I made over $10 million in revenue on Amazon last year. Here's how my husband and I became sellers and earned enough to buy our dream home.
- Deanna Slamans and her husband became full-time Amazon sellers in 2015.
- It took them two years to earn a profit, and they made one mistake that cost $12,000 overnight.
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Deanna Slamans, a 49-year-old Amazon seller who also coaches other sellers, from Hershey, PA. The revenue her business, Amazing Freedom, made has been verified by Insider. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
In 1999, My husband Andy and I became house parents at the Milton Hershey School. In 2012 we started selling on Amazon after hearing about it from a friend and fellow house parent. We quickly got hooked and had no idea that by 2022, we'd be grossing more than $10 million in Amazon sales.
I had a very tumultuous and, at times, violent childhood. Both my parents had mental health disorders: My mother had bipolar disorder and ultimately committed suicide, and my father, who had schizophrenia, spent most of my life in prison. Living in Pennsylvania, my aunt, who eventually cared for me and my sisters, enrolled me and my twin in the Milton Hershey School.
The Milton Hershey School changed my life. I got a great education and saw the possibilities that existed for me. After I met my husband in college and graduated, we lived and worked in Philadelphia for a few years. We were stupid with money. We bought a house and sunk a lot of money into it, bought new cars, and just kept spending. The decision for us to eventually go back and become house parents was an easy one.
Throughout our 15 years as house parents, we helped raise around 100 junior high- and high school-aged boys while also bringing up our two biological children. Eventually we wanted to spend more time with our own children and needed to get smart about our debt. That's when our friend first told us about Amazon — we left house parenting in 2014 and became full-time Amazon sellers the next year.
The key to our Amazon success was spotting trends quickly and following them closely
At the beginning, we sold used books from library sales and thrift stores, because that's what our friend was selling. We moved on to a lot of random items — Nerf guns, Legos, and a bunch of stuff.
To resell an item on Amazon, you just walk into any store and scan an item's barcode with a feature that's in the Amazon seller app. The app displays possible profit margins and what the item is worth on Amazon. Our approach was to only buy products that could double our investment, so we could easily cover Amazon's seller fees, app subscriptions, shipping-supply costs, and more.
I was convinced it'd be a viable business when the movie "Frozen" came out. We lived near a bunch of outlets, and my husband paired "Frozen" flip-flops with a "Frozen" hooded towel — he made 200 sets and they sold like hotcakes. Trends like "Frozen" sell quickly, and you can make a bunch of cash before it dies out.
If we found a marketable trend and could get an adequate amount of product, but there wasn't enough time to get it to an Amazon fulfillment center, we'd sell it on eBay. Selling on eBay is faster because we're sending the product directly to the customer.
While Andy worked for the Amazon business full-time, I stayed at Milton Hershey School and wrote curriculum. I did this for three years so that we could sink everything back into the business. At that point, even our kids were helping with packing, shipping, and whatever else they could.
It took us two years to generate a steady profit in our Amazon business
During the first year, our profits just broke even. We made enough to keep our Amazon account open and cover the cost of prepping and shipping, but it wasn't anything we could live on. We really couldn't work a lot of hours on the business because we were still house parents, and it was stressful to keep products in our online store.
We decided to change our strategy and look for items with larger profit margins — tools and oversized items like furniture — and we researched more products that weren't as saturated. We took a risk and sometimes our buys didn't work out. In those cases, we had to drop our sales cost just to get rid of inventory before Amazon storage fees took the rest of our investment.
One evening before settling into bed, we set up a coupon code in order to get more eyes on one of our products. But in our haste, we set it up the wrong way causing the product price to show as $0. Our code was actually a free giveaway that cost us $12,000. We didn't catch our mistake until morning when it was too late.
We decided to leave the toys behind, except during the Christmas season, and to go deeper in our pocket to really scale our business. In 2017, Andy started building a private-label cloth diaper brand to sell on Amazon. That product quickly ramped up and we sold that brand to a new owner in 2020, so we could put all of our energy into a lawn and garden brand that we were launching. These sales eventually allowed us to buy our dream house.
Selling on Amazon requires planning, investing, and risk-taking
When getting started on Amazon, you have to be a risk-taker. Don't be afraid to get in early on a product that you feel has potential. If you take a wait-and-see approach, someone else could trademark your product or make an intellectual property claim — especially if you're interested in creating a private-label brand like we did with the cloth diapers.
When it comes to sourcing products on Amazon, you have to know your budget, the product's worth, and if you can successfully reinvest your profits. When you get the revenue, you must have the discipline to put it right back into the business, because that's how you make money. Also, you never know what kind of expenses you'll need to cover in order to grow the business.
I don't want new or young sellers to think they should expand their business before paying off debt. When we first started selling on Amazon, my husband and I used our revenue to pay off credit cards and get out of debt. Now we have enough to leave money in the business and let it grow. Last year, we made more than $10 million in sales, and we have a team of 47 people who we can comfortably pay to run our Amazon business.
To become a successful Amazon seller use your imagination
Think about how to sell a product and stand out during a time of year that's really busy. Consider bundling items, like Andy did before the "Frozen" premiere with the flip-flops and towels. During Christmas, you could browse light-up reindeer antlers for adults, but also look at antlers for dogs and babies as well.
One thing my background taught me is that when it comes to business, you just keep trying. I don't want to say there's no such thing as failure, but there are always other options. If one way of operating isn't working, try another way.
Editor's note: Slamans did not share her 2022 profit with Insider.
Correction: March 24, 2023 — An earlier version of this story misstated when Slamans said she heard about and started selling on Amazon. She recalled first selling on Amazon in 2012, not 2014, and doing so full time starting in 2015, not 2016.
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