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On a steamy summer afternoon, Sheldon is wearing a navy suit with a white shirt and pin-dot tie. He has dressed to have his picture taken, he says. Ordinarily, he would be in business-casual attire. He may be running a luxury goods company, but it is first and foremost an Internet one.
Sheldon, 46, became an Internet entrepreneur after working in the private equity field, dabbling in online auctions and developing a taste for fine watches. His first Internet-related venture was DropshopStore.com in 2004, where eBay novices could deposit their luxury castoffs for experts to put up for auction. That company evolved into Portero in 2006, which he co-founded with Daniel Nissanoff, another entrepreneur. At first, it used eBay as its online platform. In March, Portero became a stand-alone site.
Portero positions itself as sort of an online Christie's to eBay's flea market. While eBay has hosted more than 45 million auctions since its beginnings in 1995, Portero has hosted about 70,000. But Portero focuses only on high-end merchandise in a few limited categories such as jewelry, watches, art and handbags. Its typical sale ranges from about $6,000 to $10,000, Sheldon says, although it has sold a $30,000 diamond ring and there are plenty of $300 used purses for sale as well. "Some brands have more resale value than others," says Stephanie Phair, vice president of business development, noting that Hermes, Chanel and Louis Vuitton bags tend to hold more of their value online.
Many of its sellers are dealers or the Web site itself, after having purchased goods outright from an estate, for example. Individuals are most likely to be selling handbags. Portero aims to appeal to sellers who consider their Chloe Edith handbags an investment. (Regular price? About $1,200. Used? About $700.) Sometimes, however, sellers who thought they were ready to divest a handbag or a collectible turn sentimental at the last minute.
That crocodile Birkin, for example, never sold. The owner pulled it off the site. She was headed to Europe and decided it would look awfully fetching on the Continent.
Portero wants to appeal to buyers who appreciate the convenience of online shopping but who are more interested in getting their hands on a specific, genuine item than in getting a rock-bottom bargain.
"There is a market out there, call it an aspirational market, of people who really want that Chloe bag," Phair says. "With the pre-owned market . . . it's okay to have last year's. The breathless fashion customer is ours, but on the selling side."
Portero offers up Lois Rice as an example of a satisfied customer. Rice shops online as well as in the real world. "Neiman's and I are close friends," she jokes. "Saks, too."
She has bought jewelry from Portero as well as handbags by Marc Jacobs, Chanel and Fendi.
"I love discounts, but I don't want to buy used things that are obviously used. But I think some things have a quality to them that outlasts one person. . . . Americans tend to toss things away too quickly," says Rice, 64, who is a retired landscape designer living outside Boston. The Fendi handbag she bought a few months ago, a limited edition, "is just exquisite. . . . It looks brand new." She paid about $1,000 for it.
To make his experiment work, Sheldon has homed in on one of the nagging problems of high-end e-commerce: "People can't trust luxury online," he says.