How to become Canada’s top eBay seller

Two Thornhill, Ont. teenaged brothers dreamt up a global business selling golf balls, and drove their company to the top of eBay Canada’s contest last year.

Does you business have what it takes to land you the title of eBay Canada’s 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year?

Canadian entrepreneurs that sell their goods or services via the popular online auctionsite have until Aug. 15 to join the contest and grab a chance to win cash prizes and the priceless opportunity to further promote their business for free.

Now on its sixth year, the contest continues to reward Canada’s “most successful and entrepreneurial” eBay sellers, according to Andrea Stairs, country manager for Canada at eBay.

The reward goes to the overall most productive and innovative eBay seller. The winner gets a cash prize of $2,500 and an additional $500 towards a business course of the seller’s choice.

Stairs said an additional two new categories are being introduced this year:

1. The Innovator of the Year award for Canadians who exhibit the use of innovative technologies and practices to engage and attract customers to their online business. Winners get a prize of $1,500 and $500 towards a business course of the seller’s choice

2. The Family Business of the Year award for entrepreneurs who sell on eBay with the help of their family members. Winners get a prize of $1,500 and $500 towards a business course of the seller’s choice

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The prize is good, but exposure is even better

For Shaun Shienfield, owner of Knetgolf, the exposure that the eBay contest brings is “priceless.”

The business that he and his older brother Corey built bagged the award in 2009. “eBay enables us to reach millions of potential customers worldwide and winning the contest just boosted our numbers even more,” he says.

Knetgolf sells salvaged golf balls online through several different channels, according to Shienfield. “It’s green and we save golfers a lot of money.”

About 60 per cent of the company’s revenues come from sales made through the firm’s Web site Knetgolf.com. Another five to six per cent of sales come from the company’s Amazon.com account. More than 30 per cent of revenues come from eBay auctions and the remainder comes from resellers based around the world.

Basically, the company hires people in the U.S. and Canada to retrieve lost golf balls from as many as 3,000 golf courses across the continent. The retrievers scour wooded areas and scuba divers actually dive into water hazards to salvage the golf balls.

Golf balls in “mint condition” are sold online for 50 per cent to 40 per cent of their original price. Lower quality finds are sold for 65 per cent to 85 per cent of their original price.

Knetgolf sold no less than 5 million golf balls through eBay last year and expects to bump up that figure to 7 million this year.

Knetgolf’s garage biz beginnings

Of course like most eBay businesses, Knetgolf started small.

Back in 1995, Shaun was 15 years-old and his brother Korey was 17 years-old when they hit on the idea of retrieving and selling lost golf balls to golfers who wanted to save some bucks on their favourite sport.

The brothers initially hit some 10 golf courses in and around the Thornhill area. They paid a minimal fee to the course operators to be allowed to retrieve the lost balls.

“We were such ambitious go-getters. The operation got so big that within a month we collected about 5,000 golf balls,” Shienfield recalled.

The brothers paid a mailing list broker to provide them with a list of potential clients. “We basically spammed the people with offers, but we were using a fax machine instead of the e-mail,” said Shienfield.

The prevailing price was $15 to $30 per dozen for good to mint quality golf balls and $2 to $3 per dozen for those of a lesser quality.

By 1997, the brothers were selling through Yahoo and making arrangements with golf courses and associations whose members made regular orders. The company also hired scores of retrievers in Canada and the U.S.

By 2001, the Shienfields decided to expand even further.

“I thought of eBay because when I typed the search word golf balls on Google, the word eBay just kept on popping up,” said Shienfield.

He said eBay didn’t just provide Knetgolf a market place, but the site also gave them access to invaluable research and instructions on how to improve their business.

“By browsing through the listing, you can get a good sense of how goods are selling and a what are the ideal price points,” said Shienfield.

Sellers also get a look into what eBay buyers value the most.

If you want to excel as an eBay seller, Shienfield said you have to watch out for four key areas:

Communication – Always make sure you respond promptly to buyer questions.

Product description and quality – Make sure that you describe your products and services as accurately as possible. Buyers don’t want to be disappointed by glowing descriptions that don’t match what they get.

Price – Make sure that your prices are not too high. Research what are the prevailing prices for your product or category.

Shipping – Make sure your shipper is reliable and that your products arrive on time and in good condition. It helps to provide buyers with means to calculate shipping costs. This tool is provided for by eBay.

“Customers value communication a lot,” said Shienfield.

At one time when Knetgolf was receiving 300 to 400 emails a day, the company experimented with automated response tools and frequently asked questions (FAQ) lists.

“We quickly found out that buyers want to communicate with real people who can answer their questions. Customers want the personal touch,” he said.

Businesses that apply a few of these tips to their game might find themselves within putting distance of eBay Canada’s 2010 prizes.

To enter the eBay Canada 2010 Entrepreneur of the Year contest, click here.

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