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How I Choose Where & What to Buy and Sell for Inventory - Make Money on eBay With Used Hallmark Christmas Ornaments
My eBay Store
What to sell
Other hubs in this series:
This last phase of my eBay series revolves around how I find things to sell, and how to sell them. I've deliberately skipped over signing up for eBay, and auction entry. eBay changes so often, it's a bit pointless to write anything that detailed.
Here's my eBay store, Dixiebelle31 Auctions (named for my wife). Now you can see I'm telling you really and truly what I do.
The question I get asked most often is "What do I sell?" Other questions are usually spinoffs... how do I get it, what do I pay... I'll try to answer that here. Maybe my experiences will help you find your own path.
There are plenty of different approaches. You can eBay just for fun, strictly for business, or a mixture. You can sell on eBay for yourself, for friends, or for anybody that makes it worth your while. You can sell things you've made, or things others provide. There are lots of options, and plenty of successful approaches. I don't claim to be an expert at all of them. I don't even claim to have the best approach. (If you want to study from the best, I very much recommend Skip McGrath's The Complete eBay Marketing System. I use it. I'll make a hub for it soon.)
How I Started
What I do have to offer is more than a decade of experience. I make a little over $1000 a month on eBay. Many people do better, but many don't. If you want to know how it works for me, keep reading.
I've been on eBay since 1999. Crewman.6 is my handle. I started buying, and got carried away. I thought maybe selling could be fun too, tried it, and enjoyed it. Some of the things that sell are amazing. One of my favorite auctions was the popcorn bucket and cup from Batman Begins. They were plastic, with lenticular images. They sold for enough to pay my ticket to the movie, and the popcorn and drink! Since then, eBay has become a business to me. I'll still sell just about anything, but it needs to be worth the time. When Monique and I married, part of the attraction was that she enjoyed eBay as well. Over time, we began using my eBay handle for fun, and hers for our eBay store. Her handle is Dixiebelle31. I got a business license, which is different from city to city, but not difficult. I report my eBay income, and turn in my state Sales and Use taxes monthly. I do things right so that later it won't come back to haunt me.
Here's the procedure that worked for me: I started off selling things I didn't need any more. Then I found local bargains and resold them. I love toys, so a great source for me was our local toy store. I'd grab nearly anything from the bargain bin, and resell it. Sometimes I'd make a small profit, but sometimes it would be a huge profit. I bought a fifty-cent figure from a cartoon, and it sold for $32. Unable to restrain my curiousity, I asked the buyer why it was so valuable. She didn't know about the other bidder, but for her, it was her son. They lived far from any stores, and he took a fancy to it. She was willing to spend that much as a treat to him. When you think about it, that tells you a lot. You don't have to find unknown treasures to make a profit. You just have to provide something someone else wants. That's a very important thought. So much so that I bolded and underlined it.
Sell Something Someone Wants
You see, I still sell anything I can get my hands on. A lot of my materials comes from yard sales. Monique's Mom has an extremely good eye for picking good things, and we do fairly well from that. But our bread and butter is a niche that would never have occurred to me originally. I met a gentleman who had inherited his brother's Hallmark Christmas Ornament collection. He had about a thousand ornaments, all sitting in his garage, and was trying to sell them. I recommended eBay, but it was too much effort for him. Pooling all my money, I made him an offer. It was almost insultingly low. I told him if he said "No" we'd still be friends, but that was the best I could do. He accepted. At that price I wasn't going to lose money, but didn't realize how extremely well it was going to do. DIxiebelle31's Vintage and lightly used Hallmark Christmas Ornaments became our unofficial rallying point.
Now we come back to it... You just have to provide something someone else wants. I'm not selling brand new Hallmark ornaments. I'm not selling perfectly preserved up-priced collectible ornaments. I sell used vintage Hallmark Christmas ornaments. Most are in very nice shape and have been lovingly used. Some truly are unused, but some have been seriously abused. I try to be very thorough in my descriptions. I charge enough to pay for our supplies, and make a fair profit. My shipping fees are cut very close to the bone. (Some people still complain, but I normally print my shipping costs on the label, so they can see what I actually paid.)
Inventory and supplies take up lots of space!
What I look for in a Niche
Lets say it again - Provide something someone wants. My lightly used vintage Hallmark ornaments are nice, but affordable. There's something for every taste, a theme for every collector. Appropriate gifts for nearly any profession, or family member. In this tougher economy, it's been the perfect niche. Did I get lucky? You bet. It sort of fell in my lap. Then the work began. Monique and I work at it together. Usually, I take pictures, and she lists auctions. We both pack. Maintaining a variety of boxes, clear vinyl bags, shipping tape, peanuts, bubble wrap, printer supplies, all takes a lot of time. If you're looking for a good source, we get our boxes from Uline, and the rest from wherever the best deal is. We make every effort to ensure happy customers and try to keep very high ratings. We never get enough done in a single day, but constantly work at it. Some days I'll help list auctions on eBay. Some days she takes pictures with me. It's not all about listing, there's a lot of background work. Our profit margin is... marginal, sometimes. But it's a niche we both enjoy. That helps a lot.
So far as it went, my initial 1,000 Hallmark Christmas ornaments was a great start, but seemed doomed to failure. After all, they don't have a factory that produces vintage ornaments. I worried we'd run out, and it would all be over. Actually, it's pretty easy to find more. People list them in newspapers, online, by word of mouth. Occasionally someone would expect to retire on the sale of their Christmas ornaments... but that's not realistic. If they won't agree to a price that I can afford, I nicely thank them for their time, and move on. It's an emotional connection, and reality can be very harsh when people get emotional. Never tell someone they want more than it's worth. It's much kinder to just say "That's more than I can afford." If you don't burn your bridges, there's still a chance they may rethink it and call back another time.
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Dollars and Sense - Bring it all together
Let's name some figures. General procedures can be useful, but if you can't relate it to dollars, how do you know if it'll work for you? As I said, I usually make over $1,000 per month. Most of our Christmas ornaments sell for around $10.00 each. Some more, some less. When I buy a collection, there's not a huge profit involved. I can usually only offer around $1.00 - $2.00 per ornament, depending on several variables. But I buy collections of thousands of ornaments, and usually have to pay several hundreds in shipping as well. It may not be much per item, but when someone wants a lump sum for their entire collection they're often quite pleased with the total amount. Remember, I don't target the "perfect, pristine collectibles." I aim at the more affordable collections to keep my re-sell prices low.
When I get a Christmas ornament, it usually follows a set path.
- Unique picture, because each one has been opened and the condition can vary.
- List as an auction. We use a premade template, and fill in the unique information. Speeds things up a lot.
- If it doesn't sell on the first try, we'll usually drop the price a bit and try again.
- If it's still here, we list it in our eBay store for a couple of months.
- After that, we list it on a different venue. I like eCrater, because they have no listing fees.
- From this point, we might list it as part of a lot, or sell in a garage sale, which is where most items wind up that don't originally sell.
Off topic a bit - if you have a collection, have read the above, and are wondering if I'll buy it... contact me. Chances are I'll be very interested. Leave a comment below, or use the eBay store (link above) to contact Dixiebelle31.
I still sell everything else I can. But now you know I make most of my eBay money by selling Hallmark Christmas ornaments. It doesn't end there, of course. There are other venues, and ways to supplement. With eBay constantly changing, it seems to be less and less friendly to sellers. The general feeling among powersellers is that you should diversify. I'm exploring other options - hubpages, for instance :^)
I'm trying eCrater, and Atomic Mall. If I learn anything from them, I'll probably be back with another hub about that. I'm also blogging. There's a lot to learn, and many paths to follow. I haven't explored Amazon storefronts yet. It's a big world out there. eBay is still the surest, fastest way to make money online for me though, and selling used Hallmark Christmas ornaments has been a wonderful niche.
Below is a special video treat- The Hallmark Museum! It's fun to see, and gives you some ideas about stock. Be careful when buying, though. It's been my experience that the only people who quote "Collectors" prices are people who are trying to sell their collection. Nobody wants to pay that price when they're buying from you, and you need some room for a profit or you'll soon be out of business!
The Hallmark Museum
Since I wrote this hub, much has changed in the world, in the online markeplace, and how ebay functions. Monique and I did very well from selling Vintage Hallmark Ornaments for several years, but somewhere along the way the demand has diminished. We still sell on eBay, and it still nicely supplements our income, but we're not emphasizing eBay as much as we used to. Times change, and perhaps in the future we'll spend more time on eBay. For now, we're keeping eBay active, but at a lower level while we pursue other venues.
I still feel like eBay is the fastest way online to immediately begin making money. I just think it should be part of a balanced approach, not the end-all and cure-all that it used to be.