Cellify Distributors, a mobile wholesale company, is owned by Steve Ranna. Steve eased into the cell phone industry about 25 years ago, with some pit stops along the way. On and off since then, he’s worked as a stockbroker, financial adviser, and salesman for a successful wholesale company, among other roles. But finally, Steve found his personality fit the best making deals, talking to people, and of course, reselling.

Steve has worn many hats while running Cellify for roughly 10 years. Now long past his days as a high schooler selling cell phones, there’s still something to be said about building your business around the first summer job you had. And while having the personality to match the industry can get you started, growing a New York-based wholesale business, securing an R2 certification, exporting regularly to different countries, and managing employees is no easy feat.

In this edition of our Reseller Community Spotlight, we go through the beginnings of Steve’s mobile wholesale business, Cellify Distributors, as well as the lessons learned along the way.

The Beginnings of Cellify

Q: When did you start?

I got my first job over the counter at a local cell phone store when I was 13 in high school. My career and my relationship with this industry evolved a lot over the years. It’s kind of a normal progression—you start off in one industry, and then you go to a different industry and then say to yourself, ‘You know, I’m trying this and I’m trying that, but really, what I know best ends up being that.’ You kinda go back to it. And that’s what happened to me.

When I was 23 I got a job at a big wholesale company (they’re still around and doing very well) After about five years of learning the business, I didn’t really see a future, you know, as a lot of salesmen do, they want to keep kind of progressing up to that. And once they hit a ceiling, they say to themselves, they could either stay in the position they’re in or they could branch out, go out on their own, take that risk. Around 28 I did that. It’s been 10 years that I’ve had this company.

Q: What motivated you to become a reseller?

When you’re 13 looking for a summer job, you kind of bounce around. And for me, that didn’t happen. I liked meeting people and explaining to them, ‘Here are your choices.’ I was young, the technology came a bit more naturally to me. Just like these days—technology comes a little bit more naturally to younger people. You’d have someone older come in and not really understand, and being able to explain that you feel good about yourself.

So instead of bouncing around, I stayed there because I seem to be drawn to it for whatever reason. Maybe it’s just something to do with my personality, where I like talking to people and also the camaraderie. It’s kind of being in a very social environment all day.

Q: What is your favorite and least favorite part of this business?

The deal-making part is the most exciting for me. In the early days of my business, it would just be like, get a box, buy it, call another guy, swing a deal, he agrees to buy it, you make a few bucks, you open the box, you make sure everything’s good, you close it back up, and you ship it right out. You don’t have to spend a lot of time, and then you’re onto your next.

My least favorite part would probably be the organizational aspects. I’m not a very organized person by nature. I’m not messy, but if it’s between getting all my papers in order and making sure every single item that came in gets kept track of… the repetitive, back office stuff is probably my least favorite part.

Q: How has B-Stock helped you/ your business?

The main way is they allowed us to forecast what products are coming in and what products we have access to. When I was coming in as a salesman, I had almost no contacts. I wasn’t on the buying side. There would be times where I had customers calling and saying, ‘I need this, I need that. Can you get this?’ And I would say, ‘I don’t even know where to start.’ You had to just call around and say, ‘I don’t know how many phone calls it’s going to take me to get this particular model that this person is looking for.’

With B-Stock, you know there’s an auction finishing almost every day of the week. You know how many there are going to be. If you’re keeping good records and paying a lot of attention, you know approximately what price they’re going to be closing at. The ability to forecast inventory based on the product that’s being offered on the B-Stock platform is huge. It almost takes that element of the business away and you can now focus more on the selling side of it.

Lessons learned along the way

The R2 certification process

Technology moves fast, but resellers and wholesalers have to move even faster. And companies would do well to have an R2 certification. Day to day, this certification forces you to think about a multitude of things. Most importantly, recycling (in the case of potentially hazardous materials found in cell phones) and personal privacy issues.

While it can be a grueling process, Steve emphasized that it got them better pricing, exclusive access to inventory, and is necessary for wholesale companies if you want to form direct relationships with mobile carriers yourself.

“With the R2 certification, before you buy a cell phone, you have to vet your vendor, make sure that that they’re getting it from a place that’s reputable, that they’re not reselling or disposing of cell phones that don’t work. You have to follow that chain all the way through.

Then once you receive it, you have to document everything; IMEI [International Mobile Equipment Identity] lists, separate the phones that can’t be data wiped into a separate pile of recycling pile because of customer privacy. There’s so much that people keep on their cell phones. We now have this responsibility of making sure that that doesn’t get shared with the rest of the world.”

Mobile returns can get interesting

It does happen every so often with high-value items, but some end-users aim to take advantage of lenient return policies. As Steve put it, certain online companies are ‘buyer-friendly’ but not so ‘seller-friendly.’ Which can lead to scenarios like this:

“Let’s say we sell a phone to somebody, we’ve gotten back as a return a completely different phone. Or sometimes it’s not even a phone, sometimes it’s a box and a charger. We’ve gotten very strange items back. I’d like to think that these people did it by accident, but you know the chances of that happening is probably not really….”

It might not seem so serious on a micro-scale, but it can happen at the wholesale level with mobile, too. This leads to Steve’s next lesson…

Grades and criteria are subjective

Most resellers will tell you that when purchasing inventory, grading criteria can get subjective. In Steve’s words, “For everyone to get on the same page would be almost impossible about what is considered an A-Stock or a B-Stock.” This means there are surprises that can happen; sometimes pleasant ones, other times, not so much. Ultimately, you will learn which sellers grade more generously and vice versa.

“Sometimes you get very surprised when you think you’re speaking the same language as another person. Let’s say you’re trying to buy something from them and you say, ‘These are A Grade.’ I think everybody has a kind of an idea of what that means, but it can vary wildly and sometimes you open it up and you’re like, ‘You consider that A grade? We consider that C Grade.’”

Shipping negotiations

Shipping rates can make or break a deal in an instant. (Even in the world of wholesale mobile devices!) Steve learned how to save thousands of dollars by getting on the phone with UPS and FedEx and relentlessly negotiating. He was able to secure a better tier, and in turn, shipping rates. Whether it’s domestic shipping or exporting to different countries, learning what it will cost and how long it will take is crucial.

“Companies that can negotiate really good shipping rates with their carriers, I think have a big advantage to sell overseas.”

Exporting opens up opportunities

Cellify now sells overseas in up to 10 different countries, including the Netherlands, Canada, Dubai, Estonia, and Belize. Steve also spoke on the importance of having a good reputation in the industry. This can actually help open your business up to more customers overseas by being able to offer references.

“You’d be doing yourself a big disservice if you didn’t try to have customers in other countries except the one that you’re currently in. With WhatsApp and Zoom, and all of these different communicating platforms, you could talk to anybody anywhere at any time, just like you’re speaking to somebody across the street and it’s the same.”

Another lesson Steve learned in exporting wholesale mobile products is the ability to stretch your profits.

“There are some markets, if a phone cost a hundred dollars, just for example (in the US that’s the going wholesale price), that doesn’t mean that that’s the same all over the world. Some places, it’s actually much more expensive than that. And some places are actually much cheaper than that.”

Take a look at your personality

There’s one piece of advice Steve would give to other people looking to become small business owners. It’s this: try and match your personality with your business style. You can start with a solid infrastructure, and use that as a launching point for your organization. Or, you can grow as fast as you can, and worry about the infrastructure and the organization later on.

“I don’t think there’s one answer. Obviously, you know, get the best deal you can and try to get as many customers as you can. But I think if you sit back and you assess your personality and then you go from there— the way that can make you the most comfortable—I think that would be the best way to approach it.”

COVID & Cellify

Cellify navigated the pandemic as best as any business, by buckling down and getting through it. And all things considered, his mobile wholesale business seemed to weather the storm. Steve had some insights to share:

Doing business where you can

Throughout the course of the pandemic, the fluctuating health regulations and COVID-19 variants meant that some countries were shutting down while others weren’t and vice versa. Luckily, Steve said Cellify never really stopped doing business since shipping carriers never stopped. So depending on COVID-spikes, this could’ve been overseas or closer to home.

“The local market is a little bit dry or you have a situation like what happened with COVID where one country was shut down, but another country wasn’t. And so you can’t really put all your eggs in one basket because something unforeseen can happen.”

How PPP loans helped

In the first few months of the pandemic, many business owners scrambled to pay their employees. In the case of Cellify, they were able to take advantage of federal loans offered during that time, like the Payment Protection Program (PPP). It worked like this: however many employees you have, you got a certain percentage so that you can keep them on the payroll. Meaning, employers got to retain their workers.

“The money that we got from them definitely helped. As the owner of the business, I have certain pressures. Thank goodness, paying the employees on a weekly basis is really not one of them. But at that period of time, it was, and they [the government] alleviated that pressure.”

We asked Steve what the future of Cellify looks like. Here’s what he had to say:

“I don’t think we’re going to do anything differently. I think developing and enhancing those direct relationships with the carriers because we know that ultimately it’s kind of a trickle-down system where everything gets consolidated at the top. And all of the product in our industry has to flow through them. So the closer we can be to the starting point, the better position we’re in.”

We hope to see Steve and his mobile wholesale business reach even more milestones long after the pandemic is over! Sellers with his spirit are why we strive to empower the entrepreneurs and innovators of commerce at B-Stock.

If you’re interested in purchasing wholesale mobile phones, you can check out Cellify’s Contact Us page to get in touch.

B-Stock’s Reseller Community Spotlight is an ongoing series that aims to highlight our unique buyers in the B-Stock network.

Are you a B-Stock buyer and want to tell us more about your reselling business? Let us know and we can feature you in B-Stock’s Reseller Community Spotlight series.

Author

Editorial Team

Author

B-Stock Editorial Team

Amberly Bliss, Owner

Amberly Bliss, Owner

Retail Deals

"I feel so confident shopping and bidding on items knowing that I am going to get what I paid for. And if not, there’s a killer customer service team that’s going to make sure everything’s alright in the end. That’s huge. It’s hard to take that risk when you’re first starting out."

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