Only five weeks elapsed from the day Raymond Hall decided to open his own restaurant to the day he had all the equipment he needed to operate his Riverside Deli in in the northwest Connecticut town of Torrington. New to the restaurant business after leaving a career in insurance, Hall spent about $50,000 getting the deli up and running, procuring everything from slicers and food-prep stations to deli cases and an ice cream dipping station in record time.
“Even the building inspector said it never happens that fast,” says Hall, who runs the restaurant with his business partner/ girlfriend, Barbara Ottesen.
Their secret: eBay, the auction-based Web site through which buyers and sellers trade everything from 99¢ collectibles to vintage cars. Hall and Ottesen bought 96% of the equipment they needed to operate the deli through the Web site originally known solely as an outlet for peddling stuff like Beanie Babies and rare Star Wars action figures.
“If you compare what we bought to new equipment, in every case we spent way less than half,” Hall says. “I’d say that it would have taken me two years to find the equipment at the same price. The most expensive thing we bought was a deli case for $2,000.”
But he would have spent much more, if not for a sympathetic eBay seller. A friend had convinced Hall to give the site a try, and during his first visit he bid on a deli case…and won. He found out later that his winning bid of $3,000 had won him the wrong kind of deli case for his type of operation. Luckily, the seller let Hall off the hook.
“That’s my one warning: Know what you’re buying and know what it’s worth—andknow what you want before you bid,” he says. “Also, double-check the shippingcosts. We got a stainless-steel bowl for less than $10, but we didn’t checkthe shipping, which was about $100.”
A growing population
The auction-based site has just as many sellersas it does buyers. The Advantage Group (www.theadvantagegroup.com)lists and launches as few as 12 to as many as a couple hundred auctions perday, primarily for foodservice equipment, according to Advantage Group PresidentNeal Sherman. The company, which also manages asset liquidation for conveniencestore chains and sells surplus to retailers looking to lower their costs ofcapital equipment, generates “a very high amount” of return business among theeBay faithful, Sherman says. eBay isn’t the only Web retailer populating thisspace, though it certainly has the deepest pockets and the immediate name recognition.Web retailers like RestaurantEquipment.net, Storemakers.com and FoodEquipmentUnlimited.comoffer straight online sales, auctions or both.
On the buying side, Hall says without eBay he couldn’t have procured all the equipment as quickly as he did—which means he couldn’t have had his own restaurant. After leaving the insurance business, Hall mentioned to Ottesen that he had dreams of running a restaurant some day. The next day she told him she’d found the perfect place with plenty of parking and “doable” rent. Once they opted in, they had to start making money.
And, thanks in part to their online bargain-hunting skills, they’re makingenough money to keep them comfortable and reconsider their options. With therestaurant now holding its own, Hall is pondering a return to the insurancebusiness. If and when that happens, the day-to-day operations would be leftin Ottesen’s capable hands.
eBay shopping tips
‘Don’t jump in first thing,” says Raymond Hall, coowner of the RiversideDeli. “Depending on how long [an item] is up there, I usually wait a weekand watch what the auctions do. If I want something really bad, I waittill the last second and come in with a high bid.”
The strategy has served Hall well, but many bidders play the same game.In an auction for an ice cream dipping station, for instance, Hall waitedtill two minutes remained in the auction before placing “a reasonablebid.” A tenacious bidder somewhere else in cyberspace matched his everymove, and the two went down to the wire.
Luckily, Hall wound up winning the ice cream dipping station…by a penny.