CTCs and eBay

As I left the eBay Live conference (see entry below), on my way back to the CTCTNet conference (I’m on their advisory board), I had an epiphany that eBay could be a good platform for creating small businesses in low-income communities, and that Community Technology Centers could be a good venue for helping such businesses to form. Selling in volume on eBay would force budding entrepreneurs to learn about overhead, inventory management, customer service, etc., not to mention digital photography and effective on-line merchandising.

The ability to sell things to a larger market beyond one’s own community has a number of important advantages, including bringing in income from outside and broadening the horizons of residents. Without the eBay/UPS/FedeX platform, however, the barriers to entry were pretty high. Of course, you still have to have something to sell, but I think there are a couple of possibilities:

  1. Run a consignment shop. At eBayLive’s expo there was a company called dropitoff.com that was trying to franchise drop off stations. But this could be done independently. This would provide some healthy competition for the local pawn shops, and it might be possible to collect “donations” from wealthier surrounding neighborhoods.
  2. Run a retail resale business, buying wholesale lots from eBay, breaking up those lots and selling them individually. The profit margin on this would be modest, probably about the cost of labor if the business was run efficiently. But that’s not a bad business model, either. They’d have to be careful about not buying inventory that has a short shelf life, though (electronics or faddish items). eBay even has categories for wholesale lots, and there are guides to wholesale buying for resale on eBay.

I relayed the idea to John Zoltner (CTCNet development staff) and Kavita Singh (CTCNet executive director). John said that he’d had contact with a national group interested in providing entrepreneurship education through CTCs but that the concern has always been that there aren’t that many real entrepreneurial opportunities, especially for young people who are still in school, so the entrepreneurship education would end up being abstract rather than practical. Perhaps eBay is the missing piece of the puzzle.


About Paul Resnick

Professor, University of Michigan School of Information Personal home page
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