eBay her way
Marla Sullivan got into the eBaying business by chance. A day after helping someone with an estate sale, she got an e-mail announcing the sale of a business called A7 Consignment (www.a7consignment.com). The e-mail was odd—it came through a list that typically doesn’t allow businesses to be listed for sale—but Sullivan had a hunch. “I just walked in the door and had an overwhelming feeling, and I just said, ‘I don’t know how or why, but I’ll take it,’” she said. A7 continues to offer eBaying services (everything from photographing and listing an item to shipping it and following up with the purchaser) for items as varied as a “six-foot whimsical porcelain rabbit” and a 19th-century wheelchair from the Mayo Clinic, and A7 now sells a number of things in a storefront retail section, including locally made crafts. A7 is registered with eBay to sell on behalf of nonprofits (it sold one of the Sacramento Zoo’s “Lions on Safari” sculptures), and it also has some high-level items placed with major auction houses.
What have you learned in the six or seven months you’ve been operating?
More than I ever thought I would want to know. We basically had to learn the business from the ground up. … [The previous owner] did a wonderful job setting it up, advertising—you know, all of the pieces were in place. But it turned out to be a much bigger undertaking than we originally thought. So, we’ve just learned day by day how to best serve the clients and the things that they have and what will sell and what won’t. We’ve learned to do some market analysis and evaluate items on the spot, which is really hard to do.
Yeah, I see the Antiques Roadshow book. You probably go through tons of catalogs trying to figure out what’s valuable and what’s not.
And that is basically a crapshoot anyway, because it all depends on the condition of the item, the rarity, the age, how many were made back then, how many are still in circulation. And it’s really supply and demand. … Because of eBay and because of the Internet, there are that many more collectors out there and that many more people with these items selling them, so you’ve got your pick of the lot.
What kinds of items sell through your store? I see a lot of Cabbage Patch Kids.
They were here when we first got the store. These are original Cabbage Patch—soft sculpture, you know, the original dolls. A lot of them are double-signed. They’re hand-signed by Xavier Roberts, the artist who created them. And I didn’t even know this, ‘cause I didn’t do Cabbage Patch, but they’re one-of-a-kind. Every single doll is one-of-a-kind. So, go and try to find that exact doll? Uh-uh. That took me a little while to learn. But, before Christmas, they came out with a new one, and so there’s a resurgence of this item, so people are looking for the old ones. So, the value of them has gone back up. … And now they’re starting to gain the value that our client wants for them.
Are there things you turn down for consignment that you don’t think are a good fit for online sale?
There are certain items that can’t be sold online. eBay has restrictions. … As far as turning things down, it really goes on an item-by-item basis. I have to look, because what I think won’t sell probably will. We had a set of Speaker Builder magazines. And there were two big boxes of them, and I kind of went—'cause I had tons of comic books here—I thought, “Oh, I really don’t want to do this.” And the guys goes, “You’ll get $200 for them. I promise.” I said, “OK. What the heck.” He’d already packaged them for shipping, and we had to take one picture, and he wrote the listing, and it was, you know, very simple. And $225 they sold for. … So, there was a market for it. You just never know. … Out of millions and millions of items out there, I couldn’t tell you which ones are the best. Antiques do well. Vintage items that are in good shape do well.
What are the advantages of selling online?
I would say exposure. At a yard sale, you may get 10 people that pick up that item, whereas, depending on the item, you could get 10,000 looking at it. The average … is around 40 to 60 people per listing, viewing that page. Some can go as high as 5,000 or 6,000, depending on the item, if it’s a real rare item. Now, if you’re talking about the grilled-cheese sandwich, there were probably 100,000.
Do you ever get attached to anything that comes in the store and consider buying it yourself?
I don’t know if it’s attached, but I’m fascinated by them. You’ll never be in another place where you have the opportunity to actually touch and feel items from all over the world and all over time. For instance, this is the fourth issue of the dictionary in 1868, so where would you see this? … I was not a chintz china person before all of this came in, but then to see it all, it’s just beautiful. But I have enough stuff. I think, if anything, it’s helped to simplify my home area.