Episode 52 – Expert Advice in Putting Your Amazon Private Label Skills to Use Wholesaling on Amazon
Meet Eddie Levine, President, and CEO of Wholesale Breakthrough, the consulting arm of his multi-million dollar wholesale business. Get his unique take and perspectives as he breaks down the Amazon wholesaling business model.
Episode 52 covers:
- 00:45 – A First Meeting in Minnesota
- 02:05 – How Does an Amazon Specific Wholesale Selling Model Work?
- 03:40 – Why are Successful Wholesalers Pivoting to Private Label?
- 05:20 – A Good Wholesaling Strategy Begins with Strong Networking Skills
- 07:25 – Bradley – “Maybe it’s a Hybrid Wholesale/Brand Management Animal”
- 08:25 – How to Deal with the Lack of Exclusivity
- 12:50 – Helping Others Expand into Untapped Markets
- 14:12 – The Biggest Market Opportunity Outside of Amazon – Groupon?
- 16:00 – The Rapidly Expanding List of eCommerce Marketplaces
- 18:22 – Eddie Shares a Client’s Success Story
- 19:21 – The Different Financial Structures of Wholesale Partnerships
- 21:14 – Does He Have a Favorite Wholesale Business Model?
- 24:50 – Wholesale – An Additional Way to Monetize Your Private Label Skill Set
- 26:07 – A Caution in Establishing Relationships – Build Trust Slowly
- 27:45 – How to Get in Touch with Eddie
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Bradley Sutton: Eddie Levine puts a new spin on wholesaling. Instead of just doing the traditional cold calling and being one of a dozen other sellers on a listing, he’s found a way to utilize private label skills to make wholesaling a viable option for just about any Amazon brand owner. How cool is that? Pretty cool, I think.
Bradley Sutton: How’s it going, everybody? Welcome to another episode of the Serious Sellers Podcast. I am your host, Bradley Sutton, and I am joined today by Eddie Levine. How’s it going, Eddie? What’s up?
Eddie Levine: I’m good. Thanks for asking. I appreciate you inviting me on.
Bradley Sutton: Yes, yes. Now, we’ll start off. I believe the first time I might have seen you, you were a speaker at the—you went to the—Midwest conference, right? I forgot what it’s called, something Midwest. It was like in Minnesota, maybe two, three years ago.
Eddie Levine: Yup. I try and pick and choose nowadays, but back a few years ago, I was going on every single one of them, so most likely I saw you there somewhere.
Bradley Sutton: Now was it at that conference that you first met Jing?
Eddie Levine: No, I actually met her for the first time at Resonate in Atlanta and then that was our second or third conference.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Okay, cool. Yeah, that was actually the first time I had met her and I had seen you. But for those who don’t know what we’re talking about, I just to show you the other benefit that happens from networking and going to conferences. Eddie now is dating Jing who was an Amazon seller. You did meet at a conference—that one in Atlanta?
Eddie Levine: Yeah. Yeah. We saw each other at a conference called Resonate in Atlanta. We met there in 2016
Bradley Sutton: So guys, just think about it. Everybody always says, “Hey, go to learn about education. Go for networking.” But you might meet your soulmate at one of these events. You have no idea. Just another reason to put yourself out there when you go to conferences and things.
Eddie Levine: I said it’ll happen when it happens, so I won’t complain.
Bradley Sutton: There we go. All right, Eddie, you have been one of the foremost experts and knowledgeable guys as far as selling the wholesale model on Amazon. Now we have a lot of experienced listeners on the podcast, but we also have some newer ones who might understand. What do you mean? What does wholesale model on Amazon mean? Can you just briefly explain what the difference between somebody who’s a private label seller or somebody who is doing wholesale?
Eddie Levine: I’ll break it down into three different ways because I think that’s the easiest way to explain it in my experience. So one, with a private label you are developing, finding, sourcing your own products in your own brand from China or wherever and then bringing them to market on the Amazon channel or whatever channel you’re using. Traditional wholesale is when you’re going to established brands and then buying their products from them to then resell it on the channel wherever your marketplace is. Now, what we do, because we’ve pivoted again from that into more of the brand management space. We are buying wholesale, we are buying from existing brands and not developing our own unique products; however, we are doing the management piece, so we’re doing everything from start to finish, from researching and developing their products in the platform, building out the listings, looking at the keyword data, launching them, effectively ranking them, doing different strategies. A lot of what we do today in our wholesale model overlaps with a private label because we’re looking at a lot of the same data and in the same space if you will.
Bradley Sutton: Okay, cool. Now you actually brought up a point that I was going to try and segue way to a little bit later. What you basically said about transitioning or diversifying what you do. I’ve seen that as a common theme, the last year and a half, two years, where a lot of people who were just crushing wholesale are now pivoting and trying to expand and going a little bit more in the private label route. What are some of the reasons why that’s the case? Is it because it’s too competitive now for the wholesale or most companies are just doing their own thing? What’s the major reason you see behind that?
Eddie Levine: I think it’s a mix. We still do traditional wholesale. I know I said before in a sense that we didn’t move 100%. We added it to the traditional wholesale. You know, what I view it as is that there’s not enough value add for a regular wholesaler just to buy a product and then resell it. What are you giving back to the brand? Why are they going to work with you over someone else? There’s nothing really of value there. From a business perspective, if I want to eventually grow the business and sell it, there is nothing of value just by reselling products. When you’re building a brand, you are selling something that you created. When I am offering brand management, I’m creating something; I’m creating a value-based business. That’s really the core reason that I pivoted, and it also gives us an opportunity to work more exclusively and run the show if you want and really, really build something from the ground up or when they expand upon what they currently built from when we start working with them.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. Absolutely, I do think wholesale, even if somebody, for whatever reason, just wanted to go ahead and they exclusively do that; I know guys who are currently doing over $50 million on wholesale yearly. I met one of those at—what conference was that—Prosper Show? I was like, “What? Are you kidding me?” Let’s say, regardless of if somebody wants to do it exclusively or just supplement their private label income with some wholesale, what’s the strategy of how someone could find a product that they would be able to sell under that model?
Eddie Levine: Under the wholesale model? I mean it really, really comes down to networking. The way I built my business, both on the wholesale side and the brand management side, is really getting in front of brands, and I don’t like the model of calling them or emailing them and hoping aimlessly that someone would read your email or pick up your voicemail and give me a call back and give you a shot. I really believe in getting in front of their face and really providing some value. So, if you’re a private label seller who has experience in the Amazon marketplace, draw up some case studies and draw up some tangible information that you can present to a brand as a reason that they would give you a shot to either represent them or help them with their existing product line. Because again, I go back to my point from before that anyone can sell a product. Anyone can go to a brand and say, “Hey, I want to partner with you. I want to sell your product. I can manage from A to Z,” that’s not hard to present to a brand. What’s difficult is to present factual data, case studies, successes, something in the same market or category. Something that’s tangible that really sets you apart from the other people in the space.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah, I agree. And that’s, I think, something that a lot of people who are doing wholesale before really weren’t doing. A lot of people just, “Hey, let me get this wholesale list. Oh, I can see I can get a 20% profit. I’ll just buy it from this company and use the existing listing”—fighting with about 15 other sellers for the Buy Box, etc. But I see a shift. And that’s why more, for example, Helium 10 users, say, “Oh no, Helium 10 is only for private label sellers.” But, I hear a lot of our users; what they do is they present just exactly what you said, like, “Hey, you know, X, Y, Z brand. Take a look at the power of what I could do with Helium 10. I can make sure your listing gets up in front of more eyes, not just people looking for your brand but rather people looking for generic searches. I can optimize your listing; I can basically increase your sales.” I’m not even sure, but maybe we need to come up with a new name for it, because it’s not necessarily brand management, especially if you’re still purchasing the inventory, but if you’re giving control, maybe over their brand on Amazon even though you’re buying it, it’s almost like a hybrid wholesale/brand management thing that you can get going.
Eddie Levine: Yeah, I mean we’re selective with the brands that we pick up. I would say there are two ways to work this model. You can do brand management and not buy any product and just keep the product sourcing and shipping part of it and the inventory possession in the brand’s hands and just offer it as a service space. But what we do in our companies, we actually buy the product and inventory, which helps us get a lot more context, I feel because I think it gives us some skin in the game. It shows the brand that we’re serious. It gives them some ROI from pretty much day one, and it ends up being better for the right partner. I just feel like that’s how we were able to grow so much faster over the last few months especially.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Now here’s something I know people might have a question about. Okay, you might have an agreement with a bigger brand to manage their Amazon listings. And obviously, if you’re buying it, you’re going to be keeping it at a certain price. But maybe some of their product, let’s say, is sold at Walmart or sold somewhere else and it gets into liquidators’ hands and whatever the case might be or maybe they have some other huge distributor who just tries to go direct on Amazon and now there’s three, four other companies on that same listing and a price war and they’re not maintaining the map, how do you protect yourself or is there anything that you can do to stay relevant because if the other people are going under you and you have a direct agreement with the manufacturer, you’ve got to keep a certain price. What can you do in a situation like that?
Eddie Levine: Yeah, the short answer is you really have to have a tight distribution control and really understand who your buyers are. That’s the short, easy answer. But unfortunately, that’s not the way that things work. I would say that I’m not threatened as much by other sellers, because the majority of my brands know who they’re selling to. They really properly vet them. We give them a list of questions to ask all their buyers to really understand more about their business and try to weed out those people who are claiming they’re not going to sell online but then ended up selling online anyway. There are channel enforcement tools and companies that we’ve used and we’ve partnered with before for brands that need it. If we need to figure out who the sellers are and really police the channel. But honestly, I think my biggest struggle is from the retail brick-and-mortar side, because when brands sell to other large retailers, like you mentioned before, for example, Target, Walmart, those big-box stores, Amazon has proprietary systems in place—I don’t know if we’re selling it as a first-party merchandise, even if I’m selling the third party as we do for our brands—they’re looking at price points of the same product across all channels. If Walmart is going to come into that same product and mark it down or use it as a loss leader or whatever the case may be, it can impact the ability for us to get the Buy Box on the listing. Then we have to work strategically with our vendors to figure out, “Hey, can we get them to honor or move closer to your map pricing? Do we have to develop products that are more exclusive to Amazon? Can we make a bundle? Something unique?” There are out-of-the-box ways to think about it. But that’s, I would say, the thing that we deal with most often on a day-to-day basis; it’s combating the major retailers.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah, that’s definitely something. Before I was working here at Helium 10, I was a sales manager for a large diet-pill company, and they sold products in Walmart and it would be online, and Amazon is actively scraping those websites and checking what the prices are. Sometimes, even if they would drop their price by 10 cents compared to Amazon, the Buy Box would be gone—and not that somebody else would have the Buy Box. There would be no Buy Box. You would have to click on that other thing. It made it look like the listing was out of stock and sales would just tank when that happens.
Eddie Levine: And that’s a killer because as most of our users know that when the Buy Box is suppressed and you have nothing showing there, you can’t run ads. That’s a killer right there.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. No, no sponsored ads, and then if anybody would go browsing there, it would look like it’s out of stock. So they just say, “Oh, I’m done. I’ll just go to something else.” I believe that—just like the brand analytics just came out—there as a new part of that that actually is now displaying the competitive pricing. Have you heard about that or do you know what that’s called?
Eddie Levine: Yeah, I’ve seen it. It’s in our account. It’s relatively new so I don’t have it right in front of me, unfortunately, but my experience with that tool so far—and I’m sure it’ll get better—is that it’s not picking up all the products that we have. So it’s hit and miss if it’s even showing you what I need to see in the first place. If that’s something that’s going to continue to get enhanced and rolled out even more and more, that’s obviously going to be very helpful, because if they can identify exactly what the price point is, you then probably have a much easier chance of figuring out who the retailer is, because then you could probably figure out who they’re looking at. It just gives you an idea of, “Hey, can I match that price? Can I beat it? Is that something I can compete with or do I have to go back to the brand?” If you’re a brand yourself, do you have to figure out what your next step is? Is it something I can play with or not? It just gives you a little bit more of an indication on what your next step should be.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. Now we did talk about other products being on other marketplaces such as Target, Walmart, et cetera. What about you and part of your services or any of your students who have gone to start wholesale relationships with companies and managing their brand; do you guys ever help them expand to some of these other online marketplaces themselves?
Eddie Levine: Yeah, so our company right now, we operate on over two dozen channels, both domestically and internationally. We know all the domestic channels, all the international channels. Even Amazon has its US channel, but they also have the UK, Australia, now UAE, and Japan, and all these places—Canada, Mexico. We’re also doing, eBay, Jet, Walmart, Rakuten, Groupon. Pretty much you name it, we’ve been on those channels. I feel and my experience has shown me that being able to diversify not only provides you a better safety net, but it gives you more value when you’re trying to approach brands as we do as value-added wholesalers, because again, it goes back to—well, Amazon is obviously the bread and butter and it’s what everyone’s focusing on, but I want to provide something of value or something different and if I can give them that Amazon piece alongside these other things that people aren’t pitching every single day—that’s what sets me apart. I have to figure out ways or things to do that people aren’t doing day in and day out that brands aren’t sick and tired of hearing.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. What would you say, not considering the Amazon different-country marketplaces, is the biggest revenue-generating marketplace outside of the Amazon infrastructure?
Eddie Levine: I like Groupon because I feel like it’s a way to move inventory at a higher volume quicker. Groupon is a challenging one to work with. You need to have the right contacts in their company to get an invite to be a vendor. There are a lot of products they don’t want to get their hands on. They want you to dropship, so you’re fulfilling individual orders, which is obviously the polar opposite of FBA. You have to have the network set up. A lot of sellers are seeing the writing on the wall now that Amazon doesn’t want to be used as a storage house. That was really conveyed to me even more and more yesterday when I visited one of FCs (fulfillment center). It’s becoming paramount for a seller to really control their inventory, and really, either have it on hand themselves or have a third-party provider that can do it for them. Because honestly, I’ve made a couple of predictions about this, and I think that it’s going to be more and more prevalent later this year and into 2020 that you really have to not rely on Amazon to be your storage house. And I think that that storage fees in general, the cost of doing business and FBA, I think, my prediction is, that you’ll see that I’m on a sliding scale sooner than later based on how well you’re managing your inventory.
Bradley Sutton: Ah, interesting, Groupon. I think that would be surprising because most people would’ve thought maybe Walmart or Jet or eBay or something. I have heard of Groupon being as a source, most people, old school people just think of Groupon as a couple day-deals or “Hey, let’s all jump in and get some Zumba classes or something.” Groupon as a marketplace for products is definitely growing. Would you say it’s the fastest-growing or are there any—even ones that are way down the list, but like when you start looking at the numbers from month to month, they’re like, “Wow, this marketplace is really coming up.” Is there anything like that out there?
Eddie Levine: I think they all have their pros and cons. It really depends on the products you have. Our core categories are toys and games, housewares, lawn and garden, pets, baby—those kinds of things. Those have a lot of items that people are searching for on a daily basis, and you can really move a lot of volumes. If you’re more specialized or if you’re looking for, if you’re selling a product, if you’re a brand owner, if you’re trying to source products from brands that have a smaller niche, certain websites are going to outperform others. There’s a brand that we represent that has a really focused type of product, and it’s for home improvement. Actually, out of all the sites that we list them on, they do the best doing that themselves with their Etsy store, which is amazing because they actually do a significant volume at Amazon, but their Etsy store, because it’s more of those crafty-type people, they have blown it out the water. It’s amazing.
Bradley Sutton: Wow. That’s interesting too. Yeah. Etsy, I forgot even to mention that, but what about though going back, you had said that “Yeah. Networking obviously is important. Probably going to conferences or shows like the ASD show, you might be able to find people,” but let’s say there’s somebody who is a stay-at-home dad or stay-at-home mom and they’re there in Florida. They can’t really get out to these places. They don’t have that great of a network. From their house, is it possible to still go and search for companies who might be open to a wholesale arrangement for Amazon?
Eddie Levine: Is it possible? Yes, of course. I’m not going to sit here and tell you that if you can’t spend the money and time to go out and get in front of the brand face to face, then you’re not going to be successful because that would just be total nonsense. But at the same time, you have to understand who you’re dealing with. If you’re the person who’s going to be behind a desk at their house, you have to rely on basically your experience and your confidence and your charm to really win someone over. And I feel that falls short when you are competing with people who are getting out there face to face and looking someone in the eye and shaking their hand and building that trust and relationship. Because as you all know, when you’re talking to someone on the phone, first impressions can often be incorrect or wrong or not be as promising as if you were to meet someone face to face. So that’s why I liked that interaction face to face because I know that’s what my competition is doing and I like to be able to build that relationship and really know who I’m talking to.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. Now just to give some people some hope, is there maybe somebody you’ve helped to start working on this business model? You don’t have to mention any names or what niche they’re in, but are there any success stories that you can share with us all? Like, “Hey, here’s a person who came to us and hadn’t really had much experience and then they did this and this and now they’re doing this and this.”
Eddie Levine: Yeah, so there was actually a company that we picked up in the housewares category about—we picked him up, let’s see—late 2017. We started with them, and their sales on the Amazon platform were about 20-30,000 a year. Listed about 15 SKUs on the platform, and this will now be our second year once we get through 2019 with them. And they’re up to about 90 SKUs on the platform right now. It’s still all in one category, and their forecast right now, this year, to do just north of four and a half million on the platform.
Bradley Sutton: Wow, that’s crazy. How does that work out for you guys then? Let’s say, people do network, they do go to the conferences. They land a client. What’s the framework of a relationship and agreement? Is it based on commission? I know you had mentioned purchasing obviously is one, but what are some of the different agreements that people can come to for this kind of model?
Eddie Levine: That’s the beauty of it. You can really craft it to be any type or any way they are more comfortable with. I mean your agreement really should be flexible based on the brand you’re dealing with. Because I found in my experience that a one-set agreement doesn’t work for every single brand. The ability to be flexible and adapt is most important, but I’ll tell you that it’s really going to be important that you have an agreement in place with the brand that you’re talking to and then make sure that whatever one’s responsibilities are and what the costs are involved, they’re all spelled out because you don’t want to have surprises later on that neither one of you can absorb.
Eddie Levine: In our business, we have to start buying inventory and we’re selling it. The profitability of that inventory is ours to keep. But if you’re not buying the inventory, you can do a commission-based, you can do a percentage of growth based if they’re already an existing brand. You’ve got to figure out who’s going to pay the advertising costs. Are you going to pay for it? Are they going to pay it? Are you going to split it? There’s a lot of moving pieces, and who’s going to pay for the research time and the listing setup and then basically all the hard work that goes in from the start. That’s a time and monetary commitment because you’re putting so much effort into that. We’d like to spell out those pieces to all of our brands ahead of time after we’ve done the initial brand evaluation to figure out what makes the most sense for both of us. With the brand owner that we can work cohesively together. Both of us can actually remain profitable for the long haul.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah, that makes sense. Is there one that you suggest that people try and start with, that you think usually works the best overall as long as all parties are agreeable to it?
Eddie Levine: I find that the percentage of rev shares is okay so long as it’s not egregious and way over the top. At the end of the day, I feel that a rev share percentage is of the best value for both of you and the brand because it rewards you for doing the work and rewards you for growing the brand and taking them from whatever level they’re at currently to whatever level you grow them too. But it also works for them because it gives them more brand exposure and their brand gets to be larger and larger in the platform, and they’re able to sell more and more inventory.
Eddie Levine: Really their expense is not focused on a set dollar amount per month that they may not be able to afford. Instead, the amount they’re spending out per month really is dependent on how well you do as a partner. And so, without you really holding up your end of the bargain, you’re not going to get paid, and they’re not going to have a huge expense. So it’s kind of a win-win all around in my personal opinion.
Bradley Sutton: Yeah. That to me would be, if one can come to some kind of agreement like that, it would be the best for the person who’s interested in this model, because it doesn’t need a big investment. If you’re a private label seller, you’ve got to go buy 5,000 units of a product that costs 10 bucks each and you’re 50,000 in the hole before you even sold a product. Obviously, that would be a benefit. But what are some of the negatives or what are some of the dangers of things that maybe you think sellers should be aware of that you’ve seen happen to yourself or people you know? What can you say that will may hopefully keep some from making mistakes that you’ve seen?
Eddie Levine: Well, two things. I think the number one thing that comes to mind is you’ve got to understand what the requirements are going to be for advertising and know who is going to cover that because, depending on what product you’re selling, depending where your ACoS (Advertising Cost of Sale) is going to be, you probably are going to have to dump thousands of dollars in the advertising side of it. And if neither one of you understand what that’s going to cost or have agreed to who’s going to pay for it or how are you going to split it up, it can stop you right in your tracks. And number two is really understanding what the margins are that both you and the brand owner have for the specific product line or category that you’re operating in because if you go and pitch a brand rev-share agreement and you’re looking for let’s just—well, just for example—say, I have a 10% rev share. That’s not to say that’s what you would use, but I can tell that’s what you asked for. Well, if they are operating on thin margins, that could be a potential deal-killer whereas if they are operating on higher margins or have the ability to be more flexible, that might be something that they’re more willing to entertain. But again, it really depends on the brand owner, because a lot of brands with would balk at me if I didn’t offer a rev share that held my feet to the fire because if I demanded, for example, $5,000 or $8,000 a month just to manage that brand every single month, well, if they sign off on that and I didn’t grow the business, I’m getting paid all this money, and they’re not seeing their business grow, how is that a value to them? Do you know what I’m saying? So no matter what model you choose, I like a model that requires you to follow through on your commitments and rewards both the brand owner and yourself for doing the work and growing it from here on out.
Bradley Sutton: Okay. One thing I think I’ve gotten from this conversation that I really didn’t think about too much before was that there could be people who are just starting off, of course, and they might think that “Hey, this is a great model that I can get to.” But for those who are out there who are private label sellers and maybe crushing on private label, they shouldn’t discount this model because that actually helps them show what they can do and say, “Hey, here’s my own brand that I’ve grown. How would you like me to take what I know about how things work on Amazon and that obviously works and help your brand?” So it’s a way that private label sellers can scale their business without even having to scale their brand.
Eddie Levine: There’s so much potential here and I have got to stress that this is not traditional wholesale when you’re just a reseller and you don’t have to worry about ads and you’re popping on listing with other people. I mean, that’s a version of wholesale, but what I’m referring to and I’ve been talking to you about for most of this conversation is really using your private label skill set because there’s so much overlap when you’re doing brand management or partnering with someone to run their brand versus when you’re doing private labeling on your own. We essentially use the same tools and look at the same exact data as someone who’s doing private label for their own brand.
Eddie Levine: If you are doing well with private label, that’s the model you’re working with or if you’re focusing on it, but you want to grow, this is absolutely an area that you can either explore or use an additive for some supplemental income. You’re really looking at a lot of the same data.
Bradley Sutton: One last thing I want to ask, is there anything that maybe you want to warn people about? Like, “Hey, you know, I know there’s people who are suggesting this or this about wholesale,” but probably shouldn’t follow it.
Eddie Levine: Yeah. I would say, people always are excited about the ability to add brand management or add a client to the portfolio or add an existing line or build a brand or whatever the case may be. I would say the biggest thing that I have to caution people on pretty much all the time is don’t run before you walk. Right? Don’t go up to a brand owner and say, “Hey, I want the exclusive on your line. I want to be the only seller. I want to do this.” You have to earn that right. You have to show them what you’re able to do, and that’s why I started this call with having those case studies and having proof that you are able to do exactly what you’re describing to them is paramount, because, at the end of the day, you’re competing for their business with a ton of other people who are looking to sell their product. They might not do it as well as you, and they might not be pitching the whole brand management piece, but they’re getting pitched all the time on this similar type of method. Show them some case studies, show them some that you have some experience, give them something tangible and then maybe go to them and ask them for a set number of products or to section off a portion of their line that you could start with first and then grow into the other portion. Don’t go in there and expect them to give you the world when you are so new to them and you haven’t proven anything yet. Build up to that and take your time.
Bradley Sutton: All right, that’s great advice. Thank you very much, Eddie, for coming on now. There’s so much more that we would want to be able to talk about here, but for those who still have questions, how can they reach you or get more information on what you do?
Eddie Levine: Yeah, a Facebook group that you can join is Wholesale Breakthrough, all spelled out, and then if you want to email me, you could do that as well. firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bradley Sutton: All right. Hey, thanks a lot for joining us, and I’ll be seeing you at one of these conferences and let’s play matchmaker for some of these other people out there and help them find their soulmates too.
Eddie Levine: Sounds good.
Bradley Sutton: All right. Thanks a lot.
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