Most people don’t fall into making $4 million dollars, but Beth Marbach did. She started selling books and DVDs on eBay as a way to make money on the side. She then stumbled upon $1 dog jackets she could sell for $20.
Beth’s life would change on a mystery shopping trip to DSW when she came across a pair of Coach boots for $50. She went home that night, took a picture of them, posted them on eBay and by the next morning she had made a $100 profit.
She then went to all the DSW stores in Chicago and bought every pair of Coach boots they had.
Thirteen years later, Beth had made millions selling designer shoes to customers around the globe.
Here is a bit of the fascinating story on how she did it:
What was the timeframe between selling books and switching to shoes?
Within a year. I started the business 13 years ago. I was selling books and DVDs while I still had a job. It was something I did on the side. It was never my plan to build this into a grandiose business, but once I was making a $100 profit on a pair of shoes, I started to think that I might not have to go back to corporate America after all. Nine years ago I made this my full time career and I had no intentions of ever interviewing for another job again.
What was your product line?
Name recognizable products, mostly shoes, that were high end household names – like Prada, Gucci, Tod’s and Ferragamo. They had to be brand names people knew in Japan. I only wanted to sell shoe brands Neiman Marcus sold. I wanted to sell the higher end shoes in case the economy ever tanked wealthy people always have money to spend on fashion. Ninety percent of what we sold was made in Italy.
Less than 10% of our inventory was clothing such as plus sizes or maternity clothes. We found it was hard to photograph clothes and our shoe customers did not cross over to those products. When I first started, my product line was about 90% women’s and 10% men’s. At the end it was about 10% women’s shoes and 90% men’s, which I thought was really interesting. The men’s luxury market grew. Everything we sold was one to three years old, sometimes even four.
Why not sell current season merchandise?
The only time I have access to prices where I could make my margins was at the end of the season when stores are dumping everything. I bought everything out of what I consider the second tier market – the outlet stores.
My Gucci outlet rep would call me and tell me they had a lot of $100 men shoes and I would tell them I would take them all. I didn’t even see them before I bought them.
I wanted my reps to always call me first, so I took all they would sell me. I was not that picky. I rarely went into a Neiman Marcus or Saks unless they were having an end of season sale. Seventy percent of what I bought was from the outlets, 20% of it I bought online.
Did people ever ask why you were buying all of these shoes?
I had some stores cater to me. Most of the people I bought from knew what I was doing. They just never asked. Early when I was doing it no one questioned anything. They were so happy I was buying that stuff and helping them meet their quotas, but with time other resellers came in and mucked it all up. They were nasty and demanding. They would buy 400 pairs of shoes and return 350 pairs when they did not sell.
My policy was that I never returned anything – ever – unless it was damaged. That kept most stores happy. They knew they would never see me again unless I was on another buying trip. With time some stores established limits on how much you could buy.
What were the different avenues you went down to acquire these products?
Meeting people face to face is key. I had to go in and feel out a store. A typical conversation would be like, “I want to buy a lot of shoes for my cousins. How many pairs can I buy for them?” And some people would know what I was talking about and say, “You can buy as many pairs of shoes for your cousins as you want.” Others would say, “You can only buy 10 pairs of shoes for your cousins” – wink wink.
Some people did not have any idea what I did. They just thought I was a crazy person. Sometimes I would just go in and buy 15 pairs, even if I really wanted to buy 50 pairs, because I did not want to get flagged in the system.
I would have the shoes shipped to my house and when I received them I would write a note and include a Starbucks gift card thanking them for their business and telling them if they ever got anymore shoes, for them to please let me know. Being nice was all it took to do my business. I emailed, texted and wrote notes. No one writes handwritten notes anymore, and of course, I included a $25 Starbucks gift card. At Christmas sometimes my gifts went up to $500 in value. In general the people I worked with told me other resellers would not do anything for them. I was thinking if I wasn’t doing enough I would up it.
It got to the point where they would call me when a shipment was coming and I could take a look at it before it even hit the floor. Then finally they would send me pictures of things and I would not even have to go to the store but that took five or six years to build that type of relationship up.
When I went shopping I was not carrying a Louis Vuitton handbag. I dressed very average. I was very humble and very nice to people. A lot of my competition treated people pooly. If someone left one of the stores where I shopped I would have to fly back down to the store and try to form a relationship with someone else. But people got to know me and if someone left there were others who were vying to get me on their client list because they knew I was a sure thing. I would place $10,000 orders.
Anytime I visited a store I called ahead of time to make sure the manager and sales rep I worked with would be there and before I came I always called to see if I could bring them coffee. I went shopping on Tuesdays and Wednesdays because they are the least busy shopping days. I would never shop Thursday thru Sunday. You couldn’t build a rapport with anyone. You had to go on a day when they were bored and dying to talk to someone.
I would imagine some problems arose in some of these dealings.
When things were really good like in 2005 or 2006, when Sex in the City was really hot and they were not producing enough shoes for the demand the show created, they were really restricting the number of shoes you could buy during those years. I would literally have store managers come up to me and tell me that I couldn’t buy all of the shoes, and then tell me, rudely, that all sales were final.
I was like, “I am dropping $12,000 today. Can you be a little nicer?” I would tell them they could go look in my account and see that I never returned anything and then they would calm down.
I had more challenges with eBay than with my suppliers. eBay has a policy if any manufacturer calls them and says, “those shoes on that store are not real,” they will just take the entire site down.
I had Burberry contact eBay and say that my stuff was not real, when it actuality was. I bought it all from Burberry stores and I had the receipts to prove it, but eBay still shut down my store down for almost a week. After my lawyer sent everything over I got my site turned back on, but Burberry said I could not put any of their stuff back up there. I had eight pairs of Burberry shoes out of 800 pairs on the site when they shut it down. It is scary to think if my site would have remained down I could have gotten stuck with 800 pairs of shoes.
What about sizes?
When I was selling to Japan early on I bought very small sizes. Towards the end I found the very big sizes sold very well. I could sell a women’s 11 and 12 all day long and same with men’s 11 to 16. I never marketed it that way. I know I frustrated a lot of people who lived in NYC when they couldn’t figure out why they couldn’t get the shoes they wanted. It was because the rep would call me first.
And all of these shoes were in your basement?
Yes, grouped by designer and size.
Why do you think you were able to sell more men’s shoes in the end than women’s?
Because Oprah went off the air and so did Sex in the City and then the men’s luxury market was beginning to grow. All of the sudden there were a million Coach stores just for men. The whole metrosexual thing came to be. Shoes had become important to men. Shoes are still important to women but not as important as when Carrie Bradshaw was talking about them every week.
Why did you decide to stop?
Because suppliers were starting to get in the game. Kate Spade and Neiman Marcus were all of the sudden on eBay.
And it priced you out of it?
Yes. I had a really good run out of it, but part of being a good business woman is knowing when to get out of it. eBay makes it pretty complicated to sell. You gotta know when to get out.
Did you have any particularly memorable sales?
I had a lot of men who would buy shoes from me twice a month. I had another woman who was buying 7 or 8 pairs of shoes a week. They were all for her. She would send me pictures of her closets.
Over the years I had resellers that I sold to. I had a customer in Germany. I would email her all my photos and she would pick the ones she wanted. I still have a gal in China that buys from me once a month. People were making a business out of my business. I had one guy in Japan who bought 300 or 400 pairs of Jimmy Choo Uggs from me.
What tips do you have for people getting into eBay now?
If it has a name brand on it you have a much better chance of selling it – if you are doing something in the fashion world at least. You have to be able to buy whatever it is you are going to sell at 20% of retail. People want it to be super cheap when they get to eBay. People want it at more than half price off. If the item retails for $100 you have to buy it for $25 and sell it for $50.
Get yourself a good scale. Get to know your postman so they will pick up your stuff and you don’t have to go the post office. I pay off everybody. Everyone at the post office got stuff at Christmas. I didn’t care if it cost me $3000 at Christmas. You take care of people. Everyone I dealt with was taken care of. End of story.
My whole theme was ‘don’t get greedy’ and I think that served me well. I tried to make a nice profit, but I tried not to gouge people. The completed button tells you everything on eBay. It tells you what the market bares and will pay. Whatever it is you sell you can look on eBay and see exactly what those things have and have not sold for in the past and that tells you what the price should be.
How important was the original box in selling designer shoes and products?
For authenticity I always had the box and the dust bag. I think it is really important.
Was there anyway your business gave back to the community?
We actually had one entire shoe product line, Hogan Shoes, and anytime we sold them a donation was made to endchildlabor.org. That is why I always sold authentic stuff because I never wanted to be involved in that. It is also why I bought stuff made in Italy. It was important to me.
What was it about working out of your basement that you loved so much?
I could take care of my kids. At one point I looked at warehouse space, but I already pay rent to eBay. When eBay, PayPal, my hosting company and everyone else took their cut I was losing about 25%. My dad was an entrepreneur and he always told me to keep it simple. We shipped in reused boxes. At one point we were going to do customized boxes and my dad was like, “Please don’t do that. Buy a sticker and put it on it. It is better for the earth and it is better for you.” When I was going to get warehouse space he told me not to do that either. He told me, “You have an empty basement why wouldn’t you use that?”
How did you decide on pricing?
I am a MBA student’s nightmare. I priced it at what I would pay. A lot of people who are in the business have a multiplier, but like I said I used the completed button on eBay and that would tell me where my price should be. If one seller had them at $299, I would mark them at $291 or $295. I was constantly monitoring our pricing and a lot of people do not do that. I was not a fashionista. I was not in retail sales. I was a sales person. I would have sold anything on eBay. I was not married to shoes.
Anything else you would like to add?
I am very thankful to eBay letting me be a really successful entrepreneur. Without that platform I never could have been. As much as there are things I wish I could have changed, in general they have created a marketplace that was really needed and made it so I could have a worldwide business out of a home in suburban Denver, Colorado. It was really special that I could have clients all over the world. I would have two kids napping and I would get an email from someone in a foreign country. That made it really interesting. Ninety five percent of the people in the world are really good honest people. I rarely had a package get lost and only a few people stole shoes from me. In this you just realize that most of the people in the world are good honest people. I am very lucky. I worked really hard. I was very successful and I am very thankful.
Read More How Others Make Money on eBay:
Learn more about Beth and her story visit: downtowngal.com.