OK, I’ll just blurt it out. At the start of this year, we decided to drop Office Oxygen. There, I said it. It still makes me feel disappointed. Back in 2013, we developed the Office Oxygen brand in hope of expanding our market. Our goal was to appeal to non-trainers who wanted to improve organizational learning, team building, and engagement. We loved the idea, the name, and truly believed our tools would breathe new life into the workplace. In fact, we still do. While the Office Oxygen experiment wasn’t a perfect success, shifting from a Fixed Mindset to a Growth Mindset, yielded important lessons and ultimate success.
The Small Business Administration says that 66% of new businesses fail within their first 10 years, so the odds were clearly against us. Without the backing of investors, we launched a sister website and catalog, and invested lots in online marketing. At roughly the same time, we began selling our products on Amazon’s seller-fulfilled Third Party Marketplace. The numbers tell the rest of the story.
In 6 years’ time, the Office Oxygen website continued to sputter along. The costly catalog was a financial drain and not nearly as effective at bringing in new customers as Amazon’s sophisticated algorithms. I guess our story isn’t so different from that of other small e-commerce entrepreneurs, who can’t compete with the behemoth. Instead, we must instead partner with them, despite the inherent risks in doing so.* Amazon did allow us to expand our market, in a way we couldn’t do on our own.
Even as I write, I realize my language suggests a fixed mindset—we’re not as big as Amazon, we can’t do what they can do, etc. My tendency is to be finite, self-critical, and defeatist. But, I know we learned a lot and grew a lot in the past 6 years, just from having launched Office Oxygen. We have new appreciation for the breadth of appeal of our products; we’ve expanded our product line by focusing on the development of new products for managers and team leaders, as well as teachers and trainers; we’ve learned how to optimize our Amazon and Trainers Warehouse businesses, so they work well together. Finally, we pat ourselves on the back for making hard decisions that make economic sense, even if it hurts.
With deeper appreciation of the value we create for our customers, we take these lessons from our experience launching, managing, and finally closing Office Oxygen:
* Understanding the Amazon “partnership” — Those of us who have neither the luxury of operating at a loss for 14 years, nor the fulfillment infrastructure to offer free two-day shipping on any order, must instead view Amazon as a partner. As such, we make use of their marketing and fulfillment infrastructure to run our business. For any who might be interested, the “risks” for merchants include: 1) not owning the relationship with your customers; 2) Amazon uses sales data to identify which of its vendors’ products are worth “stealing” or making on their own; 3) devaluation of your company as more and more of your sales are with a single “customer”; and 4) Amazon’s ability to unilaterally label you as having “poor seller performance” and prohibit you from selling on their site.