079: The License Plate Garage – Tom and Barbara Sistak Baur

Tom Baur and Barbara Sistak operate the online store “License Plate Garage”. On eBay, Tom is known as The License Plate Guy and Barb has a store called The License Plate Gal. They are a husband and wife team that has brought together each of their individual strengths to support each other. The business is perfect for them because each fuel their passions. Tom for collecting and Barb for creating. When they met in 1999, Tom had a huge collection of license plates and an authority on old plates. Barb was an artist and creative entrepreneur with long technology experience. They recognized the opportunity before them and that is when they started their online business of vintage items.

Interesting Notes

  • Tom started collecting License Plate in 1953. He started first with bicycle plates. He sold it at the flea market and car shows.
  • Over the years, Tom saw that the younger generation no longer comes to flea markets or car shows. Instead, they buy on eBay. The collectors have also started to buy and sell online. That made Tom and Barbara try eBay. First, they started buying on eBay. Then they started selling a little bit until they grew big.
  • Tom is one of the top 10 authorities in the United States selling license plate. He is a member of the International License Plate Collectors Club. He also gives talks to car clubs, civic groups, and the like about the history of Illinois license plate.
  • There are several things the make the plate valuable. Among them are:
    • 1. age
    • 2. country or state of origin
    • 3. how low the number is – the lower the number, the more they are worth
    • 4. condition
  • eBay ruling on selling a license plate is: License plate must be at least three (3) years older for you to sell them on eBay.
  • Tom and Barbara have vanity plates on their personal vehicle.
  • They source their license plates from garage sales and estate sales. At other times, they got it from collectors who passed away or decide to stop collecting. In this case, Tom buys the whole collection.
  • A couple of years ago, Tom bought a collection. It took him 8 truck loads to get it to home.
  • The oldest plate they have is 1907 Illinois plate No. 567. It is the 567th plate issued by the State of Illinois. They also have a No. 1 plate from 1923 – the oldest No. 1 plate that exists from Illinois.
  • One of the coolest plates they got is a 1979 Mom and Dad's personal plate, No. 120 and No. 128.
  • Tom does most the sourcing. Barbara does everything that requires the use of technology, i.e., taking photos, listing, and selling.
  • Barbara cited that the most difficult part is taking photos of modern plates. The reflective paint used on the plates made it difficult. Sometimes, under the wrong light, there is a reflection that destroys the photograph.
  • Barbara takes photos with her iPhone and in the available natural light.
  • For listing procedure, Barbara prepares a batch of plates. She then schedules its listing throughout the week.
  • Right now they have 50,000 to 60,000 license plates in inventory.
  • They bought a house across the street that serves as the office and storage of license plates.
  • They have different areas in the house where the types of plates are. They organize the plates by year and by the state. Then they sort it by category or by types of plate. So they can find and pull right away the plates that were sold.
  • They can tell by what sells on 10 or 20 years ago. Before, 40's and 50's plates were big. Now, 60's, 70's, and 80's plates are popular.
  • As an eBay buyer herself, Barbara always looks at the seller's feedback. For her, it is very important to maintain a 100% feedback.
  • Their policy is “the customer is always right.” They do whatever it takes to make the customer happy.
  • They have customers like restaurants, movie studios, and interior designers that have some project.
  • They have one customer who bought the Wyoming plates. The customer used the plates to line their wall behind the bar.
  • They have an independent local movie maker who came to their site. The movie maker picked up an authentic Chicago license plate for his independent movie.
  • They have a process for cleaning the vintage plates. They don't use soap and water because some of the paint will take off. They have other cleaning materials.
  • To this day, Tom could not forget this story: the Episcopal Bishop of Chicago showed up on the day of his baptism and confirmation. He was then at age 30. After the service, the Bishop gave Tom the front plate of his car. It was the No. 46 license plate.
  • Tom and Barbara have a different niche which they both enjoy doing. They plan to continue their eBay business for as long as they can.

Advice, Tips, and Tricks

  • Pricing an item takes a lot of experience. You need to consider these:
    • 1. Your competitor – there are competitors out there and you need to look at that.
    • 2. You need to do a lot of research.
    • 3. You need to do some trial and error.
    • 4. Bring all together all your knowledge and see what works and what does not.
  • Tom and Barbara use eBay shipping labels. It makes tracking of sold plates easier for them.
  • To maintain 100% feedback:
    • 1. make sure to make everything as right as you can.
    • 2. make a refund or change the item if it is the wrong one.
    • 3. do whatever it takes to make the customer happy so you can keep whatever amount of money you have on eBay.
  • To do eBay seriously, you have to:
    • 1. pay a lot of attention to all the eBay rules.
    • 2. to be efficient in all your processes.


  • “It is always good to list things throughtout the week so you have fresh things in the store every day.”
  • “Believe it or not, there are competitors out there.”
  • “The customer is always right.”
  • “Do whatever it takes to make the customer happy.”
  • “Whatever amount of money you put on eBay, at the end of the day, that amount of money could either break or make me. “
  • “Everybody has their own needs.”


  • eBay shipping labels
  • iPhone

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