eBay, people’s stuff, and a Pittsboro man’s effort to link the two

BY ZACHARY HORNER, News + Record Staff
Posted 9/13/19

Chris DiGiovanna’s office is a bit scattered. There are pieces of jewelry in a table in the middle, bagged and tagged. Computers line the walls. A makeshift mini-photo studio sits on another wall. In a back room, shelves contain items ranging from busts of Winston Churchill to a bootleg Mickey Mouse faux-fur jacket.

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eBay, people’s stuff, and a Pittsboro man’s effort to link the two

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PITTSBORO — Chris DiGiovanna’s office is a bit scattered.

There are pieces of jewelry in a table in the middle, bagged and tagged. Computers line the walls. A makeshift mini-photo studio sits on another wall. In a back room, shelves contain items ranging from busts of Winston Churchill to a bootleg Mickey Mouse faux-fur jacket.

Around 9 a.m., staff begins coming in and they get to work about the business of labeling and shipping, posting and monitoring and waiting and hoping.

Just a day in the life for Trader Chris.

DiGiovanna runs Trader Chris Consignments, and while his office doesn’t reek of someone who handles often-expensive items for a living, he’s sold things through his eBay platform for thousands of dollars right from his nondescript headquarters off Sanford Road near downtown Pittsboro.

Consignment sales aren’t abnormal. You take your stuff to someone who puts a price on it and includes it as part of a larger sale. You get most of the profits while the seller gets a percentage. DiGiovanna does just that, but through the online auction site eBay.

Here’s how it works: someone with something to sell contacts DiGiovanna and talks about the item which has to fit on a list of valuable collectibles, ranging from jewelry, watches, coins, silver and other things typically small enough to fit on a shelf. He won’t sell modern collectibles like Beanie Babies and most books and china, but if you’re curious, just ask.

After a consultation with DiGiovanna, the item goes online (after minor cleaning if needed) and professional photographs and a write-up. According to the Trader Chris website, most items are listed 1-2 weeks after drop off and sold a week or two after that. Payment is mailed 30 days after the sale. Trader Chris’ commission depends on how much the item sells for — 50 percent for items under $500, 40 percent for items between $500 and $1,000 and 30 percent for everything $1,000 or more.

In business since 2011, the former Navy man and financial advisor dumped the latter life — it was “very competitive and a very high rate of rejection,” he said — to “have an online business where I sell stuff.”

eBay — which began as AuctionWeb in 1995, one day and 24 years before DiGiovanna spoke to the News + Record about his own business — currently has approximately 1.3 billion live listings, and sellers generated $2.2 billion in revenue in the second quarter of 2019. A visit to the Trader Chris page shows a smattering of items with varying values and backgrounds. The latest set he’s got in is a smorgasboard of Winston Churchill items. There are a couple porcelain figures, some books and even mugs.

When he first started, DiGiovanna said, he would sell anything, including used running shoes, self-help books and furniture. He’s now progressed to some higher-end items, most of them with interesting stories.

There was the Babe Ruth signed baseball for $7,200. According to DiGiovanna, the original owner played hooky from school one day and went to a Yankees game in the 1930s. After the game, the boy went down to the field and Ruth — known for his love of kids born out of his orphan background — parted the sea of men surrounding him to speak to the boy and sign his baseball.

There’s the piece of china from the Rutherford B. Hayes White House. Hayes, America’s 19th president from 1877-1881, and his wife ordered unique china featuring animals and the great outdoors, and DiGiovanna sold a single plate from the set for $3,189 to someone in Iowa.

While not his most expensive item ever sold, he helped sell a $14,000 train collection to a man in Missouri. The “room-sized” custom set was originally housed in Fearrington Village. The buyer drove “the biggest U-Haul truck he could get,” DiGiovanna said, to the area, where the pair disassembled and loaded the set for two straight days. They even had to use a reciprocating saw to tear apart some of it to make it fit.

He’s learned over the years that, while some things might sell for a lot more than he might thing, an old adage proves appropriate.

“You know the saying, ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure?’ That’s absolutely true,” he said. “Things that most people look at and think it’s not worth more than a few dollars — other people, it has a lot more meaning and value to them.”

That was evident in one of his favorite stories. DiGiovanna’s dad — who he said was his inspiration for the business — bought an old Barbie doll at a garage sale for a few bucks. The pair got the doll cleaned and dressed up with some accessories they found on eBay. When DiGiovanna put the item up for auction, interest soared.

“On the last day, she was at $3,000, and in the closing six seconds, she got three more bids and sold for $3,938,” he said, “and my dad had paid maybe $4 for her in the garage sale.”

The buyer wrote DiGiovanna a note, saying she had set up a special savings account for the doll. She had played with one as a child and wanted to have one as an adult.

“That’s when it dawned on me,” he said. “I would look at that doll and say, ‘That’s probably a couple-dollar doll.’ Someone else, where it has significant meaning to them, it’s worth much, much more.”

To check out DiGiovanna’s store, visit traderchris.biz or head to ebay.com/str/traderchrisconsignments if you’re in the bidding mood.

Reporter Zachary Horner can be reached at zhorner@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @ZachHornerCNR.

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