Profile: From Past to Profit

eBay Store lets merchant feed her love for all things vintage.

by staff writer
- Dec 15, 2010
Lynn Maass, The Strathmore Store

When Lynn Maass spotted a few vintage dishes and a designer-label dress at a local church rummage sale, she bought them on the spot, figuring they'd be worth something on eBay. Little did she realize at the time, this simple purchase would be a life-changing event.

Up to then, Maass had only sold clothing her sons had outgrown as a way to "de-clutter" her home. Even though these items usually did well, she never fully considered the possibilities.

"I knew the vintage Emilio Pucci dress was valuable when I bought it," muses Maass, owner of The Strathmore Store on eBay. "It was in great condition so I knew it was a good find. As for the Wedgwood plates, they were a beautiful pattern and [were] also in mint condition. I knew they would do well, but I was surprised by just how well."

The dress and the dishes sold for a combined $700.

"That was the moment I realized I could make my garage sale hobby into a business," Maass says. "I was surprised by how many bidders there were on the auctions, and I began to realize the power of eBay."

She was hooked, and thus began her business. Today, the Top-rated seller has a feedback score of more than 1,500 and The Strathmore Store holds an array of vintage items and rummage sales finds she loves, including English china, vintage cookware, craft goods, toys and other items.

I love going to rummage sales and garage sales and looking for treasures

Antique charm

Antiques and vintage goods have been a part of Maass' life for as long as she can remember. At age 4, she bought her first item: a small antique doll with a china head, which she found at a rummage sale. "I grew up in a large Victorian house surrounded by antiques, so I think even then I was drawn to older things."

Items from the past even dominated the TV programs she watched as a girl.

"I watched a lot of 'Antiques Roadshow' growing up," Maass says. "I love going to rummage sales and garage sales and looking for treasures."

However, Maass will be the first to tell you that her eBay Store is a bit eclectic. While many of her items are vintage collectibles that she herself would love to keep, during the holidays she stocks new Christmas goods and toys, and even adds costumes to her inventory when Halloween comes around. The variety has proven effective, allowing her to do about 100 transactions each month. Eighty of those are on eBay, and 20 on Amazon, where she adds a little more variety to the already diverse mix by selling books, DVDs, video games and toys.

She's even considering taking her items to Auctiva Commerce, Bonanza, and/or Addoway for increased exposure, in addition to listing on eBay.

Modern tools

To add to her inventory, Maass frequents garage, yard and estate sales every Saturday from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. She's a brand loyalist to names like Pyrex and Lego, which have proven popular, but she continuously looks for new names that might bring her a profit. Her cell phone has proven a vital tool in doing this.

"I always carry my phone so I can do some research," Maass says. "I have an application on my cell phone called 'Pocket Profit,' which allows me to scan a barcode and see the value of the item."

The mobile app is especially useful when buying books, she says. It allows Maass to scan an item's barcode, see the lowest price for the item on Amazon, how many are available on the site and how popular that item is.

But other, more traditional tools have also been vital in her eBay success. For instance, Auctiva Shipping Insurance has saved Maass a lot of money and given her peace of mind. In fact, she buys Auctiva Shipping Insurance for all her items worth more than $50.

"I love Auctiva Shipping Insurance," she says. "On the rare occasion something gets damaged in the mail, filing the insurance claim has been straight forward, and I got my shipping costs reimbursed as well. This takes a lot of worry out of the process, especially if you're shipping an expensive item."

The flexibility eBay has provided Maass, a mother of two, has been priceless, and something no other business could provide. She knows she can take a day off if one of her kids gets sick, or if she wants to volunteer at her boys' school.

"In August, when sales are slow, I close down my stores for the whole month and take my children to visit their grandparents in England," Maass says. "I don't know too many other businesses—or jobs for that matter—where I would have the freedom to do that."

But she acknowledges that, like all other jobs, there are challenges that come with selling online.

What's so great about Auctiva is you can add lots of extra, supersized photos and without adding to your listing fees

"One of the hardest things about selling on eBay is staying motivated," Maass admits. "I spend many hours alone in front of my computer, and it's difficult to keep working hard without a boss or co-workers."

That's why she joined an eBay seller group on Facebook called eBay Underground. The group shares selling advice, discusses hot items and creates a sense of community. Plus, it puts on fun events like its recent ugly Christmas-sweater contest, in which group members auctioned off their most unattractive yule-themed garments. The winning item sold for $76.09, and the seller got a $50 prize, she notes.

"We keep each other motivated," Maass says.

Good, old fashioned hard work

Having been an eBay seller since 2006, Maass, herself, has plenty of know-how to share. One of the things she's picked up in her years of selling—and something she takes a lot of pride in—is the importance of communicating with buyers. Her business motto is "Questions welcomed." And she practices what she preaches, responding to every inquiry as soon as she can. She also aims to get her shipments in the mail quickly.

"One of the feedback comments I got recently was 'Fastest shipping I've ever gotten. We're talking Netflix speed,'" she says. "That made me laugh."

Her top suggestion for new sellers is to start off by selling a variety of outgrown or no-longer-needed items from their own homes. This will help budding merchants find out what they enjoy selling, and perhaps help them find a niche.

"Also, although writing accurate descriptions is important, keep your descriptions short and precise," she advises. "If you make your descriptions too wordy, customers won't read them and will miss important information. Take attractive photos, and lots of them. The picture is what really sells an item. That's what's so great about Auctiva—you can add lots of extra, supersized photos and without adding to your listing fees."

And some last words of advice: "It sounds really obvious but one of the experienced sellers from eBay Underground, Sandy Conrad Kowalski, always says, 'If you don't list it, it won't sell,'" Maass notes. "What she means is, you have to be disciplined about listing a certain number of items per week or you won't meet your sales goals. Whatever else you do, set listing goals and meet them. The profits will follow."

Visit The Strathmore Store.

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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