Marketplace Doubles as Wikipedia-Style Resource
By Greg Holden
The Star Wars-style building in Boulder, Colorado has appropriately been nicknamed Tatooine by the employees who work within it, surrounded by Hot Wheels and other toys. On one floor of the building is the headquarters of HobbyDB, a toy and collectible marketplace that started allowing its users to buy and sell items late last year.
"Because of our business, we have hundreds of collectible toys in the office," says cofounder Christian Braun, who has two children, age 6 and 8. "I have to tell them, "Yes, kids, this is a collectible. Don't touch it!""
I last interviewed Braun in 2011 for an article about his previous collectibles marketplace, Toy Collector. Braun has since sold that marketplace and moved from the UK to Boulder to start HobbyDB. The new website went online in 2014.
"The U.S. is the center of the collectibles market," comments Braun. "You guys collect more than anyone else."
Braun, however, didn't create HobbyDB as a place to simply buy and sell toys. The "DB" part of the name indicates that he wanted to build an indispensable resource for collectors of the sort that doesn't currently exist.
"eBay makes it really easy to buy and sell," he explains. "Amazon is catalog-based so you can do that. But they don't do collectibles at the level I need. On Wikipedia, if you type in "Hot Wheels" you get one page. Here, you get 30,600 catalog items. We are a major expansion to Wikipedia. We start where they stop."
Any online marketplace that wants to attract buyers of collectibles away from eBay has to give them the range of tools they need to build, manage, and sell their own collections, he says. "What is unique about our market sector is that buyers of collectibles are also collectors. They love what we offer: unlimited research opportunities, collection management tools, a wish list, and ways to showcase one's collection."
Accordingly, when you search through the HobbyDB database, you find page after page of information. You might search for a particular model car, but along with its photo and description, you get access to secondary information such as related models, the make, other colors, and which members have the same item in their collections.
Enthusiasts are encouraged to upload photos and descriptions of their collections so they can show them off in a visual catalog without any items necessarily being up for sale.
Because correct facts and figures are essential to valuing collectibles, several dozen curators have volunteered to review information for accuracy. Curators are also able to add detail to pages. The exposure promotes them as authorities in their fields and helps them sell content such as books.
When we spoke in late February, HobbyDB had 50-60 sellers. The site does not charge sellers to sell or list items. When an item is sold, says Braun, "we function as an escrow service like Amazon. You tell us how you want to ship the item. When we get your payment we send 90 percent to you and keep 10 percent. Out of the 10 percent, we pay PayPal's fees, so it effectively costs you 7 percent."
The emphasis on ease of selling is in contrast to eBay, which provides a "poor seller experience," he says. "While selling on eBay has become cheaper for many commodity sellers, it's made using the site to sell collectibles less efficient and enjoyable." Online sellers face challenges such as increases in postage costs and finding "alternative marketplaces" that cater to their needs. French collectibles seller Hadrien Baudelle says the marketplace allows him to make some extra money without having to sell full-time. "What I love most is how easy it is to list my items."
For prospective buyers as well as collectors, HobbyDB enables searching by year of manufacture as well as color and other qualities, some of which are specific to the type of item. For Pez dispensers, it is important to have an injection mold code, for instance, so those are provided.
As a repository of information about collectibles, HobbyDB has attracted some well-known names. Custom model car designer Chris Stangler has chosen the site to serve as the archive for all of his past and present work. Model car manufacturers Liberty Promotions and kidrobot have also moved their archives to the site.
To Braun, it's all part of making the site an indispensable resource for toy collectors. "We have an advisory board of 57 people, the VIPs of the collectible world, who help us with the taxonomy of collectibles," he says. "We want to educate people. What do they remember about the toy gun they had as a child? They remember the color and the number of bullets. You can search for the toy gun you had by searching for those characteristics. There's a page for whatever you collect, basically."
Seller Kirk Smith, owner of Arizona-based KMJ Diecast, moved his store from ChannelAdvisor to HobbyDB. He says he has increased his sales by 40 percent. At the time of this interview, he was selling an average of five items per day.
Those who want to sell on HobbyDB have access to a support team that will upload their inventory for them or move it from another site.
Braun describes the collectibles field as a $200 million market and still growing. The most significant change in recent years is the fact that collectibles are being sold on many more sites than in the past - another sign of dissatisfaction with eBay. "I think the market is still increasing," he says. "We have a great business, but more than that, we are creating a great resource for people."
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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