eBay Seller Fashionphile Makes Oscar 'Red Carpet' Debut
By Ina Steiner
eBay seller Sarah Davis will be making her debut at the Oscars - no, she isn't actually walking the Red Carpet, but she will make an appearance on the E! Oscar Pre-Show. Sarah is owner of Fashionphile and will be sharing her knowledge of designer fashion and talking about the style and trends of bags carried on the Red Carpet. AuctionBytes spoke to Sarah on Friday as she was preparing for her debut - read the interview where she shares her business story, and look for Sarah on Sunday (February 22, 2009) at 6 pm Eastern on E! Entertainment's Oscar pre-show.
AuctionBytes: How did the producers hear about you, and what will you be talking about?
Sarah Davis: A friend of one of our buyers is a PR guy. We talked to him quite a bit, but just don't have the money to hire a PR person right now. He really likes our concept and so when someone he knew was putting together the pieces for the Pre-Show... he recommended us as someone who knows luxury bags inside and out.
AuctionBytes: Do you think the current economic climate will affect Hollywood fashion at Sunday's Oscars?
Sarah Davis: Well, the Grammy's Red Carpet was definitely toned down this year... less bling, more understated styles etc. I'm expecting the same from the Oscars.
AuctionBytes: Tell us about your business - what kinds of items do you sell, and on what channels?
Sarah Davis: We sell authentic, pre-owned luxury handbags and accessories... Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Hermes, Gucci, Balenciaga, Dior etc. We have an office and showroom right off Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. We take in bags locally, but receive bags daily from all over the world. We sell on our website, www.fashionphile.com and on eBay.
AuctionBytes: Which channel brings in the most revenue, and which channel is most profitable?
Sarah Davis: For the first time since we launched our website in early 2006, we've sold more on our website than we have on eBay. We've been on eBay since 1999 and have always loved it for the cash flow, the tremendous search engine traffic that it brings and the overall "eyes" on our listings. eBay has been good to us- and even a year ago, we couldn't imagine a time that we'd be selling more on our website than on eBay.
AuctionBytes: Does this tough economy help or hurt your business?
Sarah Davis: Well, it's interesting. We are getting more bags than ever... People come in and say "I need money for this, today." There are so many people who were buying a ton during the "fat" years, who are now seeing their closets for what they are- investments in need of liquidation! And on the flip side, it's not like consumers who, in the past decade or so, got a real taste for luxury are totally doing without. They still want the good stuff, they just don't want to pay as much. We sold more bags the second week of February than we have since I started this business.
AuctionBytes: Your website says you started FashionPhile as a way to pay off your law school loans. Tell us about that, and do you currently practice law?
Sarah Davis: I loved law school, but I did not like the debt that went along with it. I began selling on eBay during law school and just really took to it. eBay was a gateway to a love of business- and entrepreneurship that I had seen seeds of, but just hadn't given much attention to. I passed the Texas Bar and fully expected to work as an attorney. But I had built up this business, and had a real love for it. It energized me and was a challenge and thrill at the same time. I decided that there was real potential in what I was doing, and I wanted to pursue it.
AuctionBytes: You also brought family members into the business. How is that working out, and do you recommend it for other small business owners?
Sarah Davis: I guess all I can say is, it depends on the family! I happen to have very laid back, fun, good natured, creative siblings... who married similar types, and so it's worked out really well so far. My sister started out with me, but it's her husband, my business partner, Ben Hemminger who is a lot of the brains behind the organization. He's a good leader, but is mellow and open, so he works well with everyone.
AuctionBytes: How do you get such professional-looking photos of your products?
Sarah Davis: My brother Jesse runs the photography. He put together a photo studio... we bought all the equipment on eBay. It's basically lights, reflectors, white and black backgrounds and the same Fujifilm S7000 that we've had since I was a one-woman shop. We edit out the background so it's pure white. Our pictures have been taken by different photographers over the years. The system is just set up so that we are in the best position to get good pictures every time.
AuctionBytes: Have you ever tangled with designers over intellectual property (VeRO) issues?
Sarah Davis: Yes, we've had a few dealings with VeRO. We've been really lucky, because for like 8 years we hadn't had any issues at all. When you're selling authentic goods that are questioned for any reason, we just respond promptly and professionally and give the documentation that they seek. We continue to email until our requests for review are acknowledged. We've gone so far as to send particular pieces to the attorney's who have filed the VeRO claim for in-person authentication. Every time we've done this, we've had the violation overturned.
AuctionBytes: eBay puts limits on how many designer items sellers can list, but it's a moving target that can catch sellers by surprise. How has that policy affected you?
Sarah Davis: Knocking on wood here, but we've so far not come up against this limitation. We've tried to be very open with eBay and are quick to send receipts or other documentation, and think this helps.
AuctionBytes: Do you have advice for online sellers on how to increase traffic to listings?
Sarah Davis: Organic Google search is your friend. Of all the paid marketing avenues we've tried, including shared ads in Vogue, Lucky and Allure Magazines, local mailers, newspaper ads, banners etc. Google organic search gets us by far the most traffic and it's absolutely free! Write a blog... it keeps your website dynamic- updated daily, but it also just adds a lot of additional keywords, targeted to what you sell. Make sure that you write nice copy for your listings, but that you also are aware of the keywords that you can use that others would use to find your item in a search engine search. SEO experts cost money - but you are the real expert on what you sell.
AuctionBytes: What resources can buyers use to help them when they're shopping online for designer handbags?
Sarah Davis: Of course come to us first! But other than that, there are a lot of reputable sellers out there. There are a lot of fakes and fraud out there, but Luxury Brand companies want you to think that there is no alternative to buying from them. There are great resources like The Purse Forum or My Poupette that are dedicated to helping you not only weed out the fakes, but offer a ton of great information so that you can make more informed purchases.
AuctionBytes: What will you be wearing on your Red Carpet debut, and importantly, did you buy your outfit online?
Sarah Davis: I'm wearing a black Gucci gown and black Christian Louboutin Simple leather pumps. I didn't like the brooch on the front of the dress, so I bought a different vintage looking Swarovski crystal brooch from St. John. My jewelry is from a great new designer, Carla Bissonnette. I bought everything but the jewelry on eBay!
About the author:
Ina Steiner is co-founder and Editor of EcommerceBytes and has been reporting on ecommerce since 1999. She's a widely cited authority on marketplace selling and is author of "Turn eBay Data Into Dollars" (McGraw-Hill 2006). Her blog was featured in the book, "Blogging Heroes" (Wiley 2008). Follow her on Twitter at @ecommercebytes and send news tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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