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Conversation Threads: Our Matt Brossard Joins the Ranks of Online Sellers (Part One)

By Aron Hsiao  on November 14, 2013

This fall our customer experience manager Matt Brossard has decided that it's time for him to begin selling regularly on eBay. Not that Matt is new to eBay or even to eBay selling—having been an eBay member since 2000, Matt's sold a variety of things on eBay over the years. Most of the time, these sales have been related to his hobbies, comic books and other collectible goods, and most of the time he's sold them using auction format listings.

Knowing that many of the Terapeak users he supports have full time businesses and a focus on fixed price sales, Matt decided to put all his experience with eBay and Terapeak to use and launched Conversation Threads, a small-scale menswear business.

In the months to come, we'll keep brief tabs on how Matt's selling is developing and what he is finding out along the way. Matt hopes that this will help others that are new to online selling to learn the ropes more quickly, and to know that they're not alone out there. Many new sellers are doing the same thing every day, and learning the in the same ways as they go.

Matt Brossard has joined the ranks of professional sellers, opening his Conversation Threads menswear business.

Quarter One: Matt the Seller

Why would Matt Brossard, our instantly recognizable and always popular customer experience manager, start an eBay selling sideline?

Because Matt has come to believe that periodic sales of household items are no longer able to help him understand what many online sellers are going through.

"I've realized," Matt says, "that I need to know what it's like to be on the hunt for products all the time. What it's like to have purchases happening on any day of the week and at any time of day. Having to know what to ask for a fixed price item, rather starting with a low auction price and being pleasantly surprised at how the bidding plays out. And what it's like being responsible for making even a small business succeed in the long run."

Just as importantly, eBay has changed since Matt came to Terapeak years ago, with a growing emphasis on fixed-price selling, a transition to a more retail-like, shopper-centric experience, and a move to the Cassini search platform. Looking at the big picture, Matt knows that he needs a fresh batch of first-hand experience as a professional seller to continue connect with Terapeak's users well.

Matt's first sale—a pair of Stance Ajax white striped socks.

By starting his own business, Matt hopes to learn how the life of the independent e-commerce entrepreneur is different from that of the sometimes-seller. "With regular sales activity going on," Matt says, "I expect to discover challenges and solutions we’ve maybe not considered in designing Terapeak products. And I hope to find much more common ground with other sellers."

With these things in mind, Matt made his first professional sale at the end of August—for a modest $21.99. Over the last two months Matt's selling has steadily grown as he adds new products. With an open eBay store, just under $800 in revenue so far, and a growing inventory measured in the thousands of dollars, Matt is making a beginning—one that he hopes will grow into something substantial in the months to come.

Choosing a Niche

To succeed at eBay selling, most aspiring sellers need to identify and grow within a particular niche. Matt is no different in this regard, and for his venture, he's made the unusual decision to sell outside of his comfort zone in collectibles.

"I want to try something different—to challenge myself," Matt says. In surveying his own life for unmet needs in consumer goods, Matt has seized on the difficulties he's experienced in maintaining his oft-complimented wardrobe. "There's a lack of inventory out there for larger men," Matt says. "Regular clothing retailers run out of my size easily and I’m neither big nor tall enough for big-and-tall stores. It’s awkward in the middle. Much of the big and tall inventory out there is also pretty bland. I like clothes with character and bright colors. Usually that means plaid. In fact, it's a big plaid party in my inventory so far."

Matt is finding a niche in particular styles and areas of mens' apparel—the ones that he, himself shops in.

Though Matt doesn't have a lot of experience in this area of retail as he's starting out, his comfort level is already growing as he uses Terapeak research help steer him toward effective sourcing decisions.

"I don’t think of myself as a trendsetter," he says, "and it’s a unique challenge thinking of how an item will look on someone else." So far, his selections have been well received—even those that are bold and unconventional. One set of items in particular—large, brightly-colored hoodies with a popsicle-stick pattern—are giving him confidence in his chosen niche. "I never would have guessed how popular that design could be," he says, "but the research looked good and it sold within a few days.”

Based on these positive early results, Matt has decided that over the next several months, his approach will be to try to fill the apparel niches that he's had trouble shopping in himself.

Sourcing and Photography

With the two biggest decisions—whether to sell seriously and what niche to fill—out of the way, much of Matt's early work has been in developing routines for sourcing, product photography, listing items, and coming to understand how to manage his business in general.

Sourcing so far has been relatively easy for Matt, though he rotates his search through several retailers to keep finding new items.

"I thought about thrift store sourcing," he says, "but retail clearance and markdowns were easier to locate, and I didn’t have to work with as much variation in item condition." Matt is keeping his eyes open for overstock items at department stores and off-price retailers, cherry-picking the best items and inventory from the much larger selection of goods. "What's attractive about this inventory," Matt says, "is that there is still plenty of appeal for shoppers, and it’s been marked down enough that there is a margin for me to give it a second chance online."

Matt shows off the lightbox that he built to use for product photography.

Getting good photographs of his inventory, on the other hand, is proving to be a trickier task. Several weeks ago Matt built a product photography lightbox to use in his business (we published his tutorial on lightbox building then, so that other Terapeakers could benefit as Matt learns), but not every product is lending itself to that kind of photography, or even to photography in general.

"Finding a good place to photograph where there's no light pollution," Matt says, "has made all the difference—though I still haven't found a great way to illuminate larger products. It's also hard, even with good photographs, to really convey the experience of a product to a customer. The appeal in real life just doesn't translate in digital images; customers won't be able to touch the fabric or feel the weight, and some patterns loose visual impact when I reduce them to a thumbnail photo."

Listings and Tools

For creating listings, Matt chose InkFrog, a listing service whose in-product research and keywording aides are powered by Terapeak. "I'm checking my traffic often so far," Matt says, "and it's already helping me to realize that international shoppers are very interested in what I'm listing."

Matt is relying on MySales (above) and InkFrog (below) to help him to make sense of his business and manage listings.

Matt is also learning that the sourcing process is closely linked with selling strategy, not something separate from it—that sourcing goods without consideration for the realities of product listings and customer seraches is a needlessly risky proposition.

"I get it now," Matt says. "Janelle Elms pointed this out to me when I showed her my first sourcing choices. A really great geometric pattern isn’t any good if there's no way to describe the pattern in words that people might actually search for." For this reason, Matt is beginning by focusing on goods that can be clearly and easily described thanks to their instantly recognizable patterns, graphics, or brands.

For tracking his overall performance, Matt is relying on MySales, and is already coming to understand its usefulness for sellers first-hand. "It’s rewarding," he says, "to see my real sales activity so far, and to watch the improvements that are beginning to happen as I grow." MySales is also proving to be a useful tool to inform sourcing, pricing, and listing decisions alike.

In tomorrow's follow-up article, we'll talk about some of the challenges and adjustments that Matt has faced as he's started, provide some numbers and product details that show how is first weeks of selling have gone, and hear Matt's general goals for the quarter to come. We'll also list Matt's ten takeaways, tips, and tricks for other sellers, based on what he's been learning during his first quarter of professional selling. Stay tuned!

To see how Terapeak can help you to start and grow your business, take advantage of Terapeak's free trial membership today.

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