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Small-Business Success Story: Everything But the House

An estate-sale specialist moves her business online to link buyers and sellers.

Kiplinger's spoke with Jacquie Denny (pictured at left), 60, founder of Everything But the House, a Cincinnati-based estate-sales company, about why she decided to move her established business online. Read on for an excerpt from our interview:

See Our Slide Show: 6 Surprisingly Simple Ideas That Made Millions

You’ve always been a fan of estate sales? Absolutely. My husband and I furnished our first home from estate tag sales and flea markets. I became a licensed auctioneer, and in 1992 I founded my own estate-sale company so I could have flexibility while working and raising my children.

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How did EBTH.com get started? In 2007 a young man named Brian Graves approached me while I was holding a sale. He said, “You really need to take this business online.” I laughed. Me? Start a tech-based company? He became a founding partner of Everything But The House and developed our Web site. We ran our first sale in 2008.

What’s your mission? Everyone wants a bargain, but if you get one, someone’s family probably isn’t getting fair market value. I want to connect families directly with end buyers so they can avoid giving away significant items at wholesale prices.

How does EBTH.com work? After Mom and Dad and the kids choose what they want to keep, our staff sorts, evaluates, describes and photographs everything in the home, from pots and pans to works of art. It all goes online. We market the sale for seven days. Every item starts at $1 and goes to the highest bidder. We have 750,000 visitors to our site each month from all 50 states and more than 50 countries. We manage payment, pickup and shipping, and we also arrange for pickup of anything that should be thrown away or donated.

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How did you develop your company? In our first year, we received money from a small investor and our sales totaled $1.4 million. Brian and I each took a salary and provided benefits for our families. In 2014, we received $13 million in venture capital and our sales totaled $13.5 million. We project that we’ll end 2015 with more than $30 million in sales. We have about 250 employees, and we run sales in 14 cities in 11 states.

You’re the oldest of five partners? I have four partners, all in their thirties, who bring bold innovation and tech savvy. Still, I have years of business experience and relationships. My generation brings something that you can’t learn in front of a computer. Not everything is done with a hashtag in front of it.

What’s the typical take? Our average estate sale brings in $27,000. The national average for an estate tag sale several years ago was $7,500. So we collect three to five times more. We take a 35% to 45% cut of the proceeds, less than a traditional consignment shop.

How do customers respond? We almost always get rave reviews. I haven’t had one person say, “Thanks for the big, fat check.” Instead, our customers say, “You’re an angel. You saved us.”

What are the most notable items you’ve sold? We sold a Boston Red Sox World Series ring for $89,000. This fall we’ll sell an autograph book with the signatures of Abraham Lincoln, his cabinet members, members of Congress and many Civil War generals that will bring thousands of dollars. But we’ve also had a refrigerator magnet from the 1970s that went for $65.

How do you feel about your own stuff? I’m not an accumulator. What I don’t use I give away to someone who will use it.

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