Identifying what your buyers want doesn't have to be a difficult task, says Collectibles PowerSeller Matthew Wolner. eBay's Completed Items Search isolates what's in demand.
|merlins_castle (2135), Matthew Wolner|
Selling on Demand
|December 2003 |
Before listing any of his suppliers' collectible knives and swords, Wolner researches how much these items recently sold for on eBay by selecting the "Completed Items Only" box in Advanced Search. If there is a market for the item at a high enough margin, usually 20 to 25 percent above his cost, Wolner adds it to his volume business's inventory.
"You've got a huge research library right there," says Wolner of eBay's Completed Items feature, which allows him to track the past 14 days of completed eBay sales.
Wolner used the same approach when starting his eBay business and determining what category of merchandise to sell. Interestingly enough, he decided not to sell the product that he was most familiar with as the owner of a retail electronics store.
"There were a lot of people selling electronics and the markup wasn't there for me," Wolner says.
He settled on collectible knives and swords almost by chance. When prices for a set of display knives he wanted were considerably lower on eBay than at a local department store, curiosity got the best of him. He tracked down the knife's manufacturer and wholesale cost, did some additional eBay market research, and calculated his margin on the knife. Before he knew it, he was signed up as a dealer and had a second business in collectibles.
Wolner wasn't haphazard about his first buy, though, which had to be significant in order to qualify as a dealer, crosschecking the supplier's entire inventory against closed items on eBay. "I looked at what people were selling, what the final prices were, and what I could buy the items for," he says. "The higher markup items were the ones I started selling."
Three years later, he's just as conservative about sourcing his inventory. "Just because I can sell item B from the same manufacturer doesn't mean I'm going to," explains Wolner. "I'm going to research it first and only sell it if other people on eBay are buying it."
Wolner's personal tastes don't get in the way, either. "That knife I've got hanging on my wall that started this business-I don't think I've sold one or two of them on eBay," he laughs.
The only opinions that he takes seriously are those of his customers, who frequently email him to inquire when he'll be carrying a specific movie tie-in for the likes of the Lord of the Rings or Star Wars. "They're the ones that tell me what to put on there," he says.
Wolner's other golden rules: using Turbo Lister and listing every item twice, both as an auction-style listing and an eBay Store item with the Good 'Til Cancelled upgrade. Each auction links to its Store counterpart, which is priced a dollar less with free shipping. Wolner and his customers both win. Buyers pay less for their merchandise and Wolner pays lower eBay fees. Now more than 50 percent of Wolner's sales are from his Store.
"Opening an eBay Store was one of the best things I ever did," he says. "Anybody that doesn't have an eBay Store is a making a mistake. They're paying too much for selling their items."
Consignors want their merchandise to sell and sell fast. And so where better than eBay, thought Trading Assistants Bob and Sandy Sherman (mystic9234), to base their new consignment business.
|mystic9234 (580), MysticAuctions.com|
Consigning Through eBay
|November 2003 |
Five months ago, the husband-and-wife team launched MysticAuctions.com, opening a brick-and-mortar storefront in Mystic, Connecticut, where people could drop off their items, which the Shermans then list on eBay.
"We do all the dirty work," jokes Sandy. That includes logging items as they arrive, photographing them, putting them on what Sandy calls the "I-hope-I-get-a-new-home shelf," and, of course, shipping them once the auction ends.
So far, business is booming. In the first four months of operation, more than 2,000 items have been sold, and the store is "bursting at the seams," according to Sandy. Moreover, the couple opened a second drop-off store in Long Island. Plans are in the works for further franchising and expansion as well.
Local advertising via community boards and eBay's Trading Assistant directory is also part of their strategy.
"It's great fun seeing what people bring in," says Sandy, who previously worked in offline retail (primarily decorative collectibles), while Bob has a computer background. "Every day is different," she adds.
Sandy credits much of the success to her company's systematic implementation of eBay's Seller's Assistant Pro.
"I couldn't imagine doing this and not using SA Pro," she explains, noting that the software has helped streamline operations and improve efficiency. "It [SA Pro] enables us to get things in and out much, much quicker.
"The system generates receipts for customers, writes the checks -- it does everything," adds Sandy.
Despite downturns in the overall economy and the collectibles market, people who turn to MysticAuctions.com have been pleased by the prices they're getting on eBay, reports Sandy.
"People come in and we tell them don't look in the books or price guides, that's not what's going to happen on eBay," she says. "They get more money than they realize."
Pinball machines aren't just for the arcade anymore. PowerSeller Steve Nordseth has discovered they're for the home, too, thanks to eBay and the popularity of collectible coin-ops.
|fun (1885), Steve Nordseth|
Understanding Your Collectors
|October 2003 |
"eBay has shifted the emphasis of our business to selling games," explains Nordseth, who owns two family entertainment centers in the Dallas area and operate arcade games area restaurants. "The market for these types of games in people's homes has exploded."
Nordseth has sold more than 2,500 pinball and arcade machines on eBay in the last four years. He also has opened a retail showroom to sell games locally, though he hasn't been able to keep enough inventory in house to get that business going.
"Since the games sell as quickly as we can get them ready on eBay, I have never put up a sign or had the store open during weekends or evenings," says Nordseth. "I believe that we are the largest retailer of pinball machines in the country because of eBay."
Of course, recognizing a new market isn't the same as taking advantage of one. Nordseth has been able to exploit eBay's home coin-op market by understanding his collectors' needs and concerns.
For starters, he positions his machines for collectors, opening them at $0.01 with no reserve. That drives bidding, peaks interest, and increases demand. Also, his descriptions are content rich, featuring collectible details about each machine. The result: buyers believe he's a reliable expert.
Additionally, he repairs and refurbishes his machines, and effectively markets this fact in his listings. He also calls out his 30-day repair guarantee to reduce collector anxiety and increase his credibility. He even cites repairs, such as "New Playing Field," in his listing titles. In short, he eliminates his buyers' chief concern -- that they'll get duped into buying a broken machine.
"I sell some projects, but it's the refurbished games that sell the best," explains Nordseth. "Only a small percentage of the customers are capable of refurbishing the games, so selling them that way limits the market."
Finally, Nordseth ships like a pro and that impresses collectors. Each listing conveys that he has negotiated favorable freight rates for his buyers.
"Shipping heavy bulky items is a huge issue," explains Nordseth. "We spent a lot of time researching options and developing contacts with freight carriers. We now have several great shipping options to fit our customers' needs."
Even before becoming one of eBay's most successful Trading Assistants, Collectibles PowerSeller Adam Hersh recognized the value of selling other people's property on eBay.
|adamhersh (6,876), Adam Hersh Auctions|
Running a Broker Business
|September 2003 |
Hersh has operated a successful consignment business on eBay for the last four years, one that is only getting bigger and better with the help of the Trading Assistant program.
Today, his company, Adam Hersh Auctions boasts four employees, 16 to 18 selling agents, and a feedback rating above 7,000. His eBay Store averages 1,000-plus listings per day. Not bad for a 24 year old, who got his start selling his and his friends' old belongings on eBay.
"We currently receive approximately 20 calls a day, all of which want help selling their items on eBay," says Hersh of his New York City-based business. "Our major Trading Assistant client is a poster wholesaler, but we really do sell anything and everything."
Retaining a large, diverse staff of sales agents, who specialize in specific categories, has been an important factor in the company's success, says Hersh. The strategy helps the company achieve high prices for its consignors' property every time, and that encourages repeat business.
"Even after our fee is taken," explains Hersh, "the client is normally just happy that they didn't have to deal with the hassle."
Hersh keeps closely involved with the Trading Assistant program for the health of his company and other broker businesses.
"I frequent the TA message boards, help out beginner TAs, regularly keep in touch with the TA department, and offer my opinions and ideas," he says. "I was also the first eBay member to run a co-op advertisement with the Trading Assistant program."
While Hersh remains extremely busy, and his company continues to expand, he still takes the time to reflect on what he's accomplished in only a few short years.
"I look at what I do and what I have and smile," Hersh concludes. "Every month, I help thousands of people get exactly what they are looking for. I help tons of New Yorkers sell items that they would have been stuck with. I am my own boss and come to work in jeans and a t-shirt every day. I have taken weeklong vacations with a laptop and a cell phone and still kept my cash flow. Who has it better than I?"
To be considered for an In the Field profile, email your story to eBay!
As an online-only seller, Larry Crow was reluctant to venture too far into print advertising-that is, until he became involved with eBay's co-op advertising program.
|blackbirdeditions (2,574), Blackbird Editions Books and Comics|
Moving Into Print Advertising
|August 2003 |
"Because I don't have a brick-and-mortar presence, I had not done a lot of print advertising," explains Crow, who oversees Blackbird Editions Books and Comics, in addition to working full time as a computer systems manager for a Kansas City law firm.
"There are a couple of trade publications that are specific to the comics industry," continues the PowerSeller. "The program provided an opportunity to test these publications out. Plus, there's the incentive of partial rebates. Being a single-person shop, that assistance really helps in covering the cost of print advertising, which can get very expensive for a sole proprietor."
Crow's participation in eBay's co-op advertising program has allowed him to get more adventurous with his advertising, too. Previously, he only ran the occasional classified ad. Now, due in large part to 25 percent of his advertising costs being subsidized by eBay, he's buying quarter-page spots. Becoming more serious about promotion also forced Crow to hone his advertising approach and determine where his ads would be most effective.
"For this industry, it is a relatively niche market," says the Seller's Assistant Pro user. "The trade publications tend to give me the most focused ad for the pricing. They help me reach the largest, intended target audience."
So far, Crow has run three co-op ads in conjunction with the program, and plans to do more in the future. Encouragingly, Crow reports that sales are up and buyers have been commenting on his new advertising effort. "That's a good thing," he adds.
As for his eBay sales, Crow is in the process of transitioning to the fixed-price format. The Buy It Now option not only generates a more consistent revenue stream for him, he says, but also works better with popular movie tie-ins. (He still runs auction-style listings for "older, relatively rare books, or something that is very popular and in high demand.")
Crow relies on his eBay Store for bulk items as well as what he calls filler items: "Customers might be buying a run with a particular character or series...They seek out a particular issue, then want other issues to fill in the run. Those other issues are found in my eBay Store."
With his advertising and fixed-price strategies in place, Crow is very optimistic about the future of his side venture, one that humbly began as a way to sell his own collection.
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Armani figurines seller Anna certainly appeals to die-hard collectors. Yet she also has been able to attract casual buyers, too-and thus greatly expand her sales.
|figura1111 (218), Armani Figurines|
|July 2003 |
Of course, the best way to tap into a larger buying audience is to specialize in a type of collectible that appeals to multiple interest groups. Having accomplished that, Anna now merchandises her items to both Armani collectors and Disney enthusiasts in her listing titles, item descriptions, and eBay Store. The upside: she attracts more potential customers.
"We have a lot of buyers who are not collectors at all," the PowerSeller explains. "It's interesting how non-collectors can relate to the type of merchandise we sell."
Casual buyers are drawn to Armani figurines for a variety of reasons, she says. For example, one customer purchased a Tinker Bell figurine as a gift for her daughter, who always reminded friends and family of the Disney character.
Such sales also have given Anna the opportunity to transform non-collectors into collectors. With the proper customer care and guidance, these seemingly isolated one-time buyers have generated an influx of regular business.
"We have a great customer named Lisa, who is a great lover of parrots and never was an Armani collector," recalls Anna. "When she saw our Armani parrot figurines, she bought almost all of them. Then, she slowly proceeded to buy other figurines, becoming a collector and admirer of Armani art."
While Anna sounds like a savvy eBayer, she only began selling on eBay in May 2002, when she got her Armani dealership. (Since then, she has incorporated various eBay tools and services, from listing with Buy It Now to opening an eBay Store) Anna estimates that "99.9 percent" of her Armani figurines are sold on eBay.
Making eBay her primary sales channel also has led to Anna's rapid ascension among her competitors.
"Thanks to eBay," she says, "we're now one of the 'heavy hitters'-those who are selling over $100,000 worth of figurines every year-among Armani dealers in the United States."
Staying Ahead of the Curve
|June 2003 |
Some of the hottest trading card collectibles have the shortest of shelf lives. For Collectibles PowerSeller Salvatore Dos Santos that means discovering trends before they happen.
With the market for non-sports trading cards becoming increasingly competitive, it's key for Dos Santos to stay ahead of the curve. Before he buys, he determines what's going to be hot and what should be ordered most heavily. To capitalize on trends quickly, he stocks up his eBay Store and uses the Buy It Now format for most, if not all, of his listings.
"You've got to try to stay current and find out what people are buying early," explains Dos Santos, the owner of Staten Island Collectables. "The market might last two weeks, it might last two months. Or, it might last as long as the movie stays in the theater."
To identify potential hot sellers, Dos Santos first determines if a new trading card series is appropriate for his demographic, which he's been studying for 20 years. If it's not appropriate for a male audience between the ages of 18 and 40, he won't invest heavily.
Also, the item can't be premium priced, unless it's truly scarce. "Most of the card collectors want to spend as little as possible," says Dos Santos. "As long as I do enough volume, that's no problem."
Santos also tracks market trends by selling card manufacturers' 8-by-10 glossy "ad sheets," provided to retailers and distributors for use in sales and promotion. While not lucrative items, listed at just $2 apiece, they do provide valuable insight into the sales potential of new sets.
"If people go after the ad sheets, odds are they'll go after the cards, too," explains Dos Santos.
Another trend-spotting technique: Dos Santos considers the quality of the license, critiquing the television series or movie on which the new card is based. "You try to compare the show or movie to something older," he explains. "You ask yourself, 'What does it have that other successful shows have had'."
That strategy paid off when buying cards for WB's Charmed series, which took its cue from UPN's Buffy The Vampire Slayer.
Understanding global trends, Dos Santos also hasn't limited himself to the domestic market. He ships his cards worldwide where new releases from the major publishers are scarce. "That's been a good end of the business," he says. "I'd say overall, it's probably 50%."
That number has increased, he acknowledges, because he has taken a few calculated risks: "My buyers know that I will ship anywhere," says Dos Santos.
Averaging 8,000 listings per day, Collectibles PowerSeller Arkady Reznikov doesn't have the usual problems acquiring inventory. The reason: he specializes in an area that has real dimension.
|motka (4029), Motka|
Selecting a Broad Specialty
|May 2003 |
"My customers are primarily collectors and historians," explains the high-volume PowerSeller, adding that, he sells domestically and internationally, including customers in Russia.
Reznikov, however, doesn't limit himself to this core audience. Thanks to his well-chosen niche, which is specific, yet also broad enough to address multiple interests and categories of merchandise, he's able to appeal to a broad spectrum of secondary buyers at a variety of price points, from tens of dollars to several thousand.
His eBay Store is evidence of that, which merchandises inventory to all kinds of enthusiasts, from military buffs and poster collectors to book experts and holiday ornament shoppers, be they Russian antique aficionados or not. Different types of items are even cross-merchandised across several categories to increase their visibility. Take his Russian Space Program posters, which appear in "Posters" and "Space exploration."
Reznikov's wide focus in his niche, which spans from the 1800s to the Cold War era, not only broadens his market, but also increases his supply options. That reduces the threat of low inventory and keeps his brand strongly positioned. Moreover, he is appropriately positioned to experiment with new items and attempt to establish diverse new markets.
With such a healthy quantity of inventory, eBay's Buy It Now format was the best option for Motka, says Reznikov. Less than 5% of his items are auction-style listings, the rest are fixed-price Buy It Now items, designed to increase sales volume and turnover.
Of course, to successfully offer a broad array of items in one extensive area, a seller has to prove he's an expert. Reznikov doesn't fall short here, either. Though not every one of his listings is extensively described, he takes special care with his higher-end religious icon listings, featuring detailed definitions and historical background.
And you don't have to be a scholar to appreciate that.
Predicting the "next big thing" in any given selling category is never easy, but Powerseller Irfan Yaqub, the force behind The Best Blade, has cultivated a knack for doing just that with his eBay sales.
|thebestblade (1466), The Best Blade|
|April 2003 |
"What are the coming market trendsthat what we're always asking ourselves," explains the former computer programmer, who specializes in swords (many of which are hand-forged by the Paul Chen company in Hanwei, China), as well as knives and related items.
Take the release of the first two films in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, which spurred interest in replicas of the swords used by the films' characters. Yaqub anticipated the trend, and as a result, was able to beat his competition to the punch. For added cache, he calls out which characters use each sword in his listing titles (The Lord of the Rings- Sword of the Witchking) and descriptions.
"When the demand came, we were ready," he says. "Some sellers had a two- to three-week wait for the swords. And we were shipping the same day."
A proponent of Buy It Now, Turbo Lister and eBay Stores, Yaqub stands by several straightforward, time-tested selling strategies. For one, he quotes retail prices in his listings and then offers a highly reduced Buy It Now, sometimes 50% off. Responsive customer support, prompt shipping, and professional packing are also an emphasis -- the latter no easy task considering the type of merchandise he sells. Offering a flat shipping rate and employing a person to handle all packing duties have made the difference, he says.
Yaqub turned to eBay two years ago, teaching himself the ins and outs of online selling. Like many other sellers, he began gradually before increasing his inventory and listings, simultaneously developing strategic relationships with manufacturers and suppliers.
"The first year was more for fun," recalls Yaqub, who credits his wife and in-laws with helping his company grow. "It was during the second year that I started thinking this is a great business."
What's so collectible about a sheet of metal with a few stenciled letters and numbers? Jeff Francis, eBay seller uptownbutte and curator of The Piccadilly Museum of Transportation Memorabilia in Butte, Montana, should know. He's sold more than 700 of them on eBay in the last year.
|uptownbutte (1454), Jeff Francis|
Building a Collectibles Business on eBay
|March 2003 |
"License plates are fascinating, they not only carry the date but also their place of origin. Most are very colorful, too. Not too many collectibles can boast that," says Francis, who has a feedback rating of more than 1400 and lists some 200 auctions per day.
There's a "huge market" for vintage license plates in the states and abroad, according to Francis. "Baby boomers are looking back and want a piece of American history to bring back the memories of their first car and roadside Americana," he says. As with other hobbyists, the real enthusiasts collect in series, which is great for Francis' bottom line.
eBay has had a dramatic impact on the hobby, as well, says Francis. "The National License Plate Collecting Club has nearly doubled in size over the past ten years. Much of it from the exposure the hobby has received on eBay," he says. "Many collectors in the National Club only conduct their business on eBay now."
Outside of Francis' museum, you won't find many license plates in glass cases. Even rare examples from the early 20th century don't fetch more than a few hundred dollars. These are non-precious, decorative collectibles, which might be tacked to the wall of a garage, activity room, or kitsch restaurant. For dealers like Francis, this means setting up their collectible business for volume and speed.
"The profit potential on selling license plates on eBay can be high so long as one can purchase the inventory in large quantities, like any business," he explains. "We start all of our items at $9.99 for simplicity and have a 85% to 90% sale rate the first time around. Whatever does not get any bids is halved to $4.99 and relisted."
Volume decorative collectibles have their unique benefits, too. Product acquisition costs are lower than precious collectibles. Also your audience is potentially larger, from serious collectors to interior designers and do-it-yourself decorators.
Uptownbutte's advice for successful sales:
To be considered for an In the Field profile, email eBay a description of your business.
- Save time by acquiring merchandise in bulk.
- Use accurate descriptions and photos.
- Send quick and courteous emails after the auction closes.
- Ship within 3 days of payment.
- Always guarantee buyer satisfaction or refund payment.
- Be willing to relist unsold items at lower starting prices.
Nothing sells an item better than a seller's passion for his or her merchandise. For Paul Pratt, owner of Pratt's Collectible Cutlery, a passion for knives defines his business.
|pdpratt (5426), Pratt's Collectible Cutlery|
Building Lasting Relationships
|Feb. 2003 |
Pratt's enthusiasm has led him to develop deep connections with his customers. Even though he generates 1,000 transactions each month, he wants each sale to have a personal touch. That's only fitting, since his operation is a true family business that includes his wife Patricia, daughter Danielle, and twin sons, Jace and Ryan.
Most importantly, Pratt values sharing stories and experiences with his fellow hobbyists. It enables him to create a bond and trust with his customers that is both personally and financially rewarding. "Often times, I'll reminisce with my customers," he says. "You really get to know people."
Besides building relationships with his buyers, Pratt adheres to various selling strategies. Most importantly, he starts every auction at $1 with no reserve, offers full refunds, and professionally merchandises his items in exceptional auction photos. Each item is photographed in a clear stand with the blade open.
To provide his inventory greater visibility, he also uses eBay's Highlight and Bold listing enhancements. Additionally, he recently upgraded to a Featured Store ($49.95/month), which allows him to obtain monthly reports on his sales and marketplace performance. Pratt has been encouraged by the results.
"It pays to experiment with eBay services," he says.
Pipe dealer Scott Sherwood has built his eBay business on selling both new and collectible pipes. When it came time to diversify his inventory, his eBay Store was critical.
|Woody42013 (355), Scott Sherwood|
Diversifying Your Product Line
|Jan. 2003 |
"Selling new items at wholesale prices and vintage collectibles isn't necessarily a conflict," says Sherwood. "What it boils down to is offering the customer the best deal you can. What you can't be is greedy or inflexible or you will not succeed."
Full disclosure also seems to be key. Sherwood organizes his inventory into custom categories, such as "New & Vintage Gift Items," "New Unsmoked Pipes" "Estate Pipes," and "True Antiques," so his inventory is properly and responsibly positioned. Clients see he is offering several lines of merchandise to meet different customer needs. His eBay Store title and description also convey that message.
Diversification has its economic benefits, too. It enables him to earn better prices for his truly rare material. Turnover and revenue from his "New In Box" (NIB) pipes and value estate items reduces pressure on his antique material, allowing him to wait until he gets the right price for his specialty pieces.
"I wouldn't be able to do nearly the volume I do without selling NIB pipes. The new under-$300 pipes are my bread and butter," says Sherwood. "The rare collectible pipes are much harder to sell unless you are willing to just take what you can get at auction."
Sherwood has some advice for Collectibles sellers who would like to broaden their product line. "A balance is the key," he says. "You have to have to split your efforts into different areas of expertise."
Also, as with pipes, your market should be expanding. "Collectors of high-grade pipes and retail shoppers are increasing" he says. "Even more women are buying pipes, not just for their sweethearts but for themselves."
Finally, use both auction-style and fixed-price Store listings. Auction-style listings increase your prices and drive users to your Store, where you can merchandise your entire product line and build brand awareness, says Sherwood. Conversely, fixed-price listings provide you the opportunity to inexpensively offer items long-term and reach a second customer base.
"It gives buyers the opportunity to look at a pipe for awhile and avoid the pressure of an auction," Sherwood explains. "Some buyers never bid on a pipe, but buy out of the Store or use the Buy It Now option."