Expanding to eBay

Boost both retail and e-tail sales by posting your products on eBay.

Buyers of pricey Los Angeles Dodgers collectibles don't exactly line up at your door when your music, comics and memorabilia shop is located in Joplin, Missouri. So when Rodney Spriggs finds that one of his 10 Vintage Stock stores in the Midwest has slow-moving merchandise, he lists those items on eBay to reach a wider audience.

"eBay gives us a great outlet for higher-dollar items or items that might not sell in the Midwest," explains Spriggs, 38, who co-owns the company with partners Steve Wilcox, 39, and Ken Caviness, 49. "Five-hundred-dollar Star Wars items might just sit in the store, but when we put them on eBay, we reach a whole new audience."

Sales on eBay make up approximately 3 percent of the company's $7 million in annual revenue. Spriggs expects the percentage to jump in 2006, when Vintage Stock plans to open an eBay Store instead of just running individual listings from each of the company's locations.

While brick-and-mortar retailers may not immediately think of eBay as a viable selling option, Janelle Elms thinks every retailer should have an eBay presence as a way to unload inventory, beef up sales and even drive traffic into local store locations. Elms, co-author of eBay Your Business: Maximize Profits and Get Results, lives in Kirkland, Washington, and teaches courses on eBay selling, in addition to consulting with businesses to maximize their profits on eBay.

"I've worked with hundreds of businesses, and I've yet to find a product or service that doesn't work on eBay," says Elms. "For a very low cost, you can get your name out there, brand your business and reach an audience that you never dreamed of with a small retail business."

Tools You Can Use
Retailers can choose to run individual listings to get started, or they can invest in an eBay Store, which creates a common area on eBay where retailers can display all their eBay items, says Elms. The virtual storefronts are available at different levels, each with a variety of services, and range in price from $15.95 to $499.95 per month. Entry-level packages include five pages of customizable space, sales-tracking capabilities and other features, as well as access to customer support. Top-tier subscriptions for high-volume sellers feature 15 pages of space and all the features of the lower-level subscriptions, as well as 24-hour access to customer support.

eBay also offers a number of tools to its sellers to help them get off on the right foot. The Seller OnRamp Program is a free, phone-based consulting program designed to help businesses start selling on eBay. (The Seller OnRamp team can be reached at (866) 304-EBAY between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. Eastern time, Monday through Friday.) The eBay Certified Provider Program promotes access to a network of technical and nontechnical service providers who help eBay sellers ramp up their sales volume. See http://developer.ebay.com/certifiedprovider for more information.

Of course, the eBay site has many basic tips and tools for those who want to get started or launch more successful listings. You can start at the Learning Center, which offers everything from basic selling techniques to links to starting a business for the advanced seller. And like most other business functions, listings can be outsourced. eBay offers access to Trading Assistants--experienced eBay sellers who will sell your items on your behalf for a fee. In addition, eBay has trained an army of instructors as Education Specialists to help you get started selling. To find one in your area, check the Education Specialist Directory.

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Gwen Moran is a freelance writer and co-author of The Complete Idiot's Guide to Business Plans (Alpha, 2010).

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This article was originally published in the October 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Bricks & Clicks.

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