If turning a job-loss into a successful business could be called an art, then Kathleen Palmer would be a masterpiece.
Kathleen started selling on eBay 15 years ago after losing her job as a graphic designer. Unable to find a job in her field, she took to eBay. Her first sale was a lot of five pairs of baby Levi's jeans.
Today, this 55-year-old mom, wife, and entrepreneur now sells ornate silver and gold jewelry on her eBay store called College Therapy Fund. Kathleen’s business is up 150% year over year and she attributes her success to careful listing practices and hard work.
She lives with her husband in St Louis, Missouri and has an 18-year-old daughter and a 20-year-old son. Kathleen says both her kids grew up with her eBay business, and both of them know how to start and run an online store.
Her hearty laughter and vivacious personality is the first thing that strikes you when you start talking with her.
"I actually relax by doing my business. I just can't wait to get on the computer and photograph my jewelry. It's very relaxing for me. So, I never feel overwhelmed with my work. Other parts of my life can be overwhelming, but this is such a pleasure", says Kathleen when I asked her about her life as a seller.
I spoke to Kathleen about the jewelry she sells, her life as a seller, and her goals.
Mansi: What makes you and your jewelry stand out in this competitive marketplace?
Kathleen: I've trained myself to have an eye for good quality. My niche is Native American jewelry, and I love it. I think I've built a reputation of honesty. My customers trust me for sending them exactly what they saw online and for shipping it very quickly.
I also don't mind when people return the jewelry to me. They get their money back and I still have the jewelry. Nobody loses anything but a little bit of time. I think that also helps my business.
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Mansi: How do you manage sourcing, and what’s the thought process behind it?
Kathleen: I am sourcing every time I'm on holiday. I've purchased jewelry in Clearwater Florida, on Piccadilly Road in London, everywhere. In fact, some of our holidays are actually just antique road trips.
Most of my inventory comes from antique malls and estate sales. I pick up whatever catches my eye, and I know one of my customers will like it. The second thought is will make a profit selling it or is too expensive?
Mansi: Do you have some sort of sourcing and selling calendar?
Kathleen: I do. Right now is garage sale season, and there are so many pieces of jewelry being sold at garage sales. May through September are probably my biggest inventory gathering months. My biggest sales months are September through November, that's because of the holidays.
Mansi: What steps did you take to boost your sales?
Kathleen: I started buying more gold. People always like gold jewelry, and it sells faster. Most of my items are “Buy It Now” with the “Best Offer” [option]. I start with a reasonable price, and I allow people to give me their price. I love to negotiate; I think it’s fun. Another step I have taken is that every Thursday, I put about five to ten of my items on auction. I have discovered that it brings a lot more traffic to my store throughout the week. I'm drawing the attention with my auction and more people are coming and buying from my store. That works out pretty well for me.
Mansi: What's your promotion strategy?
Kathleen: My jewelry caters to a specific market. It’s Native American jewelry. I make sure that I've accurately described what I'm listing. There are collectors of Native American jewelry who want my stuff, but if I've got the wrong maker or the wrong stone, they're just going to pass me by. They'll never even know that I have it.
Mansi: Do you follow any best practices while listing your jewelry?
Kathleen: For some items, people need to know the weight; for others, it's measurements. I have a template that reminds me to take care of dimensions, the karat weight of stones, and the exact weight of an item. My template also reminds me to click photographs from every angle. Buying jewelry online is kind of scary, because you're spending a lot of money. There's nothing worse than opening up a box and going, "I didn't know it was that little," or "That color doesn't look right.” I feel like I have an obligation to make sure that what my customers see is what they get.
Mansi: What do you keep in mind while clicking pictures of your items?
Kathleen: It's no good if you've perfectly described your item, if people cannot see exactly how it looks. Most of the time, I take the item in my hand and click a picture so that people get an idea of how it will look in their hands. My biggest consideration is good light. I want natural light. I don't like to use electric lights, because they make the shadows a little too sharp, and then it's not a clear picture. I ensure that the contrast is good, and I get clear clicks of the hallmarks, the back, the front, and the sides.
Mansi: Which eBay tools do you use to grow your business?
Kathleen: I am glued to my Seller Hub dashboard. It's the first thing that I look at in the morning. It's got everything that I need to see about my business at a glance. I know if I have new messages, if I have any feedback, if I've sold anything, or if I need to ship anything. It's a really useful. I also send newsletters from my eBay account. In addition, I use the eBay Community for information. It's a great resource. When the eBay Spring Seller Update was posted, I needed clarification on some of the changes. I found all the answers about updating my listings from the discussions on eBay Community.
Mansi: How did you manage life as a mother and a seller?
Kathleen: Selling on eBay has been the greatest gift. I could be there for my children and homeschooled them. Many times, they were at the dining table doing their homework and I was working in the same room. It was just perfect. I feel so blessed that I got to be with my kids. It really freed me up to be the mom that I always wanted to be.
A magazine called First for Women recently wrote about Kathleen and her business. Kathleen’s goals for the rest of the year include learning the ropes of social media to up her marketing game. She urges eBay sellers to believe in their product and have patience through the ups and downs of business. "If you keep working on it and you have a viable product, you will sell and you'll be fine", she says.
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