- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The stereo collecting dust in the attic or those designer handbags pushed to the back of the closet can fetch hundreds of dollars on EBay without their owners touching a computer.

Drop-off stores, the newest EBay middlemen, are opening their doors to sell other people’s items on the popular auction site. An onslaught of West Coast companies like ISold It, AuctionDrop and QuikDrop are setting their sights on locations across the country, including the Washington area.

“It’s easy to buy on EBay, but it’s a lot more complicated to sell,” said Elise Wetzel, ISold It founder and chief executive. “The process can be time-consuming and intimidating for people who are not familiar with the mechanics of posting items for sale online.”

Although business models vary, the drop-off store concept is simple.

Customers drop off their goods, and, for a fee, the store takes care of the rest from taking photos and posting a description of the merchandise to tracking the bids, answering e-mails from potential buyers and packing and shipping the item to the winning bidder. Some stores won’t take items valued at less than $50.

The stores make their money from commission. The fee structure varies from company to company based on the selling price.

For instance, QuikDrop’s fees are 38 percent of the first $200 of a sale, 30 percent of the next $300 and 20 percent of the remaining sale price of items more than $500.

Items that aren’t sold can be picked up by the seller or donated to charity.

“[Drop-off stores] fill such a need in the market,” Ms. Wetzel said. “We’re the bridge between selling at a yard sale and a traditional consignment store.”

ISold It has sold thousands of items on EBay since it opened its first store in Pasadena, Calif., in December. The company expects to open at least 50 franchised stores by the end of the year, including locations in the Washington area. Ms. Wetzel expects to have several hundred locations.

The drop-off store chains are moving quickly to secure positions in untapped markets.

For instance, QuikDrop International wants a commitment of at least 1,000 franchised stores in the next 12 months, said Kilay Reinfeld, chief operating officer of the Costa Mesa, Calif., company. It already has agreements for more than 260 stores, including 75 stores in Australia.

The company has seven stores, including one in Virginia Beach. The Virginia, Maryland and Washington region can expect at least 70 QuikDrop stores, Mr. Reinfeld said.

Drop-off stores are an extension of EBay’s trading-assistants program, which started in February 2002. The program has 34,000 registered trading assistants who sell items on EBay for others.

EBay, which has 95 million registered users, estimates that 100 to 200 stores allow customers to drop off items to be sold on the site.

Some of those stores — such as ISold It, QuikDrop and AuctionDrop — offer only EBay drop-off, while other stores have added that feature to their existing businesses.

“We think this has the possibility to attract a whole new segment of society to the EBay marketplace,” said Hani Durzy, an EBay spokesman. “Anything to increase the number of items on EBay is something we like to see.”

More than 19 million items are available on the site worldwide each day. About 2 million new items are added daily.

Mr. Durzy said some people do not have the time or a computer to sell merchandise themselves on EBay.

“There’s a number of people out there that have a huge supply of stuff,” said Randy Adams, chief executive of AuctionDrop, which has five locations in Northern California. “The trick is to push it in to the EBay marketplace profitably.”

Since opening its first store a year ago, AuctionDrop has sold more than 18,000 items, Mr. Adams said. Of AuctionDrop’s customers, 82 percent have never sold on EBay.

Carol Shaffer, a self-proclaimed “EBay addict,” has been buying and selling on the site for nearly eight years. She turned to AuctionDrop when she became busier with a new job and moved to a different city and into a smaller house.

She has sold several hundred items through AuctionDrop from computer equipment and antiques to her wedding dress and cowboy boots, collecting between $6,000 and $7,000 in the past year.

“It is so convenient,” Mrs. Shaffer said. “And my husband likes it because I don’t spend hours at the computer anymore.”

While some companies keep the merchandise at their stores, 1-year-old AuctionDrop sends its items to a facility where employees process the merchandise and put it on the site. The items are stored in the facility and then sent to the winning bidder.

AuctionDrop, which Mr. Adams expects will be profitable next year, plans to have five company-owned processing facilities across the country, including one in New Jersey and another in Chicago by the end of the year.

The company is starting a franchise program and will be in the Washington area in July.

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