Taking Stock

Do you know where your products are? eBay makes inventory management a snap.

One of the first things Joshua Marshal, 23, did after starting to work in his father's retail home lighting store in 2004 was clear out some excess inventory in the back by selling it on eBay. Marshal says he had little experience with eBay then, but having already started and sold two of his own entrepreneurial ventures, he recognized an opportunity when he saw it.


From zero online sales and a team of two--Marshal and his father, Brian, 48--WeGotLites Inc. (eBay User ID: wegotlites) has grown into an online lighting powerhouse. The New York City business now employs 21 people and has 600 to 700 eBay auction-style listings on deck at any one time. The 40,000-square-foot warehouse, which the company moved into when its inventory outgrew the storage space at the brick-and-mortar store, holds 10,000 to 12,000 different SKUs packed in about 60,000 to 70,000 different boxes, says Marshal.


With significantly increased inventory and hundreds of ongoing eBay listings, as well as the company's direct sales at its own website, WeGotLites moved from a purely paper-and-pencil system of keeping track of inventory to a computerized inventory management system. Marshal selected FileMaker Server 8 Advanced, an off-the-shelf program, because at the time it was "the easiest and most affordable way to go," he says. The software, which costs $2,500, is designed to help businesses track product locations, costs and quantities more accurately--key components of a successful inventory management system.


Now when delivery trucks pull up to WeGotLites, a shipping list is brought to the office and the contents of the truck are added to the software so the inventory can immediately be accounted for and tracked.


Marshal says bar code technology would make managing his inventory an easier process, but lighting products don't have bar codes on them. Without pre-existing bar codes on boxes, adding them is a project he's not ready for just yet--but he's keeping it in mind for the future.


Today, however, the company uses eBay File Exchange and Selling Manager Pro to enter eBay listings and manage auctions and feedback, says Marshal. The company has attained Platinum PowerSeller status, with annual sales in the seven figures.


eBay Tools
eBay File Exchange is designed for advanced sellers, says Gui Bastos, senior product manager at eBay who oversees a team that develops tools to make sellers more efficient. "File Exchange is more advanced and is a way to interact with the eBay platform using uploaded files, such as a spreadsheet," says Bastos. "You create the file and upload it to eBay with all the information." But File Exchange is really for the largest eBay sellers, and there are certainly other approaches to creating efficient listings.


Other tools include Turbo Lister, which helps you list items faster, says Bastos, and Selling Manager Pro, an all-in-one inventory management tool that allows you to automate listings when there are multiple quantities of the same item to sell. Selling Manager Pro also provides restock alerts and helps sellers track their profitability and automate their post-sales tasks, including sending invoices, giving feedback and sending confirmation e-mails.


eBay Blackthorne is a client tool for inventory management, meaning you can choose to have it reside on your computer rather than on a server somewhere else, giving you more control over your data.

Listing tools play a pivotal role in inventory management and profitability because "the less time you spend on [creating and managing] listings, the more you can sell," says Bastos. If you're still creating listings one by one or using e-mail to track sales, and you're doing 150-plus listings a month, "you should think about using a more [efficient] tool."

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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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