Uncovering the Right eBay Inventory

From the corner of your attic to the far corners of Asia, these strategies will help you find the perfect hidden treasures to sell.

By Julie Monahan

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Location, location, location is the first lesson retailerslearn. But in the virtual world of eBay, the make-or-break factorfor success is your product.

For most eBay sellers, product sources are a tightly heldsecret, a sign of how challenging it can be to secure a stablesupply of inventory with wide appeal to buyers. But the followingguidelines will help get you moving in the right direction.

The opportunities for finding product can be as close as yourattic or as far away as a manufacturer in Asia. For the beginner,local sources offer the best opportunity for manageable inventoriesas well as a test of what best matches your selling skills andconsumer interest. Local sources include garage sales, thriftshops, flea markets, going-out-of-business sales, estate sales,storage site auctions, even junkyards and pawnshops.

Develop relationships with local independent retailers who needto sell slow-moving merchandise and will sometimes sell at a hugediscount. Or start right from your computer by visiting sites suchas www.tuesdaymorning.com, which sells brand-name anddesigner closeouts; http://auctions.samsclub.com for closeout specials;www.ustreas.gov/auctions; and www.biglotswholesale.com.

Many new eBay sellers get inspiration from hobbies or existingside businesses. Tahl Benit, 28 (eBay User ID:customcomputerseller), has been building computers for fun sincehigh school, and eventually began selling them by word of mouth.Within a few months of starting Multilink Custom Computers Ltd. oneBay last June, Benit saw sales rise to between $15,000 and $60,000a week.

Benit's specialty is building gaming and office computersusing high-performance AMD processors. As his eBay sales rose,existing suppliers couldn't always keep up with growing demand,and he began looking for deals on computer supply sites such aswww.avnet.com,www.mwave.com,www.newegg.com,www.zipzoomfly.com and eBay's wholesale lots."If I'm purchasing 50 hard drives, eBay is by far the bestplace to go," he says. "Anywhere else, I would pay $100apiece, but on eBay, I might pay $1,000 for all 50." He alsoqualified to become an AMD reseller to expand his product mix.Benit, a one-man shop working from a two-bedroom apartment inColumbus, Ohio, says he manages his expanding inventory with anautomated eBay listing service from Aplus.Net in San Diego, as well as withQuickBooks.

Finding a niche, like Benit's high-end computers, can helpshape a successful sourcing strategy. It worked for PlatinumPowerSeller Sarah Davis (eBay User ID: fashionphile) in SanAntonio, Texas. Davis started selling high-end women's apparelfrom consignment shops and local chain retailers including NeimanMarcus and Nordstrom before focusing on leather goods from LouisVuitton. "As I narrowed my niche, my sales improved,"says Davis, 33, who has sales of over $25,000 a month. Loyal repeatcustomers also helped the business grow, and when Davis expandedher inventory to consignment, those customers became another sourceof reliable supply.

The beauty of selling pricey brands like Louis Vuitton, Davissays, is that items ending up in a consignment shop are stillpriced beyond the means of the average consignment shopper. Thatleaves more opportunities for Davis, who still visits San Antonioconsignment stores for a good deal. "I can buy something for$800," she says, "and still make a couple hundred dollarsselling it on eBay."

Julie Monahan is a writer in Seattle whosearticles on small business and emerging technology have appeared innumerous consumer and trade magazines.

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