Having spent 30 years in business selling semiconductors, computer equipment and software, Bob Heitner understands that when the product you sell has a standard part number, you stake your livelihood on service, trust and word of mouth, not just price.
"People buy from people," says Heitnerwho in a manner befitting his down-to-earth style, asked that we just call him "Bob."
Bob and his wife, Pat, offer a wide assortment of items from watches to sports accessories to home décor as proprietors of Stuff, Things and Goodies on eBay. Recently, they've added gift baskets to their eclectic lineup. The couple sources nearly all of their products wholesale or through drop shippers so they know their goods are not unique.
Where they differentiate, Bob notes, is in their personable style of service and commitment to fostering a loyal and supportive community of sellers centered on the new Auctiva Commerce platform. For example, a page on their main Web site promotes fellow merchants by providing links to storefronts in the ever expanding Auctiva Commerce "mall."
"Trust and community are so important," he says. "That's why I'm so happy to be with Auctiva. The fact that Auctiva users are getting together and forming groups to promote each other's sites, I think, is a terrific thing. Some people are going to be selling the same things I am. Other people are going to be selling things that I don't [sell]. And if we can generate traffic back and forth, I just think it benefits everybody.
"And of course, in search engines, the more cross-links you have, the more hits you'll get," he adds.
A self-described "geek," Bob built his first Web site in 1995 to augment his computer system integration business, selling high-end business/accounting software, network gear and integration services. After he retired from the business in 2004, an opportunity came along to work for a friend who was selling wholesale watches online. Within three years, the venture grew from $8 million in sales to $20 million.
"That got me great exposure to eBay and other online channels," he says.
But after being self-employed for so long, it was tough to work for someone else. So after a few years, Bob decided to strike out on his own, selling watches sourced from his former business associate.
If it hadn't been for Auctiva, I don't know if I would've pursued eBay as a business model
Having previously set up stuffthingsandgoodies.com for Pat on the GoDaddy Marketplace, he began tinkering with the site to make it more functional. Then he got to work populating an eBay Store he'd originally opened with the intent of cleaning out the garage. Soon, the couple's online activity snowballed and what was supposed to be a post-retirement hobby became a full-time second career.
"If it hadn't been for Auctiva, I don't know if I would've even pursued the eBay thing as a business model," Bob says. "It's just so complicated. The Auctiva service was just perfect because you could use the eBay templates and have all the tools that make it easy to work with. The thing with Auctiva is it really enables you to make a professional interface."
Bob says he manages the business and Web operations, and Pat creates the listing content. She'll log into Doba or Simplx, locate products to sell, export them and create descriptions and pictures to upload.
While the drop-shipping approach has worked well for them, Bob points out that it's not as straightforward as it sounds, and anyone who lacks experience sourcing direct from manufacturers or wholesalers could get burned in the process.
"You have to really know your market," he asserts. "Some of the stuff, you'll end up paying more than if you buy it in a retail store. And you have to be careful because you could sell something and turn around only to discover it's been discontinued."
One way to avoid the pitfalls, he suggests, is to start out by partneringas he didwith someone you trust who knows the ropes.
There's still a lot of business out there especially now, because people are going online to find quality products at fair prices
Relishing the 'goodies'
Though Bob says their total revenue is still "fairly small," the goal for this year is to sell more than $100,000 from all sites, including Amazon, where the couple also maintains a store.
Soon, though, Bob plans to close the eBay Store and redirect the domain to their Auctiva Commerce storefront. Even though they sell more volume on eBay, they feel that on their own site, they'll be more in control of their bottom line, he says.
"That's another reason the Auctiva thing makes so much sense to mewhy give [your profits] to somebody else?"
Later this year, the Heitners plan to relocate from their South Florida home to Pennsylvania, where they met in high school more than 45 years ago.
"People say 'Are you nuts?' but we grew up there and we want to move back. We're going to open a small store to sell out of and do eBay drop-off kind of stuff. That way, I don't have to sit around the house all day," Bob laughs.
"I think there's still a lot of business out there, even in a down economyand especially now, because people are going online to find quality products at fair prices," he says. "If Auctiva's sellers can work together, I think it can help all of usbuyers, sellers and Auctiva."