In This Chapter
People who make their living selling at eBay . . . . . . and love it!
My enjoy hearing stories about how much people like eBay. We enjoy it even more when we hear that they’re doing something that they get pleasure from while earning a good living. One of the best parts of teaching at eBay University is talking to the hundreds of sellers who attend. We get the opportunity to bounce ideas around with them and find out about the creative ways they spend their time at eBay.
We thought you might like to know more about some of the people at eBay and eBay.co.uk, so we interviewed them; it was so much fun getting to know about each of them. They have different backgrounds and lifestyles – but they all have one thing in common: eBay!
In favour of highlighting some regular folks at eBay, we dispensed with the customary writer thing (you know, finding the largest PowerSellers at eBay to interview). No one’s a success overnight, and the people we discuss in this chapter certainly have been plugging away at eBay, increasing their businesses and becoming successful. We dug through some old feedbacks (all the way back to 1997) and contacted sellers to see how they’re doing these days.
In this chapter, you’ll find a mix of UK and US sellers, who together have decades of eBay experience to share. All have enjoyed success and are loved by their customers. Here are their stories (and their advice).
Member since December 2002; Feedback 9334; Positive Feedback 100%
Apart from making armfuls of cash, achieving a 100% feedback rating is what every eBay business dreams of; maintaining such an exulted position is worthier still. At time of writing, music e-tail business Rockem Music has achieved just that – no negative feedback. Impressive stuff; especially when you consider how active they are.
Rockem Music is the brainchild of brothers Dave and Rob Hockman, who quit their jobs (one as a drum teacher, the other as a traffic policeman) in 2002 to set up shop on eBay.co.uk supplying musical equipment to UK and international markets.
Rob says they came up against some stiff resistance when starting their business and that distributors were initially sceptical of their credentials as a viable business – despite their combined £20,000 deposit to the contrary! Nowadays, being taken seriously is not a problem, especially with their Platinum PowerSeller status, a feedback rating approaching 8,000, and turnover passing £350,000 in 2005.
The pair credit their success to honesty, fairness and sheer hard work. Dave says a good way to run your business is via eBay’s guiding principles -especially the bit about mutual respect.
The guys have just relaunched their non-eBay Web site: www.rockemmusic. com (see Figure 18-1) and are developing their own line of drum kits – not bad progress in just three years, eh?
Rockem Music’s eBay.co.uk home page.
Member since April 1998; Feedback 3827; Positive Feedback 99.9%
Aside from being pretty, bright, and talented, Marjie Smith is a heck of an eBay seller. She’s not only a PowerSeller, she’s the founder of the Disabled Online Users Association (DOUA) – her other full-time job.
She discovered eBay when she was running an e-mail discussion group of women who collected Beanies Babies. Many were looking for connections to complete their collections. Being the head ‘nut’ (nicknamed that by the group after the Ty Beanie ‘Nuts’ the Squirrel), it was her job to help them accomplish this goal. The rest, they say, is history.
Marjie runs 50 to 100 auctions a week and keeps her eBay store as stocked as she possibly can. She’s an authorized Etienne Aigner representative and has exclusive agreements with several unique gift lines. But she’s quick to point out that she’ll sell anything! She once found a box of old, beat-up topic next to a dumpster outside a thrift shop. She waited till no one was looking and snapped them up and sold them on eBay. That box of topics netted her a cool $300 profit.
Just like many of the sellers we profile here, Marjie spends as many as 70 hours a week on her eBay enterprises. Her biggest sale came from a woman who used Buy It Now to purchase more than $1000 worth of lovely Etienne Aigner accessories from her eBay store in one day.
eBay has really changed her life. ‘Being a successful eBay seller has truly given me my wings. I am independent, self-sufficient, and financially stable. I know I won’t get laid off, downsized, or put out to pasture before I’m ready. I’m my own boss, work my own hours, set my own limits, and can readily achieve them thanks to the platform that eBay provides to all sellers. When they say it’s a level playing field, believe it.’
Aside from an eBay store, Marjie sells from her Web site www.abovethe mall.com (see Figure 18-2) and runs the site for DOUA, www.doua.info.
Marjie’s words for new sellers on eBay? Remember back to when you were a new buyer. Take all the good from the sellers who’ve helped you along the way, add your own flavour, and always do right by your customers.
The Above-themall Web site.
Member since September 1997; Feedback 330; Positive Feedback: 99.7%
Patrick Horsman’s eBay.co.uk watch business is not the most prolific listed here, in fact he rarely sells more than one item a day, but he illustrates brilliantly how eBay can compliment an existing business. Oh yeah, and he’s a great seller too, having received only positive feedback in the last 12 months (that means no neutral as well as negative feedback).
Patrick runs several Web sites dedicated to all things that go tick, and one that offers corporate gift ideas. These are his main businesses, but he assures me that eBay.co.uk remains an integral part of what he does.
As an early starter on the dot-com scene, Patrick spent his first two years selling to eBayers in Canada and the US; apparently his first sale was to a Canadian and came in at C$4,500 – not a bad start!
He believes the secret of his success to date is his honesty, expertise and his focus on describing his products in a way people can understand. Watches have high ticket prices, and quite rightly people are sceptical if they don’t have the items in their hands. Patrick says he spends a lot of time simply ‘reassuring people’.
It’s not all been plain sailing, however. He once lost £1,400 in a convincing escrow scam and nowadays is very careful to check out buyers that sound too good to be true. He says a Web search often reveals more than you’d expect about a buyer and he never sends items to an address that isn’t confirmed by eBay or PayPal.
Patrick recommends that sellers “be totally honest in describing the item. Many eBayers hype up what they are selling, only for the purchaser to find they have not bought the item they expected”.
Member since May 1999; Feedback: 16,920; Positive Feedback 100%
He has a good story about Bubblefast: I first met the Bubblefast ‘family’ when I needed to move my mother’s things from Florida to California. When I got the price quote from the moving company for rolls of cushioning, it was so high I nearly fell over! I knew that I could find a better price at eBay – and I did. Bubblefast prices were 50 percent less than the moving company had quoted, and they shipped the wrap directly to my mom’s house so that I could meet it there to wrap her valuables.
The Bubblefast business began with Robin and her husband Alan. Their first transaction at eBay took place in early 1999, when Alan bought a Macintosh computer. When it came to finally selling, Alan figured that all eBay sellers would need shipping supplies. At first, they sold just one product, a 150-foot roll of %> inches (small size) bubble cushioning. Now they sell more than 65 variations of 8 or 9 products: bubble cushioning, antistatic bubble, bubble bags, bubble-lined mailers, rolled shipping foam, boxes, sealing tape, and stretch film.
Alan passed away in 2001, and Robin and her family carried on the business. On the bright side, Robin remarried and now (with a combined family) they have even more indentured employees. The Le Vine Family – Robin, Mark, Jenny (16), Steven (11), Sara (9), Michelle (20), Grandma Gloria – and family friends Syble and Billy, work closely together, putting in 70 to 80 hours a week.
A seller with many repeat customers (more than 21,000 positives; repeat customers help build businesses!), they decided to branch out and go into consignment selling. They registered on eBay as Trading Assistants and now they’re ‘up to their eyeballs in new business’. It works out really well for them, because they’re already in the shipping supply business. No package is a challenge!
Mark uses Turbo Lister for the Bubblefast auctions. Fashion mavens Jenny and Michelle scrutinise and help write descriptions for consignment listings. Jenny also posts feedback several times a week. Robin still handles order entry and answers the phone and e-mail. Grandma Gloria, her friend Syble, and elf Billy handle the packing and shipping. They ship anywhere from 100 to 200 orders a day – their total shipping bill is $25 to $30K month. The family has customers from around the world – they’ve shipped to every state in the US and internationally as far as Japan – who buy from their auctions (see Figure 18-3), eBay store, and Web site (www.bubblefast.com). Last year their business grossed $650,000. The profit margin in the Bubblefast products is low, so they have to make it up in volume.
A Bubble-fast store link.
eBay has totally changed this family’s life. Alan used to say ‘Our family is together all the time now; we’ve learned to pull together for a common goal.’ It’s still true today with the family business he started.
The Le Vine family’s tip for eBay sellers: ‘If you want to create a thriving eBay business and are willing to put the time and energy into it, the possibilities are endless. With a minimal investment of money, you have the potential to reach the world! Treat every customer like you want to be treated. After all this time, the customer is still always right.’
Member since May 2002; Feedback 16227; Positive Feedback 99.8%
Nick Talley, owner of UK-based print and poster business iPosters, believes the main benefit of eBay is that it opens your business to a huge potential customer base. He likens having an eBay presence to having a shop in every town across the Western world – a world where the little guys compete on the same footing as multi-national companies.
Nick came to eBay.co.uk after 16 years running a same-day courier service, which he eventually gave up on because of the ever-rising tide of bills. He set up his own Web site www.pop-culture.biz (see Figure 18-4) and soon began posting selected items onto eBay.co.uk. To Nick, eBay seemed as good a way as any to make some extra cash.
iPosters’ home page.
Four years and some big profits later, Nick believes the secret of his success is ‘good old-fashioned customer service’ and some great product lines. He also claims that many eBay sellers come across as unprofessional, a problem that he turned to his advantage with a sharp home page and snappy service.
Nick says eBay’s evolving rules and dealing with the taxman are two of the largest potential pitfalls for a business owner. Beat these by updating your accounts constantly and by checking up on eBay regulations on the announcements page.
Member since July 2001; Feedback 22190; Positive Feedback 100%
Sean McLane has been selling full-time on eBay.co.uk for less than two years, but he’s built up a selling record and reputation that most eBayers would kill for.
He joined eBay.co.uk in 2001 after quitting a successful 12-year career in the retail industry. The eBay shop came about almost by accident when Sean decided to upgrade his film collection to DVD and got rid of hundreds of old VHS videos on eBay.
That got him thinking: why work for other people when you can turn your hobby (films and computers in this case) into a business and become your own boss? With a young family to support and care for, Sean saw working from home on his eBay business as the best solution (see Figure 18-5).
Since then he’s gradually stepped up the number and range of products on offer and has focused on getting the customer experience right – hence the perfect feedback score. He reckons McMedia offers a fast and professional service that bigger e-tail players cannot match but also, as a VAT registered business, has credibility that some eBayers lack.
McMedia’s eBay.co.uk home page
Despite his success, Sean is adamant that eBay is not a get rich quick solution. He puts his own achievements down to patience and dedication. He spent six months sourcing the right suppliers and says nowadays he spends more time ‘at work’ than he did when he was an employee. The good news is that, despite the long hours he still gets to see much more of his wife and kids.
He has some wise words for budding eBay tycoons: ‘Selling on eBay full time works for me. It enables me to live my life the way I want to live it. But this would not suit everyone. It can be a lonely career, with no work colleagues, and a reduced social life. If you are going to do it, then go into it with your eyes open – having done your research and understanding fully that working for yourself is great, but you sacrifice a few things to do so. You need to be 100% dedicated to it to make it work.’
Member since March 1998; Feedback 8948; Positive Feedback 100%
A while back, one of us needed a rubber stamp or two for her business and didn’t have time to go out to a printing store and place an order. She thought surely someone on eBay sells custom rubber stamps! She was right. That’s when met Jeff Stannard of Melrose Stamp Company. He specialises in self-inking custom rubber stamps and also sells stock design stamps.
Jeff was an assistant in a New York State economic development agency when he started his part-time business on eBay. Being around entrepreneurs gave him the inspiration he needed to quit his job and take his part-time sales to the next level.
He’s had his eBay store since 2001 (see Figure 18-6) and works the business himself with no employees. His biggest sale came from a Chamber of Commerce in South Carolina. They ordered 65 custom stamps to use for a promotional day, where various merchants stamp a customer’s card indicating the customer visited the store during the promotional day.
eBay has certainly changed his life. No longer a nine-to-fiver, Jeff works more than 60 hours a week. All his life he wanted to run his own business. ‘My business model would fail if it were locally based only. With eBay, I’m living my dream and selling my products globally. It’s a life of independence, free from the corporate rat race!’
Just one category from Melrose_ Stamp’s eBay store.
Jeff’s advice to new eBay sellers? ‘Invest time to create a business plan. A business plan will help you identify your strengths and weaknesses, threats and opportunities. Build into the plan a set of financial projections as well; this will help you to clearly identify investment and working capital needs. Treat your eBay operation as a real, sustainable business and you will go far!’
Member since September 1998, Feedback 15,270; Positive Feedback 99.1%
Joe Cortese is a funny and creative guy, but we always wondered where his user ID came from. Joe was very close to his father, who passed away in 1995. His user ID at eBay was conceived as a tribute to his Dad, a ‘noble spirit’, Joe says ‘through this name he is with me every day and guides me still’.
Now that we’ve got you all misty-eyed, let us tell you how Joe got started on eBay. Joe’s business was (and still is) centred around purchasing large estates and selling the contents to various dealers around the world. In 1997, on a train trip to Florida, he chatted with a fellow passenger who collected World War II memorabilia. The gentleman had a side business, selling pieces from his collection (and others) on eBay – something that Joe had never heard of.
About a year later, Joe decided to give this eBay thing a whirl. A local auctioneer was helping sell off some of the contents of Joe’s house, including a Civil War vest pocket bible with dated notations about battles. The auctioneer told Joe that it was worth only about $15 (about £9). Doubting the proposed value, Joe decided to sell the bible on eBay. When it sold for $375.00 (about £213), he was hooked.
Joe is now the largest eBay seller of collectables on eBay – specialising in coins and stamps. He acquires merchandise and also takes collections on consignment. All his auctions are run with no reserve price (see Figure 18-7). ‘Selling at no reserve is the most exciting aspect but it requires fortitude, consistency, and diversity. We might sell a Barbie doll one day and a $10,000 Ming Dynasty vase the next,’ quips Joe.
Joe even found time to develop with a programmer his own proprietary software, Meridian, to automate his auction business. You can read more about that on his Web site, www.noblespirit.com.
Joe’s tip for new sellers mirrors our thoughts exactly: ‘Sell what you know, sell what you love. Those are the things you will sell best. Don’t view eBay as a blanket golden opportunity to start a business unless you are prepared to make the same investment that you would be making to start that business in the real world.’
One of Noblespirit’s fascinating auctions -without a reserve!
Member since April 1998; Feedback 1,200; Positive Feedback: 99.9%
Jillian Cline is not only a part-time seller on eBay, she trains dogs, writes topics, and sells original dog products (topics, cards, t-shirts, and other specialty items) through her own dealer network at dog shows throughout the country and through ads in magazines. eBay is a natural extension of her business.
She’s also a collector and veteran eBay shopper. Her first transaction was buying a small bronze bulldog that was signed on the collar. She purchased it for half of what she had previously paid in an antique store for similar items. She now haunts eBay regularly for small bronze and metal bulldogs. She also purchased a framed, signed, and numbered Blue Dog lithograph by Louisiana artist George Rodrigue. She paid $1,800 on eBay and had it appraised recently for $8,000!
Her own eBay store is open 24/7, even though running her business can be difficult. Her husband is often transferred, forcing her to move. It would be impossible for her to have a traditional job, but eBay allows her to conduct business wherever they go.
She can run auctions (as in Figure 18-8) any time she likes. She used to have to spend her weekends schlepping her merchandise to dog shows and setting up a booth. With eBay she can display her pet products online and handle orders as they come in. Jillian also sells from her Web site, www.preservation publishing.com.
A Preservation Publishing auction.
Jillian says: ‘Don’t give up! Keep listing different items in auctions to draw people to your eBay store. Use cross-promotions and take advantage of eBay’s occasional listing sale days. On those days test new products – and lots of them!’
Member since May 2000; Feedback 8230; Positive Feedback 99.9%
With one of the best names we’ve come across on eBay.co.uk, Vinyl Tap is always going to attract attention. It’s a mail order business with 20 years experience and several employees – not your average eBay punter. We’ve been in contact with Andrea Beevers, Vinyl Tap’s eBay Co-ordinator (her title gives you some idea of the company’s approach to eBay).
Vinyl Tap started small, listing hard-to-find records here and there, but gradually the business snowballed and in no time at all they became PowerSellers with customers in several countries. (See Figure 18-9.)
According to Andrea, the secret of Vinyl Tap’s success lies in its first rate customer service, which continues after the sale. It’s pretty rare, for example, to see a full money-back guarantee being offered by an eBay seller. She also believes that good communication is of the utmost importance.
Vinyl Tap’s home page on eBay.co.uk
Discussing eBay’s drawbacks, Andrea cites the unpredictability of customers – you can get 50 orders one day and five the next, she says. But the pros far outweigh the cons, especially now that millions of people around the world understand what eBay is all about. ‘That’s a pretty big market for any business,’ she laughs.