095: Reflections of Trinity – Laurie Ann Wong

Laurie Wong is a 2016 eBay Shine Award Winner in the Charity category. She didn't start her community resource center and food pantry, Reflections of Trinity, as an eBay business. But with a friends help and a willingness to try something new, Laurie began what she calls her online adventure in 2005. Its a decision, she says, that changed the trajectory of her business. With the ability to sell locally, nationally, and internationally on eBay, Laurie reports that Reflections of Trinity's revenue has increased between $60,000 and $85,000 for each the past five years. In 2015 alone, Reflections of Trinity distributed 12,429 boxes of groceries (622,965 lbs. of food!) to those in need and in 2016, they crossed the million dollar mark by distributing over one million dollars worth of groceries to those in crisis!. Along the way, Laurie says she's gone from skeptical and uninformed about eBay to a power seller with an Anchor-level eBay Store and staff of three.

Laurie is a proud mom to 6 grown adults and grandmother of 8.

Interesting Notes

  • Laurie is the first eBay SHINE Award Grand Prize Winner and eBay's 2016 Small Business of the Year. The awarding happened on July 2016 at eBay’s inaugural seller celebration event in Las Vegas.
  • She used to work in the corporate end of a restaurant business. For several years she was in the outreach of a pastor's church.
  • She has been doing charity works for 14 years and 11 years doing eBay.
  • She is the founder of Reflections of Trinity. It is a non-profit, a 501c3 organization in Powder Springs, GA. As a non-profit organization, their main concern is to be able to help people that are in crisis.
  • Recently, when Louisiana got hit by tremendous flooding, they sent a rescue team to help with the repairs and disaster relief. They also help those in their own community like single moms who are trying to make ends meet. Their food pantry subsidizes the needs of senior citizens who live in the subsidize government housing called HUD Housing.
  • In 2003, Laurie started Reflections of Trinity with a thrift store as a benevolent arm of their church. The purpose of the thrift store is to be able to provide free items for the families that were in crisis. It will also help them to be self-sustaining.
  • A few years into it, they got their own 501c3 and became a stand-alone non-profit. In 2005, Laurie started her eBay business so that they could have a national and international platform.
  • Reflections of Trinity is more than just an eBay division. It is a social enterprise. It is a venue generator for their ministry. The other revenue generator is a brick and mortar store.
  • Laurie did not even know then how to start an eBay business. Her friend opened the account for her.
  • One Wednesday night, she went to a church service. She heard the pastor talked about “the wealth is in your fragments”. She left the service and came back to her store which is already 2 years old. She sat in an area where there is a box of carpet cleaner. She took a box of carpet cleaner in the individual package and a box of bird seed. And that is how she started on eBay.
  • She sold at Auctions. She moved on with figurines and household items. She also ventured into clothes. She even tried to sell her friend's house on eBay. She sold it in 45 days.
  • Now, Laurie has a total of nine employees. Three of them works in the eBay division. The items that they receive are from donations.
  • She has one employee in-charged with the shipping. The employee works 3 days a week while Laurie does the shipping on Thursdays to Saturdays.
  • She does not do her business at home. They have a 9,000 sq. ft. warehouse and a 5,600 sq. ft. big brick and mortar store.
  • She works on her phone like email messaging and answers customers messages.
  • She dispels the myth about donations. A lot of people think that donations are free. But, donations are not free. It costs her to purchase bins which amount to a thousand dollars per piece. It also costs her to purchase and maintain the trucks use to pick up donations. There is a cost for the insurances of the bins, the property where the bin is on, and the trucks. There is the salary and compensation of the workers. By the time the item gets on eBay, she has invested a significant amount of money.
  • The ministry is trying to make some money so that they can actually do the good that they are called on purpose to do. So, if Laurie is selling a coat for $20, there is an upfront cost of $5 and needs another $5 to feed the family down the streets.
  • When she won the Shine Awards, she got $10,000 and bought a commercial walk-in freezer. The 14 ft. freezer has expanded their capacity. She also got an eBay coach. She is from the Utah eBay office. She will help Laurie take her eBay biz to the next level.
  • In 2015, for thanksgiving, they were able to serve 430 families with the turkey dinner. The families got the turkey and all the fixings in the form of grocery packs. In 2016, because of the freezer, they served 565 families.
  • The families are from their outreach ministries in the middle of the marketplace with the food pantry.
  • Laurie gets 40 to 60 people that volunteer on a weekly basis for their food pantry.
  • Laurie thinks about moving their store to a bigger location so that their food pantry can grow. She is hoping to hire somebody to do the shipping on Thursday to Saturday. She is also thinking of hiring someone to make updates on their website and to handle social media marketing. This way, she will be able to keep her focus on what she needs to focus on.
  • With the help of Crazy Lister, she is also raising the quality of their content and the design of their store. She has over 25,000 items in her store.
  • Laurie ends with a promise to come back and talk about how she come from zero to 2,500 items in less than 12 months.

Advice, Tips, and Tricks

  • Laurie sells most items in Fixed Price with Best Offer. It yields much better than promotions/sales has ever had because somebody will randomly pick something that perhaps not on sale and shoot the best offer. So if you want to get rid of the item, you'll go and take the bid.
  • If items do not sell, she put it in their brick and mortar store. If it does not sell in the store, they recycle it. Recycling means that there are other ministries that they can wholesale it to. She also gives away in support to missionaries that have orphanages in other countries.

Quotes

  • “All it takes is one major illness, one financial catastrophe. And you spend the next 10 years digging yourself in a ditch.”
  • “eBay is all about the people.”
  • “Ministry work operates just like a profit business.”
  • “I knew where I am supposed to. I am where I am!”
  • “Your wealth is in your fragments.”
  • “If you are willing to stay in the line for 3 hours for a bucks of food, you need it.”
  • “For eBay, it does not take very much to go on your own.”
  • “Master the basics, and you got it!”
  • “Everything that you do to support us helps people in need.”

Tools

  • Crazy Lister

Contact Information

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