The Art of the eBay Sale

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Over the years, Bill Manny has sold more than 2,500 items on eBay. He uses the online auction website to augment his income in his retirement years.

[quote style=”2″]Retired Electronics Enthusiast Finds Business Success Online[/quote]

As of 6 a.m., this morning, there were 1,858 ceramic cows for sale or for bid on eBay. Not a single one was listed by Bill Manny. We’ll touch on the ceramic cows a bit later, but first, let’s find out more about Mr. Manny.

The 1954 Hermiston High School graduate is one of the more than 100 million people who are active on eBay, either as buyers or sellers. Manny is in the latter category and has been since 1998. He specializes in electronics equipment with a heavy focus on vacuum tubes.

Vacuum tubes? Who would want to buy old vacuum tubes? Plenty of people, it turns out.

“Radio collectors are always looking for tubes,” Manny says. There’s also a big market for old industrial tubes among businesses with vintage cooling and heating equipment that still work, but just need replacement tubes to keep them running.

“It’s cheaper for them to buy the old tubes than to replace a $5,000 piece of equipment,” says Manny. And there are people all over the world building high-end audio equipment who still use tubes, despite the fact that tubes have long since fallen out of favor and been replaced by solid-state devices such as semiconductors. But to purists, amplifiers and stereo equipment built with tubes provide a better sound than those made with solid-state devices.

“Sixty to 70 percent of the tubes I sell are to guys overseas building audio equipment,” Manny says.

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Manny checks one his listings on his eBay page. His specialty is vintage radios and vacuum tubes. This listing is for a 1936 Arvin Rhythm Queen radio.
Manny, who lives in Pendleton, is an expert on electronics equipment, particularly radios and vacuum tubes. He ran Round-Up Electronics for more than 20 years and has collected vintage radios for longer than that. When he sold his business 12 years ago, he held on to his tubes and radio gear. He scours estate sales looking for vintage radios and electronics equipment. He searches the entire Northwest for old vacuum tubes and will think nothing of jumping in his car and driving to Montana if he hears of someone with tubes for sale.

His collection is impressive. He has so much electronics equipment that he keeps an off-premises warehouse just to store his equipment. He’s established a network of buyers for his tubes and radios around the world. “I don’t think there’s a country in the world that I haven’t sold to,” he says. And eBay provides the portal for his sales.

“For me, it’s a way to augment my income,” he says. “I always planned to sell my old radio stuff and eBay made it easier to do.”

Over the years, Manny has learned the secrets to eBay success. First, sell what people want to buy.

“I know a man who started selling on eBay,” he says. “I look at his listings and there’s almost never any bids on his items. It’s junk.”

Second, be honest and conscientious. Manny includes as many as 12 to 15 photos at different angles of his radios and provides complete descriptions of every item he lists. And he makes sure to list any and all flaws or defects an item may have.

“Nothing leads faster to negative feedback than a description that is not accurate,” he says.

Bills eBay page
A look at Manny’s most recent eBay listings, including several tubes up for bid. These auction items ended on Sunday.
And finally, maximize your auction time. Manny always lists his items for 10 days, beginning on a Friday. That gives him two weekends on eBay. He’s found that most people do their bidding and buying on weekends. The bidding, he says, really begins to heat up in the final hour or so of every auction. An item might not get much action for the first seven to nine days, as people lay low, keeping an eye on one of his radios or sets of tubes, then suddenly it’s like a feeding frenzy as the auction draws to a close.

“It’s fun to watch the bids come in toward the end,” he says.

But the fun only comes after a lot of work. Manny says people would be surprised at how much effort goes into being a successful eBay seller.

To begin with, if he’s selling a vintage radio, Manny puts in hours of time restoring it. He spent 25 hours restoring a rare 1936 Arvin Rhythm Queen radio, though he admits that is not typical.

“That was a labor of love because I love restoring them,” he said.

After getting an item in tip-top shape, Manny takes multiple photos and writes a full description of the item. He then takes the extra step of embedding the photos into the text in a collage format before uploading the item onto his eBay webpage.

His work, however, isn’t finished with the listing. After an item sells, Manny will carefully package the item before taking it to the post office for shipping. Sometimes, if the item is fragile, he’ll construct specially-made boxes for added protection.

The whole process can take as much as a couple of hours per item. But his efforts have paid off. Manny has maintained a Top-Rated Seller status on eBay for years and has never once received negative feedback during his more than 2,500 transactions. To achieve and maintain Top-Rated Seller status, eBay sellers must sell at least 100 items for a total of at least $1,000 every year and maintain at least 98 percent positive feedback. Manny exceeds all of those requirements.

“It’s one helluva lot of work,” he says. “I earn every penny I make.”

The hard work involved is why Manny makes it a rule to never sell anyone else’s items. He says when people find out he is an eBay seller, they will often ask him to sell one of their items for them. Most of the time the items are small knick-knacks.

“They tell me they’ll give me 25 percent of what they make,” Manny says. “Well, by the time I put in all the work, it might take me a couple of hours’ time. And for what? To sell somebody’s ceramic cow for $12.99 and make $3? No way.”

Manny is amused when he looks on eBay and finds small, yard sale items for sale for a couple of bucks. He has some advice for those people.

“An item for $1.99 – just throw it away. You’re better off,” he says.

Oh, by the way – for anyone interested, there is a cute, little black and white ceramic cow on eBay right now for only $1. And it’s in mint condition.