During the Covid-19 shutdown, online sales have increased thanks in part to businesses adopting e-commerce models. One of the companies helping these businesses sell their goods online is Valet Seller, a company founded by three young adults from our own community. We recently had the chance to interview Andrew Michaud, Maya Dunne, and Kevin Dunne about their company.
Sentinel: Tell our readers a little bit about yourselves.
AM: My name is Andrew Michaud, I graduated from HF-L in 2017 and currently am a senior at West Virginia University. I have been friends with my Co-Founders, Maya and Kevin, for a long time and share similar interests as them. Our unique backgrounds and mutual interests led us to creating Valet Seller.
MD: My name is Maya Dunne and I grew up in Mendon, NY. I attended the Honeoye Falls-Lima Schools, following the footsteps of my five older siblings, and currently am a senior at Colgate University. One of my brothers, Kevin, started selling products on eBay when he was in high school and I was eager to get involved as quickly as I could. I met Andrew Michaud in middle school, as he was one year above me. The three of us are motivated and open-minded entrepreneurs which lead us to bring a small-scale e-commerce side hustle to a quickly growing e-commerce software company.
KD: My name is Kevin Dunne and I grew up in Honeoye Falls. I graduated from SUNY Geneseo in 2017. I started selling products on eBay during high school and continued throughout college with the help of my younger sister, Maya. Maya introduced me to Andrew in 2018 and we launched Valet Seller!
Sentinel: What about your background first got you interested into business?
AM: My father worked in the print industry and introduced me to content creation at a very young age. Because of the experience I had from my youth, I began my entrepreneurial journey by starting a small media company, Andrew Michaud Visuals, to showcase my skillset in photography, graphic design, and video production. At the same time, I was also fascinated with e-commerce and the latest trends in fashion, particularly sneakers. I would purchase highly sought out and rare sneakers and list and sell them on eBay as a part-time way to make some quick cash. These two experiences throughout my entrepreneurial journey led me to where I am today. I am the Chief Marketing Officer of Valet Seller. My position allows me to combine my expertise in e-commerce, content creation, and marketing to create innovative solutions for entrepreneurs and businesses to help them get the most out of their online experience.
MD: Being the youngest of six, I always felt pressure to impress my family and quickly learned the habit of competitiveness. My father was very entrepreneurial, as were all of my siblings, and watching, not only their successes but also failures, inspired me to start my own business and be my own boss.
KD: My Dad always had an entrepreneurial spirit and started a few companies when I was growing up. This inspired me to create my own company and build financial independence from a young age.
Sentinel: Briefly describe what Valet Seller does and who it does it for.
Valet Seller: Valet Seller is an e-commerce software that provides brands with digital shelf space in over 10 online stores.
When you decide to work with Valet Seller, the first step is to list your products. Once your product listings are created, you choose a fulfillment method. You have the option to ship your inventory to our warehouse and have our team handle fulfillment, or print shipping labels directly from our software and ship to the end customer. After listing your products and choosing a fulfillment method, you can monitor sales, manage inventory, and get paid all through our software.
We currently work with over 100 brands. We target emerging brands in the US that do not have an established online presence and international brands interested in expanding to US markets. According to Marketplace Pulse, 3,000 new Amazon stores were opened every day in 2018. Signing up for Valet Seller is an alternative for these brands because they gain access to an established store on Amazon and several other marketplaces at the same time.
Sentinel: When did you first notice the problem that Valet Seller solves?
Valet Seller: A problem businesses face while trying to sell online is managing their products across multiple online stores. Issues such as getting approved to sell in certain stores, managing inventory, and standing out among competitors could seriously limit a business’s potential for success. That’s why we built Valet Seller. With the Valet Seller software, brands can tap into our current online stores and utilize our distribution network which increases online sales by an average of 165%. We created Valet Seller to allow brands to bypass the steep learning curve and initial investment required to start selling online. Products receive more traffic when sold by Valet Seller, due to our strategic partnerships with marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, and Walmart.
Sentinel: How long did it take you to go from idea to first customer?
Valet Seller: The idea for Valet Seller was formed the exact moment we got our first customer. Our friends and family knew we were involved with e-commerce and would ask us if we could list their products for them through our accounts. We noticed a majority of these products that we would list would be successful and realized that this idea could be scaled exponentially.
Sentinel: How many years have you had Valet Seller and where has your past growth come from?
Valet Seller: Kevin and Maya had run an e-commerce business together known as Discount Trends about five years before starting Valet Seller. Andrew had a similar experience by selling sneakers on eBay and connected with Kevin and Maya in 2018 to launch Valet Seller.
At first, Valet Seller was a manual process. We would have brands send us all their product information (product titles, inventory, etc.) and we would list them on our marketplace storefronts.
At the end of 2019, we pitched our idea to Parallel18, a startup accelerator funded by the Puerto Rico Science, Technology & Research Trust, and were selected to be a part of their program. During this time, we transitioned into a software company and automated a majority of our processes in order to scale more effectively.
Sentinel: How has Covid-19 impacted your business, your clients’ businesses, and retail sales, in general?
Valet Seller: Covid-19 has affected many businesses, especially in the e-commerce industry. The closing of retail stores is shifting consumer spending online and businesses are realizing now more than ever the importance of having their products available for sale on the internet. In the past 8 weeks, e-commerce has penetrated more U.S. retail sales than the past 10 years of consistent growth.
Saleswise, we have noticed an increase in food & beverage, gifts, apparel, and home & garden categories. On the other hand, sales in product categories such as luggage, gym/workout supplies, and swimwear have decreased significantly.
Valet Seller is beneficial to brands whose physical retail presence might have been harmed by the Covid-19 closures because they did not have any online sales presence. Instead of having to shut down entirely, we come in by making your transition between physical and digital stores go smoothly.
Sentinel: Where do you see your future growth coming from?
Valet Seller: We see the most future growth coming from the online grocery category. Virtual shopping experiences, voice ordering, and programs such as Amazon Fresh are all becoming increasingly popular.
Sentinel: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
AM: I’d like to continue my entrepreneurial journey by starting a crowd-funding type business for start-ups to gain capital.
MD: I will be a co-founder in a start-up investment fund and mentoring small business owners and entrepreneurs.
KD: In ten years I see myself continuing with Valet Seller, but adapted in a way that fits the current e-commerce trends. I believe ideas and services such as Valet Seller will remain relevant and valuable as there will always be a space to level the playing field between small scale retailers and large businesses. I also strive to continue working for myself and allowing myself a flexible schedule to start a family and next stages of my life.
Sentinel: What advice would you give to businesses in the Mendon-Honeoye Falls-Lima community?
Valet Seller: It is important to focus on what matters, prioritize your time, and double down on opportunities that you believe in. Remember that when you say no to one thing, you are simultaneously saying yes to 100 other things.