If you are not an expert in antiques, don't have a source of wholesale computer parts, or lack a supplier of inexpensive vacation packages, taking the plunge into the world of online auctions might seem a tad difficult. Having a product to sell is often a major obstacle for the person who is considering eBay for extra income or a full time job.
But while eBay may be best known for Pez dispensers and Beanie Babies, a closer look at the Site reveals a vast array of unique items, many of them having their own loyal clientele.
Here are three profiles of online entrepreneurs, who used a little homegrown ingenuity, found a niche and put their talents to work for them. Perhaps they'll inspire you to jump in with both feet as they did!
Teri Thomas (eBay: chocomagic) offers home-baked goods online. A professional pastry chef, Teri not only teaches at a gourmet cooking school in Toledo, Ohio but also bakes desserts for some of the area's finest restaurants. While working at an antiques store, Teri got her first experience with auction sites when her boss decided to try selling a few things online.
"Through listing things for him I became very familiar with eBay," says Teri. " I thought to myself, what could I sell on here?"
It didn't take Teri long to find the "Foodstuffs" category on eBay, and soon she was successfully selling her delicacies online. Do an eBay search of chocomagic's auctions and you'll find a great selection of Rum Balls, Buzz cookies (peanut-butter topped chocolate chip cookies), and Wizbangs (Kahlua and Frangelico cream-filled chocolate cookies).
The key to Teri's success is the freshness of her baked goods.
"My auctions run from Sunday to Sunday." She explains, "Nothing is ever pre-made or pre-baked. Everything is done to order. When I get the money and it goes out the next day priority mail. If someone pays with one of the online pay services I use, they can expect their goodies in three days."
Teri's special touch is evident not only in her auction pictures, but also when packing her baked goods.
"I spend a lot of money and time on packaging," says Teri. "There's nothing worse than spending $25 on a couple of dozen cookies that arrive in crumbs! Presentation is everything."
Being an experienced pastry chef has also served Teri well, as she is well versed in the local health codes that she must follow to sell food online. "Selling online is no different than opening a store," Teri explains, "in this case, a bakery."
Hart Cottage Quilts
Leigh Fellner (eBay: hcquilts) began quilting in the Fall of 1998 to keep herself busy and quickly became enamored with her new avocation. Within six weeks, she found that she had built quite a stockpile of her original creations and decided to sell one on eBay. "The first one - a lap quilt - sold for over $200. You could've knocked me over with a feather!" laughs Leigh.
Since then, Leigh has sold about 65 quilts on eBay and has never looked back.
"I try to finish at least one a week," she explains, and cites her own, unique style as the underlying key to her success. "Nobody is selling quilts like mine on eBay or any other auction site. All my designs are original, one-off, my color sense is sort of wacky, and I dye my own fabric and use a lot of pre-1950 textiles."
Leigh has developed a loyal following of bidders, and receives many requests for commission work. She has even set up a Web site http://www.fortunecity.com/victorian/cheyne/1205/id20.htm to display her original designs. But she prefers the world of online auctions where she can express herself freely, then auction her work off and let the market decide the value.
"You have to find the right price-point and the right style," Leigh counsels, "But you can't be prone to getting hurt feelings if something doesn't sell as well as you'd liked, or guilt if something you think is merely OK triggers a bidding war."
So what advice does Leigh have for the person who is considering following her footsteps?
"If something doesn't net the profit you'd like, you can't blame it on somebody else. You can't get lazy or sloppy. Research - of the economy, your own market niche, textile and quilt trends, textile history - is an endless task, so you'd better really love what you do. Fortunately I do."
Dolled Up - The Ouma Collection
Sure there may be a lot of Barbie dolls on eBay, but who's going to dress them all?
Carol Petts, that's who! Carol (eBay: Ouma) is known to friends and family as Ouma, and she makes a wide selection of clothing for Barbie, American Girl, and Betsy McCall dolls, to name just a few.
Ouma began making doll clothing for her own children 40 years ago. When her children had children, she began dressing up their dolls with her creations. Soon, friends were requesting Ouma originals as well. She became so prolific that she would take the extras to sell at craft fairs, but after moving to a more rural environment where there were fewer venues for her doll clothes, Ouma discovered eBay.
A retired math professor, Ouma has been selling online for three years and posts about 25 auctions a week with a sell-through rate well over 90%. But with most of her doll clothes selling for under $15, how does she manage to make a profit?
"Most of my sewing is for custom work," she explains. "When I make a dress for someone, I do two of the same thing and sell one on eBay. This is what lets me sell to people as low as I do."
Ouma genuinely enjoys her craft, and even helps doll collectors with themes for their collections. She is currently creating Medieval costumes for one collector and an entire Civil War set for another.
"My husband says I am a workaholic, so I just sew to keep busy in my retirement."
Ouma may sell just to keep busy, but a quick look at over 1,100 feedback responses she has received shows that she has many repeat customers who are happy that she can't sit still.
Hart Cottage Quilts Web site:
Ouma's eBay auction page: