Profile: Spritely Endeavor

eBay merchant builds lively online business selling garden gnomes.

by staff writer
- Apr 20, 2010
Lori Ford and John Harrison

Lori Ford never imagined garden gnomes would help fund her eventual retirement. But after listing one on eBay, "just to see what would happen," she was surprised to discover an enthusiastic market for the peculiar little yard creatures.

More than a decade later, business is still booming at Chosen Treasures4u, the eBay Store Ford now operates with husband John Harrison. Known as the "Harrison Ford team," the two have had a blast while building a nest egg out of gnomes, fairies, porcelain dolls, hand-carved wood spirits and other fanciful garden décor.

"It all started 11 years ago with a handmade angel," Ford muses. "I researched for about three months before putting my first item on eBay and I had a bid within hours. So I thought, 'There's definitely a market out there.'"

"After I started focusing on gnomes, business just grew and grew," she says. "Until the recession hit about three years ago, we were selling $250,000 a year doing this in our spare time."

Shipping from the U.S. saves customers tons of money, and they get their items a lot faster

Ford isn't ready to retire just yet—perhaps in a few more years, she says. For now, she energetically manages a near-full-time job as an emergency-room triage nurse while running the eBay Store and an independent website, Gnomes Pixies & More.

"This [online business] has been a good diversion from my nursing career," she laughs, though she says the intensity of the E.R. environment has made her more efficient. "I'm a multi-tasker, but as an emergency nurse I became very organized and precise. I find that I focus in many different directions and I tend to create while focusing—and I'm always thinking, creating.

"As soon as I get up in the morning and have my walk and my coffee, I go online to check e-mail, check my sales, and then go right into Auctiva to work on my listings," she says.

"I spend about six to seven hours per day online," she continues. "It's not work to me, but a form of creativity and relaxation."

Team spirit

Ford learned about running a business by working in her parents' hardware store as a girl. Now as a business owner, she manages the product research, purchasing and routine operations, while Harrison, a commercial estimator and project manager by day, handles packaging and shipping. Between eBay and the Web store, that adds up to more than 100 items a week. Every Saturday, he gets up before dawn to make the two-hour trek from Winnipeg, Canada, across the border to North Dakota to send packages by USPS.

"We ship all over the world—and we seem to have fair number of buyers from Australia and U.K.," Ford notes. "Shipping from the U.S. saves customers tons of money, and they get their items a lot faster."

Harrison also lends a masculine perspective to Ford's sourcing and marketing decisions. "He'll say, 'If I were a guy buying this for my wife…,'" she says.

"Our items are good for gift-giving, and they tend to be popular among people who are settled in their lifestyle, and who are into collecting or gardening," Ford explains. "So we try to focus on fun stuff and make life a bit more positive for people."

It was about five years ago that Ford decided to expand beyond eBay, and opened Gnomes Pixies & More through a local Web design and hosting firm. eBay still accounts for 90 percent of her sales, but Ford is hopeful that a recent redesign, shopping cart upgrade and expansion of the Web site to a U.S. server will help boost off-eBay sales.

Auctiva's Supersizing feature lets buyers have an even closer look. I feel like having several images and close-up detail is what makes the sale

Optimistic about the future

She's also considering selling wholesale on the site. These changes, coupled with higher sales on eBay as the economy recovers, should lift overall sales well above pre-recession levels, she figures.

"Our goal is to reach $1 million in sales within the next two years," Ford says. "It's a big goal, but we're going to make it happen; we're ready for it.

"Auctiva is helping us," she adds.

Ford began using Auctiva's tools several years ago to help make her eBay listings stand out, while also reducing her listing fees. Her favorite Auctiva features are the Scrolling Gallery to cross-promote her other items on eBay, and the eBay listing templates, which frame her ads with a touch of whimsy.

"I love exploring the excellent variety of templates to complement my listings on eBay," she notes.

But Ford says she couldn't do without Auctiva's image hosting.

"Images are No. 1," she says. "If you don't have good images, you may as well pack it in."

"I take a lot of time with my images. I'll take images of the front view, back, side and then zoom in for detail to show the buyers exactly what they're getting. Then Auctiva's Supersizing feature lets them have an even closer look," she explains. "I feel like having several images and close-up detail is what makes the sale."

While Ford says buyers today are spending less per purchase, overall sales volume has continued to grow—enough so that the couple has recently been able to remodel their home and purchase a fifth-wheel travel trailer. They look forward to enjoying the fruits of their labor well into retirement.

"It's just going to get better and better. That's my philosophy," she says. "I keep telling John, 'The sky's the limit.'

Visit Chosen Treasures4u on eBay, or check out Gnomes Pixies & More.

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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