Sure, the flexibility of being able to sell anything and everything on eBay sounds appealing. But specializing--carving out a niche in a particular category or type of product--can yield even greater rewards.
For starters, explains Michael Miller, author of Making a Living From Your eBay Business, you'll know your market and your products more thoroughly than you ever could as a generalist. "You can sell on eBay and not specialize, but it's more hobby than business," Miller observes. "The biggest eBay sellers I know do one or two things well." Knowing a lot about one or two areas, vs. knowing only a little about many categories, can make the difference between being profitable and being very profitable.
Seeking out what sells
Case in point: Steve Weber, 46, owner of Weber Books (eBay User ID: weber-books), a Falls Church, Virginia, reseller of used books. Although he made $300 or $400 on eBay the first month he began selling from his own bookshelves, Weber's sales took off when he zeroed in on specific types of nonfiction books that were in demand. In 2005, four years after Weber started his business part time, the now full-time enterprise sold $335,000 online--more than 100 times what the business was initially generating. It all came down to finding a niche.
At the outset, Weber worked part time in the evenings selling books he no longer needed. "I wasn't an expert in book values," he admits, but he did notice that nonfiction books tended to be more valuable than fiction, and science and math tomes in particular sold for far more than he anticipated. So he began going to library and estate sales--"the two best ways to get inventory"--in search of science and math guides. His efforts paid off when he purchased a box of books at a sale for a whopping $10. In the box was a book titled Curves and Their Properties, which Weber was able to sell for $200.
"The way to make money is to find a specialty," says Weber. "It's helpful to start with a niche because you can learn a specific product area and you're not re-inventing the wheel all the time--you quickly learn what sells." He recommends that anyone interested in selling books on eBay start with used merchandise because "there's more profit potential."
However, Weber cautions that mass market books, such as The DaVinci Code, may not necessarily sell for more than what you paid because there are already so many of them in circulation. On the other hand, more unusual books that appeal to a limited audience may take a little longer to sell on eBay, but they can sell for more (sometimes much more) than the original cover price, even if they're not in pristine condition. With such quirky titles, "condition is not as important as the information they contain," says Weber.
Approximately one-third of Weber's time is spent finding books, with big pushes during January and August, the two biggest bookselling months of the year. Each month, he buys at least 5,000 used books to resell, in addition to the new books he's been selling since 2003. Through wholesale sellers online, such as Book Depot (www.bookdepot.com) and Kudzu Books (www.kudzubooks.com), Weber finds that he can buy overstock for 80 percent off retail and then resell the books profitably over the next several months. (You can find more potential product sources in "Finders, Sellers" on page 22.)
The strategy has worked for Weber: "I'm making more money than ever," he says, "because I keep getting better and better at [selling certain types of books] within my niche."
Marcia Layton Turner's work has appeared in Woman's day, Health and Black Enterprise. She is based in Pittsford, N.Y.