By Eric Auchard
Al Losey, a corporate trainer at a Detroit auto parts maker, lost his job
six weeks ago in what could be another down-and-out story from a hard luck
corner of the American economy.
Instead, Losey, and his wife Peggy, a devoted part-time seller of
odds-and-ends on eBay, flew to Las Vegas this week trying to change their
fortunes by hitting the jackpot as full-time sellers on the online auction
They joined thousands of other hopefuls who made the pilgrimage to eBay
Inc.'s annual user conference to learn how 1.3 million people worldwide
support themselves, in whole or in part, through online auctions.
"This is a great opportunity to kind of do our own thing," said Al, who,
after being downsized from two jobs in the auto industry in six years, is
ready to join his wife of 35 years in building a small business online.
"We've had it with corporate America," says Peggy. "I'm tired of relying on
other people," echoes her husband.
Since 1998, she's created a sideline to her day job as a medical assistant
by scouring garage sales for items many people might consider junk, but
collectors on eBay covet. Now, the couple are gearing up to become full-time
"No more mom-and-pop operation. It's time to move up to the next level," Al
enthuses during a break in courses on how to incorporate a small business
and become trading assistants by helping manage other people's eBay sales.
The middle of Middle America -- retirees, stay-at-home moms and school
teachers -- are learning how to support themselves by the detailed work of
turning items they buy on the cheap into profitable sales.
EBay sellers are protected from what to outsiders might seem like the latest
in a long line of get-rich-schemes because they control the sale price and
how payments are received, minimizing the risk of fraud.
TURNING JUNK INTO GOLD
Trainers at the event estimated there are 12 million eBay sellers, including
those who sell the occasional unwanted item on eBay's vast market. EBay
recently signed up its 200 millionth registered user worldwide.
"It's pretty much my life," says Nancy MacGillivray, 49, of San Marcos,
California. She turned to eBay four years ago, after her employer went
Her schooling 30 years ago in fashion merchandising came in handy. She sells
extra large-sized clothing for young people under the eBay seller name Plus
Size Fashions and More.
Her daughter, Kristi Roller, 22, a fashion student, started out helping her
mother, but now runs her own eBay business, called KLR Couture, which
specializes in clothing for juniors.
MacGillivray says she sells 35 to 50 packages of clothing a day, which at an
average price of $20, translates into around $700 to $1,000 in gross sales.
Among eBay sellers, she ranks as No. 8,904 in volume, company figures show.
"Last year it started to feel like a real business," Nancy says. "But I'm
still waiting to hit the jackpot."
"You're happy, mother. Don't be greedy," chides Kristi.
Peggy Losey believes she hit the jackpot three weeks ago, when she found
some old plates shaped like lettuce leaves. She recognized the markings a
type of Majolica pottery she'd seen on an antiques television show.
Because they had tiny chips on the edges, she paid just $10 for 15 pieces.
When listing the items for auction on eBay, she acknowledged the defects,
fearing the wrath of buyers and the harm to her all-important user feedback
rating if she did not.
She auctioned off the plates for $1,419. Coming just weeks after her
husband's lay-off, it amounted to winning a jackpot.
"I was just running around the house yelling, 'Oh, my God! Oh, my God!"'
Christian Godfrey is more sanguine about eBay.
"There is no jackpot," Godfrey said. "It's just another way to sell."
Still, he drove 12 hours with his wife, Kathy, 37, from their home in Idaho
Falls, Idaho. The 39-year-old teacher of Web site development at a technical
college has been on eBay since 1998. He says he sells $2,000 a month of
merchandise, mostly home furnishings.
"Everyone thinks that people can sell junk on eBay and make lots of money,"
Godfrey said. "It's way more work than people let on," he said between
checking on inquiries. "That's the problem," he says. "You are on call all
Copyright 2006 Reuters Limited.
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[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: I sort of agree with Godfrey, quoted in
the item above: Selling on Ebay is _not_ a jackpot. It is just
another way of selling, and a difficult one at that. PAT]