Marine Corps Molds Online Selling Mentality

Organization sparks seller's desire for continual improvement.

by Sarah Brown
- Aug 21, 2013

Adam Vanderpool starts his day at 5:45 a.m. with an hour-long walk before setting to work. The online seller credits the Marine Corps for teaching him that the early bird gets the worm, so although he runs two successful businesses that allow him to sleep in, he chooses not to.

After serving eight years in the Marines, Vanderpool initially didn't know what to do with his life. He worked a few odd jobs and "poked around," but without a college degree or startup capital, it seemed an online business might be the best option.

The entrepreneur was trying to find a work-from-home solution when he purchased Auctions for Income by Dave Espino, an online marketing coach.

"It tells you what the auction thing is and what 'household gold' means, how people let things sit around that are of value and what people might want, and how you can get a home-based business started for eBay," Vanderpool notes.

Thus in 2007, Adam's Auctions opened on the marketplace. Vanderpool started his sales career with a comic book collection he inherited from his dad. At the time, Marvel characters were making a comeback on the big screen, and Vanderpool's sales were fairly successful. That led him to believe online sales could be a feasible business.

I have an eBay app on my phone and when something sells it goes, 'Cha-ching!' and I'm like, 'All right, I sold something!'

From garage to multichannel

Vanderpool stocks most of his inventory through storage auctions, estate sales and buyouts. By purchasing inventory in bulk, the seller says he can keep eBay prices competitive. Plus, because he initially worked out of his home, the budding entrepreneur could take advantage of tax deductions.

But after reaching a certain threshold, Adam's Auctions outgrew the garage, moved into an office and hired an employee. The company then split into a local online thrift store, while continuing to sell collectibles on eBay.

The seller organizes the store using his own pricing system. He searches and eBay's Completed Listings as a guide. Then Vanderpool lists his items on auction at lower prices. If something doesn't sell, the former Marine will relist it at a lower rate. With his system, Vanderpool knows at a glance how many times one of his items has been relisted.

"I have an eBay app on my phone and when something sells it goes, 'Cha-ching!'" he adds. "It makes that money noise, and I'm like, 'All right, I sold something!'"

An entrepreneur from the start

The online seller says he's always had an entrepreneurial spirit, noting his childhood treasure hunting adventures, but he thinks it was his training in the Marines that really undergirds his path as a business owner.

The organization kind of breaks you down and builds you back up, Vanderpool says. When that happens, everyone starts as an equal, as a private. From there, you earn rank based on motivation and accomplishment.

"I was really driven as a Marine to try to get rank because with rank came responsibility, and then came respect," he reports.

The retired corporal says by starting at the bottom and building into a leader, he was able to transition those lessons into business. Yet he still faces the same struggles all eBay sellers come across, namely, buyers who seem impossible to please.

If they're not on the front page, I can guarantee they're not going to be found, so we put them in a position to win

Vanderpool is very proactive about maintaining a good feedback score, but some buyers always leave less-than-perfect scores.

"We try for perfection, but one of the challenges is handling the adversity and trying to stay positive," he notes.

On the brighter side, he appreciates seeing where his inventory ends up. For example, an antique camera—which sold for only $2—was repurposed into a clock by the buyer, who resells her creations for more than $60.

Going beyond eBay, selling online

Vanderpool's story doesn't end with Adam's Auctions. While building his eBay Store, the mogul worked as an adviser for an Internet marketing business, where he learned how to place small businesses on major search engines.

"I realized it was a really good business model, and I could improve upon that if I went my own separate way," Vanderpool says.

So, in 2009, he put Adam's Auctions on hold to open his new company, Direct Placement. Again, it started from home.

Direct Placement builds websites for business owners and increases business exposure online. In the past three years, it has grown to roughly 30 employees. From Canada to Mexico and the states in between, Direct Placement clients encompass a range of businesses. Vanderpool adds that even eBay sellers can benefit from his organization.

"We'd find out what are the things they sell the most of, where their highest profit margins are, and then we have a proprietary system that shows us the traffic, demand and the competition for specific keywords that users have typed into the search engines," Vanderpool reports.

With that information, his employees facilitate placements on search engines to drive conversions on their website, the merchant says. In short, he places businesses in front of the users.

Instead of spending eBay income on yourself, reinvest it until your business is in a position for positive cash flow

"If they're not on the front page, I can guarantee you they're not going to be found," he adds. "So we put them in a position to win."

Direct Placement has gained a lot of traction the past three years, and the founder has since been able to return his focus to Adam's Auctions, which now employs three people. They set certain benchmarks for the store and try to become more efficient.

Venture grows into a family business

Vanderpool has already attained one of the more coveted benchmarks for online sellers: having employees to do most of the work. This frees him up to be more of a servant leader, he says. He likes developing people and focuses his efforts wherever help is needed.

He even encourages other online sellers to stay focused, driven and motivated.

"If you're doing eBay and you want to make money as a secondary stream of income, or potentially turn it into a full-time job, just don't give up," he advises. "The way I did it was just being persistent and not giving up, and continuing to try to practice delayed gratification."

Instead of spending eBay income on yourself, reinvest it over and over again until your business is in a position for positive cash flow, Vanderpool adds.

In his free time, the seller spends time with his family members, three of whom are employed at Direct Placement and Adam's Auctions.

"We're one of those weird families that actually get along," he quips. "We're all best friends."

Visit Adam's Auctions on eBay.

About the Author

Sarah Brown is a freelance writer who writes about e-commerce and small businesses. She recently graduated from Chico State with a journalism degree and is also a budding online entrepreneur, having launched two Web businesses and her own line of handmade products.

Opinions expressed here may not be shared by Auctiva Corp. and/or its principals.

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