Eight months ago, Mike Hardy had just left his job of four years at a Steamboat restaurant. It was mud season, and he was playing on eBay, trying to sell a small piece of precious metal a friend had given him. Today, he's spending all his days on eBay and has opened a downtown storefront to house his business, Just Sell It.
"I'm all in," Hardy said, borrowing a poker term. "I started out with a little bar of silver and sold it for $7.90. I'm like, wow! I started buying coins."
As Hardy became savvy to the online auction game, he began buying and selling for profit and transitioned into selling on behalf of clients from his home. But he felt that to broaden his network, he needed a storefront.
Hardy has sold a Hammond organ, a construction crane and a pickup truck at the world's largest Internet auction site on behalf of his clients. Most of the sale items he takes are much smaller, such as antique sewing machines. In return for his services, he collects an up-front fee that adjusts with the estimated value of the item, and a percentage-based commission on the back end.
Hardy recently accepted a dozen 1940s-era catalogs advertising everything from electrical supplies to sporting goods. The owner wants $100 for 10 of the catalogs. Another person brought in a rare East Lake baby crib from the late 19th century that should bring in antique furniture prices (some East Lake furniture can be found on eBay and is listed for thousands of dollars, but the crib isn't safe by modern standards). But he's just as happy to accept everyday items -- old cell phones, camera equipment, tools -- whatever you have in your garage.
Hardy is tapping into a nationwide trend. In Southern California, franchisers are helping entrepreneurs open traditional brick-and-mortar locations for the worldwide bazaar that demands only that buyers and sellers own a personal computer and a phone line.
The business idea may sound counterintuitive at first, but Hardy and others like him are building their businesses on clients who are technologically challenged, fearful of the online auction or simply don't think they have the time to learn how to use eBay effectively.
Hardy chose well when he signed the lease for his store at 401-A Lincoln Ave. (entrance on Fourth Street across from the F-Stop). His entrance is directly opposite that of the Family Barber Shop. Anyone coming to see Ken and Jane Shovick for a haircut gets a good look at Hardy's shop on their way out. That, in turn, leads to the inevitable -- the possibility that they might have something of value to sell up in the attic or out in the machine shed. Just don't ever suggest to Ken that he sell his antique barber chair on eBay.
The up-front cost of selling something on eBay through Hardy can be as low as $3.49, as long as you're willing to sell, no matter how low the highest offer is. He slides his up-front fee higher as clients establish higher minimum sell prices. In the end, his pricing structure results in him taking about 35 percent of every sale as his fee.
In exchange for their up-front money, sellers get seven days of exposure to eBay's many millions of potential customers.
In return, Hardy says, he takes care of all of the hassles, including making certain he and his client get paid. Hardy adds that he will test to ensure everything on the sale item works and authenticate that name-brand goods are what they seem to be.
Hardy maintains a small photo studio so he can efficiently photograph the sale items for display on the Internet. He knows how to do research to obtain important details that allow him to write an effective sales listing.
It might seem obvious, but choosing the right keywords for search and the appropriate product category are keys to selling on eBay.
When an item sells, Hardy takes care of the chore of packing and shipping the item. He never ships the item until the money is received, which often happens through a credit card or PayPal transaction.
Hardy has a strong motivation to do his job well -- eBay posts the track record of all of its sellers at their sales sites. It's the No. 1 way buyers have to gauge the reliability of the seller.
In 12 months, eBay reports, Hardy's transactions have generated 216 positive comments and just three negative comments. He says the negative remarks resulted when he didn't clearly understand the payment instructions for some items he purchased. The seller zinged him with some unfavorable remarks. Still, the seller comments help to keep everyone honest.
That doesn't mean people cannot get burned on eBay. Hardy said he purchased a pallet of home appliances, microwaves among them, and discovered that none of them are in working condition. He's still trying to recover his money, and the seller is still selling on eBay.
Hardy says he can take the risk out of eBay for his clients. He welcomes the merely curious to stop by. Or call him at 870-3208.
The biggest mistake most first-time eBay sellers make?
"They over value their stuff," Hardy said.
Sure, there is the occasional auction item that attracts eager buyers willing to bid up the price. But most of the time, people are looking for bargains. The seller who is willing to let go of things for a bargain price can generate some cash flow.