Drop-off stores take hassle out of selling


Published: Sunday, January 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, December 31, 2005 at 10:45 p.m.
For Gini Seely, generating a little extra cash is as easy as dropping off an undesired possession at a local store - one that sells goods on eBay - and waiting for the shop owner to send her a check.
One of Seely's collectible paperweights recently fetched $185, more than three times the $50 she originally paid for it.
"I have 20 more paperweights," she said. "I'm thinking about selling more."
eBay, a leading icon of the digital age, now has a fast-growing bricks-and-mortar support system. Aiming to make selling online as easy as buying, eBay drop-off stores are popping up all over.
The sales pitch: bring in your unwanted antiques, designer clothes, toys, musical instruments, china, silver and other goods. Then go home and wait for a check.
"It takes the headache away for everyone," said JeniferTransou, the owner of the Rockwall store that Seely used, which is the local franchise of a Pasadena, Calif.-based company, i Sold It LLC.
Of course, there's a price to pay for hiring someone else to sell your old stuff. Sales commissions at drop-off stores typically run around 30 percent.
And selling on eBay isn't necessarily that hard. Would-be sellers who want to go it alone can take an online tutorial or get advice from eBay trading assistants.
But there is some work involved in selling it yourself on eBay: You've got to take the photos, write the descriptions, answer the questions from potential buyers, handle the payments and ship the goods.
Transou likes to say that handing over items to an eBay drop-off store is akin to going out for dinner instead of cooking at home.
The nation's No. 1 eBay seller, i Sold It has more than 150 stores nationwide.
Close behind is QuikDrop International, with 89 stores around the country and its headquarters in Costa Mesa, Calif. Dallas entrepreneur Mel Bratman has six QuickDrop stores in North Texas and expects to open more.
"We're looking at an industry that's going to be huge," said Bratman, a former Zale Corp. executive who later founded a staffing firm. "We're selling the concept right now."
A multitude of smaller companies - from Orbit Drop Inc. to a three-store Dallas chain called Drop to Sell It to numerous independents - are also angling for commissions on a slice of eBay's enormous sales volume.
This year, the value of goods sold on eBay is on track to surpass $40 billion. Drop-off stores account for a sliver of that, but proponents say business is growing fast.
Years ago, San Jose, Calif.-based eBay Inc. spawned a cottage industry of savvy small-time entrepreneurs who earn a living by selling goods online.
Dallas resident Ann Wood began selling on eBay after deciding to stay home with her kids. That led to a thriving business selling high-end goods such as designer clothes, fine china and crystal out of her home.
"I make good money on it," said Wood, who goes by the online name Willow-Wear. "I don't make as much as I did as a lawyer, but I'm not trying to."
Is there room for chains of drop-off stores? Not all will survive, and some small ones have already gone under. But proponents argue that less than 10 percent of eBay's more than 100 million registered users sell anything. They also reckon that only a few hundred thousand users are regular sellers.
A 2004 A.C. Nielsen survey sponsored by eBay found that U.S. households typically have unused goods with a resale value of around $1,000. Most items sold on eBay fetch less than what their original owners paid for them, but sales turn unused goods into cash.
"It's opening up this marketplace to people who felt like they couldn't participate in it, for whatever reason," said Jim Griffith, eBay's official "dean of education."
That's where Transou comes in. The 32-year-old former Dallas police officer quit the force several years ago to stay home with her kids. She also took a greater interest in eBay.
"I would go around and find stuff I could sell," she said. "You could sell blinds for $30 that you bought for $5."
In August, she moved her skills from home to a shopping center storefront, its interior decorated with colorful i Sold It ads and a yellow and green sales counter. The shelves are full of merchandise being auctioned online.
Serving buyers all over the country, Transou has sold collectible figurines, silver coins, jewelry, musical instruments, automobile wheel rims, Persian rugs, toy train sets, fine china and a handbag that fetched $5,400.
Sales at drop-off stores appear to be accelerating.
QuikDrop took more than a year to reach the $10 million mark in the value of goods it sold, a milestone it passed in October. Now, less than three months later, it's poised to reach $20 million, says Bratman, the local franchisee.
The race is on for market share. Eventually, Bratman plans to open up to 40 stores in the nine North Texas counties for which he has franchise rights. Orbit Drop, which has stores from Tennessee to Oregon, recently opened a Dallas shop. And i Sold It is trying to expand, too.
"The profit margin's there if you can do the volume," said Keith Waggoner, who just opened his first i Sold It store in University Park, Texas, and plans to open nine more in the next few years. "Dallas has always been known nationally as a strong retail consumer market. People who have been buying and consuming are ideal customers."
What do customers get out of it? "The biggest reason people come in here, believe it or not, is not that they want the money," said David Goldstein, another i Sold It franchisee, with a store in Addison, Texas. "It's because they want something out of their house or their business."
That logic also applies to companies, which are often looking to dispose of old inventory or equipment, Goldstein said. He's negotiating with several companies to handle such goods.
One of his current retail clients is his friend Darren Kammer. When Kammer heard a Midwestern university was upgrading its audiovisual communications equipment, he snapped up the used goods. Kammer, a home theater designer, says he could sell the equipment on eBay himself. But that would take too much time away from his regular job, so he went to Goldstein.
"I've got about $750 invested in it," said Kammer of the equipment he bought. "I'm already ahead, and we haven't even sold everything yet."
How eBay drop-off stores work:
  • A person takes an item to an eBay drop-off store, where a representative estimates the item's value. Many stores require an item to be worth at least $30.
  • The store photographs the item, writes a description and posts it on eBay for a seven-day auction, which the item's owner can monitor online.
  • If the item sells, the store collects payment and ships it to the buyer. It handles any disputes with the buyer.
  • After a smooth transaction, the store sends a check to the original owner, minus a commission and eBay-related fees. The owner typically receives around 60 percent of the sale price.
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