Alex Kohut is one of the youngest and most successful eBay merchants we know. He's a millennial (born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s).
If you don't offer something unique with your social media accounts, you risk becoming visual white noise to potential customers
This market isn't represented much in the eBay trade, so we decided to learn more about him and how he runs his business.
In our previous installment, we learned how Kohut got his start selling online. Here, he discusses marketing and why merchants shouldn't ignore social.
Social is vital
Schepp: You use Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Tell us about your use of each.
Kohut: Social media is vital for an online-based business, yet you see a lot of examples of it being under-utilized or used ineffectively.
It's not just as simple as creating some accounts and posting the occasional, "Hey, we have a little sale going on right now." It seems like almost every business has some sort of social media presence. So there are a lot of people vying for your attention. If you don't offer something unique with your social media accounts, you risk becoming visual white noise to potential customers.
Right now, Instagram is easily the best social media outlet for what I sell… I credit this to how I use Instagram and just the Instagram culture in general. Action figure collectors are a unique breed.
Most people put away their toys a long time ago, but the ones who don't are unapologetically passionate about the hobby. Action figure photography is hugely popular among these people. For them, action figures aren't just for displaying. They're for recreating popular scenes from the source material or creating new ones. It gets pretty elaborate with special lighting and background sets to perfectly create the right atmosphere.
Initially, I used Instagram to simply post product photos of items I had available. Then I started messing a bit with the type of photography mentioned above, which generated a lot more comments and likes. I found this to be a preferable way to market what I was selling without it being so transparent about it.
Traffic on the Facebook page is much slower… but I understand not everyone has or likes Instagram. I don't want to limit showcasing my inventory
Most photos I post will get at least one person inquiring about the item's availability or questions about the availability of other items. These don't always lead to a sale, but I've done a few transactions directly through Instagram. And if nothing else, it's created brand recognition so when they come across one of my eBay listings, there's already this sense of familiarity.
There's some cross posting with Facebook, though I use the photo album feature as a means to spotlight a wider selection of new arrivals. Traffic on the Facebook page is much slower than Instagram, but I understand not everyone has or likes Instagram. I don't want to limit showcasing my inventory to just a section of potential buyers.
Just give it a shot
Schepp: You also mentioned hobby forums. Tell us about how you use those.
Kohut: Forums are another nice stream of revenue, though it's much more of a grind to close a deal than on eBay. The downside with these forums is that you get a lot of people who are fiercely against paying secondary market prices. I completely understand wanting to get the most bang for your buck, but in the end, supply and demand, along with ensuring you're getting a quality product sometimes mean you have to pay more than you'd like.
Thankfully, the rest of the people seem to understand and accept this, so I've done quite a few sales through hobby forums. And again, this creates brand recognition, so it's not uncommon to see these same people later buying items from the eBay Store.
Schepp: Do you think you have unique ways of marketing that older eBay sellers don't use to the same extent?
It's kind of frustrating to see an older seller not even attempt to utilize the newer tools available to help their business
Kohut: To a degree, yet I don't think it's fair to assume that a person's age is going to be a sure-fire indicator on whether they're up to date with technology and some of the newer forms of marketing.
It's kind of frustrating to see an older seller not even attempt to utilize the newer tools available to help their business. There's a learning curve, but we're not doing open heart surgery or anything. I think everyone who owns a small business, regardless of age, should at least explore these options. If they find that these options don't really benefit their business, then fine. But at least know for sure before you shut yourself off to possible business.
Seller dreams of own website
Schepp: What are your plans for selling outside of eBay?
Kohut: I've had visions of a website for a long time, probably too long for there still not to be one up and running.
Getting a site going isn't nearly as challenging as it was when I first started selling. There are so many sites out there now dedicated to building an e-commerce website that there's really no excuse not to give it a shot. As a fellow seller told me not long ago, "The time to have a site up and going is yesterday."
When the website finally goes live, I know it'll be a while before it can match the sort of volume I do on eBay. For now, I can't see abandoning eBay entirely, but it would be comforting to know that the bulk of your revenue isn't in the hands of a site that could flip off the lights on you if they so desired.
I definitely put in long hours some weeks, but loving what I sell keeps me from feeling that dread some people feel Monday morning
When I think of my website's design, I envision something visually appealing without many bells and whistles. I don't want some crudely designed site, but it's easy for people to add too much visual noise and end up with a cluttered site. My favorite e-commerce sites are clean in design, easy to navigate and maintain a distinct aura.
Schepp: What advice do you have for others seeking to build a sustainable online business?
Kohut: Love your product, or at least like it. There are probably thousands of products out there that could bring in better revenue than what I sell. But I love what I sell. It excites me.
Those things help when you're grinding away taking hundreds of photos, post processing them, creating listings, packing orders, etc. The goal with a business is to make money. I think that's a lot easier if you have a passion for your product. Assuming your product isn't a dud, that passion is what's going to help you manage through the growing pains most small businesses experience.
I definitely put in long hours some weeks, but loving what I sell keeps me from feeling that dread some people feel Monday morning when they're facing another workweek.
Schepp: Thank you Alex!