016, which was a thrilling experience for this first-time entrepreneur. The Beast Rope would go on to become Beast Gear’s top-selling product, eventually leading to a few other variations and styles of jump ropes.
Growing Best Gear
While some Amazon sellers simply try to find low-competition products, Ben focused on building a legit brand. He created inclusive marketing that appealed to people who may have been looked down on by other fitness brands with an elitist approach. Ben went to great lengths to use social media to connect with customers and Beast Gear’s target audience. He also created a YouTube channel where he published product demonstration videos.
Instagram was especially effective. Ben would respond whenever a customer tagged Beast Gear in a post about a personal achievement. He would send a private message of congratulations, a discount code for a future order, and also ask for a product review on Amazon.
Ben also used a chatbot to grow the business. Customers would receive a product info PDF with a link to a chatbot that offered a coupon for a future purchase and a link to demonstration videos. This also gave the customer a point of contact if they had any issues, allowing Ben to provide excellent customer service.
This proactive approach helped to build goodwill and allowed Beast Gear to amass a loyal fan base. And whenever the brand launched a new product, Ben could send a message to the chatbot subscribers to gain initial momentum.
Additionally, Ben believes that his scientific background gave him a bit of a leg up over the competition. He says, “In the field of science, we collect data, analyze it, respond accordingly, and then collect more data. We’re always collecting data. My background in science gave me an advantage in the business world because it trained me to approach data with interest and curiosity, rather than fear.”
In 2017, Ben nearly doubled sales volume by expanding and selling throughout Europe via Amazon. Most of his competitors hadn’t been willing to jump through the hoops required to sell in other European countries. Putting in the work others weren’t willing to do helped to massively expand the brand’s reach.
Eventually, Ben started paying himself and quit his full-time job as an ecologist.
Ben’s 7-Figure Exit
In just three years, Ben Leonard grew Beast Gear from nothing to more than $6 million in annual sales. Despite the seven-figure sales volume, the business was still run by a lean team of remote freelancers.
There were three full-time freelancers handling customer service and social media. Another part-time freelancer worked on graphics. Ben also hired agencies to handle accounting and Amazon pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns.
At this point, Beast Gear products were sold throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Australia via Amazon. Amazon accounted for about 90-95% of total sales (the Beast Gear website only shipped to customers in the UK).
Ben was planning to expand into the U.S. when he started to consider selling the brand. A friend pointed out that Ben could sell Beast Gear for a life-changing amount of money, and the potential exit became increasingly appealing.
With such a high percentage of Beast Gear’s sales coming via Amazon, Ben realized an Amazon seller account suspension or termination would have been devastating. Although he carefully followed all of Amazon’s rules, he liked the idea of eliminating risk by selling the brand.
Personal factors also played into the decision to sell. Ben’s wife was pregnant at the time, and they were interested in moving to a bigger house.
Beast Gear was growing quickly, but it also still had plenty of room for growth (most notably, expansion into the U.S.). Ben realized this was an ideal time to sell because the brand would be very enticing to potential buyers.
Based on all of those factors, Ben decided it was time to sell and benefit from the strong foundation he’d laid over the three previous years. He says, “Remember, an advantageous sale requires long-term planning. You can’t just wake up one day and decide to sell. You need to prepare and position your business to be sellable.”
After deciding it was time to move on, Ben spoke to several online business brokers before settling on one. Things with the sale moved a little slower than Ben wanted, but while the business was listed for sale, it kept growing and increasing in value.
Unfortunately, the broker made a miscalculation that impacted and significantly lowered Beast Gear’s valuation. Thankfully, Ben’s accountant, Allison Walker, had years of experience with mergers and acquisitions, and she caught the mistake, averting a potentially costly mistake.
After correcting the error, the broker eventually found a buyer for Beast Gear. The brand was acquired by Thrasio, an e-commerce aggregator. Although Thrasio would go on to become a well-known name in e-commerce, Beast Gear was one of their early acquisitions. Naturally, Thrasio recognized that the opportunity to expand into the U.S. made Beast Gear an attractive acquisition target with the potential for high ROI.
The sale was completed in October of 2019. The seven-figure price included about 60% cash upfront and about 40% as an earn-out over a period of two years. (All of the targets that needed to be hit for the earn-out were easily achievable.) A case study published on Thrasio’s website shows that Beast Gear’s revenue increased by 60% after the acquisition.
Looking back on it, Ben says, “The journey had a profound impact on my life and my family. I went from working for the man to being an entrepreneur and bringing my ideas to life.”
Creation of a Brokerage
Ben’s experience through the selling process led to the formation of a new online business brokerage. The broker that Ben worked with to sell Beast Gear had little experience with e-commerce, which contributed to the mistake that was made. Ben saw the need for a brokerage that could provide better service thanks to first-hand, real-world experience.
He partnered with his account, Allison Walker, to form EcomBrokers in 2020. Speaking on what EcomBrokers brings to the table, Ben says, “As experienced eCommerce sellers, M&A specialists, and accountants, we understand the landscape from all angles. We’re not just brokers – we’re deeply involved in the eCommerce game. We don’t just list your business for sale, we work with you to prepare and position your business for the best possible valuation and deal.”
Although EcomBrokers is still only a few years old, they’re becoming a significant player in the industry, serving buyers and sellers throughout North America and Europe.
Staying in the Game
Although Ben co-founded EcomBrokers after exiting Beast Gear, he’s still personally involved in e-commerce. He believes it’s important to be actively involved in growing e-commerce businesses in order to best serve his consulting and brokerage clients. Ben currently owns a boxing brand and a baby brand, plus a minority interest in several brands that he advises.
He offers e-commerce mentorship and consulting at BenLeonard.pro.
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