Volunteers operating an eBay store for a south suburban nonprofit organization have sold more than 22,000 items since it was established 15 years ago, so one item is always is in demand.
“Bubble Wrap is the most prized item,” said Mark Walker, development director for The Center in Palos Park, who coordinates the online store effort.
“That’s about 1,500 items a year — year in, year out,” Walker said. “And that’s sold. What’s listed is more than that.”
Luckily, an engaged community helps supply The Center with Bubble Wrap and other materials that keep the shipments on schedule.
“When we put out a request to the fellowship for Bubble Wrap or peanuts, we’ll just get inundated after the request. But it does get used up pretty fast,” Walker said.
The volunteers welcome donations of packing material such as Bubble Wrap, packing envelopes, old jewelry boxes and small cardboard boxes. They can be brought to the main office.
“It’s gratifying and humbling on both sides that people are so generous to donate things. And the eBay team is so generous with its time,” he said. “The team really goes out of its way not only to make sure the customers on the eBay side are satisfied but they are doing all of this to benefit us.
“They believe in our mission and they put in this time and effort to benefit us year after year,” he said, adding that although the financial help is important, so is the fact that “people believe in us and work for us.”
The store, at https://www.ebay.com/str/The-Shop-at-The-Center-Palos-Park, has more than 4,300 items listed for sale. All proceeds go to the general operating fund for The Center, which offers programs that range from the Children’s Farm to chapel services, a residential addiction recovery program, art classes, summer camp and a preschool.
“We’re always looking for revenue sources because we are a multifaceted organization — seven program areas and 70 acres — so we’re always looking for ways to pay the bills,” Walker said. “The volunteers come up with a lot of novel ideas, and eBay was one of them 15 years ago.
Although the two people who started the eBay store in 2007 have moved on, there has been “a lot of consistency in the team” of volunteers, Walker said.
Many volunteers have contributed for years, including Marge Krueger, who said the store began with two vases donated to The Center’s rummage sale and originally marked 50 cents each. They were small — not more than 8 inches tall — and were from England. Eventually the vases were sold for about $100 each.
That is how the store still gets most of its stock — items donated to the rummage sale, which happens in the late summer.
“The people from The Center who are aware of our site will drop things off for us if it’s something they think we can sell,” Krueger said. “It’s grown and keeps on growing. So we try to go through stuff and pick out things we know that we can get more than a dollar for. We used to take things that we can get at least $10 for. Now if it’s worth at least $20 and easy to pack and not too heavy, we will grab it.”
Many items donated to the rummage sale are from estates.
“They have collections. … We just listed a bunch of ‘Gone With the Wind’ memorabilia. I had no idea there was so much Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara stuff out there!”
Volunteers work five or six hours Mondays and Thursdays, and they pride themselves on a quick turnaround.
“We don’t count the weekends, but once something is bought, we ship it out within three days,” Krueger said.
That’s led to “100% positive feedback,” Walker said. “They are very attentive to customer service. If someone has an issue, they will deal with it.”
Krueger said the biggest challenge is figuring out what an item is, what it’s worth, and ensuring “if we say it’s an authentic thing that it’s an authentic thing.”
Each item is investigated to see if it’s been sold on eBay before and, if not, online research takes place so an accurate description can be created, such as when it was made, its condition, size, and any damage. Photos follow, the item is listed, and once it’s sold, arrangements are made for shipping. “That is the biggest challenge now,” Krueger said. “Shipping costs are through the roof.”
Seven women run the eBay store, which began in a small closet but now has more space. “We get along really well. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. It’s a nice place to come. You talk about the business but then you talk about your own life.”
Holiday-related items sell most quickly. “Christmas stuff sells in January, February, March. Everybody wants to add to their collection,” Krueger said.
But the shop also sells items that are more unusual.
“Some of the dolls that we’ve sold have been rare,” she said. “We had an old doll a number of years ago that we knew was an antique doll but it was just the face itself.”
The doll’s hair was gone and it was missing an arm and a foot. The volunteers initially were just going to throw it away but instead they listed it for a very low price, but soon learned it was worth much more.
“It had a stump of an arm and half of a foot, and we sold it for a couple of thousand dollars,” Krueger said. “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.”
Vintage tools are a popular item as well, and in the last six months they’ve sold a lot of baseball cards and Star Wars collectible cards.
Many of their customers “know their stuff,” she said. “That’s why we have to know what we’re writing in our descriptions.”
Jewelry is another popular item.
“On occasion we’ve had offers from movie sets or TV shows, where they want vintage items,” she said.
While many area nonprofits operate their own thrift or resale stores, the online shop is doing fine for The Center.
“I say you don’t know what you need until you look at the shop,” Krueger said. “It’s like going into a store.”