Laurie Wong ended up becoming an eBay “powerseller” because she wanted to fill a need in the community that her church couldn’t. When neighbors suffered a house fire or other crisis, she was frustrated that the Trinity Chapel Church of God in Powder Springs had no ministry to provide them with clothing and household items.
“At the time, we didn’t have a food pantry or clothing closet that was set up to handle those needs,” says Wong, 55, who worked at the church, first as executive assistant to the bishop then later as outreach pastor. “I wanted to be a resource in those sorts of situations.”
She began holding used clothing sales in 2000 to raise funds and offer affordable items to neighbors. The annual sales were so successful that Wong decided to open a thrift store just five minutes from the church in 2003.
Trinity Chapel pitched in to renovate the space, while Wong put in 16- to 18-hour days, working three jobs in order to support herself while getting the store ready. “I was scared out of my mind,” she says. “I had no experience and no background. I just knew that I felt a calling deep within that this is what we needed to do.”
In those early years, Wong was still on staff at the church. She also taught at Trinity Chapel’s school and regularly traveled to Savannah, where she taught underprivileged kids about business and finances. Although Wong now lives off the store revenues, for its first five years, she drew no salary. “I put all my money back into the business so it could grow,” she says.
Eventually a steady stream of donations came in, but sales had stalled. Foot traffic was sparse because the store is located on a side street in “the backwoods of nowhere,” Wong says, and there was no money for advertising. A friend suggested she try eBay in order to reach a larger audience. Reflections of Trinity went online in 2005.
For a year Wong spent at least six hours in front of her computer every night after leaving the store, teaching herself how to sell online. She listed items, took photos, and started seeing sales increase. “I was bulldog determined we were going to have a national, if not global, platform,” Wong says.
Occasionally she sold something unusual, like a house for a friend; she got the asking price after only 45 days. She once earned a commission for selling a tractor trailer that former Falcons coach Jerry Glanville used to haul his race cars.
For each of the past five years, Reflections of Trinity’s revenue from online sales has been between $60,000 and $85,000, Wong says. The additional income allowed her to launch a food pantry next door in 2012 that now distributes more than 400 boxes of food every Saturday morning, mostly to families in Cobb, Paulding, and Douglas counties. Last year the pantry distributed 622,965 pounds of food, which comes from other pantries and ministries in the area, as well as food auctions and drives held by local schools and businesses.
The store became independent of the church in 2007 and receives only a small monthly stipend to help cover expenses. It now has a staff of nine paid employees and 10 core volunteers.
Wong’s success caught the eye of eBay, which chose Reflections of Trinity from more than 1,300 entries as its 2016 Shine Awards Small Business of the Year. The recognition came with a $10,000 cash prize. According to eBay, the Shine Awards are based on “exceptional, original sellers, who embody a passion for eBay and encapsulate our core values.” The eBay community voted on the finalists.
Although Wong is proud of what she has done for her community, she’s not finished. She’s working on a program that will bring a week’s worth of groceries at a time to seniors who don’t have transportation to get to the pantry. Eventually she’d even like to take time off to spend with her six kids and eight grandkids.
“I want to [relax], but I can’t right now—not until I’m satisfied that what I need to do is taken care of,” Wong says. “Then I can step back a little bit and breathe.”