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Tobacco Stick Success - Brent Burchett
When I was in high school, eBay was starting to gain popularity and I thought I
should get in on some of the action. But what to sell? Being raised on a farm, I
turned to our treasure of antiquities and accumulated piles of redneck junk in
stashed away in a barn.
I had once seen tobacco sticks for sale in a Cracker Barrell or one of those arts &
crafts tourists traps, and thought perhaps a market still existed for tobacco
related memorabilia and "country" type crafts. So I picked up an old hickory stick
used in the cultivation of our family dark-fired tobacco (valued at an unimpressive
7 cents for farm-use) and listed it on eBay.
I printed up a nice "tobacco stick history" on some old brown index size paper and
attached it to the stick with some bailing twine and took a picture with a state of
the art 1 mega-pixel camera. With much laughter and low expectations, I listed my
first tobacco stick on eBay.
It was a 7-day auction and I started the bidding at $10, feeling a little guilty
about such a blatant markup of the product. Two days passed with little interest,
until the first bid was made. I couldn't believe it, what a sucker!
Little did I know that there was more than 1 eBayer out there interested in antiques
and primitive farm goods. By the final day, 12 different bidders had escalated the
price to $58. I tried to show my friends and family, but they didn't believe that
someone would actually send me a check in the mail. After all this new-fangled
eBay stuff was all hype. There jokes and pessimism faded within the week, with the
arrival of my first check.
As you can imagine, I returned to the barn to pillage more 7 cent tobacco sticks,
and continued to sell 2 sticks a week, at an average of 25 bucks. As the demand for
tobacco walking sticks dipped, I created a new arts & craft type product with
tobacco sticks the "Genuine West Kentucky Tobacco Stick Ladder." Or practically, 3
tobacco sticks screwed together in my garage in 15 minutes. People used them as
decorative items (don't ask me I just built the things).
The first tobacco stick ladder topped out at $100 and brought in new and return
buyers every week. I began to crank out a few dozen ladders a week, unable to keep
up with demand. I continued to list the ladders over the next year on eBay for
retail prices averaging $25, but also offering bulk rates to regular buyers who were
reselling the ladders in antique and home & garden shops.
I found that the key to selling a worthless product is attaching meaning to it.
While I made fun of people who were spending money on something like a tobacco
stick, I didn't realize the significance it had to the buyer. Many of them said
they grew up on tobacco farms and that even the smell of the sticks reminded them of
Over a year period I was able to make a fairly good income purchasing a new vehicle
and saving up money for college. I continued selling tobacco stick products on eBay
until I left for UK. After hundreds of hours in my garage screwing together tobacco
sticks I was sick of the whole thing. Maybe I should have kept it going on the
side, but it was fun while it lasted.