Marlene Graham, Lighthouse Lotions
Marlene Graham thought eBay would be a good venue to auction off some collectibles and antiques for her mother, so she took a class to find out how to sell on the site. What she learned convinced her to change her plans.
"They suggested putting up new items at first, to learn how eBay worked," she recalls of the online course. "It worked out pretty well, however, I never got around to selling Mom's things."
That was in 2002. Today, she's a Silver PowerSeller and owner of Lighthouse Lotions & Collectibles on eBay, which specializes in products from Bath & Body Works, including lotions, body splash, aromatherapy, home fragrance, candles and bath items. This year, she's hoping to expand her offerings to include similar products from Victoria's Secret.
Bath and body care is an ideal category to sell online, Graham notes, because the items are small, easy to ship and easy to source; she just picks up some extras whenever she shops for herself.
"It makes my house smell great," she says.
Bath & Body Works products are surprisingly popular on eBay, despite the brand's prevalence in retail shopping centers.
It's a fun product to sell because it seems to be an item that makes people feel good
"I think people discover the products when they're traveling or they get something as a gift and get attached to a certain fragrance, but they don't always have a store where they are," Graham explains. "Sometimes a product is only available at certain times of the year, so they look for it on eBay.
"About half of my customers are international," Graham continues. "I sell quite a bit in bulk quantities to people in other countries—they'll choose the big flat-rate box and fill it to the brim. Some people will work with a freight forwarder, where I send the package to a U.S. address and then it gets shipped to them overseas.
"What I find interesting is the variety of people that buy from me—moms, attorneys, business people, teenagers, college kids. Once in a while, they'll write and say who they're buying for. Sometimes, a guy who wants to impress his girlfriend will ask what flavor I'd suggest. I also get cancer patients, who like the aromatherapy products.
"It's a fun product to sell because it seems to be an item that makes people feel good," she says.
Omaha, NE, where Graham lives, is not exactly a coastal setting, so it might seem odd to name her store after something that conjures soulful images of the seashore. In fact, there's only one lighthouse in the entire state of Nebraska, and it's next to "a tiny lake," she laughs.
"I wanted to come up with a name for my store that was unique," Graham explains. "And I have a thing for lighthouses, even though I don't live near any water to speak of."
She also decided to keep the word "collectibles" in her name—just in case she ever finds time to list some of her mom's things.
While her store name may stir shoppers' romantic ideals, using Auctiva's eBay tools has enabled Graham to create listings that are visually appealing. She'll typically match eBay template themes or colors to the item and then customize the Scrolling Gallery to coordinate.
If a nice-looking template helps a buyer choose my item over someone else's, then it's worth every penny
"I like the fact that I can search for templates by color, theme or even keyword," she says. "I think they make a listing look nicer, friendly and a bit more enticing than putting it on a blank page—and if that helps a buyer choose my item over someone else's, then it's worth every penny.
"I use the scheduled listings feature quite a bit, too. It's nice to be able to set a listing to post on eBay when I want it to, and not have to pay extra for that," she adds. "And I find it very convenient to be able to start a listing, save it, and come back another time and it's still there."
Graham considers eBay her full-time occupation, with average sales of $2,000 to $4,800 a month, depending on the season. Her goal this year is to boost monthly sales to a steady $5,000, through a combination of product line expansion and increased bulk sales. She's also considering branching out to other online venues to reach a customer base that doesn't necessarily shop on eBay.
Connecting with people and building relationships is the most rewarding aspect of selling online, Graham says, and she makes every effort to be flexible to earn that repeat business.
"People will send a list of what they want, and then I just put it all together in a listing," she explains. "A lot of times I put items up in groups of two, because it's cheaper for shipping, but if someone wants just one, or they want five of something, I'll put together a special order for them.
"And I always stress to customers that they can fill a flat-rate box with a lot of items and save on shipping," she adds.
Unlike many merchants, who have seen sales levels drop in recent years, Graham hasn't felt much of an impact from the economic recession. Sales are a strong as ever, she reports.
"Although people may feel compelled to scale down in certain areas, it doesn't seem like they do when it comes to pampering themselves," she notes. "At the end of the day, they want to have something that makes them feel good. They may have to give up cable TV, but they still want to smell good."
Visit Lighthouse Lotions & Collectibles on eBay.