Profile: From Beanies to the Big Time

Full-time mom transforms eBay office into flourishing business

by staff writer
- May 22, 2008

When Scarlett Mowrey joined eBay a little more than 10 years ago, her pursuit was much the same as many folks who were just discovering the fledgling online auction site in those days: to buy Beanie Babies.

"I started out on eBay trying to find Beanie Babies for my 6-year-old son, and I got hooked," Mowrey remembers.

"The most I ever paid was $30 for a Princess Diana bear. It was a purple bear with a rose on it," she adds. "I wasn't fanatical like a lot of people were, paying into the thousands for some of them, but I still bought hundreds of those things."

I wanted to be able to stay home with my son and help take care of my parents. eBay gave me the flexibility to do that

Living in the beachside community of Powells Point, North Carolina, there aren't many retail stores nearby, but it was easy for Mowrey to find most of what she needed online. With a penchant for collectible plush bears, and a growing appreciation for Internet-based commerce, eBay became Mowrey's ideal outlet for shopping—and later, selling.

"I guess you could say my hobby turned into an obsession," laughs Mowrey, who left a career in property management to sell full-time on eBay starting in 2003. "I wanted to be able to stay home with my son and help take care of my parents. eBay gave me the flexibility to do that."

Though Mowrey doesn't operate an eBay Store, hers is a bona fide, licensed business. At this writing she is a Silver PowerSeller, grossing $4,000 to $5,000 a month in eBay sales, with a feedback score of more than 23,000.

Mowrey primarily sells used women's clothing, but sidelines in video games—an area she says she got into when her now-teenaged son took up gaming, having outgrown beanie babies. He and Mowrey's husband serve as her official testers for games and electronic devices. And Mowrey gets them involved in the business as much as they'll allow, hauling boxes of merchandise to her upstairs office and helping to package items for shipping.

Mowrey typically lists 100 to 150 items a week, and since February, has exclusively listed with Auctiva. She read about Auctiva's listing tools for eBay on an online discussion board, and says she was sold on the fact that she can upload an unlimited number of images for free.

"That saying that 'a picture is worth a thousand words' is true," Mowrey says. "Auctiva improved my business by allowing me to put more pictures on my listings. I find that people like to read less and look at pictures more. Auctiva fit that bill really well.

One of the biggest pluses for me is being able to let people see multiple views of an item. Now people are getting a better idea of what I'm selling, and they ask fewer questions

"I think one of the biggest pluses for me is being able to let people see multiple views of an item. Now people are getting a better idea of what I'm selling, and they ask fewer questions."

She also finds Auctiva's scheduling feature to be a boon to both her business and her busy life. "When you've got school schedules and doctor's appointments, and things I do to help my parents, it's nice to be able to prepare my listings at 10 o'clock at night and have Auctiva send them over at 1 p.m. the next day," she says. "That's a great feature to help you manage your time. You're not tied to the computer waiting to push the 'send' button.

"And it's all free—that's a big deal," Mowrey says. "Because I'm being nickeled and dimed to death, between eBay fees going up and PayPal fees, the post office raised their rates again, gas to get your packages to the post office—it's all going up."

Mowrey attributes much of her eBay success to building up a dependable network of suppliers, and avoiding fads. Like beanie babies—which are still abundant on eBay but no longer have the "hot" factor—clothing trends are a moving target. "Jeans are my mainstay, but what's hot in terms of styles and designers will change from quarter to quarter," she says. "A jean that was popular in January nobody wants today."

Indeed, the online used-clothing business is ever-challenging, even for someone like Mowrey, who's been honing her craft for several years. Not only is it a low-margin product area, but item condition is subjective, colors seldom translate on computer screens, and sizes are imprecise. "Low-rise jeans have changed everything—standard measurements no longer apply," she says. "Everything's got to be measured. It takes a lot of time."

With many of the changes eBay has recently undergone—including a new pricing structure and a major overhaul of the feedback system—Mowrey is uncertain whether she would have the wherewithal to make it as a new seller if she had to start all over again.

The best you can do, she says, is to run your business fairly and honestly. "I made a promise to myself when I started out to always try to treat customers the way I would want to be treated.

"I can't guarantee I won't ever make a mistake, but I can guarantee I will make it right," Mowrey says. "That's the only way I can sleep at night."

You can view Mowrey's current eBay listings here.

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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