The Seller Sessions are a series of interviews with merchants to better understand how they think, as well as the unique ups and downs they face.

If you frequently haunt online shopping platforms, or have recently been in the market for home cleaning electronics, you may know the name Berrylalola. Even if you don’t recall the name, there’s quite a fair chance that you purchased your device from them, given their position as one of Singapore’s largest online retailers for home cleaning devices and appliances.

What you probably won’t know is that Berrylalola began very differently in 2013, selling toddler products, like mini scooters, soft toys, and more.

However, they very quickly realised that no success would be found in that vertical, as co-founder Andrew Lim (pictured on top) tells us.

“We were new, and our name was unrecognised, while there were already so many old hands in the business,” Andrew shared when asked how they came to the decision to pivot away.

He added that with almost no innovation in toddler products, merchants in the business were all basically stocking and selling the same products, with little differentiation. Competition had thus become a matter of price, and of brand recognition – neither of which Berrylalola could compete in.

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Maintaining pole position

While attending trade shows with his co-founder to seek out products that would give them a unique place in the market, they turned their eyes towards the technology scene, and ultimately settled on robo-vacuums, a very nascent market (in Singapore) at that time.

The idea was so new, in fact, that you could hardly get any units off retail shelves. Berrylalola capitalised on their ability to import these products, and gained the upper hand they had been seeking.

Technology and innovation, however, always progresses at breakneck speed, and the situation was no different with home cleaning appliances. On a competitive marketplace like Qoo10, playing in a competitive industry, how has Berrylalola continuously maintained their lofty position?

“We’ve never stopped looking for more advanced products. When we first began selling robo-vacuums, they were relatively dumb devices, with not much of a brain. Since then, we’ve constantly sourced for better products built with the latest innovations,” said Andrew with next to no hesitation.

The same principle extends to non-electronic devices, like the good old house mop. From conventional string mops, to squeeze mops, to spin mops, Berrylalola stayed ahead of the race by ensuring that they were the merchants selling the mops with features that few others, if any at all, were also offering.

Testing new waters

One way that brands gain recognition or reputation is to be particularly good at making or selling a particular class of products – Starbucks with coffee, Adidas and Nike with sports shoes, Swarovski with crystals, and the like.

With Berrylalola, one could very loosely classify them as a purveyor of home cleaning products. A closer look at their items, however, identifies a few outliers, like the Xiaomi TV, walkie-talkies, gym balls, photography light boxes, and travel organisers. Does the company source products in response to customer requests, or do they have ways of keeping a tab on the latest trends that they can the respond to?

“We have a good list of contacts and friends, who are wholesalers in our preferred trades, in major hubs like China and Malaysia,” said Andrew thoughtfully. “Whenever they receive new products that have gained a lot of recognition or innovation awards, they send it on to us to try.

“Of course, not every product we are recommended is suitable [for our customers]. We have to use our own judgment to decide [if our customers will be interested],” he goes on to elaborate.

“I’ll usually try the product out for myself, and actually use it, before I make a decision on whether to bring it in for the store.”

A word to the wise

And what would Andrew say to eager entrepreneurs thinking about entering the e-commerce space?

“Now ah? Better don’t lah,” he winces, shaking his head and laughing.

“The fact is,” Andrew continues reflectively, “anybody can start an online business today. Anyone. It’s so easy.

“It’s a great way to supplement your main income. But to do it full-time and do it big, your risk appetite needs to be there. If not it will be very difficult for you.

“Choosing the wrong product to sell, or even stocking good products at a mismatched price point, means you lose your winning edge. All your cash will be stuck, with expenses to pay like rental. Then you have a cashflow problem, and your business will suffer.”

Wisdom for the young’uns

Andrew’s advice to minimise these risks?

“Don’t over-commit on the products you bring in,” he replies decisively. “Don’t overspend the cash you have, and always budget for rainy days.

“If you bring in the wrong product, and spend everything you have bringing that wrong product in, you’re dead. So whenever you do your calculations, make sure you have enough in your bank to tank potential mistakes like wrong products.

“Until today, we have products leftover from 3 years ago. We have all these [bad] experiences, but we have no choice. We just have to move on, and make sure we calculate better.”

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