by Suzanne Bush
Remember the eBay ad featuring the hairy guy in the wedding dress? For people who were only marginally aware of the breadth of the eBay marketplace, it was an eye-opener—in many ways. For the cognoscenti, the ad merely confirmed the staggering reach of eBay, the online auction site. After more than six million hits, extensive media coverage, including an appearance on NBC's Today Show, and the kind of buzz that professional marketing wizards only dream about, Larry Star sold his ex-wife's wedding dress for $3,850.
Star's turn in the spotlight has faded, but the online world keeps turning and new dramas emerge daily in the global village where the need to sell intersects with the hunger to buy. And the merchandise ranges from…well, ranges…to homes on the range…to horses that roam on the range…to saddles for the ranging horses. You get the picture. And so did Robin Teets, who recently harnessed eBay's selling power to find buyers for three perfectly good dressage saddles. In the process, she created her own internet sensation, due to her…how to describe it?...unorthodox…no, hilarious…that's it…her hilariously unorthodox sales technique.
It started innocently enough for Teets, Marcia Niemczyk and Susan Shebelsky. On the advice of their trainer, Kathy Adams, they made an appointment with a saddle fitter. The three women ride together at Windmill Farm in Stroudsburg, PA. Each of them had a good saddle. Actually, they had great, custom-made saddles. But they wanted to make sure the saddles fit their horses perfectly. They summoned Jan Hulsebos, from the Netherlands, where great dressage horses are bred and where some of the world's finest dressage saddles are made…by Jan Hulsebos.
Hulsebos was a little late for the appointment, and while the ladies waited, they partied, which accounts for the disarming honesty in Teets' eBay ad: "We thought we'd make it a little saddle-fitting party since we all like to hang around and watch and it's a great excuse not to go home and cook. It was a great party - food, music, and of course, a little something to drink - more specifically, margaritas. Well, to make a long story short, Mr. Saddlefitter was five hours late - we were slightly inebriated, and by the time he left, Mr. Saddlefitter (who ironically turned out to also be Mr. Custom Saddlemaker) left with orders for four custom made saddles. I know, I know - but it seemed like such a good idea at the time!! Our custom saddles have now arrived and we really do love them and feel that as middle-aged, competitive amateurs we damn well deserve them. However, MasterCard feels that we also damn well better pay for them, hence, the big saddle sale..."
And that's how Teets lit the fuse on her own rocket to internet notoriety. With more than 13,000 hits, her ad didn't quite eclipse "hairy guy's" comet. He still claims the record-breaker. But before the auction ended, Teets had received advice, commiseration, congratulations and even offers of cash ($8.00!) from strangers all over the world. For instance:
"We were just happy that they sold," Teets says. "There are a lot of strategies to sell on eBay. We set the price that we'd be happy with." The 51 year-old has a United States Dressage Federation (USDF) Bronze medal, signifying that she has competed successfully up to 3rd level. She's active in the Eastern States Dressage Training Association, too. Has the fame she achieved with her eBay ad changed her life?
"I was getting so many emails that I was spending hours a day answering them." She responded personally (and humorously) to every email. "I never dreamed it would go that far, but my life really hasn't changed." After her ad was posted on countless message boards, she heard from polo players, from trail riders, from people who were just curious about the lady who had a few margaritas and spent $4,000 on a new saddle, from people who like horses but wouldn't know a piaffe from a pizza. She even heard from quilters. Quilters? "I got letters from quilters—quilting forums," she says, recalling some of the more wacky responses to her ad.
Teets says that, although her friends at the barn weren't as riveted to the eBay commotion as she was, her husband got almost as much enjoyment from the responses as she did. "My husband was wonderful with the ad," she says. "He flies airplanes. That must be the only hobby that's more expensive than horses. He liked ping-pong before, and of course, that doesn't cost anything. The airplane was a big jump." Teets says that she was thrilled when her husband got interested in flying, and overjoyed when he actually purchased a plane. Finally, there was an avocation in the family that dwarfed the cost of owning and caring for a horse.
And the horse? Teets has a 12 year-old Dutch Warmblood. "He came over as a sale horse," she says. "I have a friend who imports horses for sale. He got hurt soon after he came—and had to spend all winter in a stall. No owner, nobody to play with him…I felt sorry for him." She says she spent that winter falling in love with the lonely horse, and his injury was finally diagnosed as torn ligaments between his sesamoid bones. The diagnosis was enough to turn the young sale prospect into a horse that had virtually no future. The owners in Holland didn't want the horse returned. Teets believed that the horse deserved a chance. The owners gave the horse to her and she sent it to New Bolton Center where Dr. Dean Richardson (yes, Barbaro's Dr. Dean Richardson) performed surgery.
"I was kind of naïve," she says, thinking about the expense of surgery and the possibility that the surgery might not work. And, there was the matter of the horse she already had. Optimism, it seems, is one of Teets' most reliable companions, inspiring her to take chances on causes that others would call lost. "My horse came through the surgery, and hasn't had a day of lameness since. And my other horse got sold to a lovely lady in Sun Valley, Idaho."
She enjoyed her brief fling with internet fame. "I feel like Cinderella after her coach turned back into a pumpkin." But she's glad her life is returning to its normal rhythm.