One good product leads to another. That's what many successful eBay entrepreneurs would tell sellers looking to expand their businesses online. Many sellers with a solid footing in a particular category take a step forward by adding product lines or making a bold leap with something only tangentially related.
So if you sell used cell phones, consider adding accessories such as headphones, screen protectors or carrying cases. Are you known for selling specialty yarns on eBay? Think about branching out to knitting needles, totes, patterns or how-to books.
That's what Lynn Dralle (eBay User ID: thequeenofauctions) of Palm Desert, California, did. The Gold PowerSeller expanded her antiques and collectibles business on eBay by adding accessories such as plate stands for collectible china as well as wicks, burners, and spare and replacement parts for her antique lamps. "eBay is really a numbers game," says Dralle, 43, who is co-author of How to Sell Antiques and Collectibles on eBay. and Make a Fortune. "It's all about putting stuff up there."
Diversifying also worked for Eugene Fleisher (eBay User ID: bingo511) of San Jose, California. More than most sellers, Fleisher, an electronics engineer, embodies the idea of vertical integration, having started on eBay by selling items from around the house, then some of his own electronic creations. Today he sells a range of goods, including multimedia players, VoIP telephones and equipment, networking equipment, LCD screens and network storage equipment.
Along the way, Fleisher has been equally versatile in finding ways to supply his business, from attending trade shows to browsing magazines to just watching TV for items that look interesting or inspire him to create a new system. "If I find an interesting solution or idea, I look for the source components, mostly from abroad," he says.
Online importer marketplaces help narrow the search. Fleisher, 49, has had success with Global Sources Direct. Other sources to check out include B2B.
TradeHolding.com, BusyTrade.com, Export.gov, LeadsandDeals.com and Rusbiz.com. For a comprehensive list of online marketplaces, click on the "Resources" page at Michigan State University's Center for International Business Education and Research.
After two years, Fleisher says he has learned how to maneuver for the best results from manufacturers who are thousands of miles away and whom he will probably never meet. "I send an e-mail asking for pricing, then I buy samples--just one or two," he says. "If I like them, I buy more, maybe another 50, and start selling."
This works pretty well--most of the time. "In several cases, I got complete junk," he says. "The equipment didn't work and the people stopped answering e-mail. But that's just part of the business, and it's a risk you have to take."Judging by his success in growing from $150,000 in sales in 2005 to $350,000 in 2006, Fleisher's risk-to-return ratio has been pretty high. He typically makes deals on a rotating basis with 15 to 30 vendors, so one disappointment doesn't slow his growth. Which, he says, proves the old adage "Don't put all your eggs in one basket."