Knowing Your Business: Selling online pays for Antique Digger

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Starting early and learning young helps when it comes to successfully operating a business. Greg Schiek, also known as the “Antique Digger,” has early memories of buying and selling antiques and collectibles; his mother and grandmother operated a resale store, and he started going to the shop when he was about 4 years old.

In 1997 Schiek learned the true potential of a new online selling site: eBay. His grandfather, who had run a pawn shop, passed away that year, and having read an article claiming “Local family makes thousands a week on eBay,” Schiek started listing the shop’s items without really knowing what they were and buyers bid them up. He told Antique Trader the first thing he sold was a mandolin. He started the piece at $50, and it sold for $450. It was a real eye-opener. He worked eBay for 19 months straight, all day every day. He frequented pawn shops and thrift stores for those things he felt he could turn around and make a profit on. He learned as he went. He said, back when it was new, eBay was a “frenzy.”

His serious antiques education came when he partnered with major Fort Myers, Fla., shop owner Judy Haar of Judy’s Antiques. To determine if their partnership would be mutually beneficial, they decided on a temporary trial. Haar gave Schiek 20 items to list online with the agreement that they would split the profits 50/50; Schiek said Haar may have had $20 in all the items he listed for her. Ten days later, after all the online auctions closed, he handed her a check for $750.

Haar then hired Schiek for an hourly wage in addition to buying and selling items together, splitting the profit. He earned an income and an education. He was responsible for photographing items, researching and writing descriptions, packaging and shipping, and all the communications involved in the transactions. He also built out the shop’s eBay store and website. His online efforts put generated $180,000 the first year alone. Schiek explained, “The local clientele couldn’t pay the prices of the high-end antiques in the store; eBay gave us a worldwide market for our high-end items.” For example, a circa-1900 Venetian beaded Victorian purse picked up for just $40, sold for $4,800. He was hooked on the success.

When asked about the main differences in buying and selling now versus then, Schiek replied, “Buying back then, a lot more people were uneducated about what they had. You could find some really great things at Goodwill. More and more people have become educated about buying and selling.” Buyers are competitive and savvy; Schiek says now buyers have mobile Internet and they’re looking up values while they’re at an auction, making sure they’re not overpaying for the product.

Schiek stays busy. In addition to buying and selling for himself, he also provides an antiques picking service (hence, the “Antique Digger” name), an online listing service, and, having spent the last 14 years in Web development and marketing, is available as a consultant or developer. He says, “I really enjoy working with good people helping them learn a new technology or opening a new door to generate extra part-time or full-time income. I thrive in an environment where I can show people the power of establishing an online presence and teaching them to capitalize on the opportunities that exist on the Web.”

He says, though the Internet is great, “Getting out there and still talking with antique people is really important. Human connection is valuable. Interacting with people really makes strong business connections.” You need to build a rapport with potential buyers. Networking with individuals that have the same interest, that life interest, is necessary. He says if you build a good relationship with someone, they’ll tell their friends. “The trust factor is the biggest thing”; when listing online, good pictures, accurate descriptions and excellent feedback will all bring better prices. As for the newest changes in eBay fees, Schiek was told that his shipping DSR (star rating system) score is excellent that it won’t change the fees for his account. “So, in theory right now, it won’t change the way I do business on eBay.”

When asked what advice he would you give newcomers to the social media circus, Schiek said for those hesitant to get involved, eBay is still the mechanism to use for selling. “Having your own site you can bypass the fees, but you can’t generate the same kind of traffic eBay has. You can turn items on eBay.” All the other online tools are the “icing on the cake to drive more traffic. I don’t think the Twitter and Facebooks of the world are for buying – just to be social; to share videos and talk to friends.”

The Antique Digger’s continued success can be attributed to a lifetime of learning through his own experience and that of others. Though he’s still a young man in the antiques world, he says now, many people ask him for advice or input. What he tells them, ultimately, is “Everything comes down to trust.”

Greg Schiek, the Antique Digger, can be reached at gregs@antiquedigger.com or 715-804-4595.The Antique Digger online store can be found at http://stores.ebay.com/Schieks-Antique-Digger and http://antiquedigger.com/.

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More Images:

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Schiek reports "extreme success" with gold and silver sales. He says you need to be able to recognize
the fine details that make pieces more desirable. Photo courtesy Greg Schiek, AntiqueDigger.com.
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Fine jewelry, like this Art Deco bar pin, and vintage costume jewelry are often ideal candidates for online selling. Clear photographs and accurate descriptions will give potential buyers confidence to follow through.
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Imperatives for successful online selling are providing clear photographs with detailed, accurate descriptions. Since the buyer can't touch or personally inspect the item, they must have confidence in both the product and the seller.

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