Spotlight on Great Sky Gifts
Colleen and Jeff Rast use Terapeak to make decisions based on real-world data—decisions that would normally take a full team of researchers hours to produce. With Terapeak’s help, they’ve grown their eBay store, Great Sky Gifts, into their primary source of income after moving from the city to the country. This is their story.
Prior to the recession in 2008, Colleen and Jeff Rast lived far different lives than they do now. Originally from Philadelphia, they both have corporate backgrounds: Colleen as an accountant and project manager and Jeff as an executive in the mortgage banking industry. In 2001, Jeff’s job took the pair to Montana, a state with a slower pace of life than the one they’d become accustomed to in the city. Colleen likes to joke that she needed Jeff to point Montana out on a map prior to their move.
Members of the Terapeak team got to meet with Colleen and Jeff Rast of Great Sky Gifts at the 2016 eBay Open Seller Celebration.
While the remote vistas and mountain views were breathtaking, there was little in the way of work in project management for Colleen—unless she traveled out of state and sacrificed time with her family to be on the road. A self-proclaimed "Type A" personality, Colleen began searching for a way to fill the time and bring in money to compliment her husband’s income. She decided to go through her closet, listing a few items for sale on eBay and ultimately selling one of her tops for three times its retail value. Colleen says that if you want to pinpoint her "Eureka!" moment as a seller, that shirt was it.
Colleen realized the potential that buying and reselling designer clothing on eBay offered. Over the next decade she worked to establish relationships with clothing wholesalers and to build her online presence until her store became her full time job.
Seven years after the Rasts relocated to Montana, the recession hit the United States. 2008 and the years that followed marked one of the worst economic downturns the USA has seen since the great depression. Thousands of jobs were lost every month and in 2011, Jeff’s business was forced to close. Though the loss was initially devastating, there was a silver lining in the change. A safety net was now positioned just below the Rast family—Colleen’s business, Great Sky Gifts. Their eBay store became their financial security and Jeff joined his wife as an eBay seller.
Though she was grateful to have a co-pilot to help scale up the business, Colleen didn’t just let Jeff join in immediately. Jeff says that he had to learn how to use her favorite tool first.
She told me I had to learn Terapeak before I started working the business with her. So, I sat down and learned the tool! That’s when I realized that Terapeak was the key to making the right decisions for pricing and sourcing.”
It didn’t take long for Jeff to master both Terapeak and eBay. The pair were determined to succeed with Great Sky Gifts, and it became their sole source of long-term income.
Among other strategies, Colleen and Jeff perfected their competitive edge by selling internationally—long before most other online sellers embraced global shipping and the arbitrage opportunities that it offers. International sales make up over 25 percent of their business. They became so good at international sales that Tommy Bahama, a manufacturer of casual sportswear and active wear, recognized Colleen and Jeff for their eBay store and its contribution to the expansion of the Tommy Bahama brand overseas.
Despite their success, selling on eBay hasn't always been easy for Great Sky Gifts. Like many other eBay sellers, the Rasts have seen their eBay sales slow at times. I asked Colleen and Jeff what they did to remain afloat during their tougher times on eBay. They give other sellers one clear piece of advice: diversify.
After a particularly challenging year in 2014, Colleen joined a support group who advised her to list on Amazon as well as on eBay. Using both platforms allowed Colleen to showcase their inventory to different buyers on each platform. As Colleen began selling on Amazon and eBay together, she found that clothing sold better on Amazon while antiques and collectibles sold best on eBay. By splitting their inventory between the two sites, the Rasts set themselves up for success even in times of trouble. Today they use Terapeak’s MySales dashboard to track sales from their two stores all in one place, as well as to monitor the relative performance of each marketplace for the categories they target.
Beyond diversification, the Rasts advise other sellers to keep inventory fresh and relevant. Some items "burn out" faster than anticipated, so sellers need to be agile and flexible. New and old sellers alike should keep an eye on the market. Colleen says that she does this diligently.
We use Terapeak to keep an eye on values. Like if we’re about to go and make a purchase we pull it up on our phone and run through it to make sure the market is still there. Are the plates still selling for $40? Nope? Ok, let me pass on this buying opportunity. Then there might be another little widget you’ve never heard of and you’re looking on Terapeak freaking out because its worth $50!”
Keeping an eye on market trends isn’t the only way Terapeak helps the Rasts when they are out hunting for deals. Jeff’s favorite moment in the field is when he approaches an item and sees a printout of an active eBay listing taped to the item. Usually this is done to show its market value, justifying the idea that the buyer should pay more for it. In that moment Jeff often takes out Terapeak and checks to see what similar items have actually sold, at what prices.
Jeff says he often finds that the active listing that’s been printed is misleading compared to the real-world sold item values that Terapeak shows.
The thing about Terapeak is that the sold numbers don’t lie. There’s no fluff in there. There’s no price being jacked up because someone thinks it’s rare. It really gives the seller peace of mind. People love to say 'That’s worth 1,000 dollars!' No its not. Go to Terapeak. The only ones sold in the last 365 days sold for $50.”
While Colleen and Jeff Rast have been able to make a living with their stores, they also realize that not everyone has been as fortunate. This led them to launch coaching initiatives in their state, Montana—where jobs can be hard to come by. Colleen wants to help spread the gift of eBay and to offer other families the opportunity to make their living online.
"People wonder why I would coach other people on how to use eBay," Colleen says, "since that could in theory introduce competition to my sales. But I know that eBay is big enough for all of us! More often than not we learn new things from the people we teach and get to benefit second-hand from sharing our knowledge."
We’re grateful to have customers like Colleen and Jeff who, like us, advocate for the little guy and make small business ownership not just possible, but profitable—no matter your age, financial status, or location.