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  Elise Wetzel
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Elise Wetzel '92
Elise Wetzel
From the PTA to eBay, this alum's entrepreneurial venture is a winning bid

By Rebecca Lindell

Once you have a "marketing mind," it can be difficult to turn it off, Elise Wetzel says.

Wherever you look, you will find inspiration for the next big thing - even if you're a mother who has just decided to take a sabbatical from a 15-year marketing career to spend more time with your two small children, as this 1992 Kellogg School graduate did in 2002.

Wetzel stepped down from her job as a director of marketing at Unilever to enjoy a few years at home with her kids, then ages 2 and 3. Like many professional women who temporarily leave the workforce, the San Marino, Calif., mom was soon itching to find a new way to exercise her skills. The likeliest outlet seemed to be her children's preschool, which was attempting to raise funds for a new playground.

"I told them, 'I'm available, I'm Type A, I'm here to help," Wetzel says. So the school put her in charge of the fund-raising drive, which put parents to work selling candy and gift wrap.

Wetzel had a better idea. Why not stage a virtual garage sale on eBay, and direct all the proceeds to the school?

To test this plan, Wetzel, a veteran eBay buyer, started listing a few cast-off items for sale on the Internet auction site. But she soon grew frustrated with the laborious process. "It quickly became apparent that it was a lot easier to buy things on eBay than it was to sell them," she says.

Wetzel searched for a local drop-off center that would handle eBay sales. To her surprise, nothing of the sort existed.

And so was born Wetzel's idea for iSold It (, the nationwide chain of drop-off stores that is now the number-one seller on eBay.

"The idea went through me like a lightning bolt," Wetzel recalls. "I couldn't believe there wasn't already something like this out there."

The Kellogg grad opened her first iSold It store in Pasadena in December 2003. Inspired by her husband, the co-creator of the Wetzel's Pretzels chain, Wetzel established iSold It as a franchise model. Sure enough, within several months of her launch, Wetzel began receiving requests for franchises.

Now there are 100 iSold It franchises throughout the country, with an average of one store opening every other day. By the end of 2005, Wetzel expects to have 200 stores in operation.

"We're building a world-class brand," says Wetzel, who draws heavily on her academic training at Kellogg to ensure that iSold It becomes the most recognizable eBay drop-off chain in the marketplace.

iSold It workers photograph the items, write the descriptive copy, answer questions from bidders, collect payment, and package and ship the items after they are sold. In exchange, the stores collect a commission of up to 30 percent of the item's selling price.

Roughly 10,000 items are dropped off for sale at iSold It stores each week. Together, the shops have completed more than 200,000 auctions on eBay.

"The growth has been beyond our wildest expectations," Wetzel says. "We really hit a nerve with consumers. We hadn't expected to grow so quickly."

For Wetzel, it's been quite a change from the stay-at-home lifestyle she envisioned when she decided to shift gears three years ago.

"This has been sort of an accidental re-entry into the workforce," she says. "The timing actually was great, because my son was starting preschool when I got back into it.

"I knew I had to move quickly," she adds. "When you feel that you're on to a big idea, it's important to chase it sooner rather than later. Windows of opportunity do open, but after the first movers and market leaders are established, the windows can close."

Last year, Wetzel hired a president and CEO with whom she shares responsibilities for running the business. "That's really helped me regain some of the work/family balance I'd left at the door," she says.

Even Wetzel's children have proven to be sharp-eyed participants in their mother's venture. In fact, the two have convinced their parents to unload more than a few family items on eBay.

"There isn't much left in my house," Wetzel says with a laugh. "We've auctioned off a lot of it."

Continue to Helen Teplitskaia '00

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©2002 Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University