TheFozShop's Craig Hudson (r) & partner Marg
When Craig Hudson began selling on eBay for fun, the last thing he expected to do was establish an online business—let alone two.
"Initially, it was something to do; then I started selling off my collection of second-hand books—I had too many—followed by a bunch of old LPs I came across from the '40s and '50s," he muses.
However, six years later, Hudson boasts a feedback score of nearly 10,000 for his eBay Store, TheFozShop, and an Auctiva Commerce Store by the same name that's also doing quite well.
"I'm constantly looking for new ideas and ways to expand," Hudson says. "Incidentally, I have built up my business without any loans. I started selling new items when I had enough money from [the sale of] my second-hand goods, and, ever since, I have reinvested the money to buy more goods from different suppliers and to cover [business] costs, such as a storage unit and eBay and PayPal fees. I am growing organically, which is my preferred method."
Starting from scratch
Organic definitely describes Hudson's path as a businessman. When he began to run low on the books and albums that started it all, he did what many eBay sellers do: He looked for inventory at local sales, taking the advice of a family member, who had sold a few items online in her spare time.
"We would often trade ideas and she advised me at the start, though, she no longer sells on eBay because she doesn't have time, with her children," he says.
Hudson picked up some "great" additional second-hand items from the Freecycle sites as well, after listing some of his own items, and slowly his business began to grow. By fall 2007, he was selling new items on a much bigger scale.
When I heard Auctiva was launching its own e-commerce solution, I was one of the first to sign up
Two very different stores
The transition to his current business model—one that includes two stores, each with very different inventory—took some time, and plenty of testing. TheFozShop on eBay specializes in seasonal goods, and inventory changes regularly as holidays come and go. TheFozShop on Auctiva Commerce is filled with mobile phone accessories and pre-owned game consoles, which he just started selling in October. While this gave Hudson the opportunity to stick to what he knew—selling pre-owned items—he recalls how he got into the new, never-used products.
It started when a discount shop offering everything for £1 opened near his home. He bought 10 or so items from the shop to test and, as the items sold, he used the profits to buy more inventory. When Halloween was approaching, he decided, on a whim, to list 50 Halloween items—and they sold, too.
Having had success with one holiday, Hudson then decided to buy and sell Christmas and New Year's items when those holidays rolled around. By this time he had the selling "bug," he admits. He then expanded his eBay business to include items for other important holidays like Valentine's Day, Easter, Mother's Day and Father's Day.
"By now I was thinking of turning [eBay selling] into my occupation and when I heard Auctiva was launching its own e-commerce solution, I was one of the first to sign up," Hudson recalls. "My first plan for this new store was to sell eBay items that I couldn't sell, and also to increase my exposure for seasonal goods. However, as time went on and I investigated my options, I decided to start selling mobile phone accessories and electrical accessories, and managed to find a drop-shipping service—a totally new experience at this point, and one I hadn't heard off."
The ups and downs of selling
Having a drop shipper proved profitable, allowing him to offer tons of different products he didn't have to store in his home. Business was taking off.
"By autumn, both my eBay and Auctiva Commerce Stores were recording record sales, and I was considering expanding and taking on office space. I even considered employing someone," Hudson recalls. "I seemed to be beating the recession and, while others were reporting drops in sales, mine were hitting new highs."
Then January rolled around and Hudson's eBay sales fell "through the floor." Luckily, his Auctiva Commerce sales were better than ever, and were helping him compensate for his losses on eBay. But in the spring he faced a hurdle that put his Auctiva Commerce business in jeopardy: His only drop-shipper announced it would discontinue its drop-shipping service, giving Hudson just one week to find a new vendor.
"Needless to say, this wiped out my sales on TheFozShop," he says.
My aim is to make the sales experience more personal to my customers, which is something the big stores can lack
While he was able to find another supplier within a week, it took about two months for sales to rebound. "It wasn't until August of this year that sales matched those of March," Hudson admits.
While it was a stressful situation, the experience was an education. After that, he decided to add several drop-shippers, in case any future problems arose with one of his suppliers. Today, sales are back on track, but there are always challenges to deal with, whether they come from vendors, other sellers or even customers, he says.
"I am having record sales again on eBay—mostly due to adding some of my mobile phone drop-ship products to my listings, along with the usual seasonal and year-round sellers. It's bittersweet, though, because even though I have increased sales by about 200 percent in recent months, I am being hit hard on my Top-rated Seller status and [may] lose it later this month," Hudson says. "Some buyers on eBay would rather leave negatives and low ratings than contact you to report problems. TheFozShop, though, goes from strength to strength, and this month I have entered the pre-owned console games market with a drop-ship service."
Back to business
As the holidays approach once again, the seasonal shop is buzzing. In fact, weeks before Halloween, his more popular items included costumes for dogs and costume tights. But if Hudson's experiences online have taught him anything, it's that he can't just let the time and seasons dictate how he'll do in sales. He makes sure to be a step or two ahead of the competition, regularly checking his competitors and their prices. And while that's harder for his stand-alone store, he aims "to make the sales experience more personal to my customers, which is something the big stores can lack."
He's also looking to the future, knowing that he has more to do in the online selling world.
"I have high hopes," Hudson says. "The plan for 2011 is grow and expand and open a second Auctiva Commerce Store."