Seller Stories: Supporting a Family on eBay Income

Phil Dunn

It started with SCUBA (Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus). Tim Chapman, an eBay seller of 13 years and counting, was tasked with unloading military-grade diving equipment by his boss. He was the top sales person for a high-end SCUBA retailer, and they needed to sell some stuff that wasn't moving through the usual channels.

Chapman tried out a young, burgeoning platform called eBay to see if he could find some buyers. And he was stunned by the results. "I couldn't believe it," said Chapman. "I set up the account, learned how to list and found out that it was really easy to move product. We sold a whole bunch of commercial dive masks, got paid immediately and shipped them out the same day. It was a revelation."

"Don't Quit!"
Six months later, Chapman told his wife that he'd be resigning from his post as top salesman at the diving equipment company. "She said, no I don't think so," explained Chapman. "She thought I was kidding. My brother-in-law even called. He was furious."

Chapman was determined, however, and somehow he was able to convince his wife that he had the skills to pull it off.

"I had already been successful on eBay," said Chapman. "I knew that if I could spend more time on eBay, I'd be able to match or exceed my existing income."

Sure enough, Chapman's business took off. He's been supporting a mortgage, family of five, car payments and all the bills ever since. The Chapmans home school their kids, so he's with them for most of the day. He also has the flexibility to pursue his passions, which include mountain biking, fishing, climbing and SCUBA.

A Steady Sales Routine
Part of Chapman's success can be attributed to a scheduled routine. On Monday, he lists an average of 40 items. Tuesday is shipping day. Wednesday is his day off. On Thursday and Friday, he goes to estate sales and lists. Saturday is swap meet day. And Sunday he spends at church and with family.

"I've been a swap meeter since I was young," said Chapman. "To me it's a treasure hunt -- for me it's fun. Digging through peoples' houses."

Some of Chapman's best sellers are high-end cookware, knives and bibles. Yes. People around the world buy lots of bibles on eBay.

"People get attached to their bibles," said Chapman. "There are lots of very specific versions of bibles that become familiar to the reader. They'll wear out the bible over the years and need to replace it. Many of them are no longer in print. eBay is where I can meet their needs."

Ground Rules
Chapman keeps inventory at a low level. "If I've bought poorly and I notice that my sell through rate is low, I'll drop the price and get rid of it," said Chapman. "You learn not to buy the item again. As a general rule, I'll start auctions at the minimum price I'm willing to take for the item. It's usually a very low price. If it's a rare item, you have to start high. If it's an item everyone wants, you can do 99 cents."

Home Runs
Like many eBay sellers, Chapman has posted some home run wins. He bought a Fujinon Leica t/1.2 camera lens for $50 and sold it for $3,400. He bought JBL speakers for $60 and sold them for $393. HP toner cartridges went for $300 after a $20 purchase. The list is long.

Bread and Butter
The bread and butter, however, continues to be items that Chapman buys for $10 to $20 and sells for $50 to $60. "As long as it's easy to ship and you're smart, you can do it all day and make a great profit," says Chapman. "You just need to play smart."

The bible business also keeps Chapman in the selling spirit. "If I'm shipping a bible to someone in Europe or Africa, that's a really positive experience. I'm spreading God's word via eBay," said Chapman.

There are other personal touches. "One time a woman called me because her dad sold his 1964 Corvette convertible to put her through college. She couldn't ever repay him, but I found her the hood ornament from that exact same car. She wrote me back saying 'I couldn't give him the car back, but I could give him a piece of it.'"

It's those kind of stories that keep Chapman going.