If you think eBay is just about bobblehead dolls and Pez dispensers, think again. While $2.2 billion worth of goods in collectibles were sold on eBay in 2004, antiques and collectibles ranked only No. 6 among eBay’s sales categories. The five highest were: automobiles and auto supplies ($11.1 billion); consumer electronics ($3-5 billion); computers ($3.0 billion); clothes and accessories ($2.9 billion); and books, movies and music ($2.4 billion).
Real people are making big bucks on eBay–and thousands have even reached PowerSeller status by maintaining at least $1,000 per month in sales for three consecutive months. Case in point: Angle Cash, 37, a stay-at-home mom who started selling on eBay nearly six years ago because it was “something I could do and watch the kids at the same time.” Today, her Kennesaw, Georgia, company, Cashco1000 Inc. (www. cashco1000.com), sells thousands of home-decoration and other items each month on eBay and expects to break $500,000 in sales on eBay this year.
Even owners of existing businesses have found success on eBay by using it as an adjunct to their brick-and-mortar operations. Dan Morphy, 33, runs the Adamstown Antique Gallery (www. aagal.com), a 10,000-square-foot antiques mall in Denver, Pennsylvania. After a few successful eBay auctions, he started offering the antiques vendors who rent space in his gallery the opportunity to sell five items a month on eBay, at no charge other than out-of-pocket expenses. Within two years, Morphy not only had a full gallery of dealers, but was also listing 700 pieces a month and had exceeded $2.5 million in eBay sales.
If you dream of building your own eBay business, it’s easier than you think. We’ve distilled what you need to know into five basic steps.
Step 1: Register Your Business
Getting set up as an eBay seller is a simple process that takes just a few minutes. You’ll be required to provide your name, address, e-mail and phone number, as well as a credit card number and your checking account information. This information is used to confirm your identity–which protects the integrity of eBay’s operation–and to collect auction fees.
Since every eBay business is a retail business, you should also register your business with federal, state and local tax authorities and consider forming a corporation or an LLC to protect you against legal liability. (For more legal issues you should know about before you start, go to www. entrepreneur.com/ebay/legaltips.)
Most eBay sellers are also encouraged to open an account with PayPal, an online payment service owned by eBay that enables buyers to pay you by credit card or by debiting their checking accounts, without you having to obtain merchant card accounts.
Step 2: Find Stuff to Sell
This can be the biggest challenge in setting up an eBay business. Keep these points in mind:
* PICK THE RIGHT PRODUCT. Select something you’ll enjoy selling and that stands a good chance of making a profit. Avoid merchandise you know absolutely nothing about, that’s difficult to describe in a short paragraph, that won’t photograph well or that’s tricky to ship without damage.
* CONSIDER COST AND SALE PRICE. “Buyers and sellers on eBay set the price–you don’t,” says Melissa Sands, 35, who started selling on eBay in 1999 to help her husband, a comic-book dealer, get rid of excess inventory. Today, Sands runs Sands-o-Time (www. sands-o-time.com), an eBay store selling pottery, porcelain, glass, silver, costume jewelry and more with sales averaging $8,000 to $12,000 per month. Before you buy anything, find out what other similar items have sold for on eBay and ask yourself if there’s a good chance you will make money.
* SELL RELATED MERCHANDISE. “If you make it easy for people to buy something, they will want to buy more from you–and you have to have related merchandise in stock,” advises Cash. “So, for example, if you’re selling collectibles, you should also carry the display racks, books and other accessories those particular collectors will want to have.”
* MAKE SURE YOU HAVE ENOUGH STORAGE SPACE FOR YOUR MERCHANDISE. Don’t start ordering pallets of large items if your basement or garage is small, or if your front door isn’t big enough to squeeze the crates through.
* LEARN HOW TO PACK AND SHIP GOODS. Calculating shipping costs properly is also important. To help you with this, eBay, FedEx, UPS and the U.S. Postal Service all offer shipping calculators on their websites. Buyers really hate it if they think you’re gouging them on the shipping and handling fees.