Recently, John Lawson, owner and operator of Colder ICE Media, asked me to do an article on the Facebook Ecommerce Group, a group budding with more than 1200 members and active topics on retail being posted and discussed every day. I thought for a while on what would be the best way to represent the group as accurately as possible and then it dawned on me that it should totally be about the members that make up the group. Who they are, what they do, what their story is, and what they get out of using the Facebook Ecommerce Group.
Below we feature one of the most active member’s stories, Kirk Holbert. It’s an absolutely fascinating read to see just how Kirk got started as a retailer and what he gets out of the Facebook Ecommerce Group, undoubtedly the most active and knowledgeable ecommerce group on Facebook. It is a private group, but that’s just to keep out spammers (if you spam, you’ll get banned) – all are welcome – just post a Facebook comment below if you’re having a hard time getting in and someone from the Ecommerce Group will help you get in.
Note: In the story below, Kirk interchanges the Facebook Ecommerce Group with the Facebook Ecommerce Forum. They’re the same thing, just worded differently. Without further ado, here’s Kirk Holbert’s amazing story about selling online, starting on eBay circa 1998.
Here is a picture of me and what I do. – Kirk Holbert
“My first experience with buying online was not from ebay but another auction site called on sale. I purchased a SCSI Hard Drive and enjoyed the bidding process. I would perform side jobs doing computer upgrades and repairs. Soon after I setup my ebay account in 1998 and started selling. I was working at a large health care system as a network inventory controller overseeing a WAN of over 5000 desktop PCs with tracking from cradle to grave on the systems.
Upon forced retirement of the systems I would setup employee auctions of old pc systems and administer the auctions. This allowed me position to purchase many systems at $20 and part the components out to be sold on ebay. Back in the day when folks were happy to purchase a dead motherboard for $30 – I felt so guilty for what some paid that I would toss in a free NIC (network interface card). I made the descriptions very clear and bold and they wanted the dead boards anyway – socketed IC removal I suppose.
While operating my side business selling computer salvage one of the maintenance guys at the Hospital told me he knew a guy that wanted to sell a bunch of comics and he knew I was a comic book nerd. So I was told they were held in a storage unit and to meet him at 10am next Saturday. I showed with a roll of bills earned selling computer parts and thought myself well prepared to bargain for whatever they had. We waited and the dude showed and went up to one of the roll-up doors and unlocked it – as he pulled up the door I could see that the entire unit was stacked and packed from floor to ceiling. As I stood in awe he walked to the adjacent unit and opened it reveal the same identical united packed to the limit.
Over the next month I spent every dime I could get my hands on without any sort of credit card debt. Immediately I started selling comic books and I churned the cash back toward buying more of that comic book inventory. All Near Mint Unread glossy flat dealer back stock that never hit the book racks. It was like a time machine ! I had been a comic book collector years before so I knew some of the issues and I tried to play it cool while I built my custom long boxes of 300 comics for $20 each.
My only regret was that I only purchased around 20,000 comic books and wish I had purchased the entire 200,000 in storage.
Comic book sales became my key business as it more than replaced the computer salvage business. As my feedback neared 1000 on ebay I could no longer tolerate the abuse of my bosses boss any longer – I had given him the title of Puppet Master. After I gave my two week notice he called me on the phone because I had declined his meeting request. When we spoke on the phone I let him know all future meetings would be held in my office. We had 1 last meeting and I told him I had reached my tolerance of his tutelage.
When I left the office politics I felt like I was 10 foot tall and bullet proof and I had just picked up the winning lottery ticket. I just had to put the work with it and it was all mine for the taking. Just ahead I could see the gold in the mine and all I had to do was dig it. I told my friends of my celebration of quitting the old day job, but for some odd reason some of them could not understand my excitement. At that point I had the attitude that more inventory could solve any problem because that always meant you would have more to sell and EVERYTHING was selling on ebay at action back in their magical days. I used the 99 cents No Reserve – Money Back Guarantee approach. It worked well and I sold much on ebay for years.
I made the chief executive officer decision that I would send myself to my first ebay live the year it was held in San Jose and was excited to receive a special invitation to attend an event at the ebay HQ. They treated me great and I felt I had arrived to more grand attention than I deserved but it sure did go to my head quick. I was a top category performer in both toys and collectibles so I was sort of a hybrid seller both strong in toys and comic books. 99cent auctions could keep that inventory turning over fast and by then I had done a second comic book shop buyout and had near 70,000 comic books I was working to sell down to manageable size.
The following year I moved to a nearby warehouse location when my wife said the inventory had to go and she had drawn the line after I took over the entire basement, both garages and off site storage. I had tried using the excuse that I had no place else to store inventory and had to use a room upstairs. No can do she said and soon afterward I had a land lord that didn’t have the same satisfaction guarantee I offered my customers. I found a nearby warehouse location that had no windows and a leaking roof that was not going to work for me. After a year and half of that I had enough for a down payment on a warehouse of my own. I had hired and e full time employee and discovered the power of Amazon while at my first warehouse location. I was doing well and thought every single year would be double digit growth but I did not fully realize how good things were. I purchased my 2900 sq. ft. warehouse on the north side of the tracks where property was about 70% cheaper than the south side.
Take a look at this old picture. Aprox. 5 years back at my first warehouse location. I had so many comic books that I made my office desk out of boxes filled with comic books. ( :
I took notice of the traffic patterns and checked records for car count at my new location and could see average of over 15,000 to 20,000 automobiles drive by my business daily so I decided my new location would offer a discount outlet and 1/3 of the building was designed to allow walk in customer access. I went ahead and purchased my 4 camera security system with DVR and a electronic cash register with computer interface. Upon contacting the city about zoning I was very disappointed to discover they charge $1000 for zone change review with no assurances. As I sell to CA and NY just fine I didn’t think my THOUSAND dollars would be well spent so I can pay more taxes. I sold the cash register and digital video recorder on ebay and shipped the electronic cash register to Canada.
Business continued to get softer and weaker but my employee continued to emphasize that he must have over time pay every week or he couldn’t make it. Once the point pushed over to where I couldn’t make it I told him I would have to limit him to only 40 hours a week, but in fact I should have fired him about 8 to 10 months before that point due to lack of justification of paying his labor costs and the terrible wage taxes every quarter. I had seen FBA and shown interest but my employee insisted that would be of no gain to us.
After I was forced to let my employee go I went to Seattle to attend my first Amazon conference. I took notice that I was the only big seller there not using FBA so I took the clue and when I returned to the warehouse I begin shipping everything to Amazon for a year and half and didn’t stop until I took notice of the amazon fees charged. I was selling like never before and paying enough fees to make me think I was being somehow abused. Facebook had been around for a little while and I was added to a new facebook group called the ecommerce group.
I was excited to see several names that I recognized from the ebay forums, PESA and the internet merchants association. I soon became a frequent contributor on the ecommerce ICE forum and asked questions plus offered candid insights of my experiences when I could. I took notice there were different types of sellers and had interest in creating my own website where I would not have to pay the heavy handed fees of Amazon and ebay. I spent much time and effort in building my own website and trying to keep products selling on ebay. That meant remaining a TRS or ebay just wasn’t worth the effort.
Over the past couple of years on the ecommerce ICE forum I have noticed a pattern that certain sellers are very loyal to their selling platform or channel that is working for them. I fell prey to the words of advice that I need strong sales on a website, ebay and Amazon all 3 giving me a balanced ecommerce sales portfolio and spent thousands of dollars and hours attempting to build up my bigcommerce site and cope with the mind games ebay plays on their real customers, the sellers like me. This experience has led me to the realization that not all markets work for all people nor are they a good fit for all products.
The ICE ecommerce forum remains a true wealth of knowledge similar to a free think tank of great minds and experiences ready to be shared for the asking. Looking back the best advice I got from the ICE forum was the advice I did not take and that was SEO can not be automated. But then with google changing the search visibility rules it sure makes it a challenge to reach the top 3 search placement positions. For me early identification of trending and opportunities remains that greatest advantage of the ICE ecommerce forum.
The Atlanta ecommerce ICE conference of 2012 was a turning point for my business ! It was where I rediscovered the synergy of my plans reforming as I watched the presentation showing Amazon’s growth curve passing Wal-Mart in total sales in our future. I have always known, but didn’t always follow the fact that most of the limits in ecommerce sales we place on our selves.
You will find a picture of my current warehouse with the ICE forum pictures. Small white brick building. One of the first pictures that was added to John’s fanpage group.
In regards to the value of the ICE forum some of the working relationships I have discovered and developed through my contacts have and are turning into extremely valuable business partnerships as I increase my product offerings and business management tools. I am thankful to John Lawson, Brandon Dupsky plus many others that have shared their insights and experiences with me. The real value of Facebook is the Relationships with others we develop.
My newest efforts include opening an Amazon Webstore for selling cell phone cases in 2013. No limits!”
Kirk’s Amazon Store: Cosmic-King LLC
Kirk’s standalone website: www.cosmic-king-toys-comics.com
This is such a cool story Kirk! Thanks for sharing it with us. And thanks John Lawson for getting this group going, you’ve connected a bunch of great people together.
Do you have questions about The Ecommerce Group, Kirk or John? You can post them in the comments.