You never know what you'll find on the online auction website eBay: high-end brands on the cheap (beware of knockoffs), beauty products, antiques and collectibles, electronics, and for some, an entrepreneurial opportunity.
Most eBay trading assistants have similar reasons why they got started. They used the site to collect cash from items collecting dust around the house and thought, "Why not try doing this for people who don't have the time or tech savvy?"
But for local eBay trading assistants, their goals - and what they're getting out of the deal - are varied individual tales that can mean flexibility in earning a dollar, the dream of owning a business, or both.
Trading assistant Sharon Engle sits at her laptop as she views her eBay account at her home in Amsterdam on Wednesday. (The Leader-Herald/Bill Trojan)
Trading assistant William Karp drops off packages of items sold on eBay at the United States Post Office in Broadalbin
Thursday with his son, Conner. Post Office Clerk Norah Rieth is shown weighing the packages.(The Leader-Herald/Amanda Metzger)
For Sharon Engle of Amsterdam, being a trading assistant provided her with the income of a part-time job since the time she was pregnant with her now 3-year-old son.
Near the start of the recession in 2008, Engle was looking for work but couldn't find a job. The company she worked for as an office manager in Connecticut closed. She moved to Amsterdam to be with her now husband.
An eBay member since 2000, Engle turned to the online bidding site and signed up to be a trading assistant.
On eBay under the "sell" tab there is the option "sell it for me." Click on that tab, type in a ZIP code, and a list of trading assistants in the area are revealed.
Trading assistants sell items on eBay for others for a commission. Engle charges a 35 percent commission fee if the item sells. That includes all fees associated with eBay, PayPal and taxes.
Trading assistants are not employees or independent contractors of eBay, and the site doesn't endorse specific sellers.
To become a trading assistant, sellers must have a good-standing eBay account, have sold at least 10 items on eBay in the previous three months and maintain 10 sales for a three-month period.
Sellers also must have a feedback score of 100 with at least 98 percent positive reviews by people they've dealt with over the site.
"Basically, you just sign up through eBay. They have a link and it's one of those fill-in-the-blank kind of things. It's really very easy to do," Engle said.
Within about a month she got her first contact: Arnold Jaffe of Hagaman, who had collectibles from around the world he wanted to unload.
"He had a variety of vintage items. He's gone all over the world and had items from Singapore, China, -antique dolls-there's so many different items, and it's been an ongoing thing with him for the past couple years," Engle said.
Jaffe said he didn't have the time or the technical ability to continually list his items on eBay.
"I couldn't do it -transferring pictures from my camera to the Internet or a website," said Jaffe, who has lived all over the world.
He said Engle's warm personality and convenient "door-to-door" service hooked him immediately, and it's been a lucrative partnership.
"She is one of the nicest people I've ever met. She's just super. It works out for both of us. She puts a lot of work into [the listings] with beautiful photographs," Jaffe said. "She puts things up, they sell, and she brings me money."
He said 99 percent of his listings with Engle sold.
Engle recently opened an eBay store. She's got over 800 listings now with many books leftover from an estate.
In fact, she's made local connections through her eBay store. The Book Hound in Amsterdam contacted her about her hundreds of book listings, and there could be more coming since Jaffe said he's ready to unload 25 shelves of books himself.
Building a business
Trading assistants say it's possible to make a living selling on eBay, but it's very time consuming.
"Yes, you can make a living selling on eBay, but you really have to put in the work," said Gloversville-based trading assistant Marcy Montanye. "I think some people may think it's easy, or a casual thing, but if you really want to make a living at it then you have to take it seriously, just like you would any other job."
Montanye has had some interesting sales, such as a vintage compass that attaches to the inside of the car. She started the auction at $39 and was stunned to see it sell for around $330.
Between researching, meeting with clients, answering inquiries and packaging and shipping items, it can be a full-time job as it has become for Engle.
"It's on and off all day. We can go from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. I'm actually trying to start limiting myself," Engle said.
At the same time, the flexibility to be home with her son has been great.
"I'm trying to take off weekends," Engle said.
She's also hoping to branch out to local small businesses and retail shops to help move overstock items for them as well as assist individuals with estates.
Montanye started selling books and records on eBay and Amazon. Soon family and friends asked her to sell their items, and she found they wanted to give her a little something for her time.
She signed up to be a trading assistant about a year ago, and now she sells almost exclusively for other people with a core group of three to four people who have items nearly every week.
"I really like meeting with people and seeing what goodies they have to sell. I like listing vintage and collectible stuff, the more unique the better, but that said, I've also had great success with newer things like video games and electronics, so I try not to play favorites. I get to see, and occasionally play with, a wide range of products, which can be pretty cool," Montanye said.
Another Amsterdam-based trading assistant, Michael Natole, is taking his business to the next level. He works for the state, but in is time off he's been fulfilling his dream of owning a business.
His registered business is called I Work For You Services, LLC. He's got his own website, www.iworkforyouservices.com, which right now routes customers directly to his eBay store where he has DC Comics, sports memorabilia and fitness items for sale.
"I started to buy products at wholesale to sell at retail, so I started doing that and started doing distribution of products for businesses," Natole said. "I still do a lot as a trading assistant, too. I do pretty well with collectibles, cars, motorcycles, electronics. I've also helped out businesses with overstock products that they have. That's how I got in the business of buying products to resell myself."
Natole has sold some big-ticket items on eBay, including a diamond ring and a classic 1982 Corvette that went for about $9,500.
Natole offers a free appraisal of market value for items people want to sell, schedules a date and time for pick up and has people sign a 30-day consignment contract.
The fee schedule depends on the price for which the item sells. For example, for items that sell for less than $499.99, the commission fee is 40 percent, and for items that sell for more than $5,000, the commission charge is 10 percent.
In addition to being registered with the state, Natole's company has a logo - the figure of a chiseled man's chest with arms folded - that fits the focus on sports and fitness products.
"I always dreamed of being an entrepreneur and starting my own business. I had four kids and didn't have the time to work on something like this, because it does take a lot of time," Natole said.
It took him about six months to brand his business, he said.
"That's what you want to do is brand the business- like getting a domain name that matches the business name. That's what you do if you want to take it to the next level and look very professional, but it does take a lot more work," Natole said.
Natole also has a YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/iworkforyouservices, where videos of items for sale are posted. Right now there's a 2013 custom chopper motorcycle for sale.
"I'm trying to take it to the highest level," Natole said. "EBay has really helped me market and build my business."
Broadalbin-based trading assistant William Karp signed up to be a trading assistant about six months ago. He's had inquiries - a Saratoga couple looking to sell a portable X-ray machine, another person wanting to unload a sewing machine left to them by their grandmother - but they decided not to sell.
Karp has turned his own trash into treasure with much success. A 1987 Iron Maiden concert T-shirt in his garage fetched about $200. He also made a pretty penny from dismantling an old Dell computer for parts.
"I got quite a few parts out of it," Karp said, adding that he'd be willing to do the same for someone else who might otherwise throw the old machine to the curb.
The ins and outs
As with most businesses, the first key to success, Natole said, is customer service.
"You have to provide excellent customer service. When someone has a problem or a question, reach out to them as soon as possible in a professional manner," Natole said.
Another key to success as a trading assistant is knowing how to market the product on eBay. A detailed description is important. Photos and videos help drive sales.
"Price is important. You've got to be competitive with other similar items," Karp said. "Having a lot of pictures is helpful, being descriptive."
Karp added that with the Internet, customers want answers to inquiries immediately.
"Responding to questions quickly before they lose interest is important," Karp said.
Montanye said being organized and trustworthy also are essential qualities.
"You have to keep track of each item that sells, who you sold it for, what the associated fees are - eBay and PayPal both get a percentage of each sale - and what percent each of you is getting. People are giving you their belongings, sometimes items that they've collected for years, played with as children, or something that belonged to loved ones, so it's very important that they can trust you and know you'll treat these items with care," Montanye said.
On the Internet, it's important to be vigilant about who's on the other computer.
"We're in a world right now. It's hard to trust people. I think my clients have really built that trust with me," Engle said.
Karp said people should always check out buyer and seller feedback on eBay.
He also cautioned that international selling can be a challenge.
"There are things you've got to be careful of. Sometimes there are problems selling internationally. The post office might not track the package all the way to the person's door [in other countries]," Karp said.
That means a buyer could claim they never got their purchase. The case could go to eBay's buyer protection program and the seller could end up having to refund the money, plus lose out on shipping cost.
Just as with any other business, it's a matter of calculating risks and rewards, he said.
News Editor Amanda May Metzger can be reached at email@example.com.