New Hampshire Sunday News (Manchester, NH) - Sunday, December 5, 2010
By MIKE CULLITY
New Hampshire Union Leader
When Josh Chamberlain was a University of New Hampshire student in the early 2000s, he made extra money buying and selling baseball cards and antique golf clubs on eBay.com, the online auction and shopping site founded in 1995.
After graduating in 2003, he borrowed $1,500 from his father and set out to see whether he could make a living on eBay. He started buying and selling various items, including some Chinese porcelain he found at an auction in Peterborough. When the porcelain fetched a tidy profit, Chamberlain figured he was onto something.
"I said, 'Hey, maybe I'll look for more of this stuff,'" he said.
Chamberlain started studying Chinese antiques and eventually established a niche selling the goods to buyers around the world on eBay. Today, he operates Chamberlain Antiques from an office in Amherst, buying and selling primarily porcelain, bronze, jade and ivory items made in China during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Although he declined to divulge his company's annual sales, the 30-year-old, who grew up in Merrimack, said he has sold antiques for six figures to major auction houses. But he sells most of his inventory -- some items for less than $100 -- via eBay auctions. And more than half of his sales are to Chinese buyers, many of whom are looking to reacquire historic items that were exported to the United States.
"It's really snowballed into something larger than I ever dreamt it would," Chamberlain said.
By capitalizing on the Internet's worldwide reach, Chamberlain launched an enterprise that has prospered even amid the recent recession. Using eBay and other sites, Chamberlain and fellow online sellers -- including others in New Hampshire -- have established themselves as full-time e-commerce entrepreneurs. Meanwhile, others have turned online selling into a lucrative part-time business or simply a fulfilling hobby.
An online living
On a recent rainy Tuesday night in Portsmouth, a dozen online sellers gathered for the monthly meeting of the Seacoast eBay and e-Commerce Sellers Group. Bobbi Miller, a 52-year-old Portsmouth social worker who has been selling collectibles part time on eBay for a decade, founded the group in April 2009.
More than 100 sellers from New Hampshire and nearby states are registered members of the group, and its meetings typically draw up to 20 attendees looking to network and learn from their peers.
"Sellers for the most part are very gracious and open to teaching each other," Miller said.
Among those at the recent event was Michael Jordan, a 42-year-old Nottingham resident who operates BullyStickDirect.com, an e-commerce site that sells dog treats to retail stores and consumers. A former utility industry employee, Jordan launched the business in April 2007 after discovering bully sticks -- edible chew toys -- at a Portsmouth pet store.
"My dog wouldn't let this thing out of its sight," Jordan said.
Jordan sells bully sticks and other dog treats on his e-commerce site and eBay. Because Jordan buys a few products in extreme bulk, he can offer retail stores better pricing on those products than regional pet-product distributors can, he said. And eBay provides him a vibrant marketplace for selling to consumers.
Last year, Jordan began buying large quantities of other items, such as football jerseys, from liquidators and reselling them on eBay. In October, Jordan sold 250 items on eBay, and he expects his overall sales to increase by 10 percent this year, he said.
"I'll just say I'm north of $250,000 in revenues," Jordan said.
Despite his success as a largely self-taught e-commerce merchant, Jordan attends the Seacoast group meetings to pick up business tips from other online sellers.
"There are so many details that can make online selling easier, and I don't know half of them," he said.
Brandon Stauber, a 40-year-old from Los Angeles who recently moved to New Hampshire, attended the sellers gathering "to meet other Internet geeks," he said. The Hampton Beach resident and a partner operate The Wine Spies LLC, which sells wine online.
The business' e-commerce site (http://thewinespies.com
) sells a different wine each day. The featured wines are produced in small quantities and usually can't be found in supermarkets, Stauber said.
"We came up with the concept of spying out family wineries and introducing them to a wider public," he said.
Launched in August 2007, the site typically sells between 10 and 20 cases of wine a day, with each bottle selling for a discount price negotiated with the winery, Stauber said.
"Because it's a one-day sale, my price has to be the best price online that day," he said.
Featured wines usually sell for between $20 and $50 a bottle, and in a little more than three years, The Wine Spies' site has attracted more than 25,000 members, said Stauber, who estimated the company's 2010 sales will be $1.5 million.
Sitting across a table from Stauber was Gail Hinz, who drove an hour from her home in East Waterboro, Maine, to attend the sellers meeting. Hinz operates Crystals and Trinkets, which sells women's accessories and gifts via eBay and Amazon.com.
As a stay-at-home mother to a young son, Hinz started reselling used items on eBay 12 years ago, and she later began reselling new items she bought at discount in retail outlets. Five years ago, she obtained a resale certificate from the state of Maine that allows her to sell items she buys wholesale, she said.
With her son now a teenager, Hinz has made online selling a full-time business, warehousing inventory in her basement and shipping products daily. Over the last two years, her business has grown by 50 percent, she said.
"I enjoy it because I can stay at home, but I still have something I do," Hinz said. "I'm not just 'Suzy Homemaker.'"
While e-commerce has become a full-time occupation for some, others have adopted online selling as an avocation.
Employed full time as a social worker, Miller spends an additional 10 to 20 hours a week selling items such as books, clothing and ornaments on eBay and Amazon.com. She spends weekends scouring yard sales and thrift stores, relishing the hunt for items she can resell for a profit. She is also an eBay certified education specialist who offers online selling classes to individuals and groups.
Recently, Miller found a Wilson tennis racket for sale in a Portsmouth thrift shop. Before buying it, she researched the item and discovered it was a discontinued model that legendary pro Pete Sampras once favored, she said.
She returned to the shop, bought the racket for $5.95 and later sold it on eBay to a Japanese buyer for $250.
"That doesn't happen every day, but it's fun when it does," Miller said.
At the Seacoast sellers meeting, Miller led a discussion about the pros and cons of popular third-party service applications that eBay offers sellers to help them with market research, shipping and other tasks. Among those participating was Yvonne Prince, a Massachusetts resident who works in Portsmouth and sells "a little of this and a little of that" on eBay.
A group member for about a year, Prince values the guidance she receives from other sellers and the positive people she's meets. For her, online selling is a hobby that has financial and personal rewards.
"It's a passion," she said. "I save my money and visit my godkids in Arkansas."