eBay Agents Wanted

Matthew A. Brown Comments
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Some self-storage operators have turned to eBay to conduct lien sales when customers turn delinquent. But eBay offers the industry a much bigger opportunity, one that can generate significant profits.

Facility staff can actually become independent eBay agents, helping tenants sell items from their storage units, even attracting new business by selling for the general public. The concept is simple. Tell your tenants you will post their goods for sale, monitor the entire online auction sale process, and then ship the item to the winning bidder—for a fee.

Worried that you don’t know enough about the inner workings of eBay to pull it off? Solutions are out there, such as companies that help self-storage facilities set up eBay stores. The franchise operation takes up little space in your existing facility; current staff is easily trained; and the investment is reasonable, particularly when compared to the profit potential. When selecting your eBay selling partner, be sure the company provides training, ongoing support, a proprietary software system that “talks” to eBay, and signage for the office-counter area and driveway entrances.

Natural Fit

The “help-you-sell-on-eBay” industry started out as independent storefront businesses. The targets were people who didn’t own or understand computers, or those who might be intimidated by eBay’s procedures. Customers would walk in, and the operation would take in the item, help establish its value, photograph it, write the descriptive copy, take care of the listing, ship the item, then issue a check to the seller.

Soon it became apparent many existing businesses would make natural partners—operations that would benefit by devoting some existing square footage to a small eBay operation. Self-storage businesses appeared to be a perfect fit. Here’s why:

  • Virtually every rented unit contains at least an item or two that can be converted to cash on eBay.
  • Self-storage businesses don’t have to find new customers to take advantage of their new eBay capability. They already have a universe of existing prospects, many of whom would quickly get on board.
  • Tenants often come into the facility on a regular basis to pay their storage fees, making onsite marketing easy.
  • If tenants sell a few unwanted items in their unit, they can put the money toward storage rental.
  • Most storage operators agree existing staff would have enough free time to handle eBay transactions.

Profit Projections

Phil French operates Filco Ltd. of Indianapolis, which owns and runs a real estate portfolio including self-storage facilities. French has an extensive history in the service industry, where ancillary products are a key function of profitability. “A self-storage business with 400 or 500 storage units represents a feasible base of customers that can be cultivated for eBay sales,” he says.

The service is so new, average monthly revenues aren’t yet known. But French believes eBay sales at self-storage facilities have the potential to outstrip such current ancillary mainstays as packing materials, padlocks and truck-and-trailer rentals.

“I think this is a product that can make three or four times the money that operators are seeing now through any other ancillary product or service, and that is without any increase in human time or effort,” French says. “On-site eBay sales could exceed all current ancillary revenue combined.”

Self-storage business owners may see eBay sales as an add-on service for existing tenants; others will reach out to non-traditional customers. Opportunities include business-to-business sales, liquidations, and getting involved with community fundraisers.

Either way, it’s an exciting—and profitable—ancillary avenue. 

Matthew A. Brown is president and founder of The Online Outpost, which sells items on eBay for a variety of clients. The first The Online Outpost opened in Tampa, Fla., in 2004. Since then, the company has grown to 19 stores, a combination of company-owned and franchises. The company also offers “bolt-on” franchises—smaller sub-franchises that operate within existing businesses. For more information, call 813.470.7094 or 866.881.3229; visit www.theonlineoutpost.com

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