Spotlight on Estate Auctions, Inc.
Norb and Marie Novocin were early eBay adopters, joining in 1998 as part-time sellers. What started as a hobby eventually grew into “Estate Auctions, Inc.”, a business that boasts twelve staff members who sell and ship items across the world. Norb and Marie are top-rated sellers with a 100% positive feedback rating. They live and breathe eBay and have written a book, “Getting Sold on eBay,” that shares the secrets they used to create a business generating millions in annual revenue. This is Norb and Marie Novocin’s story.
The Early Years
Norb and Marie initially joined eBay just to see what all the excitement was about. They’d heard friends and family talking about a website that enabled regular people to list items online for sale to strangers across the country. One of the first items they sold was a cigarette roller they’d bought for a dollar; they were shocked and delighted when it sold for five hundred dollars. They hadn’t imagined they could turn the items they found at garage sales into serious cash. Encouraged and excited, they continued to casually sell on eBay, listing the trinkets and treasures they found while regularly shopping at garage sales.
Then, in November 1998, Norb lost his job. This put their family in a precarious financial position. Norb’s employer hadn't paid him for his final month’s work, Christmas was just around the corner, and in two months Marie would give birth to their second child. Norb says that they were desperate.
We were down to our last fifty dollars, and all I could think was ‘How am I going to get out of this situation?’ With a pregnant wife and a kid, I needed money fast to make sure we didn’t go hungry. So I turned to my hobby—eBay. I remember gathering the family around for prayer asking God to protect us and help me source the right items. Then I took that fifty dollars and went to the garage sales, spending a maximum of one dollar on each item. The goal was to make five hundred dollars a week to keep our head above water. Against all odds, we did.”
Each week after that, Norb visited garage sales in Jacksonville, Florida looking for unique items to resell. He would return home and list each of them on eBay, hoping to earn enough money to keep food on the table and the lights on in his home. It wasn’t easy. Building their business from scratch took diligence. Norb and Marie had to carefully manage their personal expenses and reinvest what profits they could back into the business. The learning curve was steep, but as Norb says, their inspiration was “the desperation of wanting to continue to eat”—so they poured everything they had into their business.
As they achieved success, the Novocins shared their expertise with other sellers, including through their highly-regarded book, “Getting Sold on eBay: The Treasure Hunter’s Guide to Making Money.”
As the Novocins gained more experience and raised more capital, they narrowed their focus to antiques and unique collectibles. They realized that many people came to eBay to find rare items, so they sought out the strangest collectibles they could at auctions and estate sales. Every weekend they packed their van and headed to Pennsylvania. Once there, they would attend multiple auctions in a single day, sourcing as many items as they could before returning home to list them for sale. It was a difficult ritual to maintain, but it paid off—the family was financially secure once again, and they relied on eBay as their steady source of income.
After their sons finished high school, the entire family moved north—to Pennsylvania—to be closer to the best auctions. Both of their sons began to help with the business, one building software, the other managing product photography and editing. They’d come a long way from the fifty dollars that started their eBay store, and were now pulling in thousands in revenue each month. When asked what the key ingredients of their success have been, Norb and Marie credit the three founding principles that have guided their business since its first day:
- Treat your customers like gold. Norb and Marie are obsessed with customer service. With a 100% positive feedback rating, they excel at customer care. While the Novocins have always adhered to the eBay basics—ship on time, send thank-yous, and package well—they are also highly proactive about customer satisfaction. If the Novocins realize that they’ve made mistake, for example, they try to issue a refund and an apology before the customer even contacts them. While this may seem like overkill to some, Norb says that this proactive posture generates sales.
People think I’m crazy when I send refunds before a problem is reported, but sacrificing profits at the beginning creates loyal customers for life. If you make a mistake, admit it and fix it! I guarantee you’ll make more money on repeat customers than you will from that one individual sale.”
- Research obsessively. The Novocin’s success is founded on a deep commitment to research. Since the beginning, they have taken the time to gather details about every item that they list. Before Terapeak, they relied on Kovel’s Antiques and Collectibles Price Guide. Then in 2007, they subscribed to Terapeak, and today they have a team of four people who use Terapeak continuously to research and list. Terapeak helps them to ensure a competitive price and to find high-performing keywords that have been successful in the past. Norb’s team also spends time researching the histories of individual items, looking for unique facts that cause them to stand out next to other similar items on eBay. The historical details, manufacturing data, or ownership histories that they provide give each item a unique story. This research takes time, but the return that it generates makes the work well-worth the hassle.
- Adopt long-term perspectives. Norb and Marie have always maintained a long-term perspective and sought to earn life-long customers. When they realized in 2004 that many of their buyers were not making repeat purchases despite great customer service, desirable items, and fast shipping, they conducted interviews to find out why. They learned that many shoppers found eBay’s “Search by Seller ID” process to be confusing. Undaunted and thinking about the big picture, they sought to brand their listings in a way that would make them easy to find. They looked for a unique combination of letters, starting at “AA” and making it all the way to “YQZ” before finding a keyword that had never been used on eBay before. From that day forward, they added “YQZ” to the title of every listing they created—and let their buyers know that a search for “YQZ” would find them. This strategy was incredibly successful—over half of their sales now come from repeat shoppers, and their less tech-savvy clients are easily able to to locate their listings. In 2016, Norb and Marie even trademarked “YQZ” as their own brand, giving them exclusive rights to use it on eBay. In the future, they hope to lease the term to top-performing sellers with perfect feedback ratings—potentially marking the start of a new, franchise-like online business model.
Satisfying customers has always been a top goal for the Novocins.
Looking back, Norb and Marie’s journey to success required creativity, a commitment to customer satisfaction, and good old-fashioned elbow grease. The two have now been eBay sellers for nineteen years, never once taking a customer’s business for granted. When asked what single, simple piece of advice they would most like to give to new and upcoming sellers, Norb doesn’t hesitate.
“Take care of your clients. If you get burned, lick your wounds and move on. Limiting regions, changing your return policy, or being rude to customers because of bad experiences—it’ll all hurt your business, not grow it. If you’re helpful, kind, and committed to your business, you’ll be successful.”
To learn more, Norb, Marie, or Estate Auctions, Inc., visit these links: