When Chris Koenig started selling on eBay four years ago, he had no idea that he would be selling about 200 T-shirts a month.
This 37-year old T-shirt connoisseur lives in Oklahoma with his wife and 8-year old daughter. He’s passionate about discovering and selling vintage T-shirts on his eBay store called Holy Idea Tees. “There's a real science behind picking T-shirts. You have to know what you're looking for. I try to find old T-shirts that were manufactured before the year 2000,” says Chris.
What is obvious from the moment you start talking to Chris, is his desire to be his own boss and be available for his daughter and wife. I spoke to Chris about his life as an eBay seller, a family man, and his goals.
Mansi: How's your eBay Business doing?
Chris: Business is great. May 2017 was my best month and the second week of July was my best week, so far. I am expecting to see a slowdown in orders this month, but if history plays out, next month will be a really busy month.
I ensure that I have a rotating inventory of about 2,000 vintage T-shirts at any point in time. The great thing about having a business on eBay is being able to market to the world. I don't think a brick and mortar store for vintage T-shirts would be as easily available, and successful, as an online store.
Mansi: How do you identify vintage T-shirts and how do you know your buyers would like them?
Chris: There's a whole subculture of people that love vintage clothing. The main identifier is the tag or the label and then comes the print.
When you say vintage T-shirts, people think of concert T-shirts or band T-shirt, like, Aerosmith or Grateful Dead. Nowadays, people are also looking for shirts from the 90s, like Jean Co, Nike, Converse, or Mossimo; the kinds they would have worn in school.
Event T-shirts are another big category for me. It could be a Super Bowl or a World Series, or even the ones that say, "I survived the ice storm of '94." Or, "I survived the hurricane." Super Hero and travel T-Shirts are also popular on my store. One of the cool things about vintage T-shirts is that people like the distressed look. If it has been washed incessantly to the point where it's super thin and threadbare, that’s a major selling point for me. I have observed these trends closely and I source accordingly.
Mansi: Tell me about sourcing and storing your inventory.
Chris: I really enjoy this aspect of my business. If I'm ever out and about, there's always a place to stop by to look at shirts. I usually source from vintage dealers, estate sales, thrift stores, and websites. One of my recent visits to an estate sale was very successful and I found a box full of 80s, 90s era, Desert Storm, and Desert Shield T-shirts.
I have a whole room in my house where I store all the T-shirts. I don’t fold them so, it’s all hanging inventory. All the brainstorming, ironing, and spot treating happens here. I have a setup of dome lights in this room and I take photos there. I have my little setup with some dome lights.
Mansi: What are the points you take care of while listing your items?
Chris: I follow a template to ensure I get the listing right. I start with a short quip about the T-shirt. I make sure to point out the little details. Like, I always put the photos that show the holes or stains on a T-shirt.
So, when I write the listing I refer to those photos and say, "All these issues are pointed out in the final four photos." In the vintage T-shirt community, most people do the measurements armpit to armpit and then neckline to hemline. I mention those very clearly. I also have my own rating system for vintage T-shirts and they are:
Mansi: What do you have in mind when you click photos of your items?
Chris: I use my iPhone to click photos and then save them on the cloud. I have a pattern to clicking these product shots. I start with clicking the whole T-shirt, followed by a shot from waist up. Then comes the collar, which shows the tag of the T-shirt. For vintage T-shirts, the texture is very critical.
When it’s washed a number of times, the cotton in the fabric starts to wear down. That’s what makes it thinner and softer. I hold my hand up to the fabric, shine a light through it, and click a photo to demonstrate how thin the material is. Finally, I snap the holes and stains. I use a doll to point them out in the photos, instead of using a pencil or a encircling them. My customers find it hilarious and I have fun doing it.
Mansi: Tell us about packing and shipping these tees.
Chris: I am a big proponent of creating an experience for the customers through packing and shipping. I believe that, when the customer receives the package, you have their undivided attention for that one minute. That moment is very crucial.
I pack my tees in a colorful tissue paper. I choose the color that complements the color of the tee. I frequently use eBay’s colorful Christmas tissue papers. After the tissue, I neatly stick my Holy Idea Tees logo. Then comes the personal note on the invoice and that completes the packing. I ensure that, when the customer opens the pack, she/he feels that, the seller really loves what he is doing.
Mansi: Which tools do you use to grow your sales?
Chris: I use eBay’s Markdown Manager, frequently. I check for events and important days at the beginning of every month to promote my items. This Father's Day, I created a 25%-off sale on sports and super-hero categories. I also use an email system called Constant Contact to design emails for such events and inform my customers. I did similar promotions for Flag Day and the longest day of the year this month. I am pretty active on social media, too and I promote these sales on Facebook and Instagram, as well.
Mansi: What’s your secret of running a successful business?
Chris: Just working really hard. The first thing I would say is, do not get discouraged. Sometimes, as you are really involved in your business, it could seem like an eternity between one sale to the next. That's where keeping a close watch on my numbers helped me. It's just about doing the same thing every day and taking pride in it, and you'll see it grow. I believe that comparison is the thief of joy.
Sometimes I feel I need to get more inventory. Then again, I come back to family. If I did not have a family, this would probably be what I did 24/7. Thank God that I do have a family and that I don't do it 24/7, because I'd probably go crazy.
Mansi: How does your business on eBay make you a better father and husband?
Chris: I used to have a 9 to 5 job till 2008. Being stuck in an office, while the hours melted away, crushed my entrepreneurial spirit and my heart ached to be with my family. I'm a different person as a business owner.
My eBay business allows me to be available. It gives me the freedom to be at home, take a break, and play Minecraft with my daughter, Story. I'm a tremendously better husband and father as an eBay seller, than I would be in a 9-to-5 job.
Chris’s day revolves around his daughter’s schedule. His work starts after he drops his daughter to the camp or school. “I have a map in my head. So, when I go out to drop my daughter, I know where to go to pick up a few tees,” he says.
Chris plans to hire someone to take care of the two time-consuming aspects of his business that are listing and blog writing. He enjoys the sourcing aspect of his business and wants to devote more time to that. This, he says, will take his business to the next level. But for now, Chris is happy being the stay-at-home-dad and husband.
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