eBay Seller Spotlight: Dave Harrison of Heavy Metal Merchant

Today we have with us business owner Dave from Heavy Metal Merchant, who tells us about his experience selling his products on eBay. Dave’s business has been selling online since 2003 and has sold millions of dollars of products online.

Hey Dave, could you please tell me about your business Heavy Metal Merchant, your customers and what you sell?

My business Heavy Metal Merchant is an online retailer of licensed music merchandise, specialising in the hard rock and heavy metal genres.

We are fortunate to have many loyal customers that shop with us from all over the world. According to our social media stats our customers are 75% male, 25% female and range in age from 13-54 with internet natives (the digital generation born in last 2 decades) in the 18-24 bracket making the largest portion of this demographic but a significant portion are aged from 25-44. Many of our shoppers are the new generation mobile and couch commerce customers; we also get girlfriends, mothers and grandmothers looking for gifts and sometimes even musicians and occasionally a famous rockstar or two.

The types of items and product categories we have sell apparel items like shirts, hoodies, tank tops, beanies, bandanas, gloves, baby & kids wear and accessory items including flags, patches, keyrings, stickers, wallets, magnets, wristbands, dog tags, buckles and badges and collectables like the growing market of new vinyl long tail CD & DVD titles.  We are a niche seller catering to a specific tribe so being all things to everyone is not our aim so depending on your music preference and inclination many customers say we are their favourite store.   

Where do you sell your products?

We have sold at record markets and gigs before but our main focus is selling on our eBay and onlinestores. Our online store www.HeavyMetalMerchant.com is our priority and main selling venue.

Tell me why you started to sell your products on eBay?

I first started selling on eBay over 10 years ago buying and trading vinyl records, CD’s and music memorabilia I had accumulated over the years from playing and touring in bands, like a lot of sellers starting out I was just trying to get rid of some of my own stuff that was taking space around the house and quickly noticed that there seemed to be collectors all over the world willing to bid on such items.

eBay is a platform that is easy to scale as you can start a store with very little inventory unlike a webstore which has larger start up costs and requires marketing to drive traffic, whereas for beginners eBay is like having a shop in the mall with lots of customers already walking by. As far as getting a store set up we started with the ‘Basic’ store package and worked our way up to ‘Anchor’ as the business grew.

When listings our products we tried everything from the old eBay Turbo Lister software and other third party listing tools such as Auctiva and InkFrog. We now manage our eBay and online store from one central source using Highwire Commerce.

What have you found to be the most effective way to market your business?

Our marketing focus this year has primarily been social media (Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest) and email marketing (Mailchimp) to connect directly with our customers.

We have been lucky that we now get a lot of repeat customer traffic through our website and eBay Stores. We have found that reselling to the same customers is the most cost effective way for us to sell more products and believe that it is important to continue to offer great customer service and maintain good brand representation across everything we do from answering the telephone to packaging our deliveries.

Everything a customer comes in contact with is a form of marketing and can impact our business in some way.

What product is your top seller?

This can change from month to month but there is a staple of classics that always sell and the old 80/20 principle is true to some extent. Some products are classic so will connect with a wide audience and always seem to sell well. We also like to sell underground stuff that is not offered in a lot of places as the more mass market you go the bloodier the ocean of competition, we try to go deep in the niche what retail refer to a longtail items. Check out the book ‘Blue Ocean Strategy’ for more on this concept.

Do you think the design of your eBay Store and use of good quality photos helps you sell more products and why?

Yes, photos are equally important as having a good product and price when selling on eBay, more so for one of a kind items and collectables. Good photo quality is important as it helps your product compete in a very photo centric online shopping environment, people don’t really read large amounts of copy and many people shop on small screen devices like a phone or tablet so photos really need to be simple, uncluttered so they pop on screen.

We have used a few eBay store design companies to reflect consistency of branding across our stores. I am not sure if the store design increases sales all that much but for the big picture it conveys professionalism and style across platforms and helps to build buyer confidence.  The store design has helped customers remember and say that they have “purchased an item from Heavy Metal Merchant” rather than “I bought it off eBay” which is great for repeat sales.

Do you think it is important to have a mobile responsive eBay Store and do you think your customers would benefit from this?

Most definitely! Recent statistics from PayPal show that the prevalence of mobile shopping is quite significant. A third of online shoppers surveyed have purchased something from their smartphone in the past 12 months, and 20% report making a purchase on their tablet. The surge in smartphone commerce is being driven by young adults. A global average of 59% of smartphone shoppers are between 18-34 years old vs. 44 percent of total online shoppers.

What did you learn during your first year selling on eBay?

A lot! It’s like learning to surf, you need to get on the board and start riding, you can learn all the business academics but the first waves will knock you around regardless, there is no substitute for experience so it is a combination of the two and you will always need to keep learning.

We have learnt how important it is to deliver good customer service, as the feedback system on eBay is very buyer focused and you can’t cheat your way around it as it is a baptism of fire.

After receiving negative feedback on a few of our earlier sales we quickly realised how important it is to have a good seller reputation as it impacts on how eBay lists our items. We then developed good processes to make sure all products were delivered on time as well as finding solutions on how to keep our customers happy. This has rewarded us well as customers return to our store frequently which has boosted our growth.

You also learn that the mindset and practice of emotional intelligence of what is going to make the customer happy rather than who is right or wrong will yield better results, if you focus on this the feedback the rest will take care of itself. Experimenting with listing tools we found the right software to fit our requirements, and grew our product range based on market research and exposure to different sourcing options. The most valuable lesson is that to build a secure business with equity the focus needs to be in building a brand and stand alone webstore and not make eBay your main focus as it is not wise or secure future to put all your eggs in one basket.

How long did it take you become a ‘Top Rated’ Powerseller on eBay? and how has your eBay Store benefited from this rating?

I think we were a ‘Silver’ powerseller soon after we got another person fulltime, roughly six months after I started to sell on eBay. Possibily it has helped to bump our products in best match search placement as well as building buyer confidence that is never a bad thing to have, otherwise we don’t pay much attention to that.

How do you find new products for your eBay Store?

As for product sourcing we have tried everything from eBay arbitrage, drop shipping, thrifting, wholesale, consignment, closeouts and manufacturing of our own licensed items etc. You get in there, try things and you find what works.

So the more established we have become the easier this side of things has gotten. These days we get approached by companies to sell their products online but I still like to review and monitor what’s happening in this market.

Do you sell the same products on both your eBay and online stores? or do you have a different selling approach for each?

Mostly the same product offerings but our main website offers a wider range of products which we can easily offer special discounts to our regular customers.

If you could rewind time and start your business again what would you do differently?

Thankfully not too much really. Some of the product categories we tried earlier were a little time consuming and not conductive to stream lining or scaling operations such as toys and second hand one of a kind items but we transitioned from that fairly quickly.

But you don’t know what your missing until you start experimenting with processes. It is a constant learning and adaptive curve with a continuous improvement process that makes it fun.

How do you mange your eBay Store over the Holiday period?

Christmas is the fourth retail quarter which historically is our busiest selling time of the year so it is up early at ’em and we bring in some additional help, but the preparation of what the holiday product inventory decisions will start a couple of months prior.

How do you maintain great customer feedback on your eBay Store and how do you respond to negative feedback?

Your feedback rating represents your reputation as a seller. We consider our feedback rating to be one of our biggest assets and try to protect it just like our computers, cash and inventory. In order for us to maintain this we try to deliver a quality product quickly, efficiently, and honestly. We have systems in place that focus on keeping our customers happy by serving them in the best way possible even if sometimes it is out of our own pocket; this is one of the best marketing expenses you can have.

It is best to respond to negative feedback promptly in a factual, professional and non-emotional way. It is important that other sellers remember that all feedback is published on eBay’s public forum for anyone to read and can influence a customer purchase decision.

What do you find most challenging about running your eBay Store? and how do you overcome this?

eBay has some unique challenges that make it more complex and time consuming than running an ecommerce store.

We find it challenging to manage eBay’s unpaid items claims, as this is a variable and percentage based which must be dealt with quickly as fees can add up, we use eBays’ Unpaid Item Assistant for help. Items must be relisted and inventory must be updated promptly across all channels.

It is an on-going challenge to keep up to date with all the seller updates such as eBay’s policies, we try to keep up to date with them as they are rolled out because they can really impact on our business.

What is the one piece of advice that you can give sellers that want to sell professionally on eBay?

Manage thy self. Time management is a bit of a misnomer we all have the same amount of hours and seconds in a day so it comes down to self management, keep your focus, automate to grow and spend time working ‘on your business’ not just ‘in your business’.

Have you got any exciting plans coming up for Heavy Metal Merchant?

With the launch of Metal Down Under (A History of Australian Heavy Metal)a movie about Australian metal music we have specially dedicated a ‘Metal Down Under’ section in our store as we like to support the Aussie music scene that we have been involved with so long.

We are also about to bring in a Metal Kids range and have lots more new products and ideas in the pipeline, so those interested in being updated we welcome you to join our mailing list or Facebook page!

Can you recommend any helpful resources for sellers who want to learn more about selling on eBay?

Networking Groups
Facebook eCommerce Group, run by my buddy John ‘Colder Ice’ Lawson
Annual PeSA Internet Conference

eBay Radio for the latest updates and tips in the eBay world with Griff & Lee
‘Selling On eBay’ 
by eBay – Youtube channel

‘Titanium eBay: A Tactical Guide to Becoming…’ 
by Skip McGrath
Kick Ass Social Commerce for E-Preneurs’ by John Lawson
Small Giants’ by Bo Burlingham
‘Permission Marketing: Turning Strangers into Friends…’ by Seth Godin
‘Small Is the New Big: And 183 Other Riffs, Rants…’ by Seth Godin
‘Blue Ocean Strategy‘ by W Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne
‘eBay Photos That Sell’ by Dan Gookin and Robert Birnbach
‘The 4 Hour Workweek’ by Tim Ferris
‘The E-myth Revisited’ by Michael E. Gerber
‘80/20 principle’ by Richard Koch

Apps: Anti-Social, FocusMeSelf-Control, StayFocusedTime-Out

Articles: Crash Course On Heavy Metal Music & Its Sub Genres by heavymetalmerchant

Thank you for sharing your eBay experience and insights with me Dave. I wish you the best of luck growing your business in the future.

Many thanks Chana glad to share, we appreciate your interest and all the best to you!

What’s your biggest challenge in running your eBay Store? Tell us how you over came it.