Northern Virginia ARC Uses eBay to Market Unique, Rare Finds
By: David Ibata
To Derek Anderson, the most memorable donation ever to the Northern Virginia Adult Rehabilitation Center was a 19th century family Bible. It was leatherbound, with writings and newspaper clippings sewn into the pages “because of course they didn’t have staples or tape back then.” And bloody fingerprints.
“They were all about a guy named George Reighter,” said Anderson, director of operations at the Northern Virginia ARC, “his school grades, when he joined the Union Army, and a hand-drawn map of the Battle of Fredericksburg. There were drawings of cannons, rivers and trees, the writing, ‘This is where the battle happened,’ and a tree with an ‘X’ underneath it. It said, ‘George was buried here.’”
U.S. Army Private George Reighter, 11th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, was killed in action Dec. 13, 1862. Someone had recovered the Bible from the Civil War battlefield and brought it and the map home to the soldier’s family in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Anderson said, “so they could recover his remains.”
The find – verified by a historian at the University of Richmond, Virginia – might have gone onto a Family Store shelf with hundreds of other old books. Who knows if it would ever find its audience? But Anderson had a computer-savvy team whose members knew a better way. They posted the Bible on eBay, where it immediately reached a worldwide audience including students of the Civil War. They got $800 for it.
It was one of 16,600 eBay transactions representing nearly $1.6 million in online sales over the last five years for the ARC in Alexandria – all attributable to two men with a digital camera and a computer. Listings can be viewed at: http://stores.ebay.com/salvationarmynova/
“It took a while for that to happen, but wow, eBay has been a tremendous help,” said Major Michael Vincent, former administrator of the Northern Virginia ARC who was moved to Atlanta in June. “We were the first center to do eBay and we asked national headquarters, through the chain of command, if they would approve it.”
National HQ gave its approval. Anderson took charge about a year into the experiment and ramped up the volume. Today, about 100 items are posted every week. Monthly sales are $25,000, or $300,000 a year. (The brick-and-mortar stores, by way of comparison, sell $1.3 million a month.)
Other ARCs have taken note. Washington, D.C., also sells on eBay and is catching up with Alexandria, with sales of about $23,000 a month.
“Each center is different,” Anderson said. “A center in Texas, for example, might get a bunch of cowboy boots. A center in Florida might get scuba gear. We get Harry Potter books, Dyson vacuums and Bose speakers. … You have to find out what each center gets that has value all the time, where you can maximize profit online versus in the store.”
For example, “we wouldn’t get $150 in the store for a box of Legos, but online we do because of the collectors out there.”
That’s $150 for 20 pounds of Lego blocks, said Michael Luby, in charge of photography and packaging. Luby takes the pictures for the eBay listings; he poses big bins topped with figures, cars, boats and spaceships. Data entry expert Ed McNair handles the postings and deals with the public. They and Anderson are graduates of the Northern Virginia ARC.
When selling online, it’s crucial to try to keep the customer satisfied. Be transparent about your listings and quick to respond to questions and feedback; eBay will bounce a seller who racks up too many complaints. “If somebody had a bad experience, they’ll talk about you online, and that could ruin your reputation real quick,” Anderson said.
“If you read our feedback experience, people love it that 100 percent of the proceeds go to a charity, and that buying from us actually helps us change lives. When you’re online representing The Salvation Army out there in internet world, you have to have the same forethought and customer service you’d have in the store and everywhere else, to represent the Army in the best way.”