"There was a man named Dunderbeck invented a machine ...
for grinding things to sausage meat and it was run by steam ..."
In addition to getting the adminstrative aspects of my online store in order. I have to make a decision about what exactly to sell, and many of the products hawked online, or on the various shopping channels, remind me a great deal of Dunderbeck's Machine. When I began planning I had a general fuzzy notion of my target market. That market would basically be clones of myself: aging former hippies with an interest in environmentalism, simple living, New Urbanism and Smart Growth, cycling, running, cooking, fitness, and the hundred or so other enthusiasms I have. As I started looking over actual product available from wholesalers, I went even crazier, and started sketching out sections of my website, and plugging specific products into categories of interest to me.
A few things became evident to me about my approach as the process developed though.
First, there was no real unifying focus to draw customers to my site. I was busily polling friends about their wide array of enthusiams for the sake of finding product. I asked one friend about kayaks, another about bento boxes, another about dance paraphernalia ... and so forth and so on, nearly ad infinitum. I was fishing for advice from friends I perceived to have overlapping interests of mine. While this wasn't a terrible approach, it probably wasn't the best manner to do market research with an eye to really dovetailing my enthusiasms with a viable online store.
The second problem with my approach became evident as I talked with successful online retailers in various forums. Dealing with multiple wholesalers is a hassle, in their experience, and my initial approach would've required close relationships with at least thirty wholesalers, with different return policies, levels of reliability, payment terms, etc. So the best approach is to find a few suppliers in one narrow niche. As I gain experience myself, I may add more wholesalers, but I think at this point I'll go with their observations and experience.
There really aren't a large number of clones of me out there. I'll have to focus even further if I want to find a niche that works. New Urbanism, cycling, the Asian board game Go/Baduk/Wei Chi, and cooking are very different enthusiasms, and while I'll probably still have sections devoted to my various interests (otherwise what fun is the whole thing?) I have to choose a specific niche that might actually draw traffic to the site.
At this point I've decided to find one flagship product, fifty or so related products, and to create two or three sections of my site related to my less marketable enthusiams.
So, back to Dunderbeck's machine, I'm focusing on two prospects. I've found a wholesaler for one of them, but not for the other.
I've had a longterm interest in exploring Georgia's more polluted rivers, for my environmental concerns. Consequently I've been on the lookout for a decent inflatable raft or kayak I can strap to the rear rack of my folding bicycle, transport to the river (in my case the Chattahoochee and South Rivers), inflate, put my folding bike in it, and navigate the river. I've found a very good prospect, and intend to acquire one and do a youtube video of my experience with it. If it's good, that could be a viable flagship product.
My second choice would be one of the relatively inexpensive solar panel kits which can be used to run, say, an appliance for a few hours, or lighting in a house for a day or so. The way they work is that you use the solar panel to charge a deep cycle marine battery. When that battery is charged you hook the battery to an inverter (a device which converts DC to AC), and run whatever devices you need to run. There is a popular one marketed for about $250. In general the reviews have been enthusiastic, but two recurring problems are mentioned in those reviews. The first is that the frame for the solar panel is flimsy. Many of the users of the panel have built their own frame. The second is that the control panel for the system is unreliable, and many of the users had to replace the panel.
It would be awesome if I could find a manufacturer of solar panel kits who could provide a kit with a low enough wholesale price to allow a $250 retail price, but which dealt with the two problems above. I'm working on it.