Profile: Barkin' Up a New Tree

Love of dogs brings e-commerce to life for BarkinWoofer.

by staff writer
- Mar 20, 2009
Max Salmenson and Tallulah of BarkinWoofer

When your career goes to the dogs, sell dog accessories. That could easily sum up the last two years for Max Salmenson, a former computer programmer who recently found a new calling as online pet accessory merchant "BarkinWoofer".

Salmenson had always heard that eBay provided an easy route to set up a business. So when he was laid off after 25 years in the technology industry, he decided it was time to follow the family tradition into the retail business—only he would be the first to explore the online channel. It took some time to sniff out the right niche, but eventually his Boston terrier, Tallulah, led him to discover the wide world of dog accessories and gifts for dog lovers.

"I used to shop at the big box pet supply stores, but I started going to a couple of local boutiques, and I was amazed at how many different varieties of specialty items there were," Salmenson explains. "I thought, 'Now there's something I could sell.' It was an area I had some familiarity with as a dog owner. And dog people are usually pretty good to deal with."

Having been a buyer on eBay since 1998, Salmenson eagerly opened an eBay Store, BarkinWoofer: Togs for Dogs, in late 2007. Retail may be in his blood, but Salmenson acknowledges that selling online isn't as easy as it once seemed.

"It's been a slow start," he admits. "And eBay was making as much money as me on anything I sold."

Using Auctiva's eBay listing tools, he says, has helped to keep selling costs down. Through Auctiva, he's had access to invaluable services for free that would rack up additional fees on eBay or elsewhere—such as eBay image hosting, multiple images per listing and a scrolling store window that lets buyers see at all his eBay listings in one place.

On the scent of something new

Salmenson hopes to parlay his high feedback rating on eBay into a positive venture on Auctiva Commerce

A brief, but disappointing experiment with eBay's ProStores and some dabbling on CafePress gave Salmenson a taste for selling outside of eBay. In January, an e-mail invitation to join Auctiva Commerce was all the persuading he needed to take the leap.

Though he's still working to further establish his brand on eBay, Salmenson hopes to parlay his high feedback rating into a positive venture on the new e-commerce platform, where he recently opened BarkinWoofer.

"I like the site. I like the setup," he says. "I have a few things on my wish list of features, but I have gotten a lot of lookers."

Salmenson says he knew almost nothing about Web development when he first decided to sell online. But in setting up his eBay Store, he learned enough HTML to create Web links, and now he's created a supersite to serve as an entrance to all his stores. He used Photoshop to design his storefronts and matching listing template around the colors in his BarkinWoofer logo.

A recent foray into earth-friendly collars, leashes and stuffed toys is helping to boost clicks to Salmenson's listings. His "Oy Vey" collection for Jewish dogs has also proven to be a fun and popular specialty. He's chased down a few more product lines he'd like to introduce when the market picks up.

"When I choose a new product to sell, one of my criteria is whether I would be willing to use it with Tallulah or not," Salmenson explains. "If I can't answer yes to that, I won't sell the product. If it's not good enough for my dog, then it isn't good enough for my customers' dogs, either."

"I'm trying to expand into areas where I don't see a lot of people selling," he says, recalling an early mistake when he failed to research a product line before buying a wholesale lot. The price seemed too good to pass up, he says. He soon found out every other dog accessory merchant on eBay was selling identical items—sometimes for less than he could afford to.

Ready to run with the big dogs

One of the things you can do on Auctiva Commerce that you can't do cleanly on eBay is let customers choose the size and color

"As I get more set up with my Auctiva Commerce store, I want to offer products I can drop-ship—especially large items, such as dog beds," Salmenson adds. "That's something I haven't done before. But one of the things you can do on Auctiva Commerce that you can't do cleanly on eBay is let customers choose the size and color. So I want to let people choose what they want and then have it drop-shipped."

That's one way to avoid buying too much inventory too fast, he notes, revealing another lesson he's learned on the job.

"My warehouse is my living room. And let's just say that, right now, it's not a very good place to live," he laughs.

Salmenson hopes using Google Base and other search engine optimization techniques offered through Auctiva will bring more traffic to BarkinWoofer—and along with it, more sales. In the meantime, he's experimenting with product mix. Currently, many product lines are either split between his Auctiva Commerce store and eBay, or are on one or the other. "As I continue to build the AC Store, the product mix will change until I decide which products, if any, I will sell on eBay," he says.

"It's still early," he adds. "I'm just hoping to get my name out there."

Visit BarkinWoofer.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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