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Books for Children to Treasure

Former teacher applies background in education to find online selling niche.

Pam Knuutila taught kindergarten through second grade in New York and North Carolina for more than 20 years. It was a profession she loved, and one she expected to be in for eight to 10 more years.

“It was such an honor to be among children who were discovering new things every day and teaching me new things every day,” she says looking back. “There was nothing in the world like taking a child who could not read to the level of independent reading by the end of a school year.”

But the extended hours were wearing. Knuutila was losing time with her family as she worked between 70 to 80 hours a week during the school year.

“Also, as an army wife, I was often in the role of a single parent due to multiple short-term and long-term deployments,” she says. “My husband and I decided that we had to make our family and my long-term health the priority, regardless of how much I loved teaching.”

In 2010 Knuutila stopped teaching, and in July of that year she tried her luck on the online-selling scene. Her inventory of choice? Something she knew well, having spent so much time in a school setting: books.

Knuutila had amassed plenty of these over the years and wanted to offer good classroom resources to other teachers at reasonable prices, knowing that many teachers spend “a huge amount of money out of their own pockets” on items for the classroom, says the owner of A Child’s Treasure Place on Bonanza.

“Originally I planned on just selling items that I no longer needed. I never planned on it becoming an actual business”

“Originally I planned on just selling personal classroom items that I no longer needed,” she continues. “I never planned on it becoming an actual business.”

But it did when buyers began telling her their stories and asking for more products. She realized there was a demand for the items she had, and that she could make a long-term business out of that demand.

Finding the right venue

Once online selling became Knuutila’s new path, she looked to eBay to sell her books and even earned Top-rated Seller status. However, the site’s fees cut into her profit margins too much—despite the discounts that came with that status, she notes. So she began looking for another marketplace and stumbled onto Bonanza.

Its fee structure suited the seller’s small business much better and allowed her “to give teachers and parents the choice of building their own order with only the book titles and items they really want and need,” she says.

And buyers have plenty of titles to choose from in Knuutila’s booth. The seller has more than 1,300 books for sales, including titles like “Corduroy,” “The Ugly Duckling,” “The Great Dinosaur Search” and other fiction books that appeal to kids up to age 8.

Knowing her products, buyers

With her years of teaching, Knuutila got to know children’s literature well. She knew what authors and titles teachers looked for. She knew teachers liked finding good, used books at low prices, and rare titles that are no longer in print.

She used this knowledge to position her store for success. Classic titles and picture books like those by Dr. Seuss and Eric Carle became popular with buyers, as did seasonal books and books that focus on particular themes because of core curriculum standards in the U.S., she notes.

Through her selling experience, she’s found that the parents and grandparents of little ones prefer board books, cloth books and interactive books that will get their children off to a great start in language development. She’s also learned that relatives and friends like to buy new books as gifts for the kids in their lives.

Keeping buyers happy

Knuutila says she’s a part-time seller, getting between 15 and 20 orders in a typical month. However, she makes herself available to customers full time by checking her booth, orders and emails several times a day to ensure she provides the best customer service possible.

It’s paid off. Knuutila has a 100-percent positive feedback score on Bonanza, and that’s not surprising when you read some of the comments from her customers.

“She takes her time [packaging] each item to ensure they arrive in great condition,” one buyer notes.

“Her prices are great, and she offers freebies with each order. If you have kids in your life, this is definitely the place to shop for books,” another writes.

“Make sure you have enough expertise in what you are selling to know what to invest in as stock. Know who your target customers are and what they want”

“Her dedication and caring will show in every transaction. Great prices, great products, great seller… what more could you ask for?” a third customer notes.

These comments may make some think that Knuutila is perfect, but she’s the first to say she’s not. “I have simply had very gracious customers,” she says humbly. “Thankfully, I have had buyers who allowed me the chance to correct an error if need be.”

However, the seller adds that it’s always important “to go above and beyond” to avoid potential issues. She does this by always using delivery confirmation for shipments so buyers can track their books as they make their way to their homes. She also mails items within one business day of being ordered and packs her books carefully for “all kinds of weather handling,” she notes.

Knuutila cushions her books with enough padding to so they won’t bounce around en route to their destination. She also uses cardboard supports and waterproof envelopes.

That’s important, especially when you live in an area that is known for storms and power outages. She’s experienced a few, and notes that when something like that happens, it can be hard to explain to a buyer 3,000 miles away “who is enjoying a bright, shiny day.”

Passing on the knowledge

Online selling has been hard work for Knuutila, but she’s enjoyed it. Knowing her inventory and target market has been very helpful, and Knuutila says all sellers should try to do this when they start an online business.

“Make sure you have enough expertise in what you are selling to know what to invest in as stock,” she advises. “Know who your target customers are and what they want. Research your prices for fair market value, and be aware of how many other people are selling the same item.”

She adds that sellers shouldn’t expect to make money overnight, either.

“It takes time, effort and patience to build a business,” she says. “Fortunately, I had some financial capital to start with because I began selling useful items that I already had. Then I kept reinvesting a portion of the profits in new stock.”

Visit A Child’s Treasure Place on Bonanza.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.



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