Online Extra: Q&A with Mini-Dot Entrepreneur Judy Irvin

The antique-toy dealer tells why she makes more on eBay than she did at local show booths

Judy and Kerry Irvin of Murray, Ky., have been dabbling in the antique-toy trade for 15 years. But it wasn't until they discovered eBay that they were able turn their hobby into a profitable business. Now retired from their day jobs -- Judy was a bill collector and Kerry a property manager -- the Irvins spend their days on the Net, auctioning off hundreds of toys a month using their eBay alias, kjtoys. Judy reflected on their success in a recent interview with correspondent Arlene Weintraub.

Q: How did you go about selling your antique toys before the Web existed, and how does the Web compare in terms of efficiency?


We had four booths in local antique malls. The total rent was $1,600 a month, plus we had to give up 10% of our gross sales. Our Internet bills average about $1,000 a month. But we're selling more per week on eBay than we did in a month in the stores. We've listed 1,100 items this year on the Net and sold 95% of them. So the numbers work out much better on the Web.

Q: What are some other benefits that selling on eBay have provided?


We don't have to set up booths at trade shows anymore. When we were doing that, we'd be carrying toys all over the country, some would get damaged, and we didn't always get the best prices. Plus our expenses could be as much as $1,000 per show.

Q: How has the Web transformed the collectibles business?


It has made it easier for people to complete their collections. I collect Betsy McCall's dolls. When I was going to trade shows, I was lucky to find three Betsies in the building. I go to the Web and find 200 to 300 every week.

Q: What are the downsides?


The wider availability has brought prices down in some cases. The Merrymaker's Band used to be hard to find. Now you do an eBay search, and there's 10 of them. The going price has gone from $1,500 to $800.

Q: What are some of your best eBay sales?


We bought a Lionel Manhattan No. 29 train car for $300 and sold it for $6,600. Once I bought an iron at a flea market in Memphis for $15. It was made in the 1940s out of glass because of the metal shortage during the war. It closed on eBay at $1,125. I was extremely lucky.

Q: What's the biggest mistake people make when they set up shop on eBay?


They set the starting prices too high. You should set them so you'll make a fair profit, but you can't be greedy. And you should always buy what you like. That way, if it doesn't sell, you're not crushed.

Q: Are you making a better living than you were in your day jobs?


Heavens, yes. But are we working longer hours? Heavens, yes.

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