Natalie Akoorie

Natalie Akoorie is a reporter at the NZ Herald based in Hamilton.

Former student stitches up the real million-dollar deal

Ben Cardwell, 22, started Deal Man, an e-commerce clothing business aimed at men, in August last year. Photo / Christine Cornege
Ben Cardwell, 22, started Deal Man, an e-commerce clothing business aimed at men, in August last year. Photo / Christine Cornege

Six months ago, Ben Cardwell was a struggling university student working part-time in a petrol station and living at home with his parents — now he has a company that has leapt to $1.5 million in sales and has just featured in an Australian business publication that has been translated into multiple languages.

The 22-year-old started Deal Man, an e-commerce clothing business aimed at men, in August last year, a year into a Master's degree in science at the University of Waikato. It was the start of a journey that has seen him quit university to concentrate on the business which is attracting sales all over the world.

The Deal Man website was initially slow until Mr Cardwell, from Cambridge, was offered an advertising voucher by social media site Facebook.

He placed an ad, which appears in the newsfeed of targeted Facebook users, and suddenly there was a spike in orders.

The clothes, all non-branded and made by suppliers in China, Singapore and the Netherlands, were shipped off to buyers in New Zealand and around the world and the business began to slowly tick over.

The likes on his Facebook page began to grow and another ad doubled the sales in one day to $2,000, prompting Mr Cardwell to take out more ads.

"Sales kept doubling every week. It really took off in America. That was my biggest market."

But by Christmas, after Mr Cardwell quit university and his job, sales were dropping because Facebook changed the way it targeted buyers.

"You pay more for somebody who is more likely to buy to see your advert. All my advertising would reach a lot of people who weren't interested in buying.

"On Boxing Day, I got some new campaigns ready and rolled out about five different advertisements."

The next day sales were higher than ever, hitting 250 in one day or $10,000, and snowballing to a steady $16,000 a day.

"The highest in one day was $25,000."

Now his Facebook page has 242,000 genuine likes and business is so busy Mr Cardwell employed five part-time staff in January to place orders from home.

His biggest market is 18- to 35-year-old men who happily pay $30 for a dress shirt or $85 for a suit.

His biggest market is 18- to 35-year-old men who pay $30 for a dress shirt or $85 for a suit. Photo / Christine Cornege
His biggest market is 18- to 35-year-old men who pay $30 for a dress shirt or $85 for a suit. Photo / Christine Cornege

Mr Cardwell puts a 50 per cent mark-up on the clothing he buys and said the quality was comparable to menswear chain Hallensteins but he would never open a physical shop.

"When you run an online store you can have 1,000 people in your store at one time. You can be in your pyjamas and you just got out of bed and you're two clicks away from buying."

After he pays for the clothing, pays staff and buys Facebook advertising (about $100 a day per ad and he places five a day), Mr Cardwell is left with about 15 per cent of the earnings.

To date his profit is $150,000 after he used some of the earnings to invest in residential property in the United States.

And if the business doesn't "tank", Mr Cardwell is on track to earn between $500,000 and $900,000 annually.

Mr Cardwell, who emigrated with his family from Britain when he was 15, said he never dreamed he would be so successful but it was no fluke.

He spent months swotting up on marketing and spends hours every day analysing the sales data to make sure his Facebook advertising is reaching the right people.

- NZ Herald

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