Thomas Weller has created a galaxy filled with quality items for the home at discounted prices. As he tells it, his shops are where "the e-smart earthlings" go to find "out-of-this-world bargains."
Weller is the owner of Galaxy Mall on Auctiva Commerce and Galaxy_Shoppes on eBay, where he takes advantage of Auctiva's tools to make his listings stand out. He never thought he'd have two stores, even when he began selling online in 2007 after losing his job as a systems engineer. He always had an interest in the Internet and online sales, and knew one day he would try it—but he always figured it would be on a temporary basis.
"Being the computer-geek type, I was going to give it a try, assuming it was something I could do during slow periods [in my consulting business] to keep money coming in," he recalls.
But today his two online stores have made online sales his full-time gig, keeping him very busy filling orders, researching new products, improving search engine optimization and just managing his stores.
If a search shows 100 stores carry it, it probably isn't going to work for us
Exploring the world of merchandise
Weller began his online venture offering pre-owned goods he found at online auctions, business liquidations and estate sales. Most of those early items were household products like vacuums, carpet cleaners, tools, appliances and cell phones. A few needed some repair and a good cleaning, but for the most part, they were in good condition. However, he does admit that he did end up with "junk" inventory from time to time.
Eventually, though, he began seeking out manufacturers to get the names of distributers and agents so he could sell new products for the home. Today, Weller has two stores filled with new products including housewares, cooking products, kitchen aids, kitchen linens and more.
But getting to where he is today, has taken time—as well as plenty of research and experimentation. Weller has had his hands in plenty of markets, and he doesn't plan to change that. The seller previously had an electronics store, but closed it in December. The market was saturated with competition and knock-offs, and the pace at which technology moves rendered his "inventory obsolete in a relatively short amount of time," he says.
These days, he's focusing on items for the home. Some of his hottest products are baking supplies, kitchen tools and storage items. He also offers pet products, and is testing out food service industry products to see how they'll be received.
"The food storage products are also doing well, and I am building on brands and product selections," Weller reports. "If that continues the way it has been, I will most likely start another site for strictly food-storage products as well."
Weller does extensive research when he considers adding a new item to either of his stores. He looks to see how many sites already offer the product and what they're selling the item for.
"If a search shows 100 stores carry it, it probably isn't going to work for us," he explains. "If something pans out, and I think it has possibilities, I will add it to our catalog and then watch the analytics for a while," he says. "If the stats are looking good, I will get a small initial order and place in inventory and expand on SEO."
This careful testing usually works well, but Weller admits that sometimes it can backfire. For instance, when he posts a few of the test products and demand outpaces supply, he faces the pressure of getting the item shipped very quickly.
"I wish I knew of an exact science to peg exactly what the public wants but I'm convinced it is mostly just a gut feeling and how similar products move," he says.
A small planet in a big galaxy
While Weller loves selling online, he admits there are challenges. One of the most difficult of these is being a small business competing with bigger fish for the attention of buyers.
"The hardest obstacle is finding the product and then working with manufacturers to get them to work with a small guy," he says. "At least for the products we sell, it isn't worth using a middle man or distributor, as the profit margin just isn't there to make it worthwhile and [we] buy 98 percent of our products direct from the manufacturer."
I instantly tune in when I hear someone say, 'I wish I could find…'
But working with representatives from these manufactures has lessened the challenge by allowing him to learn about various products that may work for his shops, allowing him to ask questions and just being able talk to someone, one-on-one, about potential new inventory. Being continuously on the lookout for items that others may want has also paid off.
"I instantly tune in when I hear someone say, 'I wish I could find…'" he explains. "And I am always looking for new products and lines that fit."
Having sold online for four years now, Weller has seen the good and the bad of online selling. One of the "bads" is the low-quality items that some sellers offer, which no doubt disappoint buyers. Weller believes the costs of returns sometimes keeps buyers from letting sellers know just how disappointed they are with a product. And he hopes that never happens with one of his buyers.
"If the customer is truly unhappy, I want to know about it, and want to fix it," he explains. "It's the unhappy customer that you don't hear from that is going to be responsible for the bad word-of-mouth advertising you just can't fix after the fact."
So he strives to only offer quality products and package them so they will arrive intact at the buyer's doorstep. "I want it to be like opening a Christmas present," Weller says. "They should walk away from the experience feeling they got a good price for the products they purchased."
Conquering the universe
During Weller's time in the tech industry, he learned how to write simple code, but as he opened his online stores, he learned a lot about HTML and search engine optimization, he says. He can use these self-taught abilities and see the fruits of his labor, i.e., an increase in traffic. This, he says, is one of the most satisfying aspects of having an online business.
So is his ability to visit his parents, who live about two hours away in Orlando, FL. They need some assistance, and being able to visit them without leaving his business has been a blessing, he says.
"Selling online allowed me the flexibility to go there to help out and, as long as I had my laptop, I could be there and still keep the stores functioning," he notes. "The hours are long, but you can see the result of your efforts in a rather short amount of time. As really, for any business venture, you get out of it only what efforts you put into it."
Visit Galaxy Mall on Auctiva Commerce and Galaxy_Shoppes on eBay.