Tuesday, May 12, 2015

From a Few eBay Listings Grew a $25M Consignment Business

Her arms draped in Hermes Birkin handbags that retail for $13,000 each, a laughing Linda Lightman had to confess: She doesn't own a single one herself.
"But they're coveted by many," she added with considerable appreciation.
Such longing will translate into $25 million in sales this year for Linda's Stuff, the online luxury-consignment business Lightman started 15 years ago.
At eBay, where a projected $83 billion in gross merchandise value was transacted last year, Linda's Stuff is considered a superstar. It lists about 140,000 unique items daily, the best of which are also offered at shoplindasstuff.com.
"Their business has basically grown up on eBay," said Jon Kuhlmann, enterprise and strategic account manager for the online-shopping kingdom. "Their dedication to customers and the selection they offer is tremendous."
The family company - Lightman's husband, Fred, is president, and the older of their two sons, Max, is vice president of business development - has a workforce of 110 (average age 25, starting at $10 an hour). After five expansions since 2007, Linda's Stuff occupies 93,000 square feet at the edge of Hatboro.
Highly organized hoarding: That was my initial reaction once inside. Rows of stacked blue-plastic Sterilite storage bins containing pre-owned handbags, clothing and jewelry, and some home decor, seemed to go on forever. What wasn't in bins was in cardboard boxes or on hanging racks and shelves. There was a photography area, and spots for appraisals, listings and returns.
About 2,000 items are shipped to buyers daily. UPS delivers hundreds of boxes a day from the 22,000 consignors who sell through Linda's Stuff. Sophisticated software enables them to track their goods, for which they receive 62 percent of sales under $1,000, 75 percent for sales up to $5,000, and 80 percent for anything above that.
Consignors are assessed no fees. Linda's Stuff covers the cost of shipping, except internationally, and absorbs eBay costs - generally a 9 percent fee for clothing, shoes, and accessories.
Linda's Stuff's headquarters is so big, said Laura Weglinski, photography manager and Fitbit wearer, she usually has logged 10,000 steps by 3 p.m.
This selling behemoth began with the most modest intentions: Lightman, who practiced labor and employment law until 1991, was looking to sell her sons' video games.
"I got hooked," she said. "When our video games ran out, I started selling my clothes."
First, she had to teach herself how to use a digital camera. With no studio lighting, she opted for natural light, photographing her clothes outside, spread on patio furniture.
Soon, friends started asking her to sell their things.
In 2003, she hired her first employees, Tyler School of Art students. They would take the Temple University shuttle to the school's Ambler campus, where the Lightmans would meet them and drive them to their house nearby to help with photographing and listing.
A home-based stock trader, Fred Lightman would help with shipping after the markets closed. By 2005, with Linda's Stuff steadily growing, he quit his job to focus on his wife's.
"I was scared," recalled Linda Lightman, 53, now a Center City resident. "It was a very weird feeling for me. The stuff I'm selling on eBay is going to support our family? It wasn't a leap I took lightly."
In retrospect, it was a no-brainer. "Your audience is the world," she said. Currently, about 35 percent of her sales are international.
Marni Isaacs of Los Angeles has been consigning with Linda's Stuff for more than five years because, she said, it pays the best in the industry and because Lightman is "a very dedicated and personal business woman."
With annual sales close to $2 million in 2007, the Lightmans moved the business out of their home, where it had consumed just about every room. To Max's annoyance, that included his bedroom.
"Girls were sitting in my room watching soap operas and listing," said the 24-year-old graduate of George Washington University, who now can't get enough of the business.
Linda's Stuff moved to Hatboro in February 2014, taking on additional space twice since then.
"Until we moved to this office, we were always hamstrung by our size," said Fred, 56. "This is now the first time we have enough space to grow. Our sales will continue to go up just organically because we can list more items."
In the last couple months, they listed more new items than used, the result of a new trend: retailers turning to Linda's Stuff to sell leftover inventory.
The mother who set out to unload some video games now is in demand for TV appearances and lectures to business-school classes. And astounded by it all.
"This," she marveled, "was in my kitchen."

Linda Lightman, 53, founder and CEO of Linda´s Stuff, is surrounded by some of the luxury items she sells on consignment for others including a Chanel coat and Hermes Birkin handbags on May 4, 2015. ( CLEM MURRAY / Staff Photographer )

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