$100 eBay sale sparks $5M empire

Phil Leahy had a long, successful career in the radio business - so when his company folded and he was forced to declare bankruptcy, the failure hit him hard.

Mr Leahy, who owned a chain of radio stations, was suddenly broke and struggling to pay the rent and other bills.

It also took a serious toll on his wellbeing.

"It was humiliating - as an entrepreneur you go out on your own and when, all of a sudden, it comes to a point where it all falls apart, you look at yourself and think, 'I'm unemployable now'," he told news.com.au of the blow, which occurred in the early noughties.

"It was a very humiliating, tough time and also very stressful not being able to pay the rent and having to lean on my wife to bring in money to survive.

"I didn't know what to do; I was very depressed - at one point I was walking up to the (Centrelink) counter to get the dole and I walked in the front door, took two steps and then turned around and left - I just couldn't do it."

To make ends meet, he started selling some of his personal music memorabilia at market stalls before discovering eBay.

Curious about this new online phenomenon, he put one Silverchair album up for sale on the platform - and when it fetched $100, Mr Leahy was stunned.

"I thought, 'Wow, there could be something in this'," he said.

"That's how it started - out of necessity, trying to keep a roof over our heads."

From that one sale, the idea behind Mr Leahy's online retail business, Entertainment House, was born.

Mr Leahy began selling DVDs and CDs through eBay and he soon became Australia's top eBay seller with the highest volume of sales in all seller categories.

It was a position he maintained for a number of years, selling 5000 items a week, with most being shipped to overseas buyers.

Mr Leahy also became the first Aussie to use Amazon to tap into the UK market and the business grew 100 per cent every year since it began, evolving into a $5 million business.

"It got to the stage where there was stock in the kitchen and all over the house before I realised it was time to move into a warehouse," he said.

"I wanted to work from home, make a few bucks and pay the rent, but the more I looked the more I saw the possibilities (of selling online).

"Timing was very important and being first in the market helped a lot. I'm not the smartest guy in the world but I felt a true love for my customers - they were getting me out of jail, so I went the extra mile for them."

Phil Leahy became Australia’s top eBay seller. Picture: LinkedIn
Phil Leahy became Australia’s top eBay seller. Picture: LinkedIn

He said it was a "pretty magic" feeling to realise he was soon selling to customers in almost every country in the world, and shared some words of advice for other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

"It's about persistence and getting up when it feels like you've been punched in the face," he said.

"You need determination - business is like climbing a mountain; a lot of people give up half way because they don't realise there could be success and some respite at the next ledge."

Mr Leahy said in the early days of online retail, Aussie shoppers were actually warned of the dangers of buying online by retail groups, which caused a drop in sales and "a lot of lag and frustration".

But these days, online retail is booming in Australia - something Mr Leahy considers a "great opportunity for the country".

In 2006, following his company's success, Mr Leahy also launched Retail Global, an annual conference aimed at helping e-retailers tap into overseas marketplaces.

The 2019 event will be held at the Gold Coast from May 29-31.

Continue the conversation @carey_alexis | alexis.carey@news.com.au

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