Hidden Treasures

For eBay beginners, finding the right inventory is all about the hunt.

By Julie Monahan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Retail has been the launching pad for many entrepreneur success stories. But on eBay, retail success no longer depends on location, big advertising budgets or fancy store interiors. It does, however, depend on product. So where do the beginning sellers get theirs?

If you're just starting out, chances are you're not ready for a pallet-size shipment of wholesale goods to sit in your garage. Although you may eventually turn to manufacturers and distributors to source your business as it gets bigger, you can get ready now with items that may be right within arm's reach.

Many eBay entrepreneurs begin with finds from garage sales and thrift stores, selling items bought for pennies and netting big bucks. Make the search for salable products part of your daily activities, whether it's scanning the closeout racks the next time you visit the department store or keeping your eyes peeled for going-out-of-business signs as you drive around doing errands.

Many newcomers to eBay start by selling items from their own collections or lightly used gifts and products they no longer have the space to store. Terry Gibbs has been collecting toy trains since he was a boy, so when he started selling on eBay, he had a ready-made inventory. Unwilling to sell off all his favorites, though, Gibbs began using other methods to find products. He regularly attends train meets, where collectors gather to trade, and he's also found luck with different types of low-cost advertising.

Gibbs' ads in classified publications and local newspapers distributed at senior centers have produced calls from potential sellers near his home in Mesa, Arizona. A more ambitious experiment with ads on Google didn't work out quite so well. "With Google, you pay per click, even if that person is not a real prospect for selling a train," says Gibbs, 43. When someone responds to his classified ad, he adds, "I can get them off the phone without it costing me any money."

Today Gibbs advises others on how to build a collectibles business on eBay through his company, I Want Collectibles LLC. The key message for most beginners is "specialize." "Specializing gives you the ability to run specific ads and build a specialized knowledge," Gibbs says. The more you know about a particular type of product, he adds, the easier it is to spot an undervalued item.

In addition to keeping an eye out for products that you can buy low and sell high, start looking a little differently at the people you meet from day to day. You never know who might be ready to part with their collection of antique dolls gathering dust or the expensive fly-fishing gear of a recently deceased husband.

For Heather Finn (eBay User ID: hlfinn212), eBay selling is an extension of her love of fashion and shopping. "I'm an amazing shopper," says Finn, 30, who lives in New York City. Department stores and boutiques provide most of Finn's inventory, which she builds in part with a flair for bargaining. When she spots an item she wants, she checks on it regularly, even going so far as calling the store to ask when the item might go on sale. "Or I'll go to the store and talk them down," she says. Finn, now a PowerSeller, has had numerous successes, among them tunics by the popular designer Tory Burch that she bought for $80 each. eBay shoppers snapped them up for $300 each. Says Finn, "It's now a bit of an obsession."

Julie Monahan is a writer in Seattle whose articles on small business and emerging technology have appeared in numerous consumer and trade magazines.

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