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Starting a business on eBay is about more than being a seller. It's about being a savvy buyer. Traditional retailers send their buyers around the world looking for items that will appeal to their customers. But you can start right from your own region to source the products that will successfully launch your business on eBay.
Garage sales and thrift stores are great ways to find castoff items at dirt-cheap prices. If you have a knack for guessing the market value of the deeply discounted goods, you can score big with collectors and other buyers online who are willing to pay the item's true cost. One strategy is to narrow your purchases to souvenirs unique to your area with appeal to people around the country or even worldwide. Watch for marked-down items at local retailers, or ask if you can sell their overstock for them.
Serendipity also plays a part. Robert Sachs noticed collectible Elvis Pepsi bottles at several gas stations in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1998. Sachs, 48, bought them for 99 cents each and sold them on eBay for an average price of $15 each. Sachs (eBay User ID: rosachs), owner of RKS Solutions LLC in Memphis, now runs a shoe store on eBay.
An even more convenient marketplace might be your own home or those of your friends and family. Everyone has products stored away that have outlived their usefulness or been replaced by updated versions. The better an item's condition, the better your chance of creating bidding online.
Time can change how much you value your own collections, making them another good source for products. Curtis Chan (eBay User ID: cxc273), an avowed movie lover in State College, Pennsylvania, owned about 20 VHS movies. But as DVDs became the dominant medium, Chan, 33, decided to sell off those tapes before they became obsolete. "I said to myself, 'When DVDs get big, VHS will be worthless,'" Chan says. His collection sold in one lot to a single buyer for almost $100.
Now, Chan finds that DVDs have an even shorter shelf life. "Studios will make a new version of a movie with more features," he says. "When I find out, I get rid of the version I own." Chan stays on top of new releases on websites such as DVDfile.com and DVDtimes.co.uk, giving him time to sell his copies before the news of a release reaches the general public.
When you exhaust your personal possessions or get tired of driving to garage sales, you can still shop locally online. Scan the listings on online trading marts, such as Craigslist.org, for quality used goods, and keep up with new listings in your local newspaper's classified section or PennySaver publication. Large corporations and universities can be other surprising sources, as they often sell surplus equipment through on-site retail locations or online auctions.
Eventually, many entrepreneurs start looking for a steadier product supply to create a niche on eBay. This requires an important shift in your approach to online selling, says Michael Miller, author of Absolute Beginner's Guide to eBay. Miller recommends writing a business plan that spells out what you want to sell and why, identifies suppliers, and compares anticipated expenses with income. "eBay is one business that's really easy to get into," Miller says. "That's [both a] good thing and a bad thing."
Julie Monahan is a writer in Seattle whose articles on small business and emerging technology have appeared in numerous consumer and trade magazines.