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Afraid to eBay? Hire an online auction service -- Page 2

If your item doesn't sell, it is returned to you, no charge. If you don't pick it up within 15 days, it is donated to charity.

QuikDrop limits its service to items that ship within the UPS 150-pound limit. That said, they do make exceptions. They recently sold a 200-pound polished African rock. They also sold Arnold Schwarzenegger's original Hummer for $70,000 as a drive-away proposition to a West Coast buyer. But in general, bulky items such as sofas, TVs, washers or dryers don't make for viable consignments.

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Reynolds estimates a franchise should be able to sell 600 to 800 items a month, or roughly 20 to 30 per day, with ease.

"Right now, retailing is basically a one-way proposition where products come from a manufacturer and go to an end-user," says Reynolds. "This is the first retail idea that brings items the other way. I think you're going to see eBay drop-off stores on every corner."

The eBay trading post
Brian Spindel has less lofty goals for the eBay drop-offs at PostNet, who along with AuctionDrop has embarked in a pilot program as an official eBay Trading Post. The CFO who co-founded the 850-store franchise in 1993 is shooting to see one to two items per day through each of the 12 pilot drop-off stores by the end of the first quarter.

The reason? PostNet relies on its list of business services, from copying and computer rental to passport photos, shipping, signs and banners, to keep the lights on.

"The good news is, we don't have to sell 40 items a day to make a business out of it. If we do two or three items a day at each of our locations, we would be very pleased," Spindel says.

PostNet partnered with MyEZsale in a 1999 pilot program at its stores in Phoenix and Denver.

"Even back then, when eBay wasn't nearly as popular as it is now, we got some good traction with customers," he says. "They liked the fact that they could come into the store and drop an item off and receive a check 30 days later."

Unlike AuctionDrop, which sends its consigned items to a central location for listing onto eBay, PostNet's franchises photograph and hold the item, but forward the description electronically to PostNet headquarters in Henderson, Nev. From there, its eBay experts create and launch listings once a day and handle all customer service during the auction.

Spindel thinks the eBay Trading Post designation, which allows PostNet to trade under a single seller account, will give it a boost on the street.

"I think ultimately once this program grows, it will mean something to the consumer, too, that the item was taken in by a third party, that what you're looking at is actually the item you will end up getting, and that it's in secured, safe storage and will be packed and shipped professionally. All of those things, long term, will end up meaning something to the consumer."

PostNet already has plans to expand its eBay Trading Post service beyond its pilot stores in California, Nevada, Arizona and Georgia. AuctionDrop, based in San Carlos, Calif., with five stores in northern California, plans to expand into the New York tri-state area.

The fundraiser factor
Ina Steiner, editor and publisher of the online auction newsletter AuctionBytes, says it is too soon to tell if either drop-off model will catch fire with a populace that is far more focused on acquiring new stuff than disposing of used.

"It really gets down to the right kind of inventory. You really want to shoot for items that are in the hundreds of dollars. It really is a time-consuming business," she says.

"The advantage to the storefront is they are there, they're convenient if they're located next to a bank or a business where people might be coming anyway. The question is, if one suddenly popped up in my hometown, would there be enough people interested to drop things off there? I don't know. I think it helps that eBay has become more mainstream so people are more familiar with the whole concept, but we're not convinced that the whole storefront model will work."

What could lend the burgeoning drop-off industry a helping hand is its natural fit with community fundraising of all sorts. Bake sales, car washes and door-to-door candy sales could become passé if schools, churches and charities seek the greater returns that their donated items might bring when auctioned online, says Reynolds.

"A giant part of our business is charity fundraising, where people bring in an item to raise money for a school or something of that nature. We get a lot more money for stuff on eBay than most people. If you're an amateur, you're not going to get near what you're going to get if you're experienced in doing this."

Jay MacDonald is a contributing editor based in Mississippi.

-- Posted: April 16, 2004




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