Behind the Gavel: Business Do’s and Don’ts for 2013

By Wayne Jordan

Motivational speakers come and go, and much of what today’s “gurus” claim as truth is gone and forgotten as soon as the next guru comes along. A few speakers, though, speak truth so universal that their speeches are heard over and over, fresh to each new generation. One such speech is known as “Acres of Diamonds,” written by Russell Conwell, the founder of Philadelphia’s Temple University, and delivered by him hundreds of times between 1900 and 1925.

Antiques Auctioneer Wayne Jordan

Behind the Gavel by Wayne Jordan

In his speech, Conwell tells several stories, all with the same theme: A landowner, seeking riches, sells his property for a pittance and goes off in search of great wealth. When all their money is spent through futile searching, each dies broken and penniless. The irony in each story is that the land sold by the wealth-seekers already contained what they were looking for: The diamond-seeker sold what turned out to be Africa’s Golconda diamond mine, one of the world’s richest. The gold-seeker sold his land to Col. Sutter, on whose land the gold was discovered that started the California Gold Rush. Oil was discovered flowing freely on the land of the Pennsylvania farmer who sold his farm and ventured out to strike it rich in the oil fields of Texas.

The temptation to look elsewhere for what we seek seems to be part of human nature. While we are still children, we learn the aphorism “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” Even today, there is no shortage of Internet gurus promising great riches to those who will buy/subscribe to their marketing plan. Antiques dealers are not immune to these promises.

Like the characters in Dr. Conwell’s stories, too many store owners have abandoned their hometown customers to seek out new markets on the World Wide Web. Don’t get me wrong: Seeking out new business on the Web is critical for growth. But the Web, as exciting as it is, is subject to the whims of the search engines and mega-selling platforms. It’s a mistake to rely 100 percent on the Web for business. Antiques dealers who depend solely on the Web can be gone in an instant. Your face-to-face customers, however you get them (your shop or remote shows), will still be around the next time Google changes its search algorithm (which is a couple of times a year).

Develop your business in your own back yard before taking your business into the electronic ethers.

What works today in the antiques business is what has always worked: Learn everything there is to know about your business, develop a plan, work the plan diligently and adapt as you go along. By “adapt,” I mean keep what works and jettison what is no longer needed. You don’t have to keep piling technologies and strategies one on top of another. Some things just don’t have to be done anymore. With the purpose of “adapting as we go along,” here’s a list of four things you should be doing Web-wise in 2013, and four things that you can confidently drop. Let’s start with what you can forget about (unless you are finding success with these).

Drop in 2013:

  • Excessive blogging: A few years ago, blogging gurus said that to get to the top of search results with a blog, it was necessary to blog multiple times a day. Turns out that they were wrong — big-time. It seems that consumers were more interested in quality than quantity, so Google re-structured their search algorithm to find blogs that offered quality content.
  • The same-old-offer: Marketing rule No. 1 (regardless of the media used) is to get your readers’ attention and then engage their interest. You can’t do that by repeatedly offering “20 percent off on Tuesdays” (or whatever) in every ad. Find something new to offer with each ad or your readers’ eyes will soon glaze over to the point where they will never even see your offers.
  • Multiple specialty websites: In spite of search engine optimization gurus’ claims to the contrary, the idea of having multiple specialty websites for your product is a bust. You don’t need one site for Depression glass, one site for militaria and yet another for coins. What is needed is one good site with lots of good informational content and product offerings. After all, not everyone shops in specialty stores; many people still shop in department stores. Your customers prefer to build a relationship with a company that they trust, and to find that company at one location on the Web. Besides, multiple sites take too much time to maintain.
  • Too many social networks: You don’t need to be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest (or the dozens of others out there) all at the same time. The key to social networks is to be SOCIAL. How many parties can you attend at the same time? Pick one and go with it.

This article originally appeared in Antique Trader magazine

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Encouraged in 2013:

    • Build your email list: Your business resides in your list. If Google loses you in an algorithm change, you still have your list. If a flood wipes out your store, you still have your list. If the IRS takes your entire inventory, you still have your list. Your business isn’t a bunch of email address, either. It’s found in the personal relationships that your list represents.
    • Develop a stay-in-touch program: This can be done through a combination of social networking and email. Keep the two separate; use social networking to engage your customers and build your mailing list, which can then be used to make your sales offers.
    • Get a Google Places listing: These days, most search is local search. Listings on Google Places are free, and they show up on page one in commercial searches. But, they must be done correctly if your business is to be seen on page one. If you’re not sure how to correctly do a Google Places listing, hire a professional to do it for you. Or, drop a note to the editor at Antique Trader and if there’s enough interest I’ll write an article about how to write a Google Places listing. [More on Google Places]
    • Make your website mobile-friendly: In 2012, there was a big push for businesses to develop their own easy-access web application. Few companies actually need their own application, evidenced by the fact that 25 percent of all mobile apps are only used once after the initial download. Instead, have your existing website made mobile-friendly. “Antiquers” exploring a new area will find dealers using their smartphone, and dealers with mobile-friendly websites are the ones that will be found.

To keep your business fresh and accessible, get in the habit of re-evaluating your marketing and technology annually. When you do so, you will find that you have your own acres of diamonds right in your own home town.

About our columnist: Wayne Jordan is a Virginia licensed auctioneer, certified personal property appraiser, and accredited business broker. He specializes in the valuation and liquidation of estate and business assets. His column Behind the Gavel appears in every issue of Antique Trader. Learn more at, 276-730-5197 or

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