VacuumSpot: How To Build A Lifestyle Business With A Physical Product – with Alec Nelson

Can you build a profitable lifestyle business by selling vacuum cleaner parts?

Alec Nelson is the founder of VacuumSpot, which carries an extensive range of vacuum parts and accessories.

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About Alec Nelson

Alec Nelson is the CEO of VacuumSpot, which carries an extensive range of vacuum parts and accessories.

Raw transcript


Mixergy’s audio transcription is done by Speechpad

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Alright. Let’s get started. Hey there freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner, and I am the founder of Mixergy.com, Home of the Ambitious Upstart. Can you build a profitable lifestyle business by selling vacuum parts online, vacuum cleaner parts online? Alec Nelson. He’s smiling. Why are you smiling?

Alec: Because, it’s just not what you would think of. Like, I don’t even think our business is glamorous. But the fact is, everyone has a vacuum, and nobody really gets excited about going to shop for vacuum cleaner parts, and that’s what makes it good.

Andrew: And that’s what your company, Vacuum Spot, does. You sell vacuum parts and accessories online.

Alec: Yeah. That’s right. That’s right. Anything to do at all with vacuum cleaners, whether it’s the bags, belts, filters. All of that boring stuff, we sell the common stuff right down to the motors. And yeah, we have a warehouse just pumping out orders all day long.

Andrew: You say warehouse but I am the kind of person who’s nosy, and I like to look over people’s shoulders. I see a bed. Are you running this thing out of your house?

Alec: Yeah. So I’m working from home today. You are looking at a bed in my back, in my office. I’ve got a really nice huge office. And that’s the daybed in the back there. No, I have a warehouse. I go to work three days a week and I’ll work from home a couple of days a week. It’s nice to have a bit of a change. And I live in a nice area.

Andrew: I like the angle that we have now on the camera but later on would you mind flipping the camera around so people can see what you’re staring at right now?

Alec: Yeah. Absolutely.

Andrew: I’ll put that in my notes here: turn camera around. For now, I’ll ask about the revenue. What size revenue can you generate with this? What revenue are you doing? I want to be more specific.

Alec: Okay. Right now we are doing about $100,000 a month. Yeah, $100,000 a month, just in vacuum parts.

Andrew: And what kind of profits can you generate?

Alec: Our gross margin’s around the 30 percent mark. Of course, while you grow your business, you plow so much of it back into the infrastructure. So, I would expect that, if I stopped growing the business, we’d have $10,000 a month in profit on that. Yeah. That’d be realistic.

Andrew: Okay. And from what I understand, you’re just passionate about vacuums. You say it’s not sexy but you’re passionate about it. Don’t you have a tattoo of a vacuum on your leg somewhere?

Alec: Yeah, I do. I do. Although, I wouldn’t classify it quite so much as passionate as . . . I got that tattoo many, many, many years ago, because I was convinced I’d make my first million selling that particular brand of vacuum. And you know what? In the middle, like ten years ago, I was thinking, oh geez, I wish I hadn’t got this. And now I’m like, you know what, no, that’s a badge of honor. I do love my tattoo. I really do.

Andrew: It’s a tattoo of what brand?

Alec: It’s a Kirby vacuum.

Andrew: Kirby. Those are the vacuums that are sold door to door.

Alec: Yeah, that’s right. That is right. That’s how I got my start in vacuum cleaner stuff, just selling those machines door-to-door.

Andrew: Some of the best sales people ever, started out as Kirby door-to- door salespeople. I remember before doing Mixergy, I tried to get them to just show me. I said, “Can I come in and see how you train these people?” They said, “No.” I said, “Can you teach me anything?” They said “No.” If you sell our vacuums we will teach you, otherwise, we want be private. Well, you sold their vacuums. What did you learn about sales from doing door to door sales of Kirby vacuums?

Alec: Oh jeez. You know it’s more about the attitude than anything else. Door to door is hard. Selling Kirby vacuum cleaners are hard, but I think that you can get on a roll and you are just on top of the world but it doesn’t take too long even for the best to have a bit of a dive in your sales and you have a return or something like that. It takes a turn for the worst. The thing that I learned more than anything else is to get back on the horse and you get to the next horse, and you get to the next house. Because even if you have a run all that means is that you are one closer until the next time you make a sale.

Andrew: So, what do you do when you have a bad sale and you know it’s your fault and you’re not feeling like you’re on top of things and maybe you’re starting to feel tongue tied and you have to push yourself to go talk to another stranger, knock on their door interrupt their day and sell. How do you get yourself going?

Alec: You know, I think me personally, I tend to just give myself a moment to be genuinely angry, upset, or I don’t know like, just give myself a moment. Then honestly I think it’s a bit like going to the gym, like you know, whenever you’re on a bloody, not that I look like I’m doing that but I hope that am, but when you know you should go and you go through mind chatter. You know? I really should, but I’m tired, or I really should but, you know, I’m just not feeling like it.

When you’re there, it turns around. You’re fine. So the thing is. You don’t have to think about the whole process. You don’t have to think about, alright, I need to get into a house and then show my best demonstration and you know, think about closing. Really it’s just the next step. It’s just taking that one step to getting there and then just your adrenaline and whatever else kicks in and takes over. So for me it’s just getting to that door is enough.

Andrew: I see. I find that too with the interviews, that if I’m nervous because I screwed up a past interview because it was some other issue, if I could just start the next one that stuff all goes away…

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: …but it takes a lot of practice to get there.

Alec: Yeah, yeah. That’s exactly right.

Andrew: The other that thing I do I schedule my interviews back-to-back so that if my interview you screws up. I can’t hesitate to schedule another one. There’s another one on the books coming up, maybe not right after this one, but there’s one coming up for next week, and then there’s another one, and another one, and another one. So I have to open up the doors. What did you do back then to force yourself to go knock on another door?

Alec: Well, initially it was I guess as close to desperation as you want. I didn’t come to selling vacuum cleaners because I just had a mad passion for cleaning. I had a few bad turns and I needed money. So to be really plain. I needed money. So when I got on a bad run, it didn’t change the fact that I still needed to pay bills and get that cash. So yeah, it didn’t take me too long to get out of my worry and just think, no seriously, get a sale!

Andrew: And even before Kirby, you were kind of a salesman. At 6 or 7 years old you told Jeremy Weiss, our pre-interviewer, our producer here. What did you do? Oh, you’re smiling, you know what I mean?

Alec: Yeah, yeah. I do, because it’s one of my best childhood memories because my Dad was a builder and he had quite a successful building company, and he would have apprentices come to the house in the morning, get ready for their, you know, load up the trucks or whatever, and on the holidays or whenever I wasn’t meant to be somewhere else. I would be there and I would set up a little shop and I’d have his, you know those square pencils that builders use?

Andrew: Yup.

Alec: And just other builder stuff that I would get a hold of. I would effectively be selling it to his apprentices, who, I found out many years later had to turn back around to Dad at lunchtime and say “here’s the pencils your son sold me again,” and it was kind of a bit of an in joke, anyway, I didn’t know at the time that they had to hand them back. I just thought it was a great business that I had selling pencils, and other [???] building materials.

Andrew: You know, when you were selling, did you draw on that story for confidence to say, I’m a born salesman, even at six or seven I was selling these pencils?

Alec: Yeah. Look, it depended on the mood I was in. I definitely, when I was selling, wasn’t afraid to use anything personable. I think the difference between being mediocre and being pretty good is that way that you can be personable and get your point across in a little, subtle way. I’m not afraid to say that, yeah, certainly I used some pretty salesy sorts of things. But, it really was quite genuine. I like it when I’m in front of a customer, and…

Andrew: …I mean on yourself. Did you, on yourself, …

Alec…Oh…

Andrew: …say I can do this because even at six and seven I was selling pencils.

Alec: You know, I think I was in denial of being a salesman for many years. I’m actually quite shy. I’d almost view it as an alter ego. I think in a way, yes, but in a way no. I was afraid to admit that I was a salesman, because I grew up wanting to be an accountant or some other professional type job. I think yes I did, but it wasn’t something that I was inherently proud of if that makes sense.

Andrew: Yeah, yeah, I get what you mean. You wanted to make your first million selling Kirby vacuums, but the dream was to make a million dollars. You moved on from that to opening up a store. Why’d you open up a store?

Alec: Look, the thing about selling door to door is you can only do it in a certain area for a certain time. You would travel a bit. I was in a little town in Dubbo, New South Wales. It was quite small. It was only 30,000 people or so at the time.

They had a vacuum shop. I don’t know whether I just didn’t get out very much, but I’d never seen one before. I went there initially to sort of case the joint to see what my opposition was doing. It was just this one guy selling vacuums, and he had a whole room of them. Everyone in that town, whenever we sold a vacuum, we would take their machine as a trade-in. Almost without fail everyone was bought from that shop.

At first I was there to just check the joint out. Then I was like, hold on a second, people are coming to him to buy vacuum cleaners. He’s not having to go door to door to door and face inherent rejection and go through all the bad stuff, working on nights, and all that sort of stuff. They’re just coming to him in the day time, and they come and ask him, hey can I please buy a vacuum.

I guess that was my light bulb moment. I was like, wow, hang on. I come from a town twice as big with no vacuum shop. Yeah, that was a real pivotal point for me. Because I went from there, that was on, I don’t know, mid- week, and I went home. I talked to my parents about it, and they’re like oh you mean like Godfrey’s. I went to my neighbor who was a very, very good businessman. He said the same thing. I was like, okay.

I went back home, called up Godfrey’s, and arranged a meeting for the Monday morning 9:00 a.m. I just got lucky and the CEO was interested in talking to me because they were thinking of regional expansion. Literally, within a matter of days I drove through the night with my partner, got changed into mackers at 7:00 a.m., spruced ourselves up as best we could after an all-night drive, and went to that meeting. After a couple of hours he shook our hand, gave us a franchise, and founded it. It was just such a dream experience.

Andrew: And then how did it do financially?

Alec: Oh, it was good. It was good…

Andrew: …You’re feeling me…

Alec: …Yeah, yeah. The store was good. Initially, we started and we were doing, I don’t know, like three grand a week. It would support myself and my partner. I guess that was not much in the beginning. We really scraped the side of the barrel initially. But, after a couple of years we were sort of doing 15 grand a week which doesn’t seem like much but the margin was really strong. I felt very comfortable with taking trips away. I had staff on. It was really, really good. We sold the right mix of product and we made good money.

Actually, you know what, that reminds me when you asked me how much we’re making now, it occurs to me when I say 10 grand I mean 10 grand profit on the books going back to what we’re doing now, and that’s with the company paying for everything like literally car, phones, rent the company pays for everything and ten grand.

Andrew: And then at the end of it. I see, and that’s one of the benefits of having a lifestyle business that you own yourself. You can say “Hey, this phone is basically used for my business.” I can write it off.

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: And at the end of all those expenses, that’s when you end up with 10,000?

Alec: Yeah, that’s right. That’s right.

Andrew: Does that include the house, too?

Alec: The house is probably the one thing that we pay for ourselves. Having said that, of course, we write-off a portion of it, because I work from home and all that sort of stuff.

Andrew: . . . [SS] . . . one of the reasons why you get to do that, we’re doing this interview a real big. . .

Alec: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Andrew: . . . [SS] . . . from there.

Alec: I love business. I love online and it’s good.

Andrew: I didn’t even get to online. Let me ask you this, and then we’ll go to online. Then there’s also something really personal in your personal life that I’m really glad that you’re willing to talk about here. Alright. No traps.

Alec: No, no, it’s all good.

Andrew: Good. I like how open you are here. Didn’t the company, didn’t the store, go bankrupt?

Alec: Okay, no. No, that store, the one we were just talking about [Burtree's], I left because we started to hear about online. We just started to do that [fading], and because it was a franchise, there were other franchisee’s. They got very, very nervous because they had customers coming to their store saying, “Hey, we can buy this online,” and it was from us.

Anyway, the head office found out about it and they called us for a meeting and said, “Hey, you can’t sell online.” I said, “Seriously? Why? This is such a great avenue.” We just didn’t agree. Then we agreed to stop, and so we didn’t.

Then over the following few months, I guess, we had that needling down in the back of our head that this doesn’t feel quite right. Why can’t we do this?

Then they released a series of machines that were just rubbish, and they were selling them for top dollar. Then my morals kicked in. There was something that happened, in the company, I mean, and I really lost a lot of faith in some of the product. I actually just couldn’t do it.

We started investigating other businesses and it just came to a point where basically, they realized we weren’t in it 100 percent. We went to a meeting and we said, basically, look, either get on board, get back to the glory days, or are you going to think about what else you’re going to do? They really didn’t expect us to say . . .

Andrew: We’re out of here.

Alec: . . . “See you later.” Literally, that’s what we did. As quick as we got the thing, we talked in the same [car drive] five years later, and we said, “No, we’d rather leave.” We left that, closed it. We just said good- bye to the money. It was really hard.

We started another business, which was a repair shop just doing repairs. We thought, “We ‘ll sell bags and things out of that. We ran that for five years and built that up to a very, very nice thing, and then that one failed.

Then I actually, it’s a long, long story. It’s crazy, but from there . . .because the repairs, we had to pay all these technicians, five technicians on top dollar, was hard, and so that business effectively failed. Then in, I guess, just needing to turn something around, the whole thing [??] that held that business up was repairs of vacuum cleaners.

We had done TV’s, and I’ll just say with the falling price of televisions less needed repaired. Actually, from my house in [Walger] we started doing vacuum repairs from our shed. I got this story; it is very much up-and- down, and up-and-down. Every time, I guess, like needing to knock on that door I just got that bug and needed to get going again.

Andrew: Alec, you’re a guy who wanted to make $1,000,000.

Alec: Yes.

Andrew: Through all this, are you still thinking a $1,000,000? Because frankly vacuum cleaner repairs out of your shed doesn’t feel like that kind of a business opportunity.

Alec: No, I’m thinking many notes.

Andrew: You’re still, even in the shed, thinking I’m going to repair vacuums and make my millions, plural?

Alec: Yep. Yes, yes.

Andrew: What was your vision?

Alec: My vision then, because I was a little country town repairer, and at that point I was starting to get calls, just out of the blue, because I had ten years in at this point in the game doing vacuum stuff. People from around were starting to contact me and just say, “Hey, we hear you are the guy to get us some random vacuum, our local store won’t get it. Can you get it?” I say, “Sure I can get that. I can post it to you. I’ll take an order over the phone.” Literally, from there I thought back to the internet and we started from our house just listing some stuff on eBay and it got quite good.

And from there we started our own website and that got good and then it got so good that we thought we’re going to invest some big bucks and we put everything, like kitchen sink, everything into this website. And this is what you’re thinking on the way back. We had visions because the guys that we asked to go to build our website, they didn’t make any promises but they alluded to the fact that we would be starting a [??]. And I had a printing press just in my head, just printing off money. And we thought we would honestly be playing with such big boys. So that website took a long time to build.

And we already had just a basic, real boring looking website that was at that point turning out 20 grand a month in sales in addition to repairs which was very, very nice cash for us. We turned everything into it.

Andrew: How did you get, before we continue with the story, how did it get to the point where you were doing that much money? $20,000 from this little site.

Alec: You know, I think, we partnered with just a straight out shopping cart software, Ashop, shout out to them. It’s really great software. This stuff just worked, it was real simple. It was [??] to my name so a little bit like eBay in that you list your product and you put it on there. But obviously the payment portal comes to my bank rather than going through eBay. It just was a very, very nice growth [??] and so for a few months of feeling and feeling queries and it just seemed to go really well organically.

Andrew: What helped you sell, Ashop was more than just a shopping platform. They also were helping promote your product, right?

Alec: Well, they do because from their pages at the time it was a strategy that worked. You would link to all the stores and so you’d get found easier and that really did work. It had its limitations, which is why decided to go with a bigger platform. But honestly to get us going it was really amazing.

So [??]took us like 6 months to $15,000 so you know, our first month was $2,000 and from there was just a very nice sliding little curve that went up and that was the important thing. But it was literally just started with taking photos over the dining room table, getting that photo on the dining table, throw it over the couch, take another one on the dining table and we just had a little production line of photos being taken and listings. It was very, very simple. Very simple.

Andrew: And then you said ‘I’m going to invest more money in a better, more beautiful site’. This is the line where you started to dream really big and the guys who are developing it lead you to think that way.

Sorry, you were about to say?

Alec: No, no. I have to be fair to them in that they had had very big wins in the past and so they told their stories of those big wins so there was no specific time where they set it. But yes, we did get the impression that we were going to make some serious cash.

That site cost us, we agreed on $25,000 which was way more than we had. It took 6 months to get it right and go through the testing to start. And so we were getting very, very edgy at this time. And then when it launched it was just like that day we honestly were this close to booking our tickets to Hawaii just on the smell of money. And nothing happened. Like, it was just so bad.

At sales we were expecting, you know, we were expecting a thousand dollars a day or something like that. And just minutes to 5:00 there was no sales. As I was waiting by there were little drips and went like what is going on here? And over the following two months the sales that we had been building and building and building were just sliding and sliding and sliding.

And that was the pivotal point for me in learning how online works. I guess that for me it really changed something because vacuum parts are actually kind of complex because you [??] some of the parts that another machine uses but not others and it’s quite hard to carry [?] and listing. It’s a tricky game actually. But the more I learned about SEO and usability and analytics testing and all that sort of stuff. Of course, I was willing to put on some serious hours figuring it out because we were at this point so close to bankruptcy.

I actually called one of those free help numbers and said how does this work. Because we had invested big money, we committed money to stock, we had bills. One of those horror stories because one morning I got up and I said to my wife with tears in my eyes ‘I think I actually have to declare bankruptcy. I can’t see another way’ and she’s so beautiful. She said ‘If you think that’s the only way, then let’s look at it but surely you can think of something else’.

And I guess I had one of those moments where I kicked my can and gave myself to it and then I’m like hang on, this is so dumb. We had a business that was using this other software. Let’s just start again. And so we brainstormed a new domain name, listed a job on [??], get a new logo and like the job went basically like this ‘Need a logo designed in 4 hours. Get this done’ And so this job honestly we started it knowing it had to turn around so quick. And so I went back to [??], I started to shop with my new domain and that day I started listing [??].

So basically I started a shop in opposition to my badly failing shop and using everything that I’ve learned in the previous months figuring out why the other one was failing, we created a new store and that’s where we’re working with now and only have learned so much and it’s just growing astronomically. What we learned then and I guess the thing more important than anything else not giving up. We [??] that shop at more than it’s biggest point previously in only 3 months.

Andrew: How did you get customers? It wasn’t just about listing on [??] all over again. You did other things.

Alec: yes, yes, yes.

Andrew: What did you do?

Alec: Also we did hustle, we canvased any vacuum forum that anyone looking for help, you know, I don’t know how to fix my Dyson vacuum cleaner, I was on there. Well this is how you do it . Every repair because repairs were still coming in, that was the only thing that kept food on the table, I had a little Fuji camera and so I, my wife and my daughter, anyone that was around. ‘Hold this camera.

We’re going to shoot a video showing them how to do that’. I started uploading pretty crappy quality videos to YouTube but they were the right answers. There were people ringing me up saying, “Wow, I saw your thing on YouTube and it really helped me.” and I was like this is amazing.

So that genuine social aspect, loading things to YouTube, answering questions on forums, I registered on this site FixYa just answering questions. So just every possible opportunity to [??], to any possible person that had a vacuum problem, I took. And so in between repairs, when I was listing things, I had a pile of products that I wanted to get online. So there was a production line with that.

There was a production line, I was checking the computer and set up Google alerts which I checked every few hours for vacuum problems. So I’d go to, anytime it dinged, I would check it. The amounts of frenzy that I put into that was amazing. I’ve never worked so hard in my life. But we built something real fast that got us out of that hole really fast and it generated momentum that really amazed me. Like genuinely built us up to a point where I could breathe easy again and pay off debts, start building.

We got so busy that we converted our garage to a vacuum bag warehouse. Then we converted our spare room to a warehouse. The traffic to our house got to being crazy, like couriers coming and customers coming and like it was nuts. I was very lucky I had very understanding neighbors because it wasn’t shall we say, technically legal. But we outgrew it anyway.

It was scary, it was scary but it gave me the kick in the pants that I needed to get serious.

Andrew: It was close.

Alec: Yes.

Andrew: So close to bankruptcy. I’m on your YouTube account right now. You are still uploading, you are still so prolific with the videos. But I’m seeing a video that you posted 4 days ago. It has 19 views. Another one 4 days ago, 27. We’re not talking about the hundreds of thousands of views that you see for those popular videos, the ones that people share.

Are you still getting orders from a video that gets 19 views, 27 views?

Alec: Yes. Absolutely.

Andrew: let me click over and see. It’s probably going to play but I’ll hit pause there. I see. Underneath it you say showing how to stop your [??] vacuum from overheating and cutting out and then there’s a link above to your site vacuumspot.com.au.

That’s what people click and then they end up buying.

Alec: Yes. An actual fact, the videos now, that’s not so much about selling directly as putting ourselves as an authority in the field. I know that there is not going to be many people who are having that particular problem. That was actually a first for me. That particular one, the [??] was so blocked that it was lifting the lid up.

You never know. The one that I upload more might hit a sweet spot because there’s one of my videos that has 50,000 views. My other channel has got like nearly half a million views on vacuumer [??]. It’s just part of that thing where it’s like OK, I’m just going to consistently build this I guess resource out there. So that might be the one that does the million dollars but the amount of phone calls that I get through the day, and some of them are just so hilarious.

[not clearly audible] she ordered a motor for a Dyson and then she’s like you know, are you going to use this to [??] . That’s kind of funny. I said seriously? Google my name and I hope that you find that my reputation is far more important than spending [??] and having your credit card. And she goes Oh, my God! You’re Alec Nelson. And I’m yes, and she’s like you have saved my entire family of vacuum cleaners and she was so crazy nuts.

She’s like I got a Dyson, I know how to fix it from watching your video and then my family, when she bought her vacuum she bought one for each of her family so she’s got 4 of them, she ended up pulling her machine and her three other family member’s apart. She ended up buying an extra 4 sets of filters and she’s like I cannot wait to tell my husband that I was talking to you.

Andrew: I see.

Alec: So it’s kind of crazy that the vacuum things actually end up like that, like I never intended YouTube and I still don’t believe it. I think some of the people watching my videos are a little bit quirky but I don’t know. One video is not going to make a single million but what that video builds to our brand definitely is. It’s definitely making us that money.

Andrew: Let me ask you about this thing that I brought up earlier. You told Jeremy, Jeremy asks the best questions. There’s a good reason why I’m so prepared. It’s the way that he asks questions and lets people know that this is the safe place to talk openly about work and about non-work. A non- work issue that you talked to him about was, well, here he asked you ‘Is there something else that I didn’t ask you, a secret?’ Anyway, here’s what you said ‘A drug addiction.’

Alec: Yes.

Andrew: For how long?

Alec: Five years. Five years. I was heavily addicted.

Andrew: To what. . .

Alec: Heroin mostly. But honestly if I couldn’t get that and I could get speed or honestly anything, anything that wasn’t legal I was into. Even at points I’d be going to work with a syringe tucked into my sock so that I didn’t have to go more than a few hours without visiting a toilet and getting another hit. I held a job the entire time but I was always high or sick for 5 years.

Andrew: What period of the story is this? What were you running at the time?

Alec: It was before Kirby, all of Kirby, and the start of Godfreys. It’s terrible, and I hate thinking about it, but, I don’t know, it’s real. It’s very, very true, and it’s something that we, I, my family, got through.

Andrew: What was it like to be on heroin? I wouldn’t have thought that you’d be a heroin guy. What was it?

Alec: It took away the anxiety. I’ve spoken to a lot of people in trying to help some and in trying to inspire some, and warn others. You would never start because it feels bad. It feels good. Unfortunately, there are some severe side effects and addictions. It’s not like you can just decide, “Oh, OK, today I am no longer going to drive that car. I’m going to buy another one.” It’s not like just a choice.

Andrew: What did it give you? Actually, you said it. It reduced your anxiety. So, that’s the way that you were able to go knock on doors. It’s partially the need to make money, but also the fact that you had a little secret. It got you over the hump with people [sounds like].

Alec: Well, yeah. That was why I needed money. It wouldn’t take [??].

Andrew: Oh, I see. It was both a cause and the solution.

Alec: Yeah, in a way, in a way. At first it was like, yeah, I’d get a sale and celebrate. It was euphoric. It was very euphoric. I just loved that feeling, but after a time, it would be like, “OK. I haven’t made a sale.” That puts my habit in danger.

I guess the truth is, I got started selling Kirbys because I had lost my previous job. At that point I was already a drug addict, and I needed money. I couldn’t even go through that two-week process. You know, when you start a job and you do your week’s work, and then you get paid the following Thursday. I couldn’t wait that long to earn money again. These vacuum cleaners promised me money when I sold. That is how it got started.

It’s a bit dark, but I guess all the way through it, I viewed myself as a bit different to other drug addicts. I certainly went to the places they went and I saw what you would see on the movies. I’ve definitely been to all of those places to buy what I needed.

I always viewed myself as a bit different. I always viewed myself as smarter and more determined to keep my job. I guess it was that little spark inside me. I don’t want to judge anyone, but I was 99 percent a drug addict and 1 percent determined to make it in the real world. I never let that one percent go. I think it’s the thing that kept me going, and later on, my beautiful wife, who gave me an inspiration to get clean, I guess.

Andrew: Did the clean come before or after this pivotal point where you said, “I’m going to launch a new site on AShop. I’m going to be on every forum [sounds like].

Alec: Long before.

Andrew: Long before?

Alec: I must say it was a very, very short period of time in my first retail store. I did that for a time, and, unfortunately, that store was probably more profitable early on [laughs] than the franchisees knew. I was taking money from the till to fund . . .

Andrew: I see.

Alec: . . . my habit. We didn’t have that store for more than six months, I guess. At that point I was doing the methadone program here. I assume you have the same sort of thing where you are. I was already fighting hard by this point. As soon as I met my wife, my partner then, I was fighting. Once I started to get a taste of the vision, it started replacing my synthetic happiness. I started to get such a desire burning like an inferno inside me to fight. It’s not something you can just turn off, but believe me it’s something that when you’ve got the will it becomes possible. It becomes possible.

Andrew: So, how is it when you hit your low point that you didn’t say, I’m going back, I’m going to get more heroin? Because that’s a low point where you’re about to go bankrupt. You did everything you could. You were straight and narrow.

Alec: You know what? I think at a certain point your willpower grows. Honestly, there’s not a day that goes by where I don’t think of it, unfortunately. And this is the worst part. I think for me now the worst part is knowing that I can never un-know what I know. God, that sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Andrew: You mean un-know that good feeling, that you know…

Alec: …Yes, yes…

Andrew: …that it’s good, you know that you’ll like it, you remember what it felt like, and it’s more compelling to you than it might be to someone else who hadn’t.

Alec: Yes. That’s right. I absolutely think about it when things are bad. But, at the same time I have got a natural positivity. I would actually say one of my biggest traits is that I am overly optimistic. I am ridiculously optimistic in so many situations.

That coupled with my absolute need to be better for my family means that…In the start you have to practice saying no even when you’re not in a bad way. In your mind you think if I come across somebody who I can see is selling on the street, you prepare no in your head. No, no, no, no, I’m not going to do that. No, I’m not that, I’m not that person any more. So, I guess that’s the sort of thing that you would learn at NA or AA or whatever else. Is that preparation?

Andrew: Yeah.

Alec: I’ve never been to those, but I think that would be what’s done. Really, it’s preparation. It’s an absolute desire never to get that sick again. Everyone who has been a drug addict knows how sick you get when you can’t score or you can’t do this or do that. You’re sick. There were times, and I remember working in a shop one time I was drying out. I couldn’t score. I set up a pillow behind the counter. Thankfully, it was a quiet shop. I would just lie there curled up in a ball and just be sick, just feel…

Andrew: …In between visits from customers.

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: Wow.

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: You were saying you’re optimistic.

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: I’ve actually heard that it influences your business decisions, and I’ve seen this happen to other entrepreneurs, too, where you say I count my chickens before they’re hatched in business.

Alec: Yes.

Andrew: What do you mean by that? There’s something that I’ve seen other entrepreneurs do, too. I think we should talk about it.

Alec: There were a couple of times. I’ll give you two stories. They’re both similar. In Kirby, we were in Dubbo, and I was running a crew of half a dozen people. I’d rented a house. We were committed to it. This was the house of sales. It was actually at this place at this time that [??]

Andrew: So you were all living there and all…

Alec: …All living there, yeah…

Andrew: …going to go out from there and sell Kirby?

Alec: Yeah, that’s right, that’s it. We would get up in the morning and we’d be pumping ourselves up and saying, how many demonstrations are we going to do today. That whole big thing, you know. Yeah, that’s it. That’s exactly what it was.

So, we got on a bit of a roll. I had a Ute that I was driving around. The back was full of Kirby’s. I’d drop off people. I’d come back because I was the closer. Whenever they were having troubles in a sale I was the one would close the sale, get the deal, and move on to the next one.

So, I already had like maybe a dozen Kirby’s. I got on a little streak personally, and I had a couple in my crew just starting to hit their strides. They were just starting to get the hang of the Alec sales college and the Kirby promise.

I was on the phone to my boss and I’m like, man we are hot, we are so freaking hot. You better send me some machines because I do not want to run out of machines – because they take two or three days to get there – with six people. I was doing the numbers. There were six people, we were doing four demonstrations a day, and we’re closing one in two or three. So, that means we’re going to sell like 20 in the next few days alone. That’s before this big weekend.

I was like, look, just send me 25. I reckon I can sell 25. I was already sitting on 12, so that’s 37 machines. These go for 3,000 dollars each. Our house had no security. We had 37 machines at night in that storeroom. Just boxes and boxes and boxes of vacuums, just tons.

Then, we hit the inevitable slide. We had a sale. We partied a little too hard. We felt a little too sick the next day. We sat on those machines for days and days and days until I was dodging the call from the boss. He was like, how many have you sold. I’m like, oh, I can’t talk now I’ve got three in a demonstration. I’m just driving. I don’t want to get pulled. And, oh my God, my wife reminds me about that time. So often she’s like, do not spend our money and get a room full of Kirby’s or anything else. It was nuts.

I did a very, very similar thing in Godfrey’s. We had a one off sale, like an advertising sale. We would normally do, at this point, 15,000 a week. We had this one off sale. It was coming up. It was a big event. But, we had them every weekend so I didn’t think anything of it.

Something clicked. I and my head salesman at the time sold so much that weekend. We did 40,000 dollars in sales in two days where the normal figure, for us, was 15,000 or 18,000. We actually became the most rewarded store, the biggest increases, the most standout. The CEO was on the phone calling me. I was like, yeah, wow.

A few months later they said we’re doing that event again. I’m like so good. So, I ordered up 80,000 dollars’ worth of machines for that sale. I couldn’t even walk in our warehouse. It was just packed.

Yeah, nothing happened. I had those machines. It was just a normal week. It was just a normal week. They wanted their money the next week. I was like, I just don’t have it guys. They’re like, you seriously have to pay it, it’s a seven day account. I was like, it’s not going to get paid. I want to sell it, let me tell you, I want to sell it, but it isn’t going to happen.

It actually took me some four weeks to clear that stock. That was the time where my wife got to saying, now this is where I’m going to step in and you’re not going to order like that anymore.

Andrew: And now you guys have a shorthand. Don’t let this be another room full of Kirby’s is what she says.

Alec: Yes, always. Any time I get on a high I see that look in her face that says, hang on, my alarm bells are ringing. So, yeah. I do have that eternal optimism. I get up every day, and I answer the phone I think, wow is this next one going to be – because now the numbers are much bigger. The numbers are much, much bigger. I could conceivably pick up the phone and it’ll be a 5,000 dollar customer. Only a few weeks ago we sold a pallet of machines to someone…

Andrew: …20,000 dollars’ worth of machines.

Alec: Yeah, in one sale. It was pretty special. I do, I often think today is going to be our biggest ever day and we’re going to build something amazing.

Andrew: I like that entrepreneurial optimism. I feel like that’s what keeps me going.

Alec: Yeah, good, good. Go with it.

Andrew: Alright. There are two things I want to talk about. First, I want to ask about, use the phrase here that I wrote earlier. And then later I want to ask you to turn around your camera. But this phrase that I wrote down was a money tree. You said, we were so close to having our money tree. What do you mean by that?

Alec: I think the thing with online is that if you build something good – and by that I don’t mean, like a lot of businesses you need to have a guy sprooking at the front, come in its half price. It’s got no sustainability. A lot of businesses are like that. You’ve just got to keep doing something bigger, better, more.

I think the beauty and the reason that I actually do love my business is that it’s so simple when you get it right that the Internet works for you. When you get that right mix of sign back in, when you’ve got your products fairly represented at a fair price, it just works. It is like a printing press. You go to sleep, and you wake up. You check your e-mails and there are a dozen sales.

So, I think my money trail, my printing press, is very much about that as a very, very real goal where when you’ve got your systems in place it just works. And the sales just continue to flow without the need for you to bang a drum and create a new fictitious sales event. That’s what I mean. I mean building a system that continues to work. That’s really what I mean.

Andrew: I feel like we got that at Mixergy. It took me a few years to get that. The system for everything, from getting traffic, getting customers in the door, finding you, pre-interviewing you, doing research on you to make sure that you’re not a fake. You know, a lot of people pretend that they have this whole multimillion dollar business. Come on, Mixergy, I need to be on. Then we do a little research and we realize they don’t belong.

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: They were lying.

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: But the system’s in place. It took me a long time. How did you build your system?

Alec: The key thing was in that big expensive website build in figuring out what didn’t work. The thing that didn’t work was the search function. Once you got to that site it was very difficult even if you knew the model of your vacuum and the brand, which a lot of people don’t by the way. A vacuum is a nameless appliance that nobody really knows about. People couldn’t find, using the internal search, what they needed easily.

So, after really looking at what didn’t work there we sat down. My wife and I have very complementary abilities. I’m the logical and salesy one, so I’ve got a good mix I think. She has got a measured, I don’t even know how to describe it, she thinks industry more than I do. I’m like, yeah I can make this work and this is how it’s going to happen. She’s like, well, how, what’s the actual process look like. We mapped out how the front page was going to look. Then we mapped out how the products were going to be displayed and described.

Really, what has worked is getting that search right. Figuring out that some people know their brand and their model, so when you type in your model the search result is supposed to bring up everything and only those things that can fit your machine. If you don’t know, and what you go through is like oh I need vacuum bags, then the process is to gradually hone it down. It’s like, alright, I need a vacuum bag. Then I need Electrolux. Then I need something else. It takes you to the picture.

Knowing how people search has been the key, and setting it up so that no matter how you’ll search you’ll still get there, that’s been the trick…

Andrew: …I see. And what about the system for getting people in the door? Because if the site is perfect but you don’t hustle to get people in the door, does it mean that you lose your traffic?

Alec: Yeah. You have to have…

Andrew: …Everything systemized.

Alec: Yeah. You have to have that. And that’s one of the things. I said before, we lived a long way away from our warehouse. We moved to Melbourne this year so that we could work more closely with the product so that I could create product videos and things like that.

Now, we’ve got a proper studio set up at our actual warehouse, our work, where we’re constantly uploading really good content so that people are like, okay if you look at a vacuum wheel online you’re not 100 percent sure. So, there’ll be a video of me showing the diameter, the axle size, all that sort of stuff, so all that extra information. That gets picked up by Google, and that in turn leads to traffic.

Then, of course, we’re building in things. Our next step is uploading parts diagrams and just resources that the primary goal isn’t to sell. Their primary goal is to help people. And when you do that places like Whirlpool or any of those forums where people are talking about, hey how do you get information or where do I find this, that’ll get those natural links that every online marketer wants.

You have to have both. You’ve got to create great content so that you can get the links, but then you’ve got to have a machine that actually works. Once they get there can they find what they want. It’s taken us years and lots of effort to work it out, but I think…

Andrew: …I can imagine…

Alec: …we’re pretty close. I think we’re pretty close.

Andrew: Let me give a couple of recommendations to people who are listening. If you like this whole idea of systemizing there are a few courses that I recommend that you take as follow up courses within mixergypremium.com. The first is the one that showed me how to think about my business in a way that systemizes. I used to think I’m the guy who’s responsible. I have to just run it. I know how to do it. I should do everything and then I did this course with Nicholas Green of (?) Insiders. It’s called Automate with Systems. One of the most boring names, boring topics unless you’re really in business.

When I watched him talk about how he thinks about his business, how he systemizes it, I realized we could do the same thing here for Mixergy. We don’t have to try to hope that we have a good guest. We can come up with a system for finding good guests. We don’t have to hope that the guest will have good stories. We could come up with the process for pulling out the best stories that a guest has.

Now our process for pulling out stories from guests are so good that some guests want to be interviewed and do courses on Mixergy just because they want us to pull out their best stories because they’re going to give a presentation somewhere or one guy said he wanted to write a book. Others just want to be able to explain what they do. That’s how well our system works, that people who don’t even want to be interviewed will be interviewed just to go through this process.

If you’re interested in organizing your business this way we have several courses on this. Check out the one with Nicholas Green of (?) Insiders. You don’t have to copy his process. You just have to understand how he does it. If you want to know how to systemize your sales there’s a guy named Jermaine Griggs [SP]. I mean, really Google him. Search him and you’ll see how fantastic he is at building systems for increasing sales.

For getting people in the door, for automating the process down to the point where he knows your birthday and he’ll send you a birthday card on your birthday. A text message at the perfect time. It’s all systemized and he talks about it in his course on Mixergy, How to Automate Your Sales and it’s one of several courses on organizing your business that I highly recommend.

Here’s another one on understanding systems so that your business can grow. We did one with Game [SP] Maxwell, one of the first courses we did here on Mixergy on copyrighting where he taught a process, a system for writing copy that sells online. That’s available right there. It’s one of the more popular courses on mixergypremium.com.

If you’re a member go in and check them out. If you’re not a member I hope you sign up for Mixergy Premium because first of all the courses are going to be great and you’re going to be one of the people who send me emails telling me how much your life has changed because of it. Frankly if you don’t then I want to hear from you about why not and we’ll give you a refund if you’re not happy.

Second, if you’re a Mixergy Premium member you’re the reason why we continue to build, why we continue to keep growing and finding great guests like Alec. I appreciate it and I hope that you’ll go to mixerygypremium.com right now and sign up.

Alec, as a salesman, I just realized I was a little bit fast. I could have gone slower, but as one salesman to another give me a little bit of feedback on that page before I ask you the last question.

Alec: You know what? I did hint earlier on that I’m quite shy and I truly am. You guys have made me feel safe and I’ve given you some content even though I’m a bit nervous to be honest with you especially on some of the topics we’ve touched on. You have made me feel quite safe and I thank you for that. The process that you guys go through is so professional. In the last year I have been interviewed quite a bit and I’ve got to say this has been the most enjoyable by far.

You’re talking about your business there. I’m like, hey, I need to get me some of that Premium Mixergy subscription myself. I really can’t tell you how highly I think of your system and yourself and (?).

Andrew: Thank you. I appreciate that. That means so much to me. I put this system in place because I didn’t want to burn out and I didn’t want to stop doing this because I couldn’t do it all anymore. To see that it’s helpful for you too means so much and yes, that is the idea to create a safe place for entrepreneurs to really be open to talk about the things that they ordinarily wouldn’t. Alright. I better get myself together here and ask you the last question which is would you mind flipping that camera around and showing it?

Alec: Yeah, sure. I don’t know how good it’ll come out, but if it looks half as good to you as it does to me . . . how does that look?

Andrew: Yeah, maybe tilt down just a little bit. So, there was a kangaroo there the other day or I guess at night?

Alec: No, this morning. Almost every day, in fact. This is what I look at and I’m only five minutes from town and 20 kilometers from the heart of Melbourne, but yeah I just look onto this beautiful bushland whenever I work from home. It’s quite special actually.

Andrew: Yeah, it’s stunning and we got you really early in the morning. I appreciate you getting up this early. You were asking me via Skype chat do I want to see a photo, yes. Actually, do you want to bring it up on the camera? A photo of the tattoo?

Alec: Yeah.

Andrew: Let’s see it.

Alec: Okay, can you see it?

Andrew: There’s the vacuum.

Alec: Sorry I can’t get closer because a mix of the cord on my camera is short and I hurt my back so freaking bad the other day swinging my niece around. I was in bed all yesterday, so I can’t get that close.

Andrew: Well, we got it and, man, how far you’ve come from the day when you did that tattoo.

Alec: Yeah. I honestly am more proud of it than ever, but I’m more inspired because in the years to (?) when you call me up again I’ll be telling you about our expansion into New Zealand [SP] and our new businesses that are on the way, so I’ll look forward to it.

Andrew: There it is. Thank you so much for doing this. If people want to say thank you to you for what you’ve said in this interview, what’s a good way for them to contact you?

Alec: The Contact Us page on vacuumspot.com.au.

Andrew: Okay.

Alec: They can hit me up on the YouTube channel. I don’t know. I’m available. I do . . . [SP] . . .

Andrew: Usually when people say the Contact Us they’re sending you to some kind of random form. There’s your phone number on here. There is, I think email on here. There’s your address. Alright. The website is vacuumspot.com.au and it’s all up there. Thank you so much Alec for doing this interview. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye, guys.

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  • Kyle Patrick McCrary

    Alec, thanks for opening up to us. I’m glad you can share your story to help guide others and I’m proud for you choosing to overcome some of life’s most trying obstacles.
    Many thanks, to Andrew and the Mixergy team, for finding and creating the zone of comfort that seamlessly facilitates guests to open their lives to us.
    I’m sure more people appreciate the value in the expanse of knowledge gained from the shared experiences of successful entrepreneurs than you can imagine.

    KPM

  • http://geniusgeneration.us/ Dwayne Golden Jr

    I’m glad you guys covered this. I have close friends that are making a ton of money selling LED’s and Chemicals all online. It seems to me that so many of these “physical products” are not yet using SEO so its wide open.

    Great post

  • Andreea – LaunchGrowJoy.com

    Thanks so much for this great, eye-opening interview. For the past two years I’ve been selling online courses and recently decided to launch an organic soap company with inventory, shipping and the works! It’s been an interesting transition and reading your story is so inspiring and exciting as I transition into this new business.

  • http://www.vacuumspot.com.au/ Alec Nelson

    Thanks Kyle,

    Andrew and his team do a great job because to be honest it’s not especially easy to talk openly about where I have come from but I do really believe that if I had more examples of success from real failure it would have helped me greatly.

  • http://www.vacuumspot.com.au/ Alec Nelson

    Yes I agree Dwayne,
    I attended a few conferences recently and was honestly surprised at the amount of people still yet to see the potential that great optimisation could make in their business.

  • http://www.perezfox.com Prescott Perez-Fox

    This was a really great interview. Loved hearing the ups and downs of a business based on sales and inventory rather than software. I’m gonna go watch some of those videos and maybe find out why my Dyson keeps squeaking.

  • Kyle Patrick McCrary

    That’s exactly the reason why I am (and probably nearly every Mixergist is) here, watching and listening to your story. We learn about some major parts of what you went through, so that we can get over those bumps in the road a bit more smoothly.
    I can only imagine how hard it is to open up about things that are so personal – and probably so commonly judged – but I implore you to associate that openness and vulnerability with the helping hand it provides others.
    Thanks so much, Alec!

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Prescott, we’ll be publishing a few more interviews on physical products in October.

  • http://www.inspiredinsider.com/ Jeremy Weisz

    thanks for sharing Alec. you seemed to handle sharing the hard times with a lot of poise. It was great chatting with you and thank you again for being so open.

  • http://www.vacuumspot.com.au/ Alec Nelson

    My pleasure Jeremy, it certainly helps to have a fair bit of water under the bridge ;)

  • http://www.perezfox.com Prescott Perez-Fox

    Good to hear. Not that I don’t like software, but variety is always nice. I’d also be interested to hear more about people who’ve built companies that are small on purpose — more of a “practice” than large company looking for growth or acquisition. Cheers,

  • http://www.decalmarketing.com/adwords-book/ Iain Dooley

    Hey Alec, great interview! Really inspiring stuff. Always great to hear an Aussie accent here in Mixergy :) One of my friends from high school in Canberra was actually selling Kirby for a while! He made okay money but it was a hard slog. I applaud your tenacity. I did door-to-door for Optus and AAPT in 1999 after they deregulated the phone market … the money was okay (I was making about $800/week working 3 hours a day which felt like a fortune compared with the $5/hour I was making delivering pizzas in high school :) but I only lasted a few months. It was gruelling.

  • Mitesh

    Personally I would love to interviews with eCommerce founders who are using the drop-shipping model and are successful at it like the owner from eCommerce Fuel. He’s got a great blog.

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Hi Mitesh:

    Do you have someone in mind that you’d like to see on Mixergy?

    In the meantime, here are a couple interviews that discuss drop-shipping:

    http://mixergy.com/?p=9196

    http://mixergy.com/?p=20595

    http://mixergy.com/?p=25137

  • Mitesh

    Hi Arie,

    I would like to see an interview on Mixergy with Andrew Youderian. In addition he also seems to have a great blog teaching people about eCommerce over at http://www.ecommercefuel.com

  • http://www.SelfEmployedKing.com/ Mike Kawula

    Great interview Alec. Related a lot as until this week one of my businesses was an online store selling cleaning supplies, primarily vacuum parts and machines. Commend you on the successes. I tried warehousing but lost to much money and we just drop-shipped. Like you a ton of Kirby and Hoover. Here in USA Hoover’s huge so we were blowing through pallets a week of their canister vacuum and a ton in Generic bags. Great business but tight margins online. Great story and wishing entrepreneurial successes – Mike

  • Victoria – UltimateProduce.org

    Thank you so much for speaking out about recovering from your addiction, Alec. It was so moving to hear you talk about it; It helps me catch myself when I am going into any kind of self-destructive behavior. Cheers :) – Victoria

  • Arie at Mixergy

    Thanks for sharing that Victoria