Freewheel Madison was founded in 2003 by a group of Wisconsinites who wanted to expand access to transportation in the city. When he was 16 years old, Elijah McCloskey, then homeless on the streets of Madison, discovered Freewheel and built himself a bicycle. Equipped with a form of transportation, Elijah found steady work, attended university, and eventually returned to Freewheel, where he has become Executive Director. With resources from eBay and brick-and-mortar sales, Freewheel has provided transportation to more than 13,000 people locally and globally, and Elijah has invested over 75 percent of his personal income back into the program. Elijah believes in the power of community — teaching other non-profits how to sell successfully on eBay to raise money for their businesses.
Q: Where does the inspiration for your business come from?
A: I have personally experienced how access to transportation can radically transform lives: When I was 16 and homeless, I built a bike at Freewheel for free. That bike enabled me to get a job, stable housing, and eventually a business degree. I assumed directorship of Freewheel when the organization was in danger of closing and greatly expanded our core mission of educating the public about bicycle maintenance and repair. This success story embodies Freewheel’s belief that access to reliable transportation is a basic human right which helps promote economic development and social justice. eBay sales have paid for 13,000 bicycles, thousands of classes, and tons of parts given away to disadvantaged populations in Madison, Wisconsin and around the world, helping ensure everybody has the wheels they need to succeed.
Q: How has selling on eBay contributed to your success?
A: eBay matches our rare and vintage bicycles, parts, and accessories with customers around the world, dramatically expanding Freewheel’s financial resources, which makes our charitable work sustainable. Our eBay sales are vital to the success of our organization. The peak bike season in Wisconsin is roughly six months in the summer, and sales from eBay help us pay our winter expenses. Further, eBay has expanded our customer base and increased the visibility of our organization nationally and internationally. Many of our customers purchase items from us to specifically support our organization’s non-profit mission and donate their used items to help us fund our programs.
Q: What is your proudest business moment on eBay?
A: My proudest moment selling on eBay was the first year we were able to keep all of our staff on full-time through the winter season, which is traditionally a slow time for business. Every year since then, our charitable reach has increased dramatically. Freewheel’s eBay store is overwhelmingly successful and sees tremendous growth every month. We use the proceeds from every sale to fund our brick-and-mortar shop and our charitable outreach in Madison and beyond.
Q: Can you share a fun fact about your business?
A: Our community service Jail Diversion Program partnership helps the state of Wisconsin save tens of thousands of dollars every year by reducing rates of recidivism and jail sentences. Through our experience working with ex-convicts, we have seen the importance of low cost, reliable transportation and bicycle maintenance education in allowing these individuals to repay their debts to society and become positive members of our community.
Q: How has selling on eBay impacted your organization?
A: Selling on eBay has provided Freewheel with a stable revenue stream less affected by local seasonal trends. Selling products on eBay further helps us to “work smarter, not harder” because we can work remotely. The eBay smartphone app means we can make sales at any time without having to be in our physical work space. This freedom permits us to travel to other bicycle cooperatives around the country, as well as Latin America and Europe, in order to better understand the operation of non-profits and bike culture around the world. The integration of this knowledge with our own is vital to our organization’s continued success.
Q: What gets you excited about selling on eBay?
A: I always get excited when a customer really loves a bike they buy! One buyer had purchased a 70’s Wisconsin-made Trek new, and regretfully sold it in the 90’s. A couple months ago, he thought about that bike, searched online to find a replacement, and I had his exact bike, matching serial number listed. Needless to say, he was overjoyed with his purchase!
Q: How has selling online supported your physical store?
A: Freewheel’s brick-and-mortar shop is already successful—but our eBay store has taken us to the next level, driving new customers, donors, volunteers and board members to our space from all over the world. One buyer drove across multiple states for a local pick up, then helped us find grants and joined our advisory board. This fall we will expand into a second brick-and-mortar space in downtown Madison, and our eBay storefront gives us the financial stability needed to make this possible.
Q: What is your favorite eBay tool/program? Do you connect with other sellers on eBay?
A: I love running an eBay meetup group in Madison with guest speakers and focused topics to help other sellers succeed. The bulk editor really helps me to rapidly adjust prices across all of my inventory, to best optimize sell through rate and margins. The eBay shipping tool makes international shipping affordable to many more buyers around the world.
Q: How has eBay allowed you to give back to the charity, community, or cause you are passionate about?
A: Proceeds from our eBay’s sales fund our mission directly to provide transportation to our community with a focus on helping marginalized populations. We have given away over 13,000 bicycles locally and in parts of Africa and the Caribbean, as well as taught over 5,000 people bicycle maintenance and repair, and diverted over a thousand tons of waste from landfills. Transportation access is a cost-effective lever for change, catalyzing grassroots economic development and social justice, and bicycles promote healthy living while reducing environmental damages.