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Half Moon Bay's DotComMom Rules RubberNation
Joe Devlin and Emily Berk

This piece was originally published in Coastviews, June 2000 issue.

It all began with eBay Hula dolls...

"I placed my first Hula nodder on eBay in November of 1998. I had been an eBay junkie for a few months, using my husband's computer in the off hours (read 1 a.m.) bidding on rubber stamps and other stuff I was using in my art. I also had a couple of extra hula nodders lying around and I figured I would put them up for bid."

So began the metamorphosis of Kim Noland of Half Moon Bay, or the Pesky Mrs N. as she calls herself, into a Dot Com Mom. "Hula nodders are so darned cool. How can it get any better than wiggling dashboard hula girls?" What surprised Kim is that other people shared her quirky, campy sense of humor.

"I was the one of the first people to list Hula Nodders on eBay. People snapped them up, got into bidding wars, offered me ridiculous amounts of money to buy these things. I was totally hooked. My husband started getting worried when the first couple of boxes of hula nodders showed up in our living room." Turns out he had good reason: Kim, Peter and Kelly's life had just entered the dotcom twilight zone.

The Pesky Mrs. N's Stamps A Hit On Ebay

Kim's involvement with eBay became a full-time business. "I have always been interested in rubber stamps. As a kid I collected them. As an adult I use them in my art projects. I have no interest in the teddy bear and heart stamps that make up the bulk of the stamp business. My interests are in darker, quirkier images."
Think of the Pesky Mrs. N as the Andy Warhol of the stamp business and you get the idea. Her stamps focus on cultural icons as art: M&M packages, Hitchcock, Captain Kirk, and Elvis. Kim began buying stamps she loved and selling them via eBay. But she soon grew dissatisfied with selling other people's work and began designing her own stamps. Before long, she had more orders than she could handle.

The Art of the eBay Sale

Kim has mastered the art of selling stuff on eBay. "You learn to list items so that the final flurry of bidding comes on busy weekends. You learn to collect the email addresses of all the high bidders. That way you can contact the losers later on to offer them a deal on the items they lost out on. An automated auction management service can save you tons of time notifying winners, calculating when auctions are completed, and collecting mailing information.

Needed a Web Site

Kim was beginning to get more orders than she could handle. "It began to become obvious that I needed a Web site where I could offload some of my work. Selling on eBay can be tremendously time-consuming since you are dealing with each customer on a one-to-one basis. A Web site makes it easier to provide information about all your products automatically. It allows customers to look up information on any product that you carry. It saves me a tremendous amount of time in creating and emailing answers to basic questions about my products. Better yet, if a customer likes what they see listed on eBay, they can check out the Web site to see what else I have that strikes their fancy. And when they find a product they have to have, the site takes care of all the paperwork and even accepts payments via credit card. All I have to do is check in daily and ship product out. You can't imagine how much time and effort the Web site saves me."

Problem was, Kim didn't know how to go about setting up a Web site. That's when she ran across an article about BigStep.Com. is a new Internet service that offers small businesses tools for developing and running e-commerce businesses. BigStep does not charge a fee for hosting basic sites, hoping to make money later on selling premium services such as site design, billing, or juiced-up marketing. BigStep went on line in July, 1999. By January, 2000, when Noland decided to create her own Web site, BigStep was hosting sites for 30,000 small businesses. She decided to give it a try. The only costs she incurred were the seventy bucks needed to grab the domain name and $24.95 a month for accepting credit card payments.

"It took me two months to design and build my site. The only skills I brought to the task were an intimate understanding of email and some experience using graphics tools. BigStep makes it so easy even my Mom could do it," the ever-modest Mrs. N told us. "I am not saying there have not been problems. My site went live in late March, the same day that BigStep had its first big crash. Can't tell you how many emails I got from frustrated customers. My site was out cold for the first 72 hours of its existence! I got condolence e-mails for three days straight from people trying to buy my stamps. Not the Grand Opening I envisioned!

"Things have been flying since with only an occasional hiccup along the way." currently lists over 200 items, over half of which are of Kim's own design.

Of course, you do want to hear about the downside to Noland's success: "My husband has always encouraged me in this endeavor and he likes to say he can't imagine me in a career that is better suited to my personality. His only condition was that he didn't want his house turned into a rubber stamp factory. Sorry Peter!

Quotes From a Dot Com Mom,
The Empress of the Rubber Nation

A Forlorn Note From Japan
"I don't like to sell to overseas clients- too much trouble addressing the boxes and figuring out the postage- but I can be convinced. For example, the other day I got email from a

woman in Japan. She really wanted one of my Bewitched stamps in which Samantha warns, Careful my nose is a little itchy today. Her email read,
'I need Samantha. Please make me pay you money' Who could refuse?"

Gilligan Buys Gilligan
Kim specializes in stamps of cultural icons like Alfred Hitchcock and characters from the Gilligan's Island TV show. Kim is especially proud of her first Gilligan stamp sale. "When I first listed my Gilligan stamp on eBay, the bidding was crazy. The winner was a guy named Bob Denver That's right, Gilligan himself bought my first Gilligan stamp? Turns out he is a pretty cool guy with a great Web site. My only regret is that I cashed his check. Back then I needed the $16 bucks Today I would rather have it framed on the wall."

eBay is Changing
"Dealing with eBay is a mind warping experience 1 don t care how strange the item is, place it on eBay and people will buy it. But you can t imagine how much eBay has changed in the two years I have been in this business. Two years ago 1 sold the first hula doll on eBay Today they sell so many hula items they have broken it off into its own section"
Kim has done really well on eBay eBay allows customers to post positive or negative ratings for each purchase they have made. Check out Kim's eBay persona "Surfmutt and you will find that 619 of Kim s customers have taken the time to file positive comments about her wares "Yes I know that Surfmutt is an obscure name and irrelevant to my stamp business. The name is an homage to my dogs' fondness for a morning dip in the water of Half Moon Bay. Who knew when I created the name that two years later more than a thousand people would be using it to buy rubber stamps from me? I was much wiser and much more careful when I chose the name of my website."

The Snickers Line of Stamps
What's my most successful line of stamps? It keeps on changing.

"Always popular is my line of 160 rubber snickers. Think of them as rubber bumper stickers. They feature images of retro women, each with a big cartoon balloon though which they spout really silly stuff. Some of die stamps include a single saying (like, 'Going at the speed of light is bad for your age.'), others provide you with a choice of a dozen or more thoughts they can give voice to.

I am told the guy who heads up is especially fond of his Captain Kirk stamps.

"My hot seller today is a new Perry Mason stamp. Why? I guess he has lots of Fens, and people like the quote I have paired him with, 'Now about that alibi of yours."'


"Our living area is a little cramped these days— we have to get inventive with priority mailers and UPS boxes. It helps that my six-year-old is a big fan of all the cardboard boxes. You've gotta see my house to believe it. Navigating from our front door to the bedrooms upstairs is a challenge. No way can you walk a straight line given the maze of boxes of incoming and outgoing stamps, reports and correspondence.

"How bad is it? The other day, my daughter Kelly asked me, 'Mom, if you die will I have to sell all the rubber stamps?'" Which is why it's time for the DotComMom to make some changes. "I am working hard at outsourcing as much of the work as I can, but I am a long way from catching up. By this time next year I plan to have outsourced all the assembly work, packaging and accounting that currently takes up so much time. I am currently working on a series of designs based upon vintage postage stamps that has me really excited. I love the design work. My New Year's resolution was that by this time next year I would be ready to devote more time to the design work that got me interested in this business in the first place. I think it is a goal that I can achieve."

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