Howie Acker
Howie Acker, 44, is a co-owner (with Michael Strauss) of Fast Sell, an eBay consignment store that opened last September at 2740 N. Campbell Ave. Before getting into the online auction biz full-time, the New York City native was a retirement/insurance planner. A corporate transfer brought him to Tucson in 1991, and he's been here ever since. Acker reports that Fast Sell's doing brisk business. At the time of the interview, Fast Sell had 67 auctions going; Acker said that was a bit fewer than normal, as the business averages around 75. Fast Sell is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays. For more information, check out www.azfastsell.com or call 323-2341.

You were making a decent living. What made you decide to start this?

It's about having an entrepreneurial spirit. When you're doing life insurance and retirement planning, you have your own business as well; you're working for yourself. So the transition was easy; you still have to maintain your same discipline.

OK, but why an eBay consignment business?

Because of the growth of eBay, and the number of people using it on any given day. There's growth worldwide; 46 percent of eBay users are overseas, and that's only going to grow. There was a wonderful opportunity to fill a niche this town didn't have filled. This is a new business model, something the town has to get familiar with. It's a wonderful service for people, say, doing estate sales. We'll do all that for them, and help them get more money. Estate sales and (other) sales are time-consuming. People can drop their wares off here and go back to their lives. We do all the work for them.

OK, let's say I have a hypothetical item I want to sell. How does it work?

Let's say someone walks in with a musical instrument and says, "I'd like you to sell this for me." We'll take a look at past eBay auctions to give the consignee a general idea of what they can expect from the sale. We'll walk them through the process of opening bids. We have three pay plans. There's a standard pay plan with no upfront fees, that allows someone to have a listing from $1 to $9.99. The deluxe plan allows an opening bid above $9.99; there's a $5 prepay that's credited back to you should you sell the item. The premium plan has a $20 prepay, and (sellers are) allowed to extend an auction out to 10 days (instead of the usual seven days) and put a reserve on it up to $1,500. That $20 is also credited back to you once the item sells. If it doesn't sell on the standard plan, you can re-list for free. If it doesn't sell on the other two plans, we ask for another prepay to re-list.

What percentage do you keep?

Thirty-six percent on the first $200; 33 percent on the next $300; 30 percent on the next $500; 25 percent on the next $3,000. Out of the commissions, we pay all eBay fees ... and also all of the PayPal fees. When a customer walks in, they know what they'll receive. There are no hidden costs.

You work with a lot of charities too, right?

We're working with several local charities in town by helping to generate additional cash, because as we all know, all charities need money. We reduce our commissions to charities in town. It allows us to give something back to the community.

What charities are you working with?

The American Cancer Society, the Zambia Children's Fund, the Immaculate Church and the Alzheimer's Association.

Do you get headaches or sore eyes from looking at a computer all day long?

No, because there are so many different tasks involved, from counter work to research to listings to packing and shipping the items. There's not just one area; there's lots of multitasking.

What items are really hot right now?

Musical instruments do really well. Electronics do well. Antiques, collectibles, Southwestern items, Indian goods--they're all big sellers. ... What sells well are name-brand items that are identifiable with hallmarks. People need to be able to identify an item prior to them bidding on it. If something can't be ID'd, it probably won't have a good auction.

What's been the weirdest thing you've been asked to auction off?

I don't think we think that anything is weird. What's weird to one person may not necessarily be weird to someone else. We've become kind of numb to weirdness. ... We sold a military jeep to Italy. How about that?

Any grilled-cheese sandwiches yet?

No, no grilled-cheese sandwiches. We've discussed chewing up a Life Saver and spitting it into a bag, and then trying to sell it, but we haven't.

What's one piece of advice you would give anybody wanting do to their own eBay auction?

Pictures paint a thousand words.

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