Lisa M. Leonard Tribune Correspondent
When Rob Douglas and his wife, Jeri, needed funds to repair their van, Douglas decided to sell off most of his Star Wars memorabilia.
“I spent 40 years collecting just sitting in bins,” he said. “I kept my favorites and sold the rest on eBay.”
There was such a demand for these items that Douglas was able to get all the money needed to cover the repairs. Once he discovered how profitable selling online was, he and Jeri decided to start their own business.
“We met in 2007 while playing an internet game called The World of Warcraft,” Douglas said. “Players have to create a character and find a name to play under. My character’s name was Zillaan and Jeri’s was Aelwen. When we needed a name for our online business, we combined the two and proposed Zillwen.”
Zillwen’s Treasures began as a home-based business. When toys started to fill every room, it became necessary to rent store space.
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“We started during the pandemic,” said Jeri, who moved to Fremont after graduating from college in Missouri. “People were doing most of their shopping online, which allowed us to gain traction quite quickly.”
Their physical location is at 141 E. Military Ave., in Fremont, just east of Runza Restaurant. Most of their stock consists of toys they find at garage sales. They also have books available, including several on trains.
“My grandfather worked for the Canadian National Railway Company,” Douglas said. “So my dad collected a lot of model trains and books about trains. When he needed to go to assisted living, we packed up his trains, books and Boy Scout memorabilia and brought them here.
It was while attending a Lego show that Douglas came up with the idea for Build-A-Potato.
“For $5, people can come in and search through the parts we have in stock to create their own version of Mr. Potato Head. Being a huge Star Wars fan,” Douglas said, “I created my own special version: Darth Tater and his Spud Troopers.”
“We love to see families stop,” Jeri said. “We love getting to know them.”
Jeri’s son Zach Bean also helps run the store.
“He knows current video games and toy lines,” Jeri said. “He’s definitely our Nerf gun expert!”
Douglas added that he likes to take Zach to garage sales.
“He spots things that Jeri and I miss,” Douglas said. “What’s really fun is buying something for 25 cents and finding out it’s worth $20. Most people who host garage sales don’t realize what they’re selling.
Meeting current demands and maintaining fresh inventory are just a few of the challenges facing the Douglas family.
“We’re halfway between a retail store and a flea market,” Douglas said. “With this type of business, the more you invest in it, the more you get out of it.”
Two events held in August, John C. Fremont Days and Crazy Days Sidewalk Sales, helped Zillwen’s Treasures generate enough revenue to cover one month’s rent.
“It would be great to have events like this every month,” Douglas said. “But because they’re annual, we just have to learn other ways to increase our traffic.”
One source that has proven invaluable is the Auction Professor.
“We discovered it on YouTube,” Douglas said. “It has multiple stores and around 10,000 ads with each store.”
By paying a monthly fee of $10, Douglas said he and Jeri had access to all of the auction professor’s online tutorials.
“It shows us the right way to list items and which keywords to use to get the best response,” Douglas said. “It also tells us which items are most likely to sell and how to fix them.”
Douglas found that garage sales and the Goodwill store are the place to find toys, while estate sales are more likely to have vintage items.
“A lot of people collect old board games,” Douglas said, “and it’s really fun when we can find the pieces they were looking for. We want to be known as people who listen and will do the research.
Zillwen’s Treasures currently has approximately 1200 listings on eBay. He can be contacted by going to ebay.com/str/zillwenspasttreasures.