Cumberland family finds success selling antiques in eBay business

Cumberland family finds success selling antiques in eBay business

The Wolftensholme family of Cumberland runs Rhode Island Internet Consignment and Sales on eBay, and the company has been so successful that it is in the runnings to be the top family-operated business on the website. Above, members of the family and employees of the business sit in founder Bill Wolftensholme's office.
Wolstenholme family in the ' eBay Shine Awards' runnings for their success

CUMBERLAND – Multi-billion dollar corporation eBay was once Bill Wolstenholme’s enemy as an antique picker and seller. But today, the 69-year-old thanks the website for a career that’s made it possible to support his whole family, and a few other employees, too.

Bill went from selling lamps and furniture at flea markets in Rhode Island to selling about $10,000 worth of antiques online every day, where his Cumberland-based company, Rhode Island Internet Consignment and Sales, gets more than 4,000 customers clicking, bidding and scrolling through its site daily.

He employs professional pickers, he said, and still travels on his own from Maryland to New Hampshire in search of collectibles every week. What started as a hobby for Bill and his wife, Wendy, who both grew up in Burrillville, has become a business so successful, he said, that eBay nominated the company for the “eBay Shine Awards” for family businesses. The Cumberland company is ranked as the number one eBay store for antiques and collectibles.

“This is the house that eBay bought,” Bill said, motioning to their property in Cumberland on Boardman Avenue which has a garage filled with packaging materials and another two-story garage that’s been transformed into a storage spot with offices. Tape measurers are scattered on the desks where Bill’s family members sit, watching bidders and writing up descriptions of each item they post on their site.

Lindsey Krupski, one of Bill’s two daughters, said every piece that comes through the company is cleaned, researched, photographed, listed and advertised if need be.

As of press time, the company had 230 items up for bid. They’ve sold everything from antique paintings, letters between two sisters that date back to the 1800s, primitive pieces and 1980s generation one “Transformers” straight from the box from Hasbro.

They’ve seen items like the “Transformers” sell for hundreds more than they ever imagined, Bill and Krupski, said – and some of their sales have helped people down on their luck.

Lindsey and Bill explained that one of their friends was falling behind on their bills, and stumbled on an old box from the toy company, still sealed up with tape. Their friend had assumed she would get $1,000 for the “Transformers,” and the entire package went for $150,000 altogether.

“It changed her life,” Bill said, and the company made about $30,000 from the sale, “plus all the glory.”

Lindsey said, “We make a living off people’s passions,” which have included everything from spark plugs to sewing machine collections.

She raved about the website, and said “eBay has opened this giant yard sale,” but also remembered years where her father struggled while competing online. It was 1999, Bill said, that he first tried to balance selling his finds both traditionally and online. After Bill thought he could get $100 for toys that went for $700 on eBay, he realized this was the direction shopping and selling was going.

“He didn’t know how to move a (computer) mouse,” Lindsey joked, but he knew his antiques and their value after all his years of “picking” at antique shows and flea markets and selling to dealers, collectors and auction houses. She remembered her father waking her up at night to ask for help with the computer when it froze, and said he’s come a long way with the technology.

Though Bill adjusted to using the web, Lindsey said, he still reminds his staff to keep customer service “old school.” When potential customers call the office during business hours, which are Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., they can expect to hear a live voice at the other end of the phone – not an automated recording.

The company offers 100 percent refunds, Lindsey explained, and Bill said what matters most to him is having customers so satisfied with their experience that they come back to his site. Watching reality TV shows about pickers and pawn shops, Bill said, drives him crazy. The Cumberland resident said he constantly sees items go for far less than they’re worth, and dishonesty, he said, is something he loathes.

“I’m gonna tell them what they’ve got, and I’m going to tell them what it’s worth,” Bill said. For him, being honest doesn’t always make him money – potential clients can back out of selling their collectibles once they learn how much they’re worth. Bill said he also gives money back to customers who argue they’ve overpaid for their wares.

But it wasn’t just starting up the eBay site that was challenging for Bill, he explained. Before he fully launched the website, he had a full ride to University of Rhode Island. Halfway through his college career, his grades were slipping, and juggling academics and the antique picking hobby was becoming too difficult.

When it came to school, Bill said, “I didn’t give a hoot, to tell you the truth, because I discovered what I wanted to do.” Explaining that to his mother, he said, was a different story. “She could never see past the junk,” he said, laughing.

That’s just what many of these collectibles are to most people, Bill said, but for others, discovering certain antiques bring them back in time, complete an old set or have sentimental value that can’t be topped, not even by high prices.

When Bill stops to think about Rhode Island Internet Consignment and Sales and the company’s success, he said, he realizes he’s helped support families with secondhand merchandise. The Cumberland resident said in time, he wants to shift his role to an antique broker, but keep the company running the same way it has been operating.

Every day, he said, “I can’t wait to get up in the morning and start this business.”

To see the family’s eBay website, visit stores.ebay.com/WWolst12Store or call 401-475-1190.

Comments

This is a residential neighborhood...not a industrial park..should not be allowed to operate a business there