In 2008 Dave Stewart was laid off from his maintenance tech position at a Pennsylvania nursing home. The news came as a shock and, as a result, he decided to take his career in a radically different direction.
Stewart is now one of a select few Americans that make their living through eBay. (The company claims 1.3 million sellers worldwide, but experts believe the number of individual, primary-income eBay-ers to be much smaller.)
“I no longer wanted to be dependent on someone else providing me with paycheck, because I saw that you couldn’t rely on it as much as I did,” says Stewart, from his home in Bucks County, Pa. “I wanted to be self-employed, but wasn’t quite sure how to get there.”
Inspiration struck, along with a bit of luck: He discovered a stockpile of obsolete car parts in his grandfather’s cavernous garage. While his family was skeptical, Stewart was convinced there was a market for outdated parts.
“It started out as an experiment — just a few parts on the [eBay] page. They really sold fast, and I had an inkling I was on to something,” says Stewart “Pretty soon, I had an eBay store, and I couldn’t keep up with the orders.”
Stewart’s success wasn’t based on luck alone. He operates his business with the systematic, detailed approach you’d expect in a much larger operation. Every one of the 1,600 items in his eBay store is researched thoroughly and displayed with precise photos and descriptions. These days, car parts represent less than half of the items in his store.
“To be successful on eBay, you have to be a salesman. It’s like other sales jobs: If you’re good at it, you can make a living — but only if you’re good,” says Stewart. “It’s all about keeping people’s interest with new merchandise. You can’t just let it sit there and expect to make something.”
Q & A
Temple University management professor Paul Pavlou has been studying eBay for 15 years, since the company's early days. He gave his expert advice:
How has the eBay game changed in the past five years?
A lot has changed — some that’s good for the individual, and some that isn’t. eBay has attempted to attract much larger sellers, and they have adjusted their model somewhat because of that. However, it’s a larger platform now, and the access to the market, logistics and infrastructure is still quite remarkable for the individual.
What sells best on eBay right now?
We’ve seen a trend toward used cars and products for used cars. eBay Motors is now one of the most popular platforms.