The Experience of Women Entrepreneurs: An Interview with the Carolina Sisters
In this installment of our leadership series, we explore the experiences of Deidra Cribb and Amber Nickell – the sibling owners of Carolina Sisters Wholesale. We explore how they decided to start the business, the beginnings of their enterprise, and their experience growing within a male-dominated industry.
Carolina Sisters Wholesale: Key Points
- Don’t get disheartened by adversity or competition. Use it as a tool to motivate yourself.
- Don’t be afraid to grow. Moving from storage units to a warehouse helped the sisters smash through yearly income targets.
- Focus heavily on building contacts, help people out and keep in touch. If you can supply them, their businesses grow, they will keep coming back to you.
- Set yourself goals, use these, your competition and your family as inspiration to keep pushing forward.
- Keep realistic expectations. You’re not going to get rich tomorrow and this should put you off.
- Don’t call products brand-new, even if you think they are. Something often happens in storage or transit.
- Higher-value items, even with problems, are always worth sourcing.
- You need to reinvest profits or you will never grow.
- Facebook Marketplace and flea markets are the ideal places to sell locally.
Three years ago, the sisters were stay-at-home moms who decided to use their spare time to do some small side jobs to make money. They grew up refurbishing items together, usually furniture, and they found themselves with free time in the afternoons, which they wanted to use productively. They began focussing on upcycling items they could find for free or for a low price ($20-30) upcycling them for resale.
Starting with an item of furniture, often a dresser, they would give it a makeover, and then sell the item for a couple of hundred dollars, primarily through Facebook Marketplace. “It was just something we did for extra money just to have in our pocket”. This experience in cultivating a state of mind as to how they could add value to items by their own hard work would become invaluable.
After getting their feet wet in repurposing items for resale, they came across a business selling pallets. The items listed were inexpensive, and they bought their first pallet for around $350-400. They almost doubled their money flipping the items on this first pallet. As a result of this success, the Carolina Sisters saw a pathway to building a real business, rather than just a side project to earn some extra cash.
A Thriving Business
Over the next three or four months, the sisters visited this source almost every day, setting a solid foundation for building their small-scale side business into something much bigger.
After gaining this experience and increasing their confidence in themselves, their thoughts soon turned to expanding. “Okay, well maybe we can move up to a truckload. So we did. And from there it transpired into many truckloads.”
>> Lowe’s merchandise has been one of the main sources that has helped the sisters to get started in handling full truckloads, and to date the pair have spent over $2 million on Lowe’s truckloads through Direct Liquidation. <<
Since building up to buying truckloads, the business has expanded dramatically, and they now operate primarily as wholesalers themselves. The pair initially started out in Deidra Cribb’s basement, but from there they expanded into rented storage units, until their capacity grew to the point they needed a warehouse. They now own two warehouses – one primarily for pallet sales, the other for truckload sales.
This is the dream setup that many envisage when starting out buying liquidated merchandise to resell, with consistent growth, and re-investing profits. However, not everything was plain sailing, and a lot of problems had to be overcome.
At first the sisters disagreed on how to proceed once the business of buying pallets to resell was doing well. Amber wanted to continue with the business model that they knew worked.
It took just a year and a half from seriously starting to build this business up from basement to warehouse. The growth was quick but gradual, with the sisters moving from the basement to taking on one storage unit, then another, over time taking on 15 storage units for their merchandise. Then they decided they needed a warehouse, as their monthly expenses for the storage units were approaching the cost for a warehouse.
Amber felt this was the scariest step they took. It took a month for her to agree with Deidra that this was the way forward.
The business has grown steadily since they started expanding. “Every quarter, when we look at our numbers, I think sometimes we surprise ourselves.” Amber explains.
Women in a Male-Dominated Industry
All this success has not come easy, however. When asked for their comments on entering the business in a male-dominated industry, they explained that the advice they were given initially, as women, was stark: “You will never get contacts… it won’t happen.”
Facing this world wasn’t going to be easy. “We were heartbroken at some points when the answer was no.”
But the pair learned to push through. Since first flipping their first pieces of furniture, it has taken ten years of work to get to this point. Perseverance was key. Nights were spent until 5 am looking for contacts. Eventually, this paid off with their first big contract, the one everyone said was impossible.
Some of their clients and contacts recounted meetings with other wholesalers, trying to get their business. These wholesalers leaned on their long history (many had been around for 15-20 years), directly comparing it with Carolina Sisters Wholesale, even disparagingly saying that they didn’t know how such a small warehouse could manage such orders.
Once these competitors saw larger orders going to the pair, they were surprised. One of them, in particular, commented “We’ll sit back and watch it sink, and when it does, we’ll pick up their contracts.” Three weeks later, the same company called back and wanted to buy from them. Despite these obstacles, Carolina Sisters Wholesale grew 250% in their first two years and are on track to grow 350% this year alone.
The sisters explained how these are just a few examples of adversity in a male-dominated industry that has constantly undermined and underestimated them, and what they were capable of doing. “It’s like high school drama”, Deidra added.
In the beginning, they were intimidated by this behavior. They even had shipments delivered by truck drivers who couldn’t believe they were going to unload the pallets themselves – that they would be operating a forklift.
“They would say things like ‘I’ve never had a woman unload my truck. I’m not sure I want it’”
One driver even wanted to use the sisters’ own forklift rather than see them do it – this was before the time they had employees working in the warehouse. The driver actually stood there and watched them unload. Something like that would be unusual in other warehouses.
At this point, Deidra wondered if this kind of attitude would ever stop.
However, adversity only drove the pair to work harder, and was a source of inspiration to be better and never to be satisfied. “It’s motivating, if it’s not intimidating,” Amber explained.
Motivation and Targets
The sisters also shared with us the harsh realities behind the scenes. Despite having warehouse open hours of 10 am-4 pm, most people don’t realize the extra hours of work put into such an operation. These include early mornings and late nights working remotely, checking in on deliveries and truck locations, ensuring shipments are going out on time, and the difficulties in working with clients on the West Coast, as well as the 3-hour time difference there as well. As a result, they have no fixed clock-in/clock-out time.
What helped keep them motivated was setting goals. They started by setting profit goals for years 1, 2, 3, etc. By the end of the first year, they had met their third year goal. In fact, they have surpassed their goals every time. This has really helped with seeing that after all the late nights, the work has really paid off.
Setting goals and wanting to triumph against all the adversity weren’t the only things driving Amber and Deidra to succeed.
“One thing that really pushed us was our kids.” Deidra explained. The children often visit the warehouses, where they read and play and hide behind the pallets. Deidra’s daughter would comment on how full the warehouses were, and even said “One day I’m gonna do this with you”, clearly showing an interest in the business.
“She says ‘see, I can do it too’, and I was like ‘yeah, you can do anything you want to do.”
in 2019. Source: Inc.com
Carolina Sisters Wholesale: The Selling Strategy
The sisters praise Facebook Marketplace as a great place to start selling. Going back as far as when they were still flipping single items of furniture, Facebook Marketplace had the local reach they needed and the fees were low.
Now, as the company has expanded, they have moved more into direct advertising on Google, despite the increase in costs, as they now need a larger reach to build contacts with other businesses.
As the business grew, the sisters also became more well-known within the industry. “Now a lot of people know our names… word of mouth travels everywhere. If they have a bad experience or a good experience, and they talk about it, then it travels.” This highlights the importance of having great customer service, and treating every contact as a potential future customer.
Carolina Sisters Wholesale also wanted to make sure they helped their customers where possible, while also making sure that their customers are grounded in reality. “We don’t mind helping you, but we also want your expectations to be this, this, and not this… Some people think they are going to get rich quickly.”
Deidra explained that helping people out in this way really helped the sisters build a name for themselves and created more repeat customers. Rather than just treating every potential sale as a single sale, they were able to foster a deeper relationship, and ensured customers were not disappointed with their own sales.
In fact, one of their key pieces of advice for those that want to follow them down this route is building trust. This would be achieved “as long as the process is right and people in the industry start trusting you and realize you aren’t going to scam them”.
Due to this increase in customer base, they were also able to expand to sales in all sorts of different categories. “We have done well, with all honesty, in just about everything”. They now have regular clients that will buy any closed pallets they have. However, this isn’t necessarily an approach they would recommend.
Deidra explained the importance of sticking to areas that you are good at. In their case, this was a focus on furniture. “I could never sell clothes, ever- we tried, we failed, it was horrible… I couldn’t sell electronics either, I didn’t know enough about it to be able to sell it!”
Knowing your local market is also important. “We are in a big city… we were able to sell high-end furniture, whereas in a smaller town high-end furniture may not be the top of the list… Just find what makes sense for them.”
“That was one of the biggest things that we’ve found – knowing your market – who’s buying and what they’re buying. And even with pallet sales, it’s a lot of the same.” Deidra explained that the marketplace is as important as the area and they help customers to find what works best for flea markets or Facebook Marketplace near them.
Amber explained that a pallet of, for example, 1200 items – you don’t want to have to list all of those items individually online, but selling them all through a flea market… “you can just set everything out”, and sell without anywhere near as much work. This is the kind of sound advice these experienced entrepreneurs give to their loyal customers.
Building relationships over time not only helps out these customers, but also keeping in touch with them will allow the ability to find out what is working and to be able to help other new buyers with this knowledge, helping the network to grow.
We asked Deidra and Amber what they consider to be the key factors in their success, that they would want to share with others just starting out in the business.
Carolina Sisters Wholesale: Key Factors for Success in Selling Liquidated Merchandise
- “Don’t think you are going to get rich tomorrow. There is a lot of hard work, and there is a long game in it.”
- “Find what you’re good at, find your platform”
- Don’t let one bad pallet scare you – because it will happen – it doesn’t matter how good your source is.”
- “Even when we sell pallets of entirely brand new merchandise, we never tell someone this is 100% brand new, because somewhere along the line it went through someone that didn’t care about this product.”
- “Our favorite thing to say is that the merchandise is liquidated for a reason… I don’t say that to scare anyone away from it, but it’s something you need to keep in mind when buying pallets.”
- Higher-value items are worth sourcing. “If it’s a $400 item and one thing is messed up, it’s worth it to buy that one piece”.
- You don’t need to double your money. “That’s a great goal to have, but if you buy a $500 pallet and sell for $850, you still made a decent profit… Just because you didn’t reach $1000 doesn’t mean it was a horrible pallet. Nor does it mean you didn’t succeed.” Keep your expectations in check and what you need to succeed.
- If you can make smaller amounts of money, again and again, you can reinvest the money and you will grow your business. “You have to reinvest back” in yourself, because if you don’t then there is no more going, you’ll just stay at one pallet or two pallets.”
Carolina Sisters Wholesale
Amber Nickell and Deidra Cribb
Carolina Sisters Wholesale
Henley currently works as a sales representative for Direct Liquidation, assisting businesses with product sourcing of liquidated merchandise from the largest retailers in the world. Whether you are looking for a pallet or a truckload Henley is here to help you grow your business.
View Henley’s Bio on YouTube.
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