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A Love for the Unique Proves Profitable

Merchant endures challenges and finds online success.

Sheila Sarver always dreamed of having a booth in an antiques mall after retiring from a 25-year career in education. But the move to selling came sooner than she expected in 1998 when she got custody of her 3-year-old grandson.

To make room for her new addition, Sarver needed to clean out a bedroom where she stored many of her collections, including illustrated comic books, she recalls. She quickly turned to eBay, knowing she could start selling her collections quickly without much startup cost. Thirteen years later, Sarver loves the path her life has taken, says the seller known as msmizzou on eBay and Bonanza.

“I would have never thought I’d be selling online years ago, but now I can’t imagine not doing it,” she says. “It’s fun and rewarding.”

A passion for the ‘unusual’

Sarver’s stores, Shemaw’s Stuff, got their name courtesy of her grandson, who called Sarver “Shemaw” when he was a toddler.

“I had a big vintage toy collection and when [my grandson] would try to play with them, I would tell him they were my items for resale,” she explains. “Since he calls me Shemaw, he began calling those toys ‘Shemaw’s Stuff.'”

“My best friend often laughs at me about items I purchase, and I always remind her that even an old, blind hog sometimes finds an acorn”

Initially, Sarver stuck to the vintage toys and ceramics she owned. However, she eventually “graduated” to other items, like books and figurines. She admits that she’s also drawn to unique products that other sellers seem to shy away from because they aren’t familiar with them. For instance, she once bought a wooden rabbit figure she found at an estate sale. It was on sale and featured a “Made in Demark” label.

Sarver didn’t know much about the bunny, but she took a gamble and bought the critter. After researching it, she learned the figure was a Danish modern piece from a well-known designer.

“I sold it on eBay for $175,” she recalls. “My best friend, who also sells on eBay and Bonanza, often laughs at me about items I purchase, and I always remind her that even an old, blind hog sometimes finds an acorn.”

Sarver adds that she also favors paper products because they’re easy to ship, photograph or scan, and can be very profitable, as a torn photo of an early Texas A&M University football team proved. It sold for more than $200 on eBay.

Attracting buyers

On average, the seller has between 500 and 700 items for sale on Bonanza every week. She posts anywhere from 300 to 400 items on eBay, she notes.

To catch buyers’ eyes, Sarver provides interesting titles in her listings and quality photos that show every angle of an item, she notes. Good customer service and properly packed shipments also help encourage buyers to come back.

“I have learned that some of my customers collect, so I contact them when I list some things they might be interested in purchasing,” she adds.

She loves communicating with buyers. It’s this, combined with the ability to bring in extra income, share her finds with others and learn about the items she uncovers that make selling online so fun.

“I like to place items with people who will appreciate them,” Sarver notes.

For instance, there was the time she sold an art deco fountain pen she had inherited on eBay.

“A professor in Arizona contacted me immediately, and told me about his fountain pen collection and how the pen would be the jewel of his collection,” she recalls. “He said he and his little son went out on the weekends hunting for treasures, and he had been looking for this pen for years.”

The two emailed back and forth several times, and Sarver learned about fountain pens, information she now uses to look for certain pens.

Her advice to those thinking of starting their own online business? “Research, research, research,” she says. “That means look into the online sales site completely and see what costs are involved. Also, research your items to see if they will sell on the site and what you can expect to receive for them.”

Hurricanes bring set-backs

“Research the site completely and see what costs are involved. Also, research your items to see if they will sell on the site”

In her more than 13 years of selling, Sarver has had challenges. Some have come from trying to make buyers happy, others from Mother Nature. In fact, two of them came in the form of natural disasters: Hurricane Rita and Hurricane Ike. When Rita hit, Sarver didn’t have a laptop, so when she had to evacuate her home, she took her computer tower and headed to a friend’s house in Vicksburg, MS, she notes.

Luckily, Sarver didn’t have many items listed at the time—she might have had fewer than 20 items, she notes—but she contacted each of her bidders and told them not to pay for their items until she contacted them.

“I did not know if the items or my home would be intact when I got home,” she explains. “Thank goodness everyone was very understanding since I was without electricity for nearly a month.”

The hurricane hit Sarver’s property hard. It tore down 18 large trees on her lot. Not too far away, her brother’s house had trees fall on top of it, damaging the house and prompting him to move in with Sarver during repairs.

“A storage building on my land took a tree on half of it, and so a number of items I had purchased for resale were damaged,” she notes. “The good part of the incident was that my family would find a hotel room each weekend and go there until we got electricity back. We always tried to go someplace near areas that had good antique malls, so I could go shopping.”

Weathering the storms

Sarver’s brother lived with her for eight months while his house was repaired. To thank her, he gave Sarver her first laptop so she would have a portable way of checking on her online sales, should another natural disaster hit.

Two years later, Hurricane Ike blew in. Sarver and her family were evacuated to Arkansas. This time, she used her laptop to keep up with sales and monitor flooding in her area. At that time, she also had a booth in a brick-and-mortar antique mall.

She soon got a call from the store, letting her know that the “tornado had ripped back the roof and turned over shelving, breaking glass and ceramics, and wetting my paper items,” she recalls.

A storage building on her property was also damaged when a tree fell on it. Salvageable items had to be moved to the garage, she says. Luckily, the electricity was up sooner this time than after Hurricane Rita, she notes. eBay had also posted a note on its site, informing buyers that storms might impact communication with buyers and sellers in Southeast Texas and Southwest Louisiana. Both hurricanes hurt Sarver’s sales since she was unable to list items, and she had to tend to repairs on her property after the storms, pulling her away from her sales. But she considers herself lucky.

“I did not lose any items I had sold and all my buyers were understanding about the delay,” Sarver says.

Visit Shemaw’s Stuff on Bonanza and eBay.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of 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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