Amy Mayer & Ellen Navarro, both 25
Express Drop (eBay User ID: expressdropchicago)
Projected 2006 Sales: More than $1.4 million
Description: An eBay drop-off store that sells on consignment for individuals and high-end retailers
No Place to Hide: Unlike other young eBay merchants, Amy Mayer and Ellen Navarro, who run an eBay drop-off store, can't hide behind their telephone voices. Most of their customers are older than they are, and so are the students who attend their eBay business classes. "The fact that we're so young piques people's curiosity," says Mayer. "That makes it extra important to present ourselves in a charismatic and confident way."
A Dream Come True: Navarro always wanted to start her own business. "I wrote a business plan in my senior year of college," she says. Mayer and Navarro met while working at a clothing boutique. They talked about starting a business together and decided to open an eBay drop-off store--a new idea in early 2004. They research merchandise the moment the customer arrives and only sell items that will fetch at least $50 on eBay. They get a leg up on the competition by offering personal service and being located at a busy intersection where parking is readily available.
Growing Strong: After only two years in business, Express Drop moved into a 3,400-square-foot warehouse. Navarro and Mayer also started franchising their business concept. "You have to be professional at all times and always be thinking out of the box," says Navarro. "We don't just wait for clients to come to us. We pursue clients that can supply us with clothing. We see every single [entity] as a potential client, from the grandma on the street to Nordstrom."
Chris & Lisa Rush, 30 & 26
HiFiSoundconnection (eBay User ID: hifisoundconnection)
Projected 2006 Sales: $8 million
Description: Audio and stereo equipment for use at home and in motor vehicles
It's a Family Affair: The mom-and-pop grocery store might be a thing of the past, but many eBay businesses keep their work all in the family. Chris Rush founded HiFiSoundconnection with his wife, Lisa, and employs his younger brother Tony, his brother-in-law Justin Cash and family friend Kevin Kenkel. "It lightens the stress factor," Rush says of the benefits of working with family members. And his team turns around a tremendous number of transactions, considering that the average sale price of an item is $96.
Music to His Ears: In 2000, Rush started buying sports collectibles on eBay. He quickly moved to selling car audio equipment, having installed car stereos since his teenage years for extra money. An initial $10,000 loan from his grandfather helped him during startup. "It started with an extra bedroom in a duplex. I filled that room, filled the garage, and we're now in an 8,000-square-foot warehouse," he says. "It's been a real rocket ride."
Keep the Customer Satisfied: Rush understands his customers because he is so close to them in age. "My demographic is 15- to 25-year-olds, and they are really impatient," he says. "We have to cater to people who click on things and make instant purchases. That generation doesn't want to wait. The biggest motivator for us is providing them with good service." The company recently added a toll-free phone number. "If a [customer] buys something and has problems installing it, we will guide him through the process."
Personal Touch: With its feedback system, eBay encourages sellers to provide prompt delivery and good service. But Rush's motivation goes beyond that. He welcomes hard work and the responsibility of running his own business. He especially likes selling to members of the U.S. mili-tary stationed overseas. "We provide distractions for them," he says. "It's like we're sending them a Christmas present. That's the most rewarding thing for all of us."
Dan Glasure, 31
Dan's Train Depot (eBay User ID: dans.train.depot)
Projected 2006 Sales: $2.5 million
Description: Model trains and train accessories
Needing a Bigger Piggy Bank: Dan Glasure's business experience goes back to age 8. "The first comic book I ever bought was Spider-Man No. 1. I bought it at a garage sale for a nickel. I sold it the same day for $100," he remembers. But that's not all. When the buyer asked Glasure where he had found the comic, he told him, "I'll tell you where the rest of them are, but you have to give me a finder's fee." He got his finder's fee.
On the Fast Track: Glasure started by selling comics on eBay, but "it was not until I traded some comics for a big box of Lego toys and the Legos sold incredibly well that I really saw what eBay could do," he says. Next, he started selling toy trains and accessories: "Today, we are the number-two seller in the whole Toys & Hobbies category on eBay."
More Than Child's Play: These days, Dan's Train Depot has sales of $20,000 to $30,000 each week. That success inspired Glasure to branch out to websites (www.brasstrains.comand www.danstraindepot.com), where he can sell directly to the public, and a brick-and-mortar store, which sells different items for train collectors than those he offers on eBay. With the help of one of his customers who is a professor at a university business school, he drew up a business plan and streamlined his company by downsizing his staff. "Everybody thinks you're not working at all, selling toys on the internet," Glasure observes. "It's a lot of work, but it's definitely more fun than the average job."