Hillsboro woman finds niche as eBay marketer

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
When Terri Allen was glued to the computer screen two years ago, buying collectibles on the Internet marketplace called eBay, husband Mike told her it was time to stop spending their children’s inheritance.

“He said, ‘Anything that comes in, something’s got to go out,’ so I started selling,” Allen said.

Today she is the only authorized eBay trading assistant in Hillsboro and is developing her new business called eNet Connections.

As one of 103 authorized trading assistants in the state, she sells online for small businesses and individuals, who would rather pay her to do all the work required to sell one or more items on eBay’s auction site www.ebay.com.

“I provide a service for others,” Allen said.

By the end of August, she had 26 personal and customer items on her auction site, and the total value was listed at $1,334.77.

Allen charges a non-refundable initiation fee per item.

When items sell, she will charge her clients a total-sale commission per item. If they don’t sell, she will only collect the initiation fee.

The Allens came to Hillsboro from Louisiana three years ago. Mike is a locomotive engineer for Union Pacific Railroad out of Herington, and the couple has three children. Son Jordan, 14, and daughters Jessica, 13 and Jenna, 3, are in a home-school program taught by Allen.

Prior to marriage, she was a communications major for two years at the University of Southwestern Louisiana.

She left school to have a family and later attended Barton County Community College and Pratt Community College majoring in criminal justice. She said she still plans to earn a degree some day in criminal justice.

About six years ago, Allen worked for the police department and county attorney’s office in St. Johns.

“I wasn’t real familiar with computers, and we got one at the police department and at home,” Allen said. “And between the two, I had a lot of time to spend and play with them.”

Although she took one basic computer course at Barton, Allen describes herself as self-taught.

“It’s become such a natural part of my life, I actually go into withdrawal if I’m not on it,” she said.

“Coffee, pop tart and the computer-first thing in the morning.”

She started buying items on eBay three years ago when she bought an 1886 Kansas real-estate bond. It cost her $10.

“I appreciate older things and the history of the state of Kansas,” Allen said. “We’ve lived in four states and eight towns, and we finally feel like we’ve come home.”

As her “addiction” to eBay grew, the most expensive item she bought was a collectible china plate for $50, Allen said.

The plate was designed for the Southern Pacific Railroad Line and used on their dining cars.

It was shortly after this time that Mike told her to start selling on eBay.

“So I started with some Wilton cake pans, that I had bought at a garage sale in Hillsboro for $3 apiece and turned around and sold them for $10 each on eBay,” Allen said.

As her new venture progressed, she began selling her mother-in-law’s handmade Victorian crazy-quilt stockings and baby quilts online.

The idea to sell items on eBay for non-family members was born one day when she walked into friend Denise Todd’s Tan It All shop in Hillsboro.

“She had a gorgeous black prom dress marked below what she paid for it,” Allen said. “I said, ‘It doesn’t take a genius to know you’re losing money-let me sell it for you on eBay.'”

The sale was a success, and Allen sold more items for Todd in exchange for free tanning.

When Todd’s business sold, Allen talked to the new owner, who gave her thumbs up to sell store items that weren’t moving fast enough.

“And so that’s when I turned around and did brochures,”Allen said. “We talked about commission, and I immediately started selling stuff right and left for her-and I still do.”

Allen’s user name on eBay is cajnpepper, and her e-mail address is kscajuns@earthlink.net.

Certain criteria need to be met to become an authorized eBay trading assistant, such as maintaining no less than a 98-percent positive feedback rating.

After each eBay sale is completed, buyers enter their evaluation of the seller’s performance, and Allen has a 100-percent positive feedback rating. She also has to be a registered user and must have sold an item within 30 days of its initial listing.

For tax purposes, her eNet Connection Business is still in the category of garage sales, but Allen said she plans to get a tax number in the near future as she continues to grow.

Operating out of her home, the tools of her trade include a personal computer; a camera, tri-pod and scanner to take photos and images of items for sale; a compact-disc burner; and a mannequin to display clothing items.

She also invested in a $5-a-month eBay program called “Seller’s Assistant,” that allows her to do multiple listings and faster entries of auction items.

Auctions on eBay can last three, seven or 10 days, and Allen said she chooses to list items for seven days.

“Three days is too short, and you don’t get the exposure you get for seven days,” she said. “Ten days is too long, and I don’t want to pay the additional fees for that.”

The minimum value of an item Allen will agree to auction is $25, and that item must remain in her possession until the auction is over.

She charges a non-refundable auction initiation fee of $5 per item and a commission of 25 percent per item based on the final total-sale value.

After figuring in fees and commissions, she sends two monthly checks to her client.

If an item doesn’t sell, she will give her customer the option of relisting it one more time with no additional initiation fee. If the second time around is successful, she will charge the 25-percent commission.

After two times on eBay, Allen said she suggests they stop listing an item that isn’t selling.

Her duties include picking up the items for sale, taking pictures, storing the items and writing descriptive information to be included on the eBay auction page listed under her name.

She also determines the opening bid and reserve prices, follows the progress of the sale, pays fees to eBay, handles all money transactions and ships the sold item to the buyer within 48 hours.

The opening bid is the minimum starting price for the item up for sale, and the reserve price is the minimum that item will be sold for at auction.

But, Allen said, items that don’t sell within the time limit are negotiable after the auction is over, and she will consider reasonable offers submitted by e-mail.

Clients receive a monthly itemized invoice of current and completed auctions with listing prices, starting bids and ending bids.

Allen works an average of about four to five hours a day as a trading assistant.

“Some days, this is all I do and some days, I don’t do anything at all,” she said. “It’s hard to take days off when I’m sitting in front of a computer. Why not see how my things are selling?”

The most expensive item sold to date was a quilt for $200, and the most unusual was zippers sold to a Los Angeles buyer, who makes handbags and accessories with metal zippers.

“I sold $60 worth of zippers to her initially, and I have another 217 to send her that I found in thrift stores,” Allen said.

Her services are designed for business owners, who want to sell slow-moving items from their store and don’t have the time to get on eBay.

She has also found a niche with individuals, who want to reach a wide buying market but are too busy, don’t own a computer or have no desire to sell on the internet auction site.

“I definitely want this business to grow quickly,” Allen said. “I’m really enjoying it. I’ve told my husband, ‘I’m going to ride this wave until it stops, and it’s not going to stop.’

“Shopping on line for new items, used items, antiques and collectibles-this is the way things are going now.”

And what about husband Mike who wanted her to start selling on eBay?

“I tell him I’m going to put him on eBay, list him for a penny and put a reserve of $1 million on him,” she said with a twinkle in her eye.

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