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Finding a Niche

A Well-Oiled Machine

Another advantage niche businesses have is standardi-zation of processes and materials. For example, Weber needs to stock only a few sizes of boxes and packages for shipping his books rather than hundreds of varieties. "Back-end efficiency, such as with packing and shipping, and effectiveness improve with a niche," confirms Miller. You can set up a routine, a type of assembly line, which reduces the time it takes to complete a sale and increases your profitability.

Through experience in his category, Weber is also much faster at setting prices. He uses auction-style listings for some hard-to-find books in hopes that bidders will drive the prices up, and he sells others at fixed prices using "Buy It Now" when there is a general agreement about the value of a particular book.

Pump Up the Volume
While Weber Books expanded from used books into new ones, Curvy Girl Clothing (eBay User ID: curvygirlclothing) has always been about new merchandise. The company focuses on new special-occasion wear for plus-size women, says Laura Poorman, 31, co-founder with her twin sister, Lisa Toton, of the Portland, Or-egon, company. Poorman and Toton began their eBay careers as buyers, with Poorman scouting convertible cars and Toton on the hunt for a wedding ring set. Both found what they were looking for on the site and, inspired by the potential selling opportunities, began discussions about running their own eBay Store filled with stylish plus-size clothing.

To amass some inventory, the two headed to Los Angeles' fashion district, near Toton's home, and stocked up on trendy tops, dresses and skirts for women size 16 to 32. In the three-mile area that makes up the fashion district, Poorman and Toton discovered numerous stores willing to sell clothing to them at great prices. "We only had to buy a few items" in each size, says Poorman.

Although they didn't have experience selling on eBay, what they did have was knowledge of their market. As curvy women themselves, Poorman says, "We know what's going to work for plus-size women, so we're able to pick better styles." And because they deal only in new merchandise, they can buy in larger volumes rather than offering single items, as with used pieces. "You can buy something [used] for $5 to $20 and sell [it] for $60, but you only have one," she points out, "so it's harder work." Selling used items next to new ones also devalues the new items, which is why Curvy Girl stays focused on its new-clothing niche.

The twins started doing business on eBay in summer 2005, and in October, they had their first $10,000 week in sales. By the end of their first year in business, sales are expected to reach $350,000.

Poorman says one of the keys to their success thus far is "not losing focus." By establishing their niche and sticking with it, Curvy Girl Clothing is building a brand that draws eBay buyers back regularly because they know exactly what they'll find there. Says Poorman, "People like that we only do plus-size, stylish occasion wear."

Marcia Layton Turner's work has appeared in Woman's day, Health and Black Enterprise. She is based in Pittsford, N.Y.

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