BiggerPockets Business Podcast 04: Building a 6-Figure Business Buying and Selling Items Online with Bill and Maida Webster

by | BiggerPockets.com

What does it take to jumpstart your own ecommerce operation right from your home?

That’s the topic of today’s show with Bill and Maida Webster, a “retired” Connecticut couple who launched second careers as eBay sellers in the early 2000s. They came to love the wheeling and dealing—and soon realized the earnings would allow them to avoid dipping into their retirement savings.

As Maida says, “eBay (literally) floats our boat!”

You’ll learn Bill and Maida’s tips for researching comparable sales online and hear how they routinely sell items for as much as 6x the purchase price. They reveal how they source their niche products locally, then market them internationally to create bidding wars (Chinese buyers bidding on a sunglasses case?!).

You won’t want to miss Bill and Maida’s story about how they helped an heir to a famous Hollywood couple by selling their belongings on consignment… OR their story about trying to figure out what to do with a U-Haul truck filled with antique dolls.

Bill and Maida also reflect on working together as a married couple, and how they divide up their responsibilities (and physical workspaces) to avoid driving each other crazy. J and Carol can relate!

This is an entertaining and insightful show that will inspire you to start looking around the house for items to sell. Whether it’s Amazon, Facebook, Craigslist, eBay, or another platform, if you’re looking to create a new income stream by buying and selling online, this episode is a perfect starting point. If you enjoy the episode, make sure you’re subscribed so you won’t miss an episode!

Click here to listen on iTunes.

Listen to the Podcast Here

Read the Transcript Here

Welcome to the BiggerPockets Business Podcast show number four.

Maida: It looked to me like Chinese embroidery, beautiful condition and I thought maybe this is the kind of stuff you could buy in Chinatown. It was nine pieces. I put it up with three auctions of three pieces each for $50 to say let me see where it goes. That would have been $150 on a $10 investment. Would have been thrilled with it. Sold for $1,400.

J: Wow.

Welcome to a real-world MBA from the school of hard knocks where entrepreneurs reveal what it really takes to make it. Whether you’re already in business or you’re on your way there. This show is for you, this is BiggerPockets Business.

J: Hey there everybody. I am J Scott, your cohost for the BiggerPockets Business Podcast and I am here with my lovely wife, Carol Scott. How are you doing Carol?

Carol: Awesome honey. I got to tell you, your brows looked phenomenal today.

J: Oh my eyebrows.

Carol: Yes.

J: Thank you for noticing.

Carol: Yes, they look so so good. People, the only reason I’m mentioning J’s eyebrows is get this so this is I think a great example of supporting other new businesses as well as marketing your business really well. We came out of getting ice cream with the kids the other day and we’re walking back to the car and this woman runs up to me from behind and says, “Excuse me, excuse me, we just started this new eyebrow waxing company and so will you please come next door and we’re going to wax your eyebrows for free.” I said, “Absolutely and put my husband in the chair next to.”

Of course we didn’t let them do it for free. We paid them, but the point of that story is always support new people who are out there hustling and starting new businesses and if you’re the business owner a really good idea about getting your marketing out there is to offer up services and then let word-of-mouth spread about that awesome service. Nice brows, nice story to start today’s episode.

J: Thank you and here’s my one tip. Try not to cry the first time they are waxing your eyebrows. Wow, that hurt. Okay, we have awesome show today.

We have a couple named Bill and Maida Webster. They’re retired and they spent their lives in the business world so Maida was a psychiatrist and Bill was a chief information officer at a big company and when they retired they fell into starting their own eBay business. Now, you might think eh eBay business, buying and selling a couple things are great, but they built a big business on eBay. They currently have over 2,500 items in their eBay store and they’re going to talk all about how you start a business online buying and selling.

They’re specific to eBay, but this show really applies to anybody that wants to start business selling on Amazon or Craigslist or any other place online. They’re going to tell us all about how they built their business, how they scaled their business. They’re going to tell us the importance of doing research and how really focusing on one particular niche allowed them to grow their business.

Carol: Also, I really love how our guest explained that this is a type of business that absolutely anybody and we’re talking anybody can do and specifically if you want to start a business with your husband or wife, if you want to do something together, they’re going to tell you about how to go about doing it without killing each other. Before we get to the show, if you like this episode, please make sure you subscribe to our show. Leave us a rating and review. You can do it right from your phone and it just takes like 30 seconds so please do it. It completely helps us out. Also, we want you. Yes, you to be a guest on this show so if you started a business or you’ve played a major role in some type of business venture or you know someone who has, here’s the link to apply. You just need to go to a BiggerPockets.com/guest. That’s BiggerPockets.com/guest and fill out the short form. Before we bring in Bill and Maida, let’s hear a word from today’s show sponsor.

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J: Please go out and support our sponsor. Now without any further ado, let’s bring on Bill and Maida Webster.

Carol: Maida, Bill hi. Thank you so much for being here with us today.

Maida: Thanks for having us.

J: Our pleasure.

Maida: We’re looking forward to it.

Carol: This is so exciting. I’ve got to tell you, this is especially exciting for J and me because we actually met a million years ago when we were both working at eBay.

Maida: Oh I love that.

Carol: Right.

Maida: That’s very romantic.

Carol: Isn’t that the cutest thing ever?

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Yes, we were. We were at eBay. There was a Starbucks right on campus. We ended up meeting and here we are, all these years later, living happily ever after so when we found out that we were going to be able to talk to you about your awesome eBay business. It was really near and dear to our hearts so thank you so much for joining us.

Maida: That’s a fabulous story. Great.

Carol: Thank you. We’re going to talk a lot about your eBay business specifically, but we’re also going to talk about how what you do is relevant for anybody that’s thinking about starting any type of e-commerce business whether they’re selling on Facebook groups. Whether they’re selling on Amazon or anything e-commerce wise because we think a lot of those principles really apply to anything that’s online and e-commerce and I think it’s also really cool that it sounds like you started your business back when e-commerce was really a growing/budding thing and you’ve been able to move through all these technological changes and grow your business along with it so we’re going to talk a lot about those things. Does that sound good?

Maida: Absolutely.

J: Great.

Carol: Wonderful. Wonderful. Maida and Bill, if I remember correctly you had some longtime careers right? Maida you were a family therapist I believe. Bill, you are a chief information officer in a pharmaceutical company so you had these big long years and you’re getting ready for retirement and a lot of people I think getting ready for retirement are ready to sit back and chill out and take some tome off, but not you two. You’ve got your entrepreneurial spirit going and you said you we’re going to do something different so talk to us about how that happened.

Maida: Well, we both retired in our 60s. I don’t know if you want our age, but I’m 75 and Bill is 77.

Carol: Awesome.

Maida: We have been doing this for 12-13 years and we hope to be living a very long life and retiring in your 60s, there’s only so much you can do of leisure time and neither one of us was interested in having to keep searching for something that would fill a day. We wanted to do something that was exciting, that we both found compelling. We wanted to do something that’s somewhat of service, which this is. This is the ultimate business in going green.

You are recycling things from a hundred years ago to 20 years ago and we just found it is very innovating. The fact that we could make great extra money on the side just meant that for our second careers, there was nothing more fun that we could be doing. The fact that both of us like it, if only one of us had liked it we would have been in trouble so.

Carol: I love it. That’s so fun.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: I have to ask the question out. I think we’ll get back to this. Did you ever throughout your careers doing your separate things and being so involved in that think that the two of you end up being together 24/7 in the same house working on stuff together?

Maida: Never.

Carol: Crazy how that works. So crazy.

J: Maida, Bill you guys have built a really big eBay business, but with every business there’s going to always be that first sale or that first customer. Can you talk about the first item that you ever bought or sold on eBay?

Maida: Oh I can definitely tell you about the first item I bought. My name is very unusual and I never knew anybody with that name and when I—in the 50s I had and aunt who got me a series of books that were called Maida’s Little Lighthouse, Maida’s Little Home, Maida’s Little Hospital. Very much like the Bobsy Twins, but you’re too young to even know about them. My mother like all of our mothers threw them all away and cut ahead to my 40th birthday and my friends who all knew how much I loved these books went searching to find them in every antique bookstore. They found one out of the series a 15 and it cost $100. In 1998, a friend came over and said have you heard of eBay? I said no, what is it? She said you can find anything. I went to my computer. I typed in Maida’s Little Book and up popped 11 of the 15 in the series for four bucks a book.

Carol: Wow.

Maida: Within five minutes I had my entire series nearly filled up and I was out of my mind with excitement. I thought if they can have my Maida book that we have spent 40 years looking for, this is the place for me. I wanted to start selling that, but my family was a little bit reluctant. We finally got to that in 2003.

J: That’s one of the cool things about eBay so for anybody that sells or even buys on the Internet, they know that there are different places you go for different types of items. If you want to buy brand-new stuff, you’re probably starting at Amazon.com. If you want to buy local stuff or large things like furniture, Craigslist is always a popular place, but eBay has always kind of been known for that place to buy and sell collectibles and things that are used or a little bit more rare. I assume when you got into selling on eBay that was kind of the niche that you started on. Do you remember the first item that is so on eBay?

Bill: When Maida’s mother passed away. She had a lot of nice glassware, paintings, stuff like that that weren’t to our taste, but were worth money. We’ve been buying on eBay for a while and decided well let’s try to sell something. I’m telling you when I think it was a piece of glass or a piece of art. When you sell something on eBay, you get hooked immediately. Somebody is sending you money.

Maida: About a year after that, one of Bill’s aunts passed away who had this extraordinary, weird, but extraordinary collection of a thousand dolls.

Carol: Whoah.

Maida: From the 1950s and 1970s. She bought them all at flea markets for a buck. They were still sitting in brown paper bags in her basement and when they were told they were going to donate these to Goodwill, Bill jumped on an airplane. Got out to Ohio, rented truck and brought me home a thousand dolls.

Carol: Oh my goodness.

Maida: I knew nothing about dolls. I bought a series of books. Every night I’d get into the bathtub and read about a different kind of doll and at the end of that year, I had sold a thousand of these dolls and it was like getting a PhD in vintage dolls because she had the most amazing, interesting dolls that we can’t even figure out how she ever found six dolls in the world. She had one of them there so at the end of the year.

Carol: Wow.

Maida: We really became known as vintage toy and doll people. It really is what launched the business hugely then.

Carol: That is, that’s just fascinating.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: I love that that you had this opportunity right. One quick question, how much space in a truck do a thousand dolls take up? I’m trying to get my head around that. That’s huge.

Bill: It was most over in black plastic bags or at least that’s how we packed them up. Most of them weren’t in boxes so they didn’t take up extra space.

Carol: Okay.

Bill: We rented a fairly big U-Haul. It took about half of it.

Carol: Oh my gosh.

Maida: Then we just put them in the garage and I every day would go out and take a box and start researching. Until eventually.

Carol: Incredible.

Maida: The garage. Yes.

Carol: Incredible. I love how you made it your mission to research everything you possibly could. Right you weren’t just like oh I’m going to throw this on eBay and see.

Maida: No. No.

Carol: I think a lot of sellers, first-time sellers, they make that mistake right? They just kind of see what other stuff might be selling for and just throw it out there and see what happens. You took I totally different approach. You’re like I’m going to learn everything I can, become really knowledgeable. Frankly, kind of get a PhD and I would say that’s really important in any business that you’re growing right? Just learn everything you can because there’s so much, there’s just so much available out there that you can learn everything that you need to know. That’s how you started buying and selling online. What advice would you give to anybody else out there who might want to start an online selling business.

Maida: Well, I actually hate going to stores now and I think all of this year I don’t remember all the details of the statistics, but so much online retail is taking so much business away from malls and local stores. I think it’s a very exciting skill that everybody at different ages should be able to do. As seniors, it’s a ball to have something we love and have extra income. For college kids, who need to supplement money, there—we’re in some major Facebook groups that we can talk about later, but there are families that are being supported because their breadwinner lost their job due to downsizing or due to you know everything going on with capricious people being let go.

The abilities as an entrepreneur to be able to know that you can generate enough money for whatever your goal is whether it’s your car payment, whether it’s college, whether it’s for us we had a boat for 15 years that we would live on every summer and we used to say eBay keeps our boat a float. I think it’s a skill I want we have five teenage granddaughters. I want all of them to know how to do this in case there’s ever a time in your life when you don’t want to be dependent on working for somebody. You want to be able to generate some cash.

J: I love that. I love the fact that when you see a business kind of start serendipitously. You had a hobby, you were doing something you enjoy, buying and selling and then this opportunity came for you to kind of start to move from hobby to business. You got those thousand dolls. You did a lot of research so walk us through a little bit like what shifted both from a mindset standpoint and from an actual tactical creating a business between the time you like, you got those thousand dolls and you sold those and you said okay now we’re going to do this as a real business. We’re going to start to grow this.

Bill: Well, the by the way Maida didn’t mention it, but the key thing that drew her to eBay is she loves the research.

Carol: Oh.

Bill: Absolutely spends hours doing research and when she lists something she knows exactly what it is generally. Some things we never figure out what they are, but she just absolutely loves the research and I just want to go back for a second to the other question that was asked. The most important advice I can give from a business viewpoint when you start a business like eBay, you have to separate it from the rest of your life and the rest of your finances. You need a checking account, strictly business. You need a credit card to strictly business. You need to some kind of accounting software to help you and you need some way of tracking your inventory, which was the mistake we made initially.

We got so much inventory we didn’t really have a good way to track it. Even if you’re just starting small, you got to develop some kind of inventory systems so when somebody buys something, you can find it. With 2,500 items in our store right now, I’m the only one that knows where everything is. That’s because I keep things with category and I’ve been in the inventory a lot. A bin system, some more numbering system is a much better way of doing it. That would be my advice to anyone that’s starting eBay business even if they’re starting on a very small scale.

J: That’s great advice. Treat your business like a business.

Carol: Yes.

J: And the nice thing is when you start thinking about it this way.

Carol: Yes.

J: Even if it’s still a hobby it lets you transition because your mindset has now transitioned that this thing that you’re doing it’s no longer in your mind a hobby. You’ve separated it from the rest of your life and you’re thinking about it as a separate entity.

Bill: Right.

J: Even if it’s small like you said Bill, even if it’s really really small, this mindset shift and the tactical aspects of separating will allow you to start to grow and think about it in different terms.

Maida: I think also in our case we didn’t have children, our young children living in a house when we did this, but if you don’t think of this as a business, the family will not respect the time when you’re sitting in your office. It looks like you’re just doing nothing, but people and friends need to respect the time that you’re doing that this is really your job. Because you’re in pajamas, sitting in your bedroom or sitting in your eBay office and if you don’t view that this is actually your new job then the rest of the people around you will not be supportive.

J: That’s great.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Excellent so I want to talk about scaling your business, but I want to jump backwards just a tiny bit. Bill, you had mentioned that Maida really loves to research everything right? I would like to know what different skill sets in addition to Maida’s research that each of you have that maybe you had in your past careers or that you just come naturally to that you are able to put to work in the new business and how they complement each other rather than the two of you kind of tripping over each other.

Bill: Well, for my side I was in the computer industry since about 1966. If you can imagine that.

Carol: Wow.

Bill: I was there sort of the first day when big computers were being used big time in business and then the small PCs got introduced. From that, in the computer business things change every day. You have to constantly be on your toes for changes and by doing that and always updating your skills, you develope a tremendous respect for research and how these are in your memory and how you continue to learn and learn and learn. It’s just from research. From Maida’s viewpoint I think being a marriage counselor where she digs into people’s lives all of her career probably was a key to her research.

Maida: I also will say I personally hate the concept of packing and shipping. If that was on my side of the agenda, this business would be long close. I know that’s ridiculous because so many people do it. I find it very frustrating. Phil is an engineer by training and he loves the challenge of looking at each new item because we rarely sell the same thing twice and figuring out the best way to ship and pack it. I am eternally grateful that he finds that interesting because for me that would be, I like the more of the photography, the research, the writing up, the more creative pieces of it.

He has enormous technical skills, but I should add we don’t see each other most of the day. We have two offices and Bill has a secondary area in addition his main office that’s where all the inventory and shipping are. We are in the house, but I think what saves us is we are each wanting our own independent side of the business and we don’t even meet for lunch. He takes care of his lunch. I take care of my lunch. The only thing we do together is we go out sourcing to find the inventory. Each are wanting our own separate part of the business and I am so grateful for that because I think that’s what makes it so much fun.

J: I think you hit the nail on the head. I mean partnerships are best when the two partners don’t have a lot of stuff in common or don’t have everything in common. They each have their separate set of skills. They each have their separate set of expertise. They each have their separate sets of interests and so that’s what makes a great partnership between the two of them or three of them or four of them. They come together as this whole entity. I think a lot of people assume that being a partner with your spouse is easier than being a partner with some other random person, but in our experience and Carol and I has been partnering for over a decade as well.

Carol: Yes.

J: In our experience, being a partner with your spouse is actually more difficult because a lot of times you’re very, you have some things very much in common with your spouse and that makes a partnership more difficult and it also makes it more difficult to get away from that person at the end of the day. You can’t go home from your office and say, “Okay I need a break from this partner that I’ve been with for eight or 10 hours.” Instead, you leave the office and now you’re back with that partner for another 20 hours.

Maida: You have to have separate offices. I know you said you’re moving and that might not be possible, but I would throw whatever money I could to make that possible. Truly, we, the whole day we will go along and we don’t see each other. The convenience of having to be living and going to the same bedroom with your partner means if some question comes up from somebody who is asking about an item I can just walk over and say to him could you go check this out? I don’t remember if it’s three inches deep or two inches deep. It’s the most convenient way to run a business, but separate the offices I highly recommend for the team.

Carol: Excellent tip. Excellent tip

Bill: The segregation of duties is important also. I do all the packing and shipping, tax work, accounting, and.

J: Technical.

Bill: Taking care of shipping supplies and stuff like that. That really, I mean I do some listing. You know I like electric trains. I like some electronic gear so whenever I find things that interest me, I do those photos and list it myself also.

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Take us through how you started to scale your business so you decided one day that we’re going to do this as more than just as hobby. We’re going to grow this and so did you go out and start finding inventory that you purchase online and resold it? Did you go to estate sales? Did you do consignment and take items from other people and sell for other people? What did you do to start growing your business?

Maida: All of the above.

J: Okay.

Maida: We start, we are not early birds. We don’t get here in Connecticut for tax sales. People start lining up at six in the morning so that’s not our cup of tea, but short of that we went we got a local estate sales later. Mostly, there are a lot of auction houses here and we would go to live auctions and we made it a point of going to weekly auction. I also went to find new inventory, but at the time when we were selling dolls and toys I went to the gift fair at the Javits Center and I went to the toy fair at the Javits Center and found modern dolls and modern toys that had good synergy with our vintage toys and dolls. That became a big part of the business. Consignment has been a really fun part because about six years ago we were commissioned by the daughter of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, Lucy Arnaz who is an actress and singer commissioned us the sell her personal I love Lucy Memorabilia and that just.

Carol: Wow.

Maida: Was the most extraordinary experience. We’ve done it twice for her. It really put us on the map in terms of credibility and it was the most fun experience you could have. We sat here with Lucille Ball’s bed jacket and pieces of cake from her wedding and fur coats and so I love consignment. That will never be topped, but we do take consignment from other people certainly.

J: Got it. Just to, for our listeners out there that aren’t familiar with consignment. That’s basically, you find other people that want to sell stuff. They allow you to sell their stuff and then you take a cut of the revenue that’s generated.

Maida: Yes. It’s not the, our favorite thing to be doing other than obviously the I Love Lucy things because I would much rather go into somebody’s house who maybe thinks they want to do consignment and say what would you want for us to just buy all of this out right.

J: Got it.

Maida: We buy it outright then we can take our time and we can do the research so I much prefer that. We don’t take a lot of consignment now.

Carol: Got it. I would like to touch more on the the Lucy Arnaz.

Maida: Sure.

Carol: That’s the correct name right?

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Okay great. Lucy Arnaz memorabilia that you were commissioned to sell. I read in one of your articles, which I think is just fascinating and correct me if I’m misrepresenting that maybe their daughter had been working with a larger auction house and they weren’t necessarily pleased with the service and so on they were getting. Tell us a little bit more why they ended up going with you in choosing you. What’s your special sauce that made them know that you were the right person for the job?

Maida: She did not have a good experience with and I will not name with the local. I mean a New York auction house that somehow was not quite comprehending the amount of fan base that I Love Lucy has around the world. EBay is you know international and they did not treat her well and did not do a great job. I had met her personally here in Connecticut and we sat and we talked and I felt very strongly that eBay is the place where her fans with very deep pockets. When I say deep pockets, things we thought were going to sell for $500, sold for $5,000.

Carol: Whoah.

Maida: These fans would be really comfortable on eBay. They would not be really comfortable going to what Lucy would call a hoity-toity auction house in New York and so it was a wonderful decision. We had an estimate to how we thought it would go. We did triple what we thought it would be. It was extraordinary. For example, she had some fur coats, three fur coats that had I Love Lucy monogrammed in them and the auction house in New York said nobody’s buying used fur coats, which is usually true and told her that they might the worth three to $400 each. I said, “This is insane. This belongs to an icon.” We put them up and we got $1,400 for them.

Carol: You’ve got to be kidding me.

Maida: Oh my goodness. You have to be—and some of the people who bought were young people. People in their 20s who were such avid fans. People in California who bought I think $22,000 worth of things that he was setting up a little mini museum, but these were not older people. These are young people who loved the fact that this was made available on eBay. There was no other place that you could have done this. The main auction houses would never have gotten these people in. They wouldn’t have been comfortable registering, but we did a lot of media blitz and you know eBay was great. Griff was great. Griff put you know we did stuff on the radio and it was beyond our expectation so we did one round and then three years later when Lucy moved, we did a second round and I would take again in a minute if she had more. We still have about 50 things that are running, but all the main things sold immediately.

Carol: That’s amazing and it sounds like your ability again going back to other research in your knowledge about the market that rarely is out there as well as your unique ability to connect so well with people and just, it just worked together and make people work together to get the things they need, to find the things that meet their desires really made you the right person to do that job. Like you said, it exceeded your wildest expectations. You were able to really put your skills to use for that.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Great, great story.

Maida: That’s awesome. Yes.

Bill: In terms of the scaling of the business that you were talking about early on when we decided hey this is a business, we did ask in consulting help to talk to us about it. We decided we had to brand our store and we started writing a blog and Maida started using Pinterest to post stuff and link back to the—to eBay. We have you know done quite a bit in that area to bring customers in.

Maida: I will say social media has been for us. We’re sort of dinosaurs in this. That has been most challenging for us. You know my kids and my grandchildren, this is second nature. To us it’s been a little alien, but the difference in eBay today in 2019 is you must be present on social media and.

Carol: Yes.

Maida: That would be true if you’re selling on Etsy, if you’re selling on Amazon. If you’re doing any online business now. Facebook is an extraordinary opportunity that wasn’t here a number of years ago and we can talk about how that helps you. That’s all very very new and I think anybody doing online business needs to learn how to use those tools.

J: There are two things in your story that really stick out to me from a business standpoint. First, I love the fact that a lot of people think that if we’re going to start a business, you have to go big and so a lot of people I could imagine would think starting an eBay business means we have to sell in a thousand different categories, all different types of inventory. We need to be able two buy collectibles. We need to be able to buy furniture. We need to be able to buy this and that, but you guys have really shown that you can focus on one small category, one niche and you can still grow that tremendously well. Not only can you grow that, but sometimes by focusing on a small niche, you can build a great brand for yourself and allows you to grow a lot bigger than somebody who says I’m going to try and sell everybody or sell everything and be everything to everybody.

Maida: Yes, I think it was easier and before to have a niche. I sort of think now you need to just take the opportunity. We don’t do furniture because obviously we don’t.

J: Sure.

Maida: Want to ship furniture, but I think now luckily, collectibles is a huge umbrella and it can be art. It can be Disney. You know it could be vintage clothing. You know we can get a lot of umbrellas now and there are people that would say, if I can sell it and make money, I don’t care what it is. I’m going to sell it.

J: Yes.

Maida: We just ended up selling old vintage hairspray that had never been used. That was ridiculous. You couldn’t believe, you know how much those were going for. I would never in a million years have thought we would look at things like that before.

Carol: How much were those going for?

Maida: $40-$50 a can.

J: Wow.

Maida: Sometimes I think they’re used for props now. You know.

Carol: Wow.

Bill: Miss Breck.

Maida: Miss Breck, you know all the old things. It’s.

Carol: That is so cool.

Maida: It’s great fun. It’s great fun to say why would anybody buy that? Then you go and do the research.

J: Yes.

Maida: On completed listings and you go okay that’s going in my cart you know.

J: Yes.

Carol: That is so fun.

Maida: The other big mistake and I it’s on eBay. Not so much with Amazon. We do sell on Amazon. We sell a lot of our new things on Amazon. EBay is now, I believe 80% new items. We just had a talk from somebody. It’s not what they’re known for, but they actually collectibles is a very small part of the eBay business now. One of the issues that people have when they want to price their new item is they say well I just bought this for $50 and I went online and I see on eBay, people are asking $250 so wow I’m going to go for this. Then you say, but what did they actually sell for? Did you look in the left-hand column that shows you’ve completed sales and they’re selling for $1,199.

J: Right.

Maida: Anybody can ask anything on eBay and with real estate I think one of the examples that we’ve just read was when you’re going to price your house to sell in real estate somebody may think their house is worth a million dollars, but the realtor whose experienced says, “Your next-door neighbor and the one down the street just sold for $750.” That’s what it’s going to sell for. You can ask a million, you’re not, you’re going to get $750 and so it doesn’t matter what people ask and that’s probably one of the biggest mistakes new eBay sellers make. They don’t look at sold. They look at ask.

J: Yes, the market is never wrong. The market will always tell you what your item or.

Carol: That’s right.

J: Is worth.

Carol: Yes.

Bill: Nice.

Carol: The beauty of this is we have had things that we haven’t really been sure that I’ve researched and couldn’t find out and I didn’t think were valuable and the market found its place. Do you want me to tell you about one or?

J: Sure, please.

Carol: Absolutely.

Maida: We were in a local auction that sells box lots and the box lots are sort of wrapped up and you can’t see what’s in it and they’re $10. One was going for $10 and it looked like Chinese embroidery was inside and if you didn’t buy it they sometimes toss it in the garbage. I’ll take a chance for $10. It’s a cup of Starbucks coffee and we brought the box home and it looked to me like Chinese embroidery, an eyeglass case, a purse in beautiful condition and I thought maybe this is the kind of stuff you could buy in Chinatown. It was nine pieces. I put it up with three auctions of three pieces each for $50 say let me see where it goes. That would have been $150 on a $10 investment. Would have been cool.

Carol: Nice.

Maida: Would have been thrilled with it. Sold for $1,400.

J: Wow.

Maida: Because two bidders in China, two bidders in China were going after it. It turns out these were antique embroidery, silk embroidery. The two people in China knew what it was. For all I know it’s worth $20,000. I don’t know, but I got $1,400.

Carol: Too happy.

Maida: These items went back to China, which made me very very happy because they clearly were antique, Chinese embroidery work. I had no idea so eBay by running things at auction, if you don’t know what things are the collectors will find them usually.

J: That’s great. That’s great. I want to get into something a little bit more tactical so at this point you mentioned earlier that you currently have 2,500 items in your eBay store. That means that you’re probably spending a whole lot of time listing items because when you list an item it takes a lot of work.

You have to take pictures, you have to upload pictures, you have to write all the copy. You have to figure out what things are worth so people think yes, 2,500 that’s going to take a little while, but that takes a long time to get it to the point where every listing looks professional and then on the back end let’s say you sell 10 or 20 or 50 things this week or a hundred things this week. You have to ship those things. You have to package them up. You have to package them in a way that they’re not going to break. You have to print out labels. You have to get them to the post office or to UPS so can you talk a little bit about the systems that you have in place on both ends. Basically, how you get all of your things listed efficiently and then how you get things out the door efficiently once they’re purchased.

Bill: Why don’t you start out with.

Maida: Okay.

Bill: The listing and I’ll.

Maida: We first, you source the product and then we bring it home. Then it comes into my office and then I take the photograph, I do the research, I do the listing. Then I take the item and I give Bill’s office then Bill has his magical system in his head where he goes down to where we keep these 2,300 items and he stores it. Then when an item sells, he pulls it out, he packages it, he ships it, he takes it to the post office.

J: You’re doing all of this just between the two of you.

Maida: Yes.

J: There was a time a few years ago where we.

Carol: Wow.

J: Hired assistants to help with listing because I could not keep up with the amounts of things we had. I didn’t find that as useful as I wanted it to be, but we were happy to do it, but we don’t need that right now. Although, there’s a phrase that eBay uses, which is, “If it ain’t listed, it can’t sell.” I’m sure at this very moment we probably have three or 400 things that are sitting in various spots here that ain’t listed and are not going to sell until I get to it so I probably should hire somebody now.

Bill: From my perspective, another way of looking at it we have shipped, I personally have shipped 23,000 items.

Maida: Wow.

Carol: You on your own.

Bill: Yes, I do all of the shipping.

Maida: A hundred percent.

Bill: The way I deal with it is I set aside a time each day, usually in the morning and I have a staging area also. We list a lot of auctions. The auction stuff goes very close to my desk and my shipping supplies because that stuff is probably a percentage is not going to sell right away. I don’t bother taking it into the inventory area. When enough comes in that I need more space in my staging area then I’ll take a bunch of stuff, the older stuff and move in to the inventory area. Again, categorizing it, storing it by categories. You know all the shoes go together, all the model airplanes go together, and that kind of storage. It makes stuff easier to find for me, but we do have enough oddball items that they don’t go into category so. That causes somewhat of a problem.

Maida: Our goal is not to have 2,300 things running on eBay.

Bill: True.

Maida: That’s a lot of things. It’s.

Bill: There’s a lot of longtail items.

Maida: We have some things that sometimes have been running, I’m embarrassed to say for over two or three years and suddenly a buyer will come. We figure as long as we still have room in our basement inventory, we can do this. If we’ve sold 23,000 things and we have 2,300 here that’s a very tiny percentage of things we’ve put out that didn’t sell. It seems like an enormous number, but it’s 10%.

J: That’s amazing.

Maida: That means 90% is selling.

Carol: Wow.

J: Anybody out there who thinks that they have time to be hiring people and growing a business I think you’re living proof that with just one or two people you can accomplish a tremendous amount if you do things in a process focused fashion.

Bill: You remember, I’m an engineer. I was an industrial engineer. That’s very much into the work process and flow.

J: Do you guys have UPS and USPS coming a couple times a day?

Bill: Well.

J: To pick things up at your house.

Maida: That’s a sore spot. That’s what I would be doing, but my shipper prefers to go to the post office and sell.

Bill: I did. I don’t know how.

Carol: Darn that shipper.

Bill: You can talk to some people. I schmooze with the post office people. I sometimes get myself a candy bar as a reward.

Carol: Very well deserved. Very very well deserved. You’re talking a little bit about all of the different items you’ve sold and the volume of them. Can you tell us more about what kind of margins on eBay, like what is it? What for people you haven’t done this yet and might be interested in starting a business like this for themselves.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: You buy the item for X. It cost you X to list it or add features or whatever and then how much to for all the packing materials and the shipping materials and what kind of the numbers look like?

Maida: We don’t like selling for a small margin. What we’re trying to do is find and source more high-end items. I think our average selling price is $50 or $60.

Bill: I figured out the average selling price this morning were all 23,000 items. Our average selling price is $60 an item.

Maida: I would try to buy.

Bill: Which is quite high for eBay.

Carol: Yes.

Maida: I would try to buy it for $10.

Carol: Okay.

Maida: In my head, I don’t want to spend much more than $10 to $15 on something if I can’t get between $60 and a hundred dollars.

Bill: Wow.

Maida: That doesn’t happen all the time, but that’s my goal. Now, that said there are young people who are making a living going to Goodwill, buying vintage rock ‘n’ roll T-shirts at Goodwill for $399 and selling them all day long for $29.99.

Carol: No kidding.

Maida: That’s a different business model and it’s a great one. Anybody can do it. You just have to learn what a vintage T-shirt looks like. That’s not what our business model is. We’re trying to find rare or you know more difficult to find collectibles that we can have a much larger margin. I mean I really like my $10 selling for $1,400.

Bill: Yes.

Maida: I mean that yes. That’s a good margin.

Carol: I would say so.

Maida: I’m happy if I spend $10 and get $50 because with fees and shipping that’s that gives it enough of a margin.

Bill: On a $50 product, if you sell $50, about how much are you spending? Are you charging your buyers the shipping fee or are you covering the shipping fee? It’s basically just the eBay fee that’s coming out.

Maida: It’s eBay and PayPal. EBay and PayPal.

Bill: We’ve decided a long time ago there was no such thing as free shipping so eBay bills me for it every time I do it so we don’t have free shipping on 99% of our items. People with collectibles will not balk at the shipping.

Maida: However, eBay does recommend you do free shipping, but free shipping just means you’re adding it to the price of your item.

J: Sure.

Bill: With so many auctions then it’s really hard to do.

Maida: It just doesn’t happen to fit for us. They would give us higher visibility in search if we did do free shipping.

Carol: Interesting.

Maida: We sort of play around with that, but for us adding it to the price of the item doesn’t work as well as it does for having the shipping. It’s eBay and PayPal fees are about 15%.

J: Okay, so if I do my math correctly, we’re somewhere for every dollar in revenue you earn, for every dollar you sell, you’re keeping somewhere in the 70%-75% range. Your margins are probably somewhere in the 70% to 75% range.

J: Not including.

Bill: Well because of some of the shipping supplies and other stuff, I think it’s probably more down to 50% or 55%.

J: Oh okay. Okay, but that’s still healthy margins and.

Carol: Yes, yes.

J: Wow, that’s a great business.

Maida: Yes, yes.

Carol: Awesome business.

Maida: Yes and it’s something that anybody can learn how to do. On Facebook, there are now, which we did not have when we were starting. There are wonderful groups by run by friends of ours who are very responsible, who are beginners on eBay. There are groups for thrifters on eBay. I just bought four pieces of green glass at an auction for six dollars for the four pieces. I was able to identify with my own research two of them, but two of them I really just don’t know enough about antique glass. I went on to an antique glass identification bought on Facebook. Posted my photographs of these two pictures. Within 10 minutes, somebody had identified them for me and each one of these four things is worth $150 each so I just.

Bill: Would you like to see one? I have one here.

Maida: I just sold one last night.

J: Show me.

Maida: For $150 so Facebook now is a wonderful place for entrepreneurs who are trying to get knowledgeable. You know trying to learn something, which wasn’t available 10 years ago. This is a Victorian, don’t break it. Can you see it?

J: That’s beautiful.

Maida: This is a.

Carol: Ooh.

Maida: This is a centerpiece for flowers with a flower frog on it, with a very rare etching. I got it $1.50. A tall glass night for $150.

J: Wow. That’s amazing.

Bill: Have you seen the holes of the tops and the flowers.

Maida: What? But watch we’re going to break it right now while we’re.

Carol: No, you’re not. That is.

Maida: That’s one of the things where I take the concept of recycling things. When something has been around for a thousand, for a hundred years, not a thousand, a hundred years and we’ve stumble on it. I feel a responsibility to not break it and to find somebody who will love it and who will value it. Just because it’s old doesn’t mean it’s good, but when you find something that’s old that really is special. It’s very rewarding to have somebody else find that who was going to cherish it. That’s the part of connectibles, connecting you with your favorite collectible that makes me very happy.

Carol: That is just such a great headline. Can you and I think that’s such an important part of the business and why you’re just so into it and why you’re so successful at it is that it’s not just a moneymaking business, it really comes across that you truly full on love what you’re doing right.

Maida: Absolutely.

Carol: And that you love these great things you’re able to find for people. Do you have a story you like to share maybe about something that you did connect somebody with, a product of yours that they purchased where maybe they’ve reached out afterward or something that just like makes it so absolutely worth it.

Maida: Well certainly a lot of the people bought the Lucy things were over the moon. I mean they you know, they had watched the show. For me, it will be people who are writing to me. One was just a doll head. Just head of the doll that didn’t look particularly like anything and we got this amazing letter from a woman who said her brother threw her doll out the window when he was mad at her while they were driving a car. She was probably in her 50s and 60s and she has been searching for this doll head for entire adult life and she could not believe when she went on eBay and found we had the exact head of what she wanted.

She wrote just this wonderful wonderful story to us telling us about it. That kind of stuff is really fun where somebody is trying to complete a collection of something and they’ve been looking and looking and looking and you know because you’re online if you went looking like the Maida books if I had went—was in New York and went to every antique bookstore in New York maybe I would have found one book. EBay had all of them because it’s an international business and so you could sit with an item in a store and a storefront and the right customer will not find you. On online, whether it’s Amazon or Etsy or Craigslist, they can find you.

Carol: That is just so great.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: You’re just you’re doing all these great things that people get so excited about that they cherish these great finds. Just these things they never thought they would get so it’s really fulfilling in that way and it’s also providing you with an income so.

Maida: Absolutely.

Carol: I know earlier you said, you used to like keep your boat afloat, that type of thing. Roughly, can you give us a general idea if you’re comfortable with that like. How much money are you really making a year on eBay? I mean are you making, I’m not asking for specific number, but are you making five figures? Are you making six figures? Are you maybe become billionaires off of this or somewhere in between?

Maida: We are not becoming billionaires off of this. Sometimes we make six figures, sometimes we don’t. What we are able to do is to be able to use this additional income for things that as a retired couple is just a treat. It’s just a wonderful thing to be able to do extra, extra for us. We’re not supporting ourselves on it because gratefully we don’t need to, but there are retired people who are only on Social Security, which is not us, but there are retired people that this is a huge supplement to their income. As I said and there’s the younger people and there’s families that this really makes a significant difference. We’re very fortunate. For us, this is just fun extras.

J: Here’s the thing that sticks out at me. You, it’s clear that you love it.

Maida: Yes.

Bill: Oh yes.

Maida: Tell me what we would be doing if you weren’t doing this? Sometimes I wake up in the morning and I say what would we be doing? I could play canasta or mah-jongg or we could go you know go to a movie, but this is so much more fun and I think we’re also modeling for our five granddaughters.

Carol: That’s right.

Maida: And our kids that you can start a new career in your 60s and in your 70s and do something vibrant and they’re very very supportive and very proud of what we’re doing. That’s just an extra bonus.

Carol: It’s the icing on the cake.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: This is all so great. Now thank you.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: We’re going to move to the part of our show that we call Four More. Okay, you’re ready for this? This is a rapid fire quick four questions. We’re going to ask you four questions and you’re going to give us your quickest gut check answer. Ready?

Maida: Both of us or just one?

Carol: You choose, you choose, which one of you is going to answer.

Maida: Okay.

Carol: We’re going to ask you four questions.

Maida: Okay.

Carol: Then the more is going to be where we can get more information about you. You’re ready for number one?

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Okay, here we go. What was your first or your worst job and what lessons did you learn from it?

Bill: I used to deliver newspapers in the morning and it was the Cincinnati Inquirer, which was a morning newspaper so before I went to school I’d be up at the crack of dawn delivering papers when it was raining, when it was snowing, when it was everything else. That was a bad job, but I learned you could make money by doing these kinds of things. Put yourself out a little bit and when it was really bad, I had my dad drive me around.

J: That’s the, that’s the build character type of job.

Maida: That’s right. It sure is.

Bill: Absolutely.

Maida: Pays for the rent.

J: I think we might know the answer to this question because we already discussed it, but I want to see if maybe you have a different answer, but what was that defining moment where you realized that you had the entrepreneurial itch to really start this as a business?

Maida: I think as a buyer of the Maida books I was so captivated.

J: Yes.

Maida: By the whole thing that for years I just kept saying I want to do this. I mean I’d always had a very creative part of me that like liked crafts and liked, we used to sell pottery at craft shows. I’d always like that and it was something about this that just was speaking to me that it wasn’t just cerebral, which I had been sitting for 40 years in a private practice that there was something that really captured me with the ability of photographs and that. When we were talking about retiring it just seemed like a very natural progression.

J: I get the feeling you guys would be doing this even if you weren’t making any money.

Maida: I sadly think.

Carol: Totally.

Maida: That through.

Bill: I was about ready to say that.

Maida: It’s not sadly, it’s awesome.

Bill: We don’t pay attention that much.

J: Yes.

Bill: To how much money we make because it’s just sitting in the checking account when PayPal transfers it over. We just never paid attention to it that much, but we know the margins are very good.

J: That’s awesome.

Maida: Certainly when we had our boat, we were able to say we certainly knew that it was a big boat, 48 foot boat. We lived on it for three months every summer.

Carol: Wow.

Maida: We were able to say when knew eBay was keeping that boat afloat.

Carol: That is just great. I love it.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: I love it.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Okay, next question so what is the worst advice you’ve been given or is the worst advice maybe that’s common in your industry and what did you do with that worst advice?

Maida: I don’t think we’ve been given bad advice. I think when we were starting out, we maybe were not so aware of making sure we did the research for sold and completed as opposed to asking. We haven’t really. Think of any bad advice?

Bill: For my view on that. When we decided that this business, we wanted to scale it up and really get into it, we hired a consultant that had a lot of retail experience, online retail experience and she.

Maida: We took classes with her, yes.

Bill: We also did telephone conversations with her every three or four months just to pass things by her and good ideas and she gave us another, but wonderful advice during the most critical part of building the business.

Maida: We haven’t gotten bad advice I don’t think.

Carol: That’s awesome. You don’t deserve bad advice. I’m happy to hear that.

J: Question number four, and then we’ll stop bothering you with these questions. Is there something that you guys have splurged on that was totally worth it?

Maida: To buy?

J: Yes.

Maida: Yes we did.

J: Either personally or in your business?

Maida: Well in the business a few weeks ago what glasses? Oh yes we moved a year ago. We had a three generation house with our daughter and son-in-law.

Carol: Aw.

Maida: And two of our granddaughters. We built a second addition attached to their house and I felt very strongly that in doing that that Bill needed an elevator to go up and down, and down to the basement. Now regular elevators were very expensive and he kept saying there was a spiral staircase and he could go up and down with his packages and I finally insisted that a lift be put in. It was quite pricey and we put in a lift and it’s the single best thing probably that we have splurged on. It was.

Bill: I thank her every day for that elevator.

Carol: Aw.

Maida: I think it was $14,000, but it’s the best $14,000 we spent so it goes from his upstairs office where we’re sitting now to his downstairs office and it makes me very happy that he has that.

Carol: Oh that’s so. I literally have tears to my eyes right now. I just I want to be Bill and Maida. You two are just.

Maida: Oh I so.

Carol: You’re wonderful.

Maida: Can I just tell you about something? A very fun story.

Carol: Please.

Maida: Something we did not put up for sale that we sourced. When we got married in 1967, we were sort of hippies and I did not have a diamond ring. I wore a mini dress to my wedding. I scoffed at diamonds. We didn’t have silver. We had no interest in this in the 60s. Now cut ahead to three or four years ago, we’re at.

I certainly could have bought diamond rings since then, but I didn’t have it when I got married in 1967. Three or four years ago we’re at an auction where a box of costume jewelry sold for $10. It was just packed with you know twisted necklaces and bracelets and stuff and I bought it so my granddaughters could have something to play with. I kept it in the garage for probably three years and almost threw it in the garbage. Then one day I took it out for one of my grandchildren and her babysitter to sort out.

We came home that night. I said make a pile of anything you think might be worthwhile. She showed me things she thought were worthwhile. They weren’t and there over in the corner I spy a ring and I am now wearing this ring. It is a flawless one point something karat diamond that is from the 60s exactly when Bill and I got married. It fit me perfectly and it went with my mother’s two ring guards. That is the most wonderful thing. I don’t know if you can see it.

Carol: I have got. I’m kind of blinded right now. That some massive bling going on.

Maida: I finally got an.

Carol: Wow.

Maida: At age 74, I got my engagement ring and I walked around like this. That’s the most.

Carol: That is awesome.

Maida: Fun thing that we’ve ever bought in a $10 box lot. It’s staying on my finger.

Carol: Speechless. I’m just full on speechless right now. That’s amazing, amazing.

Maida: That’s a fun story.

Carol: That’s a wonderful story so.

Bill: Mine’s not nearly as good, but I have a short one also.

Carol: Please.

Bill: We were at an auction and there was this ugly old Mickey Mouse doll.

Maida: Right.

Bill: Holding a watering can and it was, you could tell it was old. The graphics on the watering can and whatnot so we just put it up in auction not knowing anything more than that.

Maida: We bought it for $25, yes.

Bill: We ended up shipping it to Australia and it sold for $1,700, Mickey Mouse.

J: Wow.

Carol: Mickey Mouse holding a watering can sold for $1,700 to somebody in Australia.

Bill: You’re right.

Maida: It was from 1930s, yes.

Carol: Amazing.

Maida: Yes.

Carol: Mind-boggling. It’s all mind-boggling.

Maida: Now you’re probably sorry you left eBay see.

Carol: Crazy, amazing. Tell us more Maida and Bill our last thing. Where can people find out more about you?

Maida: Our store URL is www.connectibles.net. That’s CONNECTIBLES.net.

Carol: Wonderful. Thank you so much. I checked out your site earlier. I love it. Highly recommend everybody else who is a listener goes and does the same thing. Maida, Bill, beyond and absolute pleasure. You two are just wonderful. You’re so inspiring and you’ve given so many great tips to our listeners who may want to start their own business and inspire other people to do the same. Thank you so much for coming on with us today.

Maida: Thank you both and I love the way you met. That’s a great love story.

J: Thank you guys.

Carol: Thank you.

J: We so appreciate it.

Maida: Yes, bye-bye.

Bill: Thanks a lot.

Carol: Bye.

J: Wow, I loved that episode. I’m pretty sure I don’t need to ask you how you felt about that episode Carol, but I’m going to anyway. How did you feel about that episode?

Carol: Seriously, could they be anymore awesome? Who doesn’t want to be Maida and Bill when they grow up? I mean come on. They’re incredible. Loved it. I loved how you can totally love, you can totally feel that they just loved love love the heck out of what they do and they love love love the heck out of each other. Kind of like you and me.

J: Yes, well I love. I mean Bill said it himself. When I said you’d probably be doing this even if you weren’t getting paid, even if you aren’t making any money. I think they made it pretty clear that if they were spending money to do this business, they’d probably still be doing it. That’s how much they love it. I mean you have to love what you do and they really love what they do.

Carol: Yes, they do. It shows through. All right, enough for today. Let’s wrap this up maybe.

J: Well let’s do it. You are Carol and I am J.

Carol: Now go do something that floats your boat today. Have an awesome day party people.

J: See you.

Carol: Bye.

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In This Episode We Cover:

  • How Bill and Maid were able to start an online business right after retirement
  • Making your “small business” a “real business”
  • Research and other skillsets that you need to start your eBay business
  • The story of their first customer and first products they sold
  • How the market dictates value
  • How they got to the point of having over 2,500 items in their store
  • How Bill was able to personally ship 23,000 items!
  • Using social media and other sites to increase the visibility of your store
  • Why they decided to do something great in their 60s
  • And SO much more!

Links from the Show

Tweetable Topics:

  • “Even if you’re just starting small, you’ve got to develop some kind of inventory system.” (Tweet This!)
  • “Treat your business like a business.” (Tweet This!)
  • “You can start a new career in your 60s!” (Tweet This!)

Connect with Maida and Bill

About Author

A real-world MBA for entrepreneurs What does it take to start, scale, and sell your own business? Every Tuesday, J and Carol Scott ask this question to entrepreneurs of all stripes and delve into stories that go beyond the launch. From hiring and firing to marketing and raising capital, this podcast takes an honest look at the triumphs and stumbles of entrepreneurship. Whether you’re looking to sustain a startup or bring an idea to life, you’ll come away inspired. Tune in—and learn how to treat your business like a business.

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