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What's in Store

Your existing retail company just might hold the key to starting a booming business on eBay.

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When Joshua Marshal wanted to start a new on , it was like the proverbial light had gone on over his head. Hundreds of lights, in fact, and mostly from his family's lighting store in City.

Lighting has been the Marshal family business for four generations, but Joshua, 22, was the first to introduce the company to e-commerce. Marshal had already gotten his feet wet on eBay electronics and clothing. When he wanted to change product offerings, the family business seemed like a no-brainer.

"I realized I could get my hands on unlimited lighting," says Marshal (eBay User ID: wegotlites), who started in 2004 with excess stock from the family store. Now running his own business,, Marshal has broadened the for his eBay Store with from other lighting stores, going-out-of-business and orders placed directly with manufacturers. "In the beginning, I had to beg suppliers to sell on my website," he says. "Now I'm to the point where I have owners of companies I don't even know calling me."

Marshal's successful sales record on eBay--seven-figure sales in 2005--has raised him to an enviable negotiating position with suppliers. Because his merchandise moves so quickly online, he can sometimes get 20 percent off the wholesale list price from lighting manufacturers.

Like Marshal, many retailers first come to eBay to turn overstock, returned items and outdated merchandise into successful online sales. Most of these newcomers stick to the familiar range of products already being sold in their brick-and-mortar stores. For other businesses, though, eBay is a low-risk, low-cost way to test the appeal of new products before they go on the shelf, or to connect with new suppliers who offer similar products at different price points and of different quality from in-store . "In the past, if we heard of a deal, we would pass on it if the product wasn't something we would normally put in our stores," says Scott Touchette, director of auction sales at Bargain Sports (eBay User ID: bargain--sports). "Now, we buy large lots of liquidated inventory that we only sell on eBay."

Online selling means more than trimming inventory. The benefits can ripple through your business by bringing in new regular customers from across the country, and even from around the world, who would otherwise never make it to your store. That growing sales track record can then attract more potential supply partners, further expanding your business.

Of course, some items work better than others for selling online. Touchette says his company avoids listing items that are too heavy and expensive to ship. Even when products don't sell for much of a profit, he says, "It's still a tool that gets traffic to our eBay Store."

And that traffic can arrive anytime, day or night--a fact that underscores one of the more powerful advantages of online sales. "With retail, if your key is not in the door," Marshal says, "you're not making any money."

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