A search for something from Maida Webster's 1950s childhood brought her and her husband, Bill, to eBay in 1998.
"I was looking for an elusive set of books about a girl named Maida," she recalls. "As an adult, I searched for years for the replacements, but only found a few of the original 15 in the series at outrageous prices of $100 per book in antique bookstores."
We thought it would be part time, but it has grown to full time for both of us
When Maida learned about eBay, she figured it was worth a try. There she quickly found most of the 15 books, available for immediate purchase at the price of about $5 each. Maida the skeptic was delighted!
"We were hooked on the site right then," she says. She and Bill thought about selling, but the couple spent the next few years as buyers.
Household items start it all
In 2002, they finally took the plunge with a few household items. Their hobby soon became more than a pastime. In 2006, with both Maida and Bill facing retirement, the idea of making eBay selling a part-time endeavor took root.
Interestingly, each person brought something special to the mix. Maida spent 40 years as a marriage and family therapist. Her understanding of the emotions and passions of others fueled and fed her collectible sourcing. Bill retired as a chief information officer of a pharmaceutical company and brought years of computer, business, and tax insight to the business.
Maida's convinced their decision to retire was easier with the thought they'd work together to build an online business.
"It was one of the best decisions we've ever made," she tells us. "We thought it would be part time, but it has grown to full time for both of us. Even with some occasional assistants, we still find it hard to get it all done!"
Dolls take venture to new level
The couple's first piece of advice is to consider what really speaks to your heart when deciding what to sell. Looking back, it's easy to see why Maida was drawn to collectibles, but starting out, those were the items that meant the most to her.
Their first large-scale batch of inventory came from Bill's aunt. They'd started by selling the standard household items they picked up around the house: the pottery and collectibles that accumulate in any long marriage.
I found myself waving my arms and saying, 'You know, connecting you to your favorite collectibles.' Suddenly I put the two words together as 'Connectibles'
When the time came to sell 1,000-plus dolls Bill's aunt had collected, the couple's business took off.
"I bought a library of reference books on dolls," Maida says. "By the end of the year we had sold pretty much all of them, and I had obtained a Ph.D. in doll collecting. To this day, that is my favorite category of all."
Intent leads to perfect name
Bill and Maida now operate the eBay Store Connectibles. The passion and intent behind the business reside in the name.
"This business touched my heart very much when I would sell somebody a special item that really resonated with them, something they had been searching for," Maida tells us. "It reminded me a little bit about marriage counseling where I was helping people connect with each other in a positive way, but here I was helping people connect to their favorite treasures."
But the name itself didn't come quickly to the couple. They actually held a contest among friends and family when it was time to brand their business. While discussing it with a friend, Maida found herself coming back to the idea of "connecting" and "favorite collectibles."
"As I was talking, I found myself waving my arms and saying, 'You know, connecting you to your favorite collectibles,'" she recalls. "Suddenly I put the two words together as 'Connectibles!' So I won my own contest."
Since the couple make their home in Connecticut, the name was even more apt, although neither of them noticed that at first. They were off and running with their new brand.
Sticking with works for them
When you visit Connectibles, you can't help but notice the attractive header they use. Maida admits many sellers are moving away from embellishment with the increase of mobile shopping and the challenges of viewing elaborate headers on small screens.
"We believe the header is where potential collectors and customers get a feel for our brand, our unique approach to our business," she says.
Maida notes they do tweak it to make it more mobile friendly, but the customer-focused header remains at the heart of their brand design. The understanding is that each seller needs to know who their customers are and what will appeal to them.
Bill and Maida worked with a design firm they met at eBay Live on Location years ago. They found these hands-on and in-person sessions very helpful.
"From the beginning we were eager to learn how to improve our selling and our customer service," Maida notes. "We loved the eBay Live conferences, and took every class we could find as we made our business more and more professional."
We get amazing letters from buyers thanking us for the perfect doll that is like the one they lost in a flood three decades ago or the perfect cup that was missing from their grandmother's china
Maida and Bill recommend sellers seek out these in-person learning opportunities. This thirst for learning still drives them. So many long-time sellers bemoan the passing of the "Golden Age of eBay" when nearly anything would sell and at competitive auction prices, but not Maida and Bill.
"This has been a slow and steady learning curve," Maida admits. "Our sales have never been better than they have been in the last year or two."
Business is ultimate in 'green'
Although she admits selling collectibles and vintage items may be the hardest type of eBay business to build, the couple have no regrets.
"It's the ultimate in 'going green,' helping people connect with existing recycled products that can be used and admired and loved for generations," she says. "We get amazing letters from buyers thanking us for the perfect doll that is like the one they lost in a flood three decades ago or the perfect cup that was missing from their grandmother's china. [There's] nothing better!"
In the next part of the Connectibles' story, we'll look at how these two eBay entrepreneurs have built a fulfilling and fun retirement that looks like very little retiring. We'll also share some of their secrets for staying up to the minute in a fast-moving industry and more.