From a Side Hustle to a Successful Small Business on eBay
Over the course of 15 years, Canadian entrepreneur Adrien Lavoie scaled his business operations from his parents’ basement to a thriving small business in selling sneakers on eBay.
Dorm rooms, garages, closets — many a successful business has been born from a rather unconventional space. For eBay seller Adrien Lavoie, his company started in the basement of his parents’ home. Determined and driven toward entrepreneurship from a young age, Adrien has since earned the eBay Young Entrepreneur Award and the Micro Multinational Award for eBay Canada. It’s been a fast path upwards for this seller, and one he attributes in large part to his chosen marketplace. “eBay made me a business owner,” he said.
Adrien had long decided that eBay was his avenue to success. In high school, Adrien worked at a bicycle shop where the owner sourced bike parts to sell on eBay. Adrien’s photo editing experience made him a good fit to help with listings. He soon became a fan of the online marketplace and its wide reach and breadth of offerings. “In the store, we could only sell a few suspensions or bicycle frames,” Adrien recalled. “We were surprised that online, on eBay, there were no limits to how many parts we could sell.”
Then, as a communications major in Ottawa, Adrien continued on the platform, dabbling in eBay as a “side hustle” to support his studies. He’d already witnessed the power of eBay to connect buyers and sellers all over the globe and knew he wanted to scale his operations after graduation. The only trouble was the small matter of his shop’s focus. Though he’d set his mind on eBay as his platform of choice, he didn’t have a clear idea of what would actually be arranged within the online doors of his store. “The eBay part was the easy part,” he said. “The hard part was finding inventory to sell.”
Adrien partnered with a friend to think through options. Since they had a mutual interest in outdoor activities, from running to skateboarding to mountain biking, they decided to explore outdoor clothing, goods and accessories as their avenue toward inventory. “We called everyone in the outdoor world,” Adrien said, about trying to develop business relationships with distributors as fledgling entrepreneurs. “One of the only people who accepted our call was an account person selling longboards.”
Thus was born Adrien and his friend’s store, which opened in 2011 and named boardshopw, now known today as Wooki. The store was lean and scrappy, just like its owners. As they gained loyal buyers and found a foothold on eBay, their store branched out into skateboard shoes — which proved an instant success. The shoes were simple to store and ship, making them straightforward to sell on eBay’s online marketplace. “It was really easy to create labels, drop things off at the post office and start making money,” said Adrien.
As for the store itself, its headquarters was in the basement of his parents’ home. Towering stacks of shoeboxes filled the space and Adrien and his partner filled and shipped orders from there. Though Adrien’s dad questioned how many boxes were moving into the house versus how many were moving out, his mom was intrigued. “She was always positive about the whole business, always supported me. She wanted to learn more about it, and was more curious than scared of what I was doing,” he said. When Adrien got a new shipment, his mom would often unbox it alongside him.
As business boomed, Adrien realized that he could no longer store his inventory at his parents’ home. In 2013, Adrien opened the doors to a brick-and-mortar store in Gatineau, Quebec. eBay sales so eclipsed in-person sales that Adrien moved his headquarters out of the storefront and into a larger warehouse and office space.
Adrien found the global reach of eBay to be a decided advantage for his business. Whereas the brick-and-mortar store was restricted to local shoppers, “on eBay, international potential buyers are one click away.” For one thing, selling on eBay removes the legwork involved in attracting foot traffic, Adrien said. “The easy part of selling on eBay was I didn’t have to do anything in terms of marketing.” When vendors tried to sell him marketing or SEO consulting, he thought, “Why spend a few thousand dollars on that, when selling on eBay is all-inclusive?”
The new 11,000-square foot warehouse space proudly reads Wooki, Inc. Since his initial inventory offerings, Adrien’s store has expanded to include all types of footwear, ranging from sandals to winter boots, as can be seen with a peek inside his warehouse. Stacks of colorful shoeboxes line the walls, and sporty clothing is neatly folded and ready to ship. Adrien’s warehouse team of four employees now ships out close to 200 items per day, with two-day shipping to anywhere in North America — and he has a trusted group of six distributors with whom he works.
One sale will always stand out as special in Adrien’s mind: a rare pair of Jeremy Scott x Adidas sneakers with 3D wings extending off them. “I always wanted to sell those special edition shoes in my store,” he said, ever since he’d seen them on the street as a college student in Ottawa. He finally found a pair on clearance for $55, which he then sold on eBay for nearly $1,000. “I sell hundreds of shoes every day, but I always remember that transaction because of the profit margin,” he said.
Despite how far he’s come in his success as a businessman, he treasures the memories of how he started. Now retired, his mom arrives at the warehouse a couple times a week to catch up with Adrien and help out around the warehouse. “I don’t want the work to be stressful for her. I say come in only when you want to come,” he said. As they chat and unbox shipments side by side, “it’s really cool,” Adrien said, and a reminder of how far he’s come since the basement days.
Adrien’s advice to others who want to make eBay their lifestyle? “Just try it,” Adrien said. “There’s always risk and reward. You have to see it as research and development. The more you try it, the better chance you have at success.”
Adrien’s store, now over a decade old on eBay, has carried him further than he ever thought possible. “A family member of mine asked me this weekend: Did you ever think that you would get where you are five or 10 years back?” Adrien laughed and shook his head. “No. I started with a side hustle and never would I have thought that it would attract so much time and energy in my life, in a positive way. eBay made me who I am.”
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