Kathy Miranda has been a fan of garage sales for years — always looking for the bargain overlooked by others.
Then she started putting a few things she bought at garage sales on the eBay Web site to see how much they might bring in an online auction.
When a china plate that she had bought for $1 at a garage sale brought $106 on eBay, she decided to try auctioning items online for family members who didn’t have the time or inclination to do it themselves.
As she kept doing it, Miranda realized that she could turn eBay selling into a profitable business.
"I saw that people need this kind of help," she said.
In September Miranda joined with her husband, her sister and her brother-in-law to open a store called eConsign and Ship where customers can drop off items they want to sell.
The store will take photos of each item, write up a description and offer them on eBay, sell them to the highest bidders, take a percentage of the selling price for a commission, send a check for the remainder to the seller and ship the items to the buyers — saving sellers the hassle of doing it themselves.
Miranda has had so much business that she has had to hire three additional people, and she probably will add more after the new year.
She is one of a growing list of entrepreneurs who are officially designated as eBay trading assistants to help the technologically challenged sell their surplus clothing, collectibles and other items over the Internet. Many just operate out of their homes, but Miranda has set up her own store located in a Gilbert shopping center at 3425 E. Baseline Road.
"It’s like a global garage sale," she said. "You will get a little more than if you just sold your items at a consignment store because more people are looking at it."
Miranda’s take ranges from 20 percent to 36 percent of the final sales price, depending on the amount sold.
Some existing stores also offer eBay trading assistance as a service option for their customers — providing a mixture of "bricks and clicks." One example is Valley Furniture Liquidators, 931 E. Elliot Road, Tempe, which handles eBay auctions for customers trying to sell furniture.
"It started as a joke," said co-owner Wil Musa. "It was my partner’s idea. He put a sofa-love seat on, and it sold." "He figured it wouldn’t, but it did," Musa said.
The partners found that showing furniture on eBay often attracts buyers to their store, where they end up buying other items as well.
"So there are synergies," he said.
But there are some drawbacks to selling through eBay, he said. The online auction company takes their own fees, which means the profit is a little less than selling it on consignment at the store. The company has to make it up on volume of eBay sales, Musa said.
"The issue is, do people want the piece, and will they see it at that exact time (that it is offered on the Internet)?" he said. "The real winner in this is eBay."
Shipping can also be a problem, particularly if the piece of furniture is large, he said. For that reason, the company limits eBay sales to smaller items that are easiest to ship. Even so, the cost of shipping can discourage bidders, he said.
"It is a service," he said of the eBay auctions. "Our goal is to expose the piece
to as many people as we can."
Steve Phelps, co-founder of E-Bid Auction Express, a Tempe-based start-up company that began operating in June, is taking the concept of eBay assistance to the next level. In addition to serving as a drop-off point where sellers can bring their merchandise and have it sold for them on eBay, two new stores he is developing will provide computers with special software and research tools that can be rented by customers who are willing to do the selling themselves. Also they will include conference centers for eBay traders who have common interests and coffee shops for those who want something to eat and drink.
"We are setting up a full scale eBay community," he said.
Steve Herman, director of operations for E-Bid, said the full-service "superstores," which will officially open early next year in Tempe and Glendale, will help develop the online auction concept to its full potential.
"If you look at eBay, the one thing that has been missing is the visible community awareness," he said. "They have an Internet offering, but there is no physical presence to the product. That is what we are providing."
Phelps and co-founder Vic Sibilla are Scottsdale-based investors who have raised capital from angel investors to create the new superstores, which cost about $500,000 each to establish.
They hope to raise additional money to set up E-Bid superstores in Scottsdale and the southwest Valley. The business plan calls for the company to expand to 16 markets nationwide in the next year and a half, Herman said.
He’s confident there will be sufficient demand from people who want to clean out their closets to make it a solid business. "The initial response to our limited marketing has been well past what we expected," he said.