Most people who retire decide it’s time to take it easy, put their feet up and relax into their easy lives. But not Christopher Garrett, a 77 year old Ebay entrepreneur from Wirral, UK. He’s just getting started.
Money from old pots
During the process of downsizing from a huge and imposing family home that seemed to swallow enormous furniture to their current one, Christoper and his wife Avril, were left with literally rooms full of surplus furniture to dispose of.
“Every time I looked to check the price for what we were being offered, it seemed to be the bottom of the bottom of what we thought they may be worth. So, we thought what have we got to lose? I have the time, so why not try it ourselves?” said Christopher.
They also discovered quite how big the house really was.
“We had three Welsh Dressers, church pews, Five oak tables, ornate side tables, dining chairs, cast iron bedsteads, a full sized snooker table and all sorts. Literally huge statement furniture pieces everywhere. The easy route would have been to just push them all straight out at the auction, but the more methodical and ultimately more profitable route was to put the work in and individually research and sell the pieces we were holding and sell them individually.”
2 years and over £3k later, their gamble proved very lucrative and helped launch a new career.
Buy local, sell global, focus on quality
I asked Christopher how his system works and he explained.
“I visit the auction early on a Wednesday and I’m looking for perfect sets that are either complete or will allow me to complete a set I have already. I’m only interested if it’s in exceptional condition and by a great maker. Average doesn’t sell, so I’m in at the top of the market or not at all.
In the main, these sets have been family heirlooms and sat in cupboards untouched for many, many years. They are nearly always flawless. For the amount they cost, they have had very little use – certainly day to day. The auctioneers wouldn’t even allow poor stock to come to market as they know it won’t sell, even locally.
There is a market for seconds, but you are always selling on an apology and that can never command the super premium price I look for.
When I have been through the auction catalogue and seen it for myself, I then go back home with my copious notes and spend the afternoon researching the potential sale price of the products that are coming under the hammer later that day.
This time for background work, gives me a budget for bidding, which I stick to. There’s no point again in overpaying, just because you like a piece or you could end up with a house of full of nice, but hard to sell pieces and I’m more focused than that.
Selling the truth
“With Ebay, your reputation is everything and because of this you have to be completely honest and transparent. You may sell someone a bad product once but it will damage your reputation and I’m sure will have an impact on the price you can achieve. I am positioning myself to be THE TRUSTED SOURCE for this type of product. I want people to know that if I say it is perfect, then they can rely on the fact that it is 100% perfect. I’ve not had any returns yet and I don’t intend to have any going forwards.
I did have one last collectable trio recently with a small flaw in it. Because of this it went out at a much lower price to a US collector who wanted it for within a show cabinet. To the naked eye it was perfect and for that particular buyer it was good enough. It allowed them to collect something they’d always wanted without breaking the bank. But I made it very clear what the damage was and allowed them to make the decision as to whether this met their own personal threshold of good enough.”
“I have sold pieces and sets completely globally. Genuinely the biggest markets for me have been Alaska, Canada, the US and Australia. I guess it’s the very Britishness of what I am selling that attracts the attention of these worldwide collectors.
Shipping has never been a problem as with almost every sale, I have had a discussion with a potential buyer before a deal has been completed. My own local Post Office have been great. I focus on really good packaging and they have helped me find the safest, fastest and cheapest route to get it to the customer. It’s certainly not an expertise I had before, but it’s not one that has held me back at all – but again the postage cost is less of a percentage at the top end of the market. It would be if you were selling identical products to others in the middle or bottom market.
How much time and how much money?
“My wife thinks I spend far too much time on it for what I actually earn from it, but it has given me a new lease of life and a real interest that I have loved. I’m not going to get rich out of it and never even hoped to, but I probably spend around 20 hours per week on it and clear around £200 for the time spent.
It pays to run our cars and I thoroughly enjoy it. I’ve learned loads of new skills, met loads of interesting people and created a new career, long after my main one ended when I retired in my 60s.”
Would I recommend it?
“Yes, without doubt. Not if you want to get rich, as you won’t. But yes, if you want to give yourself an interesting, paid hobby that’ll keep your brain buzzing.”
My advice would be to get yourself a shed so you can keep the stock out of the house. That doesn’t always go down well otherwise. Well it hasn’t always in mine!
And finally you need a good auction house, ideally nearby and in a good area and the time to put the legwork in to learn what works in sale and what doesn’t.
I’ve made some mistakes and some of those have cost me small amounts of money, but in the main by taking it slowly, only adding new stock if it’s exceptional and I’m convinced from my research I can sell it on. Buying on a whim doesn’t work and will cost you dear in the long run.
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