- The Washington Times - Friday, December 20, 2002

ATLANTA In EBay's crowded galaxy of 55 million online auctioneers, it helps to have a fine-tuned description of your item, a good photograph and solid market research. It also helps if you're a Babe. The EBabes are a loose consortium of North Atlanta women who devote their time to selling a variety of merchandise on EBay, the online auction site. Members will tell you that their strategy meetings and their mutual support have boosted their sales and their morale as well.

"My husband [Mark] doesn't like to talk about EBay when he gets home," says boss Babe Angie Cash, a mother of two who sells hundreds of items on EBay every week. "He didn't understand problems and issues I was having, while the people in the group did."

Mrs. Cash, 35, founded the EBabes two years ago, with fellow Babe Kerry Grubb, 30. The group grew as these women encountered fellow sellers hauling packages to the post office. They also ran into potential Babes at flea markets and yard sales, where they snap up new inventory.

Today there are about three dozen EBabes, who hawk clothes, toys, jewelry, teddy bear cookie jars, pillow shams, and an ungodly assortment of other kinds of merchandise, through this worldwide electronic flea market.

At their November meeting in a restaurant, the women began the evening with a few margaritas and frozen daiquiris. Then they compared notes on some of the weird things that EBayers will buy.

Mrs. Cash once sold a bag of broken GI Joe parts for $50, but Julie Decker, 32, who sells children's clothes of her own design, probably has everyone beat. For the heck of it, she put some of her old nursing bras and cloth diapers up for auction. Bidders sent the price of the diapers up to $55. The bras sold for $30.

Then there are requests from regular bidders that even the EBabes can't fathom. "People out there want Powerpuff Girls clothing in adult sizes, and Big Boy underpants for grownups," says Trisha Dowling, 29, nibbling at a slice of mile-high pie. "What is up with that?"

No matter the request, these sellers are determined to help satisfy their customers within the limits of the law, of course. EBay also has its sensitivities. For instance, according to Mrs. Decker, the folks at EBay will take down any items that include a photo of a naked foot, because such displays attract unwanted attention from foot fetishists.

Ron Decastro, the lone male in the group, was tagging along with his wife, Jean, to serve as a token EBubba, but found most of the discussion bewildering. "I don't understand half the things they're talking about, but it's nice being around a bunch of gals," says the retired Navy aircraft mechanic with a smile.

The insatiable demand for goods has allowed some of the EBabes to make EBay their full-time jobs. Mrs. Cash (her seller's name is cashco1000) sold about $15,000 in wallpaper, napkin rings, toilet seat covers, and other home furnishings last month, which places her among EBay's elite "gold power sellers." She tries to clear about $5 an item, but for months has plowed all her earnings back into inventory.

Her business got so big she recently hired fellow EBabe Sue White to help her respond to e-mail, process payments and handle shipping.

Racks of log cabin night lights, wildlife-themed spreads and moose-and-pine-tree wallpaper appliques fill up Mrs. Cash's living room, dining room, basement and two-car garage at her brick house. Though she sells at a rapid clip, she also buys from a variety of sources "it's coming in as fast as it's going out" so the clutter never thins out. As she fingers a 175-foot roll of bubble wrap in her basement mailing room, she comments, "I run through one of these in about two weeks."

Mrs. Cash's performance as an online merchant is remarkable, but not unusual. There are many power sellers in the "platinum" category who sell more than $150,000 in goods every month. On the other hand, EBay is fascinated by the marketing potential of the EBabes, and is trying to figure out a way to encourage other EBayers to band together.

To help spread the word, they have sent a camera crew to this EBabe meeting to tape a video press release on the group for EBay's current campaign, "Do it EBay."

"So much about computing is solitary, you're sitting in front your computer alone," says EBay spokesman Jim "Griff" Griffith. "This is an antidote to that."

Other folks are also fascinated by them. They've been in Fortune magazine and the New York Times has scheduled an interview.

"Apparently there is a lot of interest in the EBabes," says Miss White, 50, (whose seller's name is "suezsecret"). "And can you believe there's no cyber-sex involved?"

The group includes all kinds of women from tattooed rockabilly fan Mrs. Dowling (seller's name: "pistolpackinmama") to the more buttoned-down Ashley Miller (who brings her 4-month-old EBaby to the meeting). They speak earnestly of "feedback," the system of evaluations that is attached to each buyer and seller, a sort of report card on good (or bad) EBay behavior.

While the women share vital information, they are wary of giving away their sources the places where they buy their decorative planters and maternity clothes. They don't want other EBayers poaching on their suppliers. And they certainly won't spill the beans to a reporter.

By the end of their November meeting, the EBabes were officially out of hand.

They'd already traded tips on bulk mailing. Mrs. Cash has suggested ways to deal with the Christmas crush (shorten up your auctions, for one) and how not to get your customers in trouble when they are shopping at work (don't put sound files on your pages; they are a surefire tip-off to the boss that the employee is trolling for collectibles).

Now they were discussing whether to use AutoSweep, a program that automatically collects their earnings and deposits them in the family bank account.

Heck no, says Mrs. Dowling. "I don't want my husband to know about it."

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