eBay your way to a booming home business
by Alan Zisman (c) 2011
published in Business in
Vancouver June 7-13, 2011 issue #1128 High Tech
What’s a Vancouver Grizzlies foam finger worth to you? Jennifer
Torrance lists one on Heavenly Sent Treasures, her eBay store, at a
‘buy it now’ price of $8.95. Or you can take your chances at auction
and see if you can get it for less.
But for Ms. Torrance, the finger, along with the rest of the 569 items
on display on her online store, is worth far more; in total they give
her and her husband the ability to work from their Richmond home,
spending their days with their five children, aged two through
Ms. Torrance got started with eBay in 2008 as a way to turn surplus
gifts from the previous Christmas into cash. She realized she could
take it further after a Disney ornament (with a chipped ear) sold for
$95. Selling a used pair of Hermes shoes she’d paid $3 to a German
buyer for $232 for didn’t hurt, either.
By 2010, she was working full-time from home, and had set herself up as
an eBay store; her husband joined her this year. The couple buys most
of what they post for sale at estate sales; their online store
currently lists a lot of 1980s vintage snapback hats, along with
buttons, antique postcards, china, and more.
With millions of items currently up for auction on eBay, Ms. Torrence
tries to make hers stand out with research and boutique service. She
believes that “each item has its own history”, and that taking the time
to learn this history and communicate it to potential buyers translates
to higher bids at auction-end. She notes that it takes time to become
expert in new categories; currently she’s learning about silverware.
Many of her auction listings embed relevant YouTube clips. Some are
made at home often featuring her children demonstrating the items. Her
13 year-old son helped her learn how to add custom HTML code to her
Attention to customer service includes fast shipping, but also offering
to hold items for buyers, encouraging them to bid on multiple items
from her listings to save on shipping costs.
She points out that with eBay offering sellers fifty free listings each
month, it’s a good time to get started selling. And she has some advice
for any new eBay seller:
• Take the time to go through the eBay tutorials
• Check YouTube for tutorials on almost anything else
you might have questions about
• Learn about your market; find out what similar
items have sold for, for example
• List seasonal items at the right time – Christmas
items in November, not January
• Be prepared to sell world-wide; find out the cost
of shipping beyond Canada or the US
• Learn what can’t be sold in different countries.
Ivory items can be problematic, for instance, but Ms. Torrence had a
listing for a knife-rest removed because it is illegal to ship knives
to the UK. (Yes, a ‘knife-rest’ is not a knife, but try telling that to
an automated algorithm!)
Each of the 569 items listed at heavenlysenttreasures.com will result
in personal contact with a buyer. Ms. Torrence sees this as an
opportunity to meet people. “It’s like being Santa all year long.” By
focusing on a small number of product areas, she’s seeing repeat
customers and making personal connections worldwide.
Ms. Torrence credits eBay with letting her build a h business without
needing to invest large amounts of capital, one that lets her work from
home while home-schooling her children. Or as she put it, “eBay gave us
the flexibility to be able to follow our dreams”.