Sure, anyone can sign up on eBay to sell a hot roller set or get rid of that weed trimmer they never use. But that doesn’t mean the next step is a six-figure income from the comfort of their basement rec room. We asked three eBay superstars how they built their retail trade into a successful full-time job.
Name: Jason Smith
Hometown: Henderson, Nevada
eBay store: TikiPugMusic
Launch date: 1999
Went full time: 2000
Store sells: Music, clothes and tiki collectibles
Beginnings: I’ve been a music collector for most of my life. In 2000, I lost my dream job as the computer nerd for a CD store chain. To support myself, I started selling CDs I’d collected over the years on eBay.
It grew from a hobby to a side job. By then, I had found a new day job delivering hot tubs. I decided that I’d had enough working for someone else. I was doing this very taxing, physical job in the Vegas sun and decided that as soon as I was making as much on eBay as the day job, I would go full time on eBay. A year later, I did.
Product Strategy: My product offerings have evolved. Digital downloads crushed the CD business, so I started to capitalize on my collection of all things Hawaiian—especially tiki mugs. I’ve positioned myself as a tiki-mug expert. I tell my followers to e-mail me pics of mugs they find at garage sales, and I e-mail them right back with the value. One time, I sold a mug for $600.
One day while scouring thrift stores for merchandise, I came across a really nice men’s Tommy Bahama shirt for $5, and I knew I could sell it for a lot more. So I slowly started adding men’s and then women’s clothing. Whatever I sell, it has to be unique or high quality. I won’t sell some generic gray Champion sweatshirt, but in addition to the big scores, I do have my meat-and-potato stuff that fills the store. But you have to know your stuff and know what things are worth so you can price appropriately.
Customer Care: I got the “top-rated seller” status by giving great customer service and accurate listings. I also put a lot of energy into creating high-quality pictures. I have a good camera, and I invested in several mannequins for men and women and different body types. Also, I ship every single day. I’m amazed at how other retailers ship stuff willy-nilly. I’m on a first-name basis with my postman. Bob takes good care of me.
Insider Tips: I recently partnered with a friend for a venture called Thrifting With the Boys. We do public speaking and have an e-book offering tips on buying items for resale at thrift stores, as well as offer information through our website. This drives traffic to my eBay store.
Sometimes my friends are like, “You don’t work that hard.” But I work a lot more hours than most of my friends who have nine-to-five jobs. It’s easy in that anybody can do it. But you have to learn your craft, fine-tune your skills and keep up in changes in technology and the marketplace.
Making a living on linens
Age: Prefers not to say
Hometown: Austin, Texas
eBay store: NouveauQueen
Launch date: 1999
Went full time: 2006
Store sells: Vintage tablecloths
Beginnings: I had been in retail for all of my career, spending many years as a buyer for a major department store and as an entrepreneur as a jeweler traveling to art shows. I started on eBay like everyone else—selling stuff I had around the house. At that time, I had started collecting vintage tablecloths. I educated myself on the various labels and designs, which were scarcer. It took me about five years to really become an authority on the product. That’s an important part of giving your customers confidence in you as a retailer. Many come to me for advice, which has led to many repeat customers. Some have become my friends.
Finding inventory is a big problem when you sell collectibles. It can take an enormous amount of time to find product. My eBay business crystalized when I met a gentleman in the rag trade, and I gained access to a lot of inventory. I also have an antique dealer friend who looks for tablecloths all over the United States for me. Now I have constant access to product and that changes the way I look at things. Sometimes I can’t even keep up with demand.
Customer Care: I try to ship within 24 hours, but sometimes it is within two hours. I like to amaze customers. I also contact customers directly to thank them for their purchase and to tell them when their product is shipping.
Insider Tips: I promote my store through an online network of collectors. I also market by writing magazine articles geared toward my customers on linen care.
I’m constantly looking at the numbers. There are cycles on eBay—certain times of the month and year that are best to list more expensive items. I also rely solely on auctions, as opposed to the “Buy It Now” feature. I feel that with antiques and collectibles, customers want to bid and feel they won something.
Little lady finds her niche among the big & tall
Hometown: Springfield, Illinois
eBay store: Buy BIG From Brandi
Launch date: 2000
Went full time: 2003
Store sells: Men’s big and tall clothes
Beginnings: When I started on eBay, I was looking for a way to make money while having enough time to take care of my son, Solomon. I’d always wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, and everyone always said I couldn’t do that and make a living from home.
I started by selling used items from around the house: toys, clothes and household items. I learned how to identify which things were more popular and could demand higher prices and make a higher profit margin. It took a while—that didn’t happen overnight.
Product Strategy: In 2003, I found a local store that had a closeout sale, and I bought 75 big-and-tall Tommy Hilfiger shirts for $3 each. I’m a size two. I didn’t know anything about men’s anything. But these shirts brought in a huge profit. I was selling them on auction, and all of the sale prices varied, but they sold for as high as $55 each. Buyers were e-mailing me from all over the world, asking if I could get similar product. A light bulb went on: If I can find sources for this kind of product, it can be a really good way to make a living.
A lot of time and research went into it. I made myself familiar with popular name-brand clothing. I go to trade shows and really have to learn how to get on people’s level and think like a buyer.
Customer Care: Customer service is a huge part of my success. I typically deal with men, which I’ve found is less tedious than women, who tend to be pickier. Men are easier to please. I make all the interaction very personal; for each purchase, I shoot them a personal e-mail thanking them and then ship it out within 12 hours. I keep tabs on all my buyers. If I notice someone buys several items of the same size, I take a minute and send them an e-mail saying, “I noticed what you bought, and I can set up a special listing for you with similar items in your size.” One of my customers in Canada loves Ralph Lauren but is allergic to wool. When I get Ralph Lauren products, I alert him but don’t bother with anything that’s wool. They really love the fact that someone takes the extra moment and thinks of them.
Insider Tips: I market through several Facebook eBay groups and have a Facebook fan page. But my biggest success is through word of mouth. I include business cards with all my packages. Most of my customers are big guys with brothers, sons, dads or friends who are also big guys.
Today, I make a good living while being a stay-at-home mom. My income has fluctuated since I started, and my best year I had $200,000 in sales. I run my business from my finished basement and have capped my work to six hours per day. It works for me to have that work-life balance.