While the internet has made shopping a million times easier in some respects (access to a greater number of products, lower prices, etc.) it also has its downsides. One of the major ones is that local retailers are finding it harder and harder to compete with the vast world wide web. How can you stay relevant when there are about 8 billion options out there for your customers to choose from, all without having to leave their own living rooms?
As a small business owner, Josh Gorrell was faced with the duel problem of not being able to reach his local customer base and, from the consumer side, simply hating the process of searching for the price online. Like all good entrepreneurs, Josh didn’t just grumble about it over dinner with the wife, he did something about it.
PickYourBid is Josh’s solution to the headache that is the meeting point of the internet and local retail. Through his e-commerce platform, small retailers now have a way to reach customers who are searching for the products they provide and consumers have a way to get the competitive prices they want, while simultaneously patronizing small businesses.
Josh and I got a chance to chat recently about how PickYourBid works, his very interesting “backwards” growth strategy, and his own on the ground business.
What exactly does PickYourBid do?
Well, PickYourBid is an online platform that connects consumers with sellers which, in our case, are retail businesses. Consumers simply tell us what new item they want to buy, then retail businesses that sell that particular item will send their best price through our dashboard, thus competing for the business. Essentially, it’s shopping backwards.
Typically if a consumer wants to buy something online, they have to get online and look for it. They have to search and compare and find the best deal. In our case, they simply tell us what they want to buy and we notify all of the retail businesses that sell that item, which put the local business in the loop.
My background is that I own a retail business and I hate ecommerce. I mean, I love it in the sense that it can be relatively easy money, but I hate managing it. I hate creating the website, I hate uploading items, I hate keeping track of prices and making sure I’m the best deal. Am I the cheapest? Am I good on this or bad on that? It’s such a pain being so proactive to sell things when I have no idea what people really want to buy.
On the other side of that, I don’t know what people want to buy. How do I know what people in my area are looking for? There are probably a thousand people in my city that are actively looking to buy a new TV or home theater system but I have no idea because they’re just searching the web.
I thought, how in the world can I get in on that? That was the floor of the idea for PickYourBid.
So when people enter an item that they want, the search comes back with local businesses? You’re not searching the entire internet?
Well, say you want to buy a new pair of shoes or, like my wife, a particular handbag. You want this special handbag and you don’t know where to get it or you don’t want to spend the time to shop online. You go to PickYourBid, you type in what it is you want, select the category, and then you select how far away you want businesses to be able to give you a quote from.
So it’s really up to the buyer. Do I want a bid only from local businesses? You know, maybe I put 20 miles. Or do I want to get a bid from any business that sells what I’m looking for nationwide? If that’s the case, I’m gonna put nationwide.
The system then sends out requests for bids according to what that consumer wants.
Does that require the businesses to be willing to ship to consumers?
The business can select what shipping methods they offer when they let me know how much an item costs. So I’ll start getting notifications saying “This store gave me a price, this one did.” That will include shipping and if they don’t offer shipping, it will say “pickup only” or whatever.
And did you develop this all on your own or do you have a team working with you?
Well, I hired the development out.
That’s kind of what I was wondering because if your background is in retail, it definitely sounds like a lot of coding would go into this.
Yeah, I’m not a coder, I’m just the idea guy. I have a firm that’s building this for me.
What’s your goal with PickYourBid? What’s your endgame?
I guess it’s probably two-fold. I think it’d be a blast to do it for a living. You know, I didn’t build it to sell, necessarily. I made it to make shopping easier for people.
If it were to get big, I’d do that. I’d sell this retail business and run PickYourBid.
What is your retail business?
Consumer electronics. We have a company that where we sell, design, and install everything from TVs to home theater systems to audio/video systems like in bars and restaurants, hotels, things like that.
How’d you get into that?
I worked at a company doing car audio when I was a teenager. When I got out of college I always thought I’d get a real job and then I started this back in ’02. Before I knew it I was making more money than I’d make in a real job, so here I am.
Well it sounds like a real job to me!
(Laughs) Yeah, I kind of created my own real job.
Owning your own business is a lot of work, so don’t sell yourself short on that one!
It is. It’s fun though.
Definitely. Where are you located?
We’re located in Kansas.
Kansas? I think you’re the first founder I’ve spoken to in Kansas.
Yeah, most of the people I’ve talked to so far have said “What? Where? Nobody from Kansas knows how to use computers!”
Oh, no! That’s just rude. But I’m assuming there’s not a very active startup scene there?
No, not really. I mean, in Kansas City there are a few groups. It’s getting there. It’s a very small fraction of the size of everything else, startup-wise.
I don’t often speak to founders who have a non-virtual business that they then convert into a virtual business. I like that; it shows a lot of hustle. It’s like, “How can I make my life easier and also make other people’s lives easier?” I like that.
It really started selfishly. I’m trying to solve a problem for my business: getting consumers the easy way. It’d be a dream if I got alerts every day, you know, “Joe Blow wants to buy this. Give him a price. Mary Jane wants to buy this. Give her a price.”
On the other side, as a consumer I hate the whole game of web searching and comparing. You have eBay and you have Amazon, which are both reputable but God knows where the stuff is coming from half the time. I don’t know how often I’ve ordered something and paid for it and then gotten an email the next day stating that it’s no longer available. It’s like, what? If only I could have talked to the guy at the end of the chain who’s actually selling it, he could have told me that it’s not available.
Instead, you’re buying off the web off of some listing that got placed who knows how long ago, you know what you mean? It drives me nuts. It seems like web shopping has lost a lot of the touch between the buyer and the seller.
I definitely agree with you.
All these people care about now is “How fast can I create a thousand listings?” and hopefully people click on a few of them. It drives me nuts.
What’s your favorite part about owning your business or businesses, as the case may be?
I really love the creativity of it. You can make your destiny whatever you want. If you find the need for something, you have the ability to create it. I like problem-solving and, typically in my case, problem-solving involves creation of something new.
If you can’t find an existing solution then make up a new one!
Very entrepreneurial attitude right there.
Sometimes it gets me into trouble, don’t get me wrong.
Uh oh. How has it gotten you into trouble?
Well, who knows the list of things is of things I’ve done that haven’t worked. But we keep trying. Why not?
(Laughs) Well, what’s your least favorite part?
Um… I don’t know if I have a least favorite part. I mean, obviously, failure would be my least favorite part but at the same time that’s where you learn the most.
Failure sucks but the next day it’s good because you think, “Okay, not gonna do that again.”
What are your hobbies? What do you do in your spare time, if you have spare time?
The past two years it’s been web development. I also really like boating.
Do you have a boat?
What kind of boat do you have?
I have a 32-foot Chris Craft cruiser so we spend a lot of time at the lake. If it’s not work or family or kid stuff, it’s lake.
Which is kind of family and kid stuff, too, I’d imagine.
Oh yeah. Kids love it out there.
Anything else you’d like to add before I let you go today?
The one thing I didn’t mention about PickYourBid that I think is kind of cool is that we connect the potential consumer with the retail business and one thing we’re doing is taking a re-active approach instead of a pro-active approach to signing up businesses.
Oh, that’s totally something I want to ask and I got distracted by thinking about boating. How do you get businesses on there?
Usually someone has a startup and they just blast every business in the world to sign up. We’re not doing that because we don’t want to waste our time
Essentially what we’re doing is recruiting the businesses. You get on as a customer and say you want something in a particular zip code. We’re going to call every business in that zip code that says they sell it and then they can give you their bids.
Oh, okay. I see what you’re saying. That’s an interesting growth strategy.
Yeah, it’s backwards from the typical thing but then again I don’t know how it’s typically done because I’m not a startup guy. I just feel like I’m not going to waste me time signing up 10,000 businesses. I’m gonna follow the buyer.
Then again, if we have 5 million businesses there obviously won’t be as many calls we have to make because there are already a ton of businesses in your area signed up. But during our growth stage, that’s gonna be it. If you request a price on something and I don’t have 20 businesses in your area that give you that price, we’re calling. We’re calling businesses and saying “Hey, someone in your area wants to buy something that you’re selling. Get on and give them a bid.”
It doesn’t cost them anything to do that.
That’s really interesting. You say “we’re” doing the calling. Is it just you or are there other people calling as well?
Well, I’m recruiting people from my other companies. Some of my office girls are pulling double duty.
Is there any plan to monetize this?
Actually, it already is. The way it’s monetized is that when a buyer finds a price they want and they approve it or mark the seller as the winner, at that point we charge the seller a small commission.
Our commission structure is also much smaller than on sites like eBay or Amazon. We’re substantially less because we want to make it attractive to you. We don’t want to beat up the retailer, you know?
What we’ve done that’s kind of cool from the retailer’s perspective is this. When I get an email that says “Emma wants to buy a new purse. Give her a bid,” I can log in, see what you want to buy, and if I decide to give you a price, I can do it one of two ways.
Say I’m going to quote you $300 on this purse. Maybe if you awarded that the commission would be 5%.
So option one would be bid $300 and if that’s awarded I’ll pay a 5% commission, which is $15. That’s my first option. My section option is: I’m gonna gamble. I’m gonna pay $3.75 to bid right now and if that bid is awarded, I don’t have to pay a commission.
As a retailer I can pick how I’m going to pay my commission on that item I’m bidding on. I can pay an upfront 25% of whatever the commission would be or pay the commission if I win the bid.
Does that make sense?
Yeah, totally. So you, Josh, could potentially make more money on each bidding process that way.
I could. But I’m also giving the retailer the ability to control their costs and also make it fun at the same time.
Sounds like a win-win for everyone. thanks so much for chatting with me today, Josh! It’s been a pleasure.
Courtesy of the founder | PickYourBid