Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Arrival of Via Trading Goods ~ eBay, Part 3


As I said in the previous post, I was thrilled to find Via Trading after a couple weeks of fruitless searches for eBay goods. I would guess that it’s the most successful “pallet company” in California. Operating out of Southern California, Via Trading buys pallets of closeouts, overstock, customer returns and damaged merchandise from retail stores. Did you ever wonder what happens to the camera you bought online after you return it? Or all the leftover clothes on the clearance racks? It all gets shrink wrapped onto pallets or stuffed into boxes to be shipped to companies like Via Trading.



Via Trading carries an ever changing assortment of inventory . . . make-up, tires, tools, electronics, shoes, handbags, clothes. Some types of pallets are offered one time only and others are a regular part of the assortment. To buy the pallets, you need to show proof of a resale license and agree not to advertise the brand names for the same reason that department stores will advertise a sale on “designer handbags” instead of Michael Kors handbags . . . to protect the image and value of the brand. You’re also expected to remove the store tags so that customers don’t attempt to return the item to the original stores.



There is risk in buying from any liquidator. It is standard practice for the pallets to be unmanifested – not inventoried - and pallets selling for the exact same price from the exact same store vary considerably. I have to give Via Trading credit for making sure the risk was clear. They call you before you pay the first time to discuss the risks involved. You can expect that at least a small portion of the customer return pallets will be too damaged to sell. On the other hand, the average price per item should more than make up for the junk.



I knew right away that I wanted to get a housewares pallet or two. It reminded me of something we called Loss Land at the home design store, a room where we’d throw all the merchandise that was missing parts or too damaged to return to the sales floor. During our twice-yearly sales we’d go through the room, which was usually overflowing to the hallway – repairing what we could, sorting out parts and making original creations to be sold at bargain prices. There would be people lined up for an hour before the store opened just for this part of the sale. Feeling confident about the housewares return pallets, I ordered one mixed housewares and one assorted lamps. The actual names of the stores were not listed but the system of using initials was easy to figure out.



I overextended my confidence in being able to repair things when I grabbed a very expensive pallet of customer returns from an online electronic gadget store that doesn’t exist anymore. It was one of the pallets that Via Trading normally sold out of within a few days of receiving them. I think I paid about $1000 for my electronics pallet, which was 2-3 times the cost of the other pallets I purchased. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.



As an afterthought, I threw in a box of clearance lingerie from a major department store. I figured it was worth trying plus I got a discount for four orders. You may wonder why I went for all four instead of trying just one. Well, I felt the pressure of only having six months to get an eBay store going before needing to find a job outside the home, and not only did I get a discount from ordering more - I saved on freight, which included a $45 charge for delivery to a residence (smaller, lighter items like lingerie could be shipped UPS, but the pallets had to go by truck). If you live in Southern California and can pick up the pallets yourself, you have a huge advantage in making the venture profitable.



You should have seen the truck driver’s face the day he pulled up in front of my house. Apparently, he had been driving up and down my street for a half hour, looking for a likely place to be dropping off three 6-foot pallets plus a box. There’s nothing like a truck trying to turn around on a residential street to really piss off the neighbors. The truck driver was frustrated himself by the time I talked to him, and he asked me something like, “And where exactly are you going to put these????” I explained, not to worry . . . I had cleaned out my garage. He acted like he didn’t want to make the delivery and I had to coax him into doing it. It’s going to be fine . . . here, look at my garage. Let’s do it! He brought them in and sure enough they fit but just barely. He mentioned that it sounded like something was broken when he unloaded one of the pallets. I told him it was OK because that's exactly what it was - broken stuff. He was shaking his head as he drove off.



I tore into the electronics pallet and brought whatever I could carry inside so I could go through it and see what I had just purchased. It was kind of like Christmas. My family wasn’t home at the time, so I spread stuff out and sorted. As I opened box after box, my excitement turned to anxiety as I discovered many, many broken remote control helicopters and planes, exercise machines (one that normally retailed for $1200 was so heavy that it took three people to move it and barely), spy devices, iPod knockoffs, snore stoppers, watch winders, jewelry boxes, and more. First, I attempted to sort the merchandise by what worked - there were items with minor cosmetic issues or damaged packaging – and what didn’t. The majority of the items on my pallet didn’t work. At all.



With a sinking feeling, I realized I had no idea how to repair these electronics. If I did, maybe it would have made sense for me to buy that pallet. But it really didn’t make sense and it was a really expensive way to figure that out. Later, I nervously watched my husband approach the electronic toys with interest. Since he had at least played with toys similar to this when he was a kid, he could figure out how they were supposed to work. As he gradually realized that most of it was broken and beyond our ability to repair it, he pretty much stopped talking to me. I couldn’t worry too much about his reaction at the time. I needed to figure out a plan to pay back the Via Trading bill on my new business credit card, which was more than $2000. I hadn’t even looked in the other pallets but it was like a Christmas gone horribly wrong. If I had looked, I would have realized all hope was not lost.

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