Sherry and Alan Gilson

Making Full-time Living on eBay Since 2002 – Interview With Sherry and Alan Gilson

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Making a living on eBay since 2002 – impressive!
Doing so while living in one of the world’s most expensive areas – San Jose, even more impressive!!
Running a successful online business while in their 70’s – Ok, that’s it – I gotta learn from these guys!!!

I love doing customer support. Yes, the CEO of CrazyLister does customer support, and I keep devoting a large chunk of my time talking to our customers even as we grow. The reason why I do this is – learning.
I learn a ton from our users. I learn from the sellers how to constantly make CrazyLister better, and I learn from the merchants, who each have their own fascinating stories and experiences.

I greet every new CrazyLister user with a welcome email, asking them “Why did you sign up for CrazyLister?”
As you’ll see below, the conversation sometimes leads to surprising connections.

why did you signup to CrazyLister?

why did you signup to CrazyLister?

from CrazyLister Intercom messages

Sherry organizes one of the largest ebay sellers meetups

It turned out that Sherry and her husband Alan were an entrepreneur couple, who have been working together for more than 40 years!
Making a living on eBay since 2002.
They are the organizers of the San Jose meet-up group that holds their meetings at eBay’s headquarters.
Sherry, Alan and I had a trans-Atlantic Skype call during which we shared our experiences, “eBay war” stories, best practices and thoughts about the future of eBay.

This post is not the usual “Click here, scroll there” super practical tutorial we sometimes do. Rather, it’s about the emotional and psychological sides of building a successful eBay business (or any business for that matter), which is as important as the functional side of things.

What have I learned from a couple that’s been making a living on eBay since 2002?

The Value of Partnership

Alan and Sherry combine marriage relations with a business partnership. They’ve been running businesses together for the past 40 years.
As Alan explains – he is the “Organized” type while  Sherry is a “Creative” spirit.
Their secret for a successful combination?  Separate offices!

Alan says that, back in the day, “murder was considered ok,” but divorce was not – people actually worked their differences out!

Sherry and Alan Gilson

Sherry and Alan Gilson – several years ago 🙂

I can’t stress the importance of a partnership in building a business enough.
Max and I are different, we each have our talents and weaknesses. It’s the ability to work out the differences between us and combine our strengths that helps us constantly keep pushing forward beyond the next obstacle. (Just take a look at almost any post in this blog – you’ll see how much $#it we had to deal with on our way to success on eBay, losing $20,000 worth of goods was just one of our eBay fails).

I’ve never tried to run a business by myself, but from talking to a 100+ Startup investors while looking for an investment for CrazyLister, we came to realize that a sole founder is viewed as a weaker business opportunity than 2 or 3 co-founders / partners.
No matter how smart, strong and talented you are, a partner to share the heavy burden of building a business is a great plus to your chances of success.

Meet-ups are also great – If you’re building an eBay business by yourself, eBay meet-ups are a great opportunity to get some help and advice.
As Sherry says: “We all have the right spirit and encourage each other at the meet-ups”.
I always love to hear about successes of other (credible) people – especially if I can learn from them.

eBay is a platform – It’s not your business 

Alan and Sherry were in business long before eBay was founded by Pierre Omidyar in 1995.
Intrigued by the “zero investment” required to launch – they began listing pre-owned clothing on eBay, being in their mid 50’s.
They treated eBay as a platform that allowed them to expand their business globally. eBay is a loudspeaker for their business, allowing them to reach a greater audience with their items – it’s not the business itself!

You have to remember that eBay is just the facilitator. It brings eyeballs to your listing and gives you access to millions of potential customers for your products. However, eBay will not communicate with your customers, it will not inspect, pick, pack and ship your items nor deal with any problems.
It’s especially important for new businesses’ starters who hear about all of the “eBay success stories” – there are no shortcuts! Building a business is a long and hard process. eBay is not a shortcut to success. It is, however, a great business opportunity that requires little to no initial financial investment. In fact, this reminds me the article we wrote last week where my business partner Max shared his top eBay selling advice on this very same subject.

Alan says: “eBay business is the least expensive investment that gives the best results.”

Sherry: “eBay has been the only source of income for us for a long time. It’s amazing, especially after considering the costs of living in San Jose –
$2500-3000 for 1 bedroom apartment!”

Technology is not “nice to have” anymore

The Gilsons told me about their early days on eBay when there were no tools to help the merchants – everything was a ton of manual hard work, and that is how everybody worked.
They are excited about the new generations creating technology that makes their life easier and better.
It was encouraging for me to hear that, especially from eBay veterans such as Sherry and Alan!

Sherry: “eBay keeps us young!”

For Max and myself – we were constantly the underdogs on eBay, we knew we needed to get every bit of an edge we could get over the competition and we used all the eBay hacks we could to achieve that.
We’ve always worked under the assumption that every minute and every penny we spent on tasks that technology could replace – was an awful waste that gave our competitors an edge over us!

Profit margins in e-Commerce are small and time is a precious resource – “Wasting” our time on doing manual tasks that technology can do faster / better puts the business at risk of survival against the competition that does move forward with technology.
This mindset (combined with the frustration of trying to work with outsource designers) is what pushed us to create CrazyLister. 

“The only way to win is to constantly get back in the ring and keep fighting!”

The above is how Sherry and Alan summarize their attitude towards struggles on eBay.
“No matter how hard you try – life will sometimes hit you in the face”,
It’s very easy to get negative and listen to people who are discouraged. You really have to force yourself to listen to the people who encourage you to keep going, because giving up is always much easier!

“You gotta have enough passion to break through the obstacles.”
It can sometimes be really frustrating – you do your absolute best and it’s still not good enough.

Alan’s advice – “When you run into trouble – save that for Thursday at 4 o’clock.” When you start looking back at what really irritated you – most of it went away, if not all. It’s all good – life will throw lemons at you – but it’s how you respond to it that makes the difference.
We disciplined ourselves that it’s all good.”
“You can only control what you can control,” and these things you can’t control – just make the best out of them, and it all comes back to attitude.

Starting out is easy!

Sherry: “You can start a business with junk around the house, and learn. When you become really good at it, then grow a business.”
I call it the “Just do it” approach. You can talk and dream about launching a business all you want. Unless you get up and DO! nothing will happen!

The most exciting thing about your business 

Sherry: “Getting up in the morning and seeing all those “Your item is sold” emails!”.
Sherry also mentioned finding something at a really great price and selling it for more on eBay:
She told me about finding a Channel item for $7.50 and selling it on eBay for $700!

It may sound unreal, but this is what Sherry does, she know how to find a bargain  – “Our profit margins are pretty high”.

Close relations with eBay 

Sherry and Alan are the co-organizers of the San Jose eBay meet-up group that holds their meetings at eBay’s headquarters.
They are in relations with many of eBay’s employees and feel the eBay “pulse” first hand.

Sherry has told me about how eBay had a welcome thing for their new employees. They invited 18 eBay sellers (The Gilsons among them) to attend the occasion.
Sherry says it’s very clear that eBay are putting a lot of effort into helping the small and medium businesses again. The employees get to know the sellers on their first day of work. This way, eBay shows its employees who the people they work for are – everything they do is focused on making the lives of the sellers (and buyers) better.

On a personal note: As I previously wrote in a post related to eBay good til canceled item duration, eBay has one goal – Increasing their profits.
It now seems, that the new management arrived to the conclusion that focusing (and helping) small and medium businesses, is the key to eBay’s success. I wrote about it in a dedicated post about our experiences selling on eBay.

Sherry and Alan Gilson

Sherry and Alan Gilson

The future of eBay is better

For the past few years, it seemed as if eBay was focusing on the big players, making it ever harder for the small businesses.
Sherry and Alan attended eBay’s recent 20th anniversary celebrations and have told me that when the sellers got into the room – eBay’s employees stood up and enthusiastically applauded them.

eBay is a big ship and it takes a lot of time to turn it to the right direction. But it seems like it is turning. The focus is definitely on the small and medium businesses again.

We created CrazyLister to help small and medium eBay businesses grow.
Hearing Sherry and Alan’s first-hand insights from within eBay – reassured me that we are on the right path. eBay is finally “back to its roots” – focusing on the people who made it what it is today – all of us! The small and medium businesses on eBay.

It doesn’t mean that selling on eBay will become any easier, quite the opposite! As more and more businesses join online sales the competition grows, eBay increase the selling standards and sellers will have to work smarter to be successful. Many sellers rant about the recent eBay updates, and rightfully so since eBay’s communication regarding those changes is awful but it doesn’t change the fact that we as sellers have to adjust.

My hope is that the information we provide in the blog helps you sellers become more successful on eBay and manage your eBay business smarter. We are always happy to receive feedback, please leave your comments below.

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