When Deborah LaBoo’s father passed away in 2007, Deborah and her mother were left with a house full of his stuff. Much of it was brand new—the result of her father’s aversion to returning anything, even if it was the wrong size. As a longtime eBay shopper, Deborah knew exactly how to declutter. “Admittedly, I priced way too low,” she says looking back. “But, everything sold and I was hooked.”
Now, Deborah sells a wide range of items, and running her eBay store, Piece of Cake Sales, is part of her daily life, even while she juggles a full-time job along with it.
Like many sellers, Deborah is already thinking ahead to the holiday season. But, she’s not just thinking—she’s doing. Deborah prepares for holiday selling all year round, lining up on-trend inventory and securing seasonal help. She estimates that 75% of her sales come in at holiday time, so it’s vital to her business that she’s set up for holiday success.
We chatted with Deborah to learn more about her holiday preparation. Here’s what she had to say.
What do you do in advance to plan for the holiday season?
I do a lot in January. That’s when all of the manufacturers do their showcasing for what they think is going to be big and popular for the coming year. So they are taking orders and showing the toys, ornaments, and clothing lines they think will sell the most. By March and April, I’m looking at trend magazines for fashion, toys, and home decor, and looking at other wholesale shows.
Committing to purchasing in January can be daunting. Sometimes I can take the inventory in January but don’t get billed until November, so I have a long time to recoup my money. I don’t do that too often, but I always take immediate delivery of some of the merchandise so I can see if it sells.
What tips and tricks do you use to make sure you’re placing your bets on the right items?
I read a lot of blogs, and people send me things from Pinterest, like Hatchimals from last year—thankfully I managed to jump on that pretty quickly. I also have young nieces and nephews so I know the things they like. I’d never heard of an Umizoomi, but thanks to them, I have my finger on the pulse of what’s new. And, I go to the toy section at Target and see which is the most picked-over section. I don't have to be there when all the kids are there. Because I work full time, maybe I can't get to the store until nine o'clock, but I can clearly see where the kids have been.
I look to see what kids are buying in the summertime and I source some of that and see how it does. And if it does well, I just rinse and repeat. I keep listing and people keep buying. If something starts selling for Christmastime in April or May, I go back and increase my orders. Waiting until July or August is not always the best thing because then the supply is gone.
That’s a lot for one person to handle! How do you manage your time?
It’s an all-night operation sometimes. When it gets really hot and heavy, I have to take off work for a few days to get everything lined up, listed, and photographed, and write up the descriptions. There definitely comes a few days during the season where it’s one or the other. Thankfully my full-time job has some flexibility. But, in general, I do it all during the nights and weekends.
Do you hire any seasonal help, and if so, how far in advance of the holiday?
It’s ad hoc. It’s usually someone in my neighborhood who is trustworthy. Most of this is run out of my basement warehouse, so it has to be someone I know and trust. I have that person in line by August or September, but I don't really need the help until late September or October. It’s usually one person, max two.
What other seasonal preparation do you do?
I clean up my workstation and workspace. It’s good for the soul to come into a clean, clear work space at least once a year.
I always try to purchase extra materials, but I never do, because in my mind I have a million polybags or seven rolls of bubble wrap, and then once it gets busy, I’m like, “Do I really only have seven sheets of bubble wrap and 50 items to ship?” I always underestimate my shipping supplies. You'd think after all these years I’d think to myself, “You only ordered three big rolls last year, so why don't you order six?” However, I always have a ton of boxes in every size imaginable so that if I need to ship a coin or a truck, I can find a box or cobble together a few boxes and make it work.
What eBay tools do you use to run your store?
Promotions Manager is new to me. I just did my first promotion two days after I got back from eBay Open. Seller Hub is my opening page. I’m always looking at what’s up or down. If I haven't had a sale in two days, I can look and see if this time last year I was rocking and rolling. If so, that’s motivation for me to try something else or lower a price or look at pricing recommendations.
Also, there is an email that eBay sends out when a seller lowers a price, and I think that is fantastic. It used to be that you didn’t know how to get in touch with your watchers, and if something went on sale, they wouldn't know. This tells them, “If you liked it at $59, you will love it at $29!” That’s a good thing. If you slash prices—even if it is five cents or five dollars—and someone has watched it, they will know.
Have you made any big mistakes to your approach to holiday selling in previous years?
I usually say I should have purchased more of one thing. There are usually clues or signs, but I get gun shy. I think, “I ordered 500 of this item. How much do I really need?” I learn to be thankful that it sold out and I’ll be ready for next year. I try not to sell out before early December—that’s an epic fail. If it’s after that, I can live with it.
When does your holiday season start, and when do you start to see holiday sales trickle off?
Holiday sales start in September for me. A lot of people get back to school and life after summer. They start thinking of the holidays, and I’ll start to see things move. Things wrap up on the last day for First-Class shipping before Christmas, because people get worried about whether or not they will get it in time. But then, literally the day after Christmas—or even after dinner on Christmas Day—it starts again. People get together and they’re like, “Oh, where did you get that?” They get sent to eBay and, many times, back to me as the seller.
What are the most important things you do to ensure a successful holiday?
I try to do a good job of looking at everything that’s available at the beginning of the year. I take the time to read magazines about what sold well, and I find out what the manufacturers hope will sell well in the year. I also try to anticipate questions and add them to my listing. For example, I’ll list what the manufacturer calls the color and what I think the color actually is. Or, if there’s a measurement that seems off—for example, a dress seems small for a size 8—I’ll try to manage expectations and decrease the chance that something won't be quite right. I try to be as descriptive as possible in that little bit of space.
How do you allocate your budget for holiday selling?
I try not to spend more than 30% of my budget in January with the initial ordering. Then, I still have some money to spend in a few months when more of the home shows are picking up. In summer, I’m starting to figure out what toys are hot and I still have about 20-25% of my budget left to go out and purchase. Basically, I spend 30% in the beginning, around 50% in the middle, and then that last bit in July, August, and September. Of course, it’s not a science.
It may not be an exact science, but it sounds like you have a solid plan for holiday selling. Thanks for sharing your tips with us!
For more holiday tips, check out the webinar Maximizing Your Sales: Planning for the 2017 Holiday Season.
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