David Hardin was recently quoted on buysafe.com

From Shoes to Software and Beyond –
Enterprise Blossoms on eBay

by Nino
eBay Staff Member

Latest News

In the year 2000, David Hardin's family-run wholesale shoe business in Kentucky was slowing. Since 1977 it had been steadily profitable, based on a simple yet effective “jobber's” business model: buy shoes wholesale from the major department stores, recombine the inventory into smaller lots, and sell them to retailers. His customer base consisted primarily of small, family-run retail stores and a few major retail chains.

Over twenty years later, however, the mainstay segment of his business was shrinking. More and more “Ma and Pa” stores were being edged out by bigger, more efficient corporate players. Hardin was faced with the challenge of finding new business opportunities to replace his dwindling core customer base.

Then Hardin discovered eBay.

Hardin, who now sells on eBay as shoetime, admits he knew nothing about eBay until the day a young man from his local community walked into his office and suggested eBay as a possible venue for his inventory. Hardin immediately realized the exciting potential for increasing his diminishing sales. “Light bulbs started going off in my head,” he remembers.

As an experiment, Hardin and his family began by listing fifty pairs of shoes as auction listings. These early sales were successful, and he gained confidence. He listed another fifty pairs, then a hundred, and then more and more.

While their early success was promising, they soon realized that their little company wasn't very technology savvy. “We discovered we knew nothing about eBay or the Internet,” recounts Hardin. Realizing the need to introduce technology to the business, he decided they needed an in-house IT person. With characteristic easy-going confidence, Hardin appointed his head salesman to the position. He told him jocularly, “Marshall, you have Web TV. You're the only one here who knows anything about the Internet. You're our IT guy.”

Shelly and David of shoetime
David Hardin, and daughter
Shelly, in their element

There was no looking back from that point. As they ramped up their eBay business, they quickly outgrew eBay's standard listing tools. They tried almost every available third-party software to achieve greater volumes of listings on eBay. Hardin eventually realized that no single software offering would satisfy the distinctive needs of their business, with its huge, complex inventory of individually unique items.

The next logical step proved a momentous one. By 2002, they decided to develop their own software to support their specialized business needs. Their partnership with Dave Andrews at DEK Consulting Company resulted in the creation of inventory management software that automated inventory tracking and management, a very critical function in their business. With a custom solution built to their needs, they were able to track inventory more efficiently by matching pictures with items on the shelf and launching new auctions automatically. Ultimately, they slashed the number of steps it took them to list from 35 down to nine.

Before long, they realized that the software they had created had a huge potential market on eBay. They began marketing it as the DEK Auction Manager, a product targeted at high-volume sellers. Hardin laughs benignly, “From someone who didn't know anything about computers, we were suddenly in the eBay software business.”

Today, Hardin's business operations straddle several areas besides shoes. Continuing the fine eBay tradition of members enabling each other to succeed, Hardin, along with another software company, DevSource, started a drop-it-off franchise business. With no franchise fees, it is helping bring his vast experience selling on eBay to towns as far apart as Los Angeles, St. Louis, Murray, KY., and Richmond, VA. In addition, after developing customized software for their business it was a natural move to spin off a separate company for software and consulting. eSAVz (the name is made from the first initials of Hardin's grandchildren), develops and markets software that helps high-volume consignment, charity and fundraising sellers on eBay successfully run their businesses.

Despite being the owner of several fast-growing businesses, Hardin's focus on family and community continues. Events like birthday parties for individual employees go a long way to make it a happy place to work, everyone shares a commitment to giving back to the community. Hardin and his daughter, Shelly (who is the Marketing Director for shoetime), are both active supporters of groups like the Disabled Online Users of America (DOUA). Recently at eBay Live! in New Orleans, they and other members were at the forefront of a fund-raising effort that raised over $15,000 for the DOUA. They were also involved in sending much-needed aid to the victims of Hurricane Charley in Florida .

Of course, with all the success Hardin's challenges are getting more complex too. When they began selling on eBay, there were only about 27,000 shoe listings on the site – rather naively they thought they could corner the market on shoes. shoetime says that today about 111,000 pairs of ladies shoes alone are listed on any given day. They're always learning new marketing techniques to stay ahead. He likes to say, “There's no end to what you can do with eBay. If you do a little thinking, you can adapt it to your business patterns.”

So what's ahead for shoetime? Hardin shows no signs of slowing down. He says he will continue to “push the envelope” looking for new growth opportunities on eBay. He compared eBay to a car:

“eBay has provided us all a great vehicle for e-commerce, and an opportunity to start businesses at a very low start-up cost. However we must apply the steering wheel and gas pedal ourselves. In doing this, people will come up with very unique ways of using eBay. Use your own imagination and you will be surprised at the results!”

Excellent advice from someone whose “shoes” continue to take him new places.