14 years ago, Vasilios Sakellaropoulos and Adnan Kamder launched a business selling computer equipment and toner cartridges out of Kamder’s basement. The business model for Universal Data Supplies was initially centred around acquiring tech equipment from sell-offs -- such as auctions held by government departments -- and then reselling it through telemarketing and cold calls. This soon discovered this was not a sustainable sales model, leading them to examine international sales as a means of growing their business. They quickly built up a reputation through the online sales platform, eBay. Within months, international customers began seeking them out and this strategy changed their status from unsustainable to successful. 

As eBay entrepreneurs, Sakellaropoulos and Kamder became exporters almost overnight and now attribute the bulk of business to international sales. Universal Data Supplies mostly sells to the U.S., with 70 per cent of the company’s international sales to clients south of the border. But the eBay platform has essentially removed borders. Universal Data Supplies now has international customers in Israel, France, Germany, Russia, Kenya, Brazil, Mexico and the UK. 

eBay’s Entrepreneurs of the Year sell worldwide, grow customers

Today, Sakellaropoulos and Kamder run a multi-million dollar retail business with six full-time employees . In October 2017, the two won eBay’s Entrepreneur of the Year designation. 

They aren’t the only ones who have grown their business by selling internationally online. Charles Chiu, an employee at CNB Computers, was also honoured in October, with eBay’s Integrated Entrepreneur of the Year award. 

The eBay arm of CNB is called Refurbio. It launched three years ago after Chiu realized his company’s online consumer business needed a revamp. The company buys used computers, revamps them and — now with its new online sales prowess — sells them all over the world, including to international customers in Israel, South America and Europe. 

CNB now boasts approximately $60 million in annual sales. Chiu notes that international sales make up 60 to 70% of that. As with Universal Data Supplies, the bulk of CNB’s international sales are to customers in the U.S. 

Chiu credits eBay with helping CNB to get online and boost international sales to take their business to the next level. CNB has since added other online sales channels such as Amazon, Best Buy and Groupon, all with international reach. 

“I would say name recognition is hugely important in terms of getting in touch with potential clients,” says Chiu. He adds that eBay helped him establish his international reputation through their rating system. “Because we’re listed on the different channels we sell through, there’s inherent trust.” 

Chiu notes that another big name has also lent credibility to CNB’s sales in international markets: CNB is Microsoft’s biggest refurbisher.

“So that gives us a lot credibility, too,” Chiu says. “That’s very important in international sales.”

Three years ago, CNB had negligible direct-to-consumer sales online. With the international push through eBay and other online retail platforms, direct-to-consumer sales internationally now represent more than half of their total business.

“It extended our U.S. side of the business a lot,” Chiu says. 

eBay is a fertile export training ground for entrepreneurs 

Chiu notes eBay is a great place for entrepreneurs to grow into new markets internationally. A lot of the paperwork is taken care of with eBay. Customs and duty are billed into the price so whatever the client pays on eBay is the end price for them. 

Chiu warns others not to overlook the significance of eBay’s customer review sections to building an international reputation. A positive review can work in your favour, but even a single bad review can be damning to the bottom line.

“Even if it costs you a bit more or you have to bend the policies to give the client what they want, it’s often worth it because negative reviews are not what you want,” says Chiu.

Sakellaropoulos notes that eBay’s help to build brand recognition of Universal Data Supplies has been a boon for international sales.

eBay is so well known internationally and it’s been around for so long. Their fame and their brand — we get to use that.

Listing products on eBay has also helped Universal Data Supplies build a sales history, which gives them credibility for their retail business beyond eBay.

In addition to having multiple sales channels outside of eBay, Universal Data Supplies has a 3,500-square-foot retail and warehouse space. 

“Being able to use their name and their brand is great for getting our company name out there,” Sakellaropoulos says. “The feedback system and being able to see a store, see the feedback for the store, gives customers a degree of confidence in the company. Ultimately, we get to use the eBay brand to get recognized in our own industry. It’s definitely good for recurring and new customers.”

Selling products internationally through eBay can boost sales in Canada

Sakellaropoulos says selling internationally through eBay has also been good training ground for growing their business within Canada.

“eBay is well known,” he says. “Having our name there gives us exposure.”

Although the bulk of Universal Data Supplies’ sales are in the U.S., Sakellaropoulous notes that Canadian sales are also growing. He credits much of their knowledge to learning the ropes as eBay exporters. 

“It was a slow process,” Sakellaropoulos says. “We had to learn a few tricks to get our costs down.”

Knowing the value of a product on the international market, says Sakellaropolous, gives them a better idea of how to price it competitively in Canada. 

Tips on selling internationally with eBay

If you’re a Canadian business interested in scaling your e-commerce sales with eBay, there is a lot of information out there to help you. eBay has an entire section on selling internationally that includes tools for international trade, details on international trade policies, as well as how to get exposure on international websites.