Tony Cicalese of Wegotthebeats.biz is a long-time eBay and Amazon seller, who now also operates brick-and-mortar stores. He's gone from trolling the bargain bins of record stores nationwide to creating his own bargain bins, online and off.
Along the way he's learned a lot about branding and community building.
In Part 1 of this three-part series on Cicalese, we explore how he turned his passion into a business and a business into a community. Parts 2 and 3 will explore how he cut his teeth operating a brick-and-mortar store and how he built a vibrant community—all while staying true to his passion.
Cicalese operates Wegotthebeats.biz. We've known him for most of the 15 years he's been buying and selling music online and off.
While shopping around in used record stores—searching for music for his own collection—he noticed that some of the things he saw in the clearance bins selling for a dollar or two were selling for many times that price on eBay
We first came to know him through the discussion boards on eBay. We'd routinely check in to keep up to date with the latest chatter among eBay sellers. We noticed that whenever a controversial discussion took a turn from business to personal—getting heated, angry and even ugly—one voice would pipe up among the crowd. That was Cicalese.
He'd join the conversation providing not only a clear business solution but a reminder, through example, about using decency and kindness when sharing information with others. That really made him noticeable within the community.
We came to learn that Cicalese was in the midst of a cross-country saga that spanned almost four years! He and his cat traveled all over the country sourcing CDs. Like many other e-commerce merchants, Cicalese's adventure started almost accidentally.
While shopping around in used record stores—searching for music for his own collection—he noticed that some of the things he saw in the clearance bins selling for a dollar or two were selling for many times that price on eBay. Since he was already shopping these bins, he decided to give e-commerce a try.
Now, almost 15 years later, a cross-country saga on record, and two brick-and-mortar stores launched, Cicalese's path has led him home. As you'll see, in many ways he's come full circle.
Disco and dance started it all
He had already spent years in retail jobs where he learned the value of selling the products you know. He started by sourcing and selling music within his favorite genres, disco and dance music.
"Initially, the way I chose what to sell was by trying to put myself into the shoes of folks who were fans of artists other than my favorites (because I still wanted to keep my favorites for myself), but still within my favorite genres (to keep it interesting for me)," Cicalese says. "I also enjoyed listening to those items I might not have otherwise purchased for myself before listing them for sale—so I got to hear even more music than usual!"
And that is how Cicalese built the active and involved community of customers who return to him for more great music.
"My favorite genres of music tend to be somewhat marginalized by more traditional independent record stores," he explains. "So when I focused on them and put them front and center, I developed a very loyal customer base who appreciated our shared interests as well as what they learned was my trustworthiness (in descriptions, shipping, etc.). This often led to non-purchase related discussions about music, which generated even stronger loyalty.
"It got to the point I could guess, when I was purchasing items for resale, which buyer would buy them," he continues. "And I was very often correct."
As I went along I learned other reasons why different buyers wanted certain things, beyond my own way of looking at things
Sales teach merchant a thing or two
Sure, Cicalese was learning more about music, his business and his customers with each passing mile, but it goes even further than that, and he found himself refining what he knew.
"As I went along I learned other reasons why different buyers wanted certain things, beyond my own way of looking at things," he notes. "For example, I learned that some people collected certain producers, not just artists."
That realization led him to yet another way to attract and retain customers. Traveling around the country worked for Cicalese for quite some time.
"I'd go to a town, hit all the record stores and thrift stores, list the finds on eBay, ship out the orders, and move on to the next town," he recalls. "I met suppliers, customers, eBayers. I went to concerts, music-related attractions, etc."
He was immersed in the world of music, but he was also still under the impression that this constant traveling was his only real source for affordable inventory he could sell at substantial profits.
"I thought I had to travel to maintain it," he says.
The road well traveled leads home
As anyone of us can imagine, that migrant life, even in the company of a great cat, can come to wear thin after awhile. With close to four years under his belt, Cicalese began to think about going home to Florida.
He missed his friends and community, and he planned to get married. None of these things blend well with a sustained life on the road. Still, he thought this was the decision that would take him from music as a business back to his music business becoming a part-time hobby.
He went back to being a full-time bartender. Two things happened at about this same time, he recalls: "I started selling on Amazon, and I found a wholesaler."
I had people calling me every day looking to sell their collections! Those prizes, for which I once had to travel all over the country, were now walking in off the street
Seller shifts gears
Now Cicalese's business model switched from a collectible-driven sourcing model to a commodity driven one. He had items to sell that he could reorder, and he was not just subject to the vagaries of what he could find on his own.
With a new marketplace to conquer and a new sourcing model, Cicalese's business was off in new and exciting directions. He opened his first small brick-and-mortar store almost four years ago.
He knew then his business was "morphing," but he may not have realized that the store would ultimately turn into the bridge that connects every part of his business. His sourcing problem, partially solved by his association with his wholesaler, got a huge boost with his physical store.
"It lent a local credibility, which placing ads to buy inventory never did," he says. "Now I had people calling me every day looking to sell their collections! Those prizes, for which I once had to travel all over the country, were now walking in off the street and at better pricing."
Of course, no one can make such a dramatic change to an established business model without experiencing a few growing pains.
In our next article, we'll take a look at how Cicalese has stayed adaptable and built not only a thriving business in a much bigger retail store, but a community of devoted music fans who look to Cicalese for music, advice, friendship and camaraderie.