eBay Helps Lawyer Turn Hobby into $20 Million Business
By Greg Holden
Anyone who has struggled to make their business stand out from the crowd on eBay can learn a lot from Linda Lightman's example. Linda's Stuff is one of the biggest fashion sellers on eBay. As founder and CEO Lightman describes it: "What started as a hobby selling my kids' video games has grown into a $20 million plus business with over 100 employees in a 58,000 square foot office. It is 58,000 square feet of fashion and fun."
Lightman has her own ecommerce website at ShopLindasStuff.com, but her eBay Store is the core of her operation and accounts for 90 percent of her overall business. The store has a prominent presence on the eBay marketplace, holding plenty of promotions - and advertising its consignment services on its home page.
How does she do it? One factor is her own energy and enthusiasm for her business. And occasional help also comes from eBay itself, which has selected Linda's Stuff as one of its "managed accounts" - a designation we weren't familiar with before this article, but that helps businesses by providing them with guidance and assistance.
I'll examine each of these success factors in turn so you can determine how to adopt them for your own sales operation.
1) The Owner's Own Enthusiasm
Linda Lightman, a former labor/employment lawyer who lives in Pennsylvania, has loved what she does ever since starting to sell on eBay 15 years ago. A self-confessed "shopaholic," she expanded her business to incorporate her love for fashion and designer clothes.
She moved from a house where every inch of space was consumed by the business to progressively bigger warehouses and bigger staffs. She loves to talk about her store and is readily available to writers like me. "It excites me every day," she says.
2) Playing By the Rules
eBay sellers are aware of the site's restrictions on advertising external websites. Linda's Stuff does advertise - there is a link on its eBay Store home page to its consignment contract, for instance - but stays within the rules.
"I don't get special rates or treatment. eBay does have strict parameters about advertising and not linking your eBay site to an outside ecommerce site. We adhere to all eBay policies. I think eBay is equal in the way it deals with sellers. For instance, I don't have a phone number on my home page, but do have it on my consignment page. The link is to another part of my eBay Store. We did our graphics ourselves, in house. But Frootion (a UK-based web development firm and approved eBay provider that knows how to conform to eBay's policies) helped me develop the store. They know what is allowed and not allowed."
eBay spokesperson Ryan Moore told EcommerceBytes that working with Frootion or another approved vendor doesn't necessarily give a business better exposure and said any seller can hire the firm.
3) Running Promotions
One way Linda's Stuff gets exposure is by holding frequent promotions. At the time we spoke, a handbag sale was being held. "We will curate 671 handbags for the sale," says Lightman. Linda's Stuff has also partnered with Rue La La and sells new merchandise on Sears.com as well as its own ecommerce site. But eBay is by far its most profitable sales channel.
Although eBay does encourage Lightman to hold promotions such as the handbag sale, the curation and other effort involved in setting up such events is considerable, and eBay doesn't help with that, she emphasizes.
As eBay's Ryan Moore explained, "Linda is just one of thousands of eBay's managed accounts. As a managed account, she's invited to participate in special sales and events from time to time." (More on managed accounts below.)
4) Following Best Practices
Lightman and her staff put in a lot of effort to create a "great buying experience" for customers. She, like other eBay sellers, sometimes finds it challenging to keep up with eBay's rules and ratings systems for sellers. But she does offer free shipping and does ship out the same day orders are received.
Linda's Stuff also takes pains to authenticate high-end, designer fashion items to avoid fraud, another big concern on eBay. She suggests working with reputable authenticators such as My Poupette and CarolDiva.com. Such firms sometimes use detailed photos to evaluate merchandise, but sometimes individual items need to be sent to them for inspection.
5) Earning eBay's Managed Account Designation
As eBay's Ryan Moore explained, a business that plays by the rules, grows in size and quality of inventory, and observes eBay's policies can be chosen as a "Managed Account."
"We have a dedicated merchant development team that works with thousands of merchants," he explained. "This team provides guidance on short-term and long-term growth strategies, new product offerings (i.e. GSP) and account management. eBay's managed accounts are composed of sellers that bring unique, high-quality and/or vast inventory to the eBay platform. Any eBay seller can grow and be considered to become a managed account, but to become a managed seller is by invitation at eBay's discretion."
All these factors combine to bring Linda's Stuff customers from around the world. At least 35 percent of that business is international.
"Businesses come to us now," says Lightman. She advises sellers to "take baby steps" when it comes to growing a business and improving marketing. "Don't start a business until you're ready," she says. "Know what you're doing. For me it was fashion. Love what you do. If you take your time and do your research, and want to create that good buying experience for the buyer, you'll do well."
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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