120: How A Part-Time Seller Uncovers the Magic on eBay – John Davis

John and Denise are the owners of Sarge & Red's Hobbies and Games. John “Sarge” is a Marine Corps veteran and his wife Dee “Red” began their store to with donated items to raise funds for an adoption. They have been buying and selling on eBay ever since.

Interesting Notes

  • John started to sell on eBay with a duffle bag full of cards as donations from friends. The cards are still in boxes and are in good condition.
  • This is at the time when John's parents were raising funds for the adoption of his son. His friends helped too. Instead of cash, they donated magic cards.
  • John remembered too well the magic cards. He used to play it back in his junior high school. But, he sold his collection to a guy in the Marine Corps.
  • He checked the prices of the cards to see what they are going for. Much to his dismay, some of the cards that were valuable when he was a kid are no longer valuable now. A $20 card then is only worth 20 cents now. He started to list it on eBay.
  • Since then, John was drawn to eBay. He has met some people. In fact, after this interview, he will meet with a gentleman to buy a collection from him.
  • Most of his buyers are players, and there are sellers too. Some of John's items are collectible items. He sells more than magic cards. He also has hobby games and catalog cards. He has roughly a million and a half cards.
  • He has a file cabinet for his cards. The cabinet looks like a library using Dewey decimal system.

    John and his file cabinet full of magic cards

  • He sorts, breaks down, and alphabetize the cards by set. All the cards are in the different sets. The ones he has listed online are in the catalogs behind him (see inserted picture).
  • Down in his basement, he has all the rest of the cards in white cardboard boxes by set, in color and alphabetized.
  • When he got started, he did not know much about cards. But now, in most cards, he can tell if it is worth $2, $5, $10, or $100. He knows if the card is worth something.
  • The price of cards fluctuates daily like that of a stock market. It is an MTG stock. MTG Stock has a stock market trigger price that goes up and down.
  • Considering the MTG stock, John does not list every single card he has. He first monitors the prices of the cards and sets the price accordingly.
  • If the price goes up and one buys 300 pieces for a lower price, John will run out of money. But if he lists only 20 pieces and sells fast, John will check the prices. If the price is going up, he will adjust the price for his next set of listing.
  • The other day, he has cards that went up by $4. He went downstairs and grabbed 30 pieces, listed it and started to make money.
  • There are rare and hard to find cards from the first set. John knows what they worth but, has not come across those for a while.
  • For the card that he typically gets, he checks it first because there are counterfeit cards. John uses a jewelers loupe to look closely at the cards and made some test. Through it, he can identify cards that are worth $10,000.
  • There are different tests to tell if the cards are genuine or not. One can check the different sets and patterns.
  • There are cards that cannot be sold on eBay. Those are the ones that he packs and donates to kids.
  • John has been selling on eBay since 2013, part-time. He still has a full-time job and does eBay on his off days. He does all the listing. His wife does the packing. Their nanny helps sort the cards when the kids sleep off. John is looking to get some help in sorting.
  • He has systems in place and he knows exactly where every card is.
  • When he started, he used small white card boxes. He had the cards sorted by color. The system had taken him longer to look for the sold items.
  • But, when he started advertising, he had the cards by set. It makes it easier when he pulls out the orders.
  • He also knows when the cards are out of stocks. He has this little slips that he would pull out and see which needs to go and refill it. That way he can keep his inventory stock.
  • The most valuable card John has ever sold is worth $3,000.
  • If it is a cheaper card, John ships it with a plain white envelope. He would put the card between cardboard sheets to protect it.
  • If the card is more expensive, John would put the card in a heavy top loader like a plastic protector. Then, he would put a bubble mailer and ship it that way.
  • John uses his phone to take pictures of the cards when needed. Like if the card is an expensive card or has excessive wear and he wants to show it.
  • Most of the pictures of the cards he uses are stock photos. He will put the condition after the name, like LP for light play or NM for near mint. If it is worst, he will put an actual photo of the card so people know what they are getting.
  • Today, people still play the Magic The Gathering card game. In a couple of weeks from now, a new set will be coming out. There will be 3 or 4 more sets that will be coming out this year. The game usually comes out with 4 to 5 sets in a year.
  • It is an international game. John has cards that are in Russian, Spanish, Korean, Chinese, and Japanese.
  • It is also a strategy game. The card represents a spell. Each player is like a wizard or a planeswalker. Each card has a casting colors called Mana. Each card is represented by a land. Forest makes green mana. Island makes blue mana. Swamp makes black mana. The casting colors are on the top corner. It could be one green and two of any of the 2 colors. You cast it and you play a creature card. Each player has 20 life points and you can go back and down.
  • John is from Michigan but lives in West Virginia now. He is looking into a commercial location to put a store where people can come in every tournament.
  • He is thinking to start with a hobby shop and a little coffee shop inside of it. He aims to bring people in, not necessarily to come in and play the game but create other games like a family game. He wants to draw more customers.
  • John only has 5 years left before he can retire from his job. He will see how it goes depending on everything that is going to happen within his 5-year plan.

Advice, Tips, and Tricks

  • John receives and maintains a 100% positive feedback on the last 12 months.
  • If John or the post office makes a mistake and the card gets damaged, he shoulders the cost. He considers it as the cost of doing the business online.
  • He tries to help the customers out to make them happy at the end of the day.
  • If there is an error in the transaction, John would call the buyer. He would ask the buyer what he can do to make things right. Doing so goes to show that he conducts business in a personal way and not only with a computer screen.
  • For anyone doing an eBay business, whether it is a million cards or clothes that you are trying to list, you need to have an inventory system to find it. Because if you lose something, you get a negative feedback. You can't tell a customer that you can't find the item. You need to have a system whether it is bins or UPC Code.

Quotes

  • “I enjoy it. It's fun!”
  • “I think people lose the fact that you are dealing with another person.”
  • “My feedback, my integrity, my honor is worth more than the $18 out of mail order.”
  • “The more I save time packing, the more I have time to list. The more I list, the more I sell!”
  • “The faster you get something to the market, the better chance you can sell it at a premium before everyone else flog the market.”
  • You need to have a system whether it is bins or UPC Code.

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