While many of us have had some experience in either selling or buying an item on eBay, few can actually claim to have made millions doing so. But, as these everyday entrepreneurs prove, with its global reach, eBay can be a fantastic way to transform your small business into a thriving one.
Entrepreneur: Jordan Insley
What he sells: Electronics
Revenue: More than $8 million
Jordan Insley got his start on eBay back in 2002 by selling sports memorabilia. After moving to Seattle from New York in 2004, he saw a bigger opportunity in selling electronics like cell phones and cameras. But it was sales of the now ubiquitous iPod, some 300,000 over just the past three years, which helped propel his company's growth. Insley says his nine-employee company is now expanding into LCD and plasma TVs as well as computers. "We have grown to the point where companies are coming to us to sell their products because they know we do a great job and make all of our customers happy," he says.
Entrepreneur: Elizabeth Bennett
What she sells: African clothing, art and other collectibles
Revenue: $1.2 million
In 1997, about a year after Elizabeth Bennett started her business, she heard about someone selling beads on eBay. More as a way to test it out, she, too, started listing her items for sale. "At first, I was like, 'Wow, we made just $50 a week,'" Bennett says. "I would never have guessed we could grow our business into what it is today." Bennett's business, which now employs seven, involves buying and selling unique items from African traders, such as clay pots, carved masks and textiles -- a trade that results in some $500,000 being pumped into the local economies of small African villages. Her biggest challenge? Shipping fragile and uniquely shaped items, like a seven-foot-tall giraffe statue, around the world. "I've had to do lots of learning over the past 14 years," she says.
Entrepreneur: Mark and Robin LeVine
What they sell: Bubble wrap and other packing supplies
Revenue: $1 million
After getting their start on eBay 11 years ago, Mark and Robin Le Vine (who founded the business with her former husband), estimate that they have sold about 2,838 square miles of bubble wrap -- enough to cover the distance between Maine and California. Bubblefast has continued to capitalize on the needs of other eBay sellers by expanding its product line to include other useful items such as boxes and packing peanuts. Perhaps more amazingly, they run their company -- taking and shipping orders from a warehouse near their home -- by themselves. "People assume we are this gigantic company," Le Vine says. "But when the phone rings, it will be Robin or myself who picks up."
Entrepreneur: Sarah Davis
Based: Beverly Hills, Calif.
What she sells: Designer handbags
Revenue: $4 million
It was a chance encounter at a kids' clothing store in Los Angeles in 1999 that changed Sarah Davis' life. After she found out that a woman standing in front of her in the checkout line was buying up kids' blankets and selling each one on eBay for a $20 profit, Davis, who was enrolled in law school at the time, decided she also could turn her fondness for finding bargains into her own profitable business. Starting out of her bedroom, Davis' business has grown by leaps and bounds -- leading her to move first to an office and, more recently, to a retail location in Beverly Hills that specializes in vintage and mint condition pre-owned designer handbags. The business has also become a family affair -- most of the company's 12 employees are Davis' relatives.
Entrepreneur: Chris Chapman
Company: Snow Sport Deals
Based: Lothian, Md.
What he sells: Ski equipment
Revenue: $1.2 million
Chris Chapman spent years working in the retail business before making the transition to start his own wholesaling operation in 1999. One key benefit? "I got to be home for Thanksgiving for the first time in years," he says. It wasn't long before he learned about eBay, so he decided to put a pair of high-end skis up for sale to see what, if anything, would happen. "I didn't have a market to sell them anywhere else," he admits. To his pleasant surprise, he sold the skis at a tidy profit. That led him to start a daily routine where he would line up 20 pairs of skis, take pictures and post them online. Five years later, that routine became the norm, as 80% of Chapman's sales -- resulting from the sale of some 10,000 pairs of skis -- originated from eBay buyers. Today, the business is thriving, selling not only skis, but boots and clothing as well. "The keys to our success are to be honest, take good pictures and respond to our customers as quickly as we can," Chapman says.
The original version of this article appeared on AOL Small Business on 3/23/11.