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Offline Businesses Find eBay Success

For these three entrepreneurs, selling on eBay adds a little extra "oomph" to their brick-and-mortar sales.

There must be something to it. Advertisers boast that their product has something extra. People often talk about wanting to do something extra-special during their weekend, or when preparing a meal. And unless you're a boxer on the receiving end of a punch, getting something extra is just about always a good thing.

It's also how a lot of entrepreneurs are increasingly seeing eBay--as something extra. eBay has allowed multiple enterprises to expand by bringing in an additional revenue stream. And that's becoming more necessary, as today's entrepreneurs are finding just one source of revenue is no longer enough. "Our entire economic culture is in transition," observes consultant Joe Guertin. "It's an exciting time, filled with a lot of opportunity." For many entrepreneurs, the way to tap that opportunity is with eBay.

Neatly Done
Brian Schutzer owns Neat Stuff Collectibles. You can find him at a dozen or so collectibles shows around the country, and sometimes at comic-book conventions, but mostly you can find him on eBay (eBay User ID: neatstuffcollectibles). He began his business without eBay, and he still technically has a company independent from the site. Nevertheless, when he added eBay as a revenue stream, "sales started skyrocketing," says Schutzer, 27, who works and lives in North Bergen, New Jersey.

Schutzer now employs seven and estimates his company brought in $2.8 million in 2005 and that 60 percent of his business's income is due to his eBay outlet. Without it, Schutzer guesses his business "would still be strong, but it would probably be in a different form."

For starters, Schutzer doesn't think he would have seven employees, although he concedes that he might have some, because he likely would have opened a brick-and-mortar store.

That's an example of the transitional economy Guertin describes. "People recognize they no longer have to invest in a 200,000-square-foot department store," says Guertin, who has a sales training and consulting firm in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. "The platform itself is right there--it's eBay. So the new economic reality for many Americans is that multiple streams are the answer. The old mind-set of a single revenue stream is obsolete."

Jumping onto the eBay bandwagon, however, takes some work. "I would definitely say to go for it, but to take it slow," Schutzer advises entrepreneurs who want to add eBay as a revenue source for their businesses. "A lot of people don't realize how much time it's going to take them. The time and expense involved in the customer service that you have to [provide] when you deal with eBay customers can eat away at a profit margin. Go slowly, and calculate everything you do along the way as you increase your involvement."

Debbie Levitt, an eBay Certified Provider, says marketing in particular is a big factor in succeeding on eBay. "We find that buyers tend not to remember sellers," says Levitt, owner of As Was, a Tucson, Arizona, online marketing firm that specializes in helping individuals and companies start, market and improve their eBay and online businesses. "Buyers tell people they bought from some guy on eBay. We want our clients to be memorable brand names, and not just 'some guy.' "

Again, this takes some work. "The biggest mistake is not having a deep enough understanding of the eBay marketplace," says Levitt. "And that includes the relationship of the shoppers to the seller, the economy, eBay's own economy and value of the products, the way products get sold, the interplay between making strategic choices and how that affects both your fees and potential revenue."

In other words, there's a lot to this eBay thing.

"We find that some businesses have unrealistic expectations," says Levitt. "People think, 'I can just put something on eBay, and somebody will buy it.' But getting the public to buy depends on a lot of factors: presentation, the shoppers' perception of you. It's not just about price. Since eBay is a community, shoppers care about trustworthiness and even how friendly a seller seems. Some [sellers] tend to assume they can throw anything on there and that nobody will ever contact them. They may not be prepared for the sense of community that naturally comes out of doing business on eBay."

If you own an offline business, you should realize that working from home is a way to reduce your overhead, whether it's by cutting down on work space or simply not having to decorate a lobby or store, or pay a staff to monitor the premises every day. Or like Schutzer, you might find that you can add more staff, because you don't have to spend a lot of money on your business storefront. It takes some work, of course, to add eBay as a serious, income-generating sales channel, but in the end, eBay allows you to free yourself from the confines of an offline business.

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Geoff Williams has written for numerous publications, including Entrepreneur, Consumer Reports, LIFE and Entertainment Weekly. He also is the author of Living Well with Bad Credit.

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