Letters to the Antique Trader editor (Oct. 28, 2008 issue)

Shoppers must come early for the best buys

I did not read the original letter Meril Robinson responded to, but I could get the gist of it from the response.

While I agree that dealers can dampen a buyer’s spirit when they complain loudly about bad weather and poor sales or neglect to tag merchandise, I think Meril Robinson has some rather absurd notions about the flea market experience.

First, there are no “rules” about whether a dealer should “haggle” or not. Dealers are all individuals, and each is free to decide whether or not to play the “haggle” game. I personally do so, but only because so many people expect to get a discount that I decided it was good business to accommodate them. Like most sellers, though, I never sell anything for less than I truly want for it. Never. So some buyers may feel smug about their expert haggling skills, but most dealers get what they want in the end. There is no need for rudeness on either side.

I thank persistent hagglers nicely when they try to “steal” an item with ridiculous “low ball” offers and just say, “No thanks, I’ve given you my best price. Thanks for looking.” This IS a business, not a game, and no one has an obligation to accept offers if they chose not to.

As for the complaint that, when arriving at noon, dealers are packing to leave, I suggest that Meril Robinson arrive early when the dealers are unpacking (as savvy buyers do) and attend church later. I have always sold my best items at the opening “bell” to antique dealers, and I am busiest during the first few hours. And, yes, I am tired by 1 p.m., so I pack to go home then. When I have stayed later, I found I had too few additional sales to justify remaining. Since my best things were sold by then, there was less inventory left to entice buyers.

When I used to sell at a large Connecticut flea market, I was required to rise at 4 a.m. and to drive for an hour to reach the market. Once there, I waited for an hour in line to get in. At the opening, while unpacking, I dealt with many frenzied buyers making deals and quickly moving on. The pace is fast and often tiring over several hours, but this is what the flea market experience is. I hate getting up early in the morning, but I am not complaining about this routine; this is just what I had to do in order to sell at that market. I came to sell, and sell I did. If I arrived later (assuming I could still get a spot, which is doubtful) or if I had raised my prices to the point where antique dealers could not afford my things, I’d have had few early sales and might have been willing to wait around for the buyers who mosey in at noon. I doubt, however, that they would have liked the higher prices, not at a flea market anyway.

The fact is if buyers want the best choices and deals, they get there early. If sellers want the best volume of sales, they get there early. I apologize to no one for leaving before the field closed; my day was done and I was not obligated by the market owner to remain there. When I do a good antiques show, I do stay until the end, but at such shows there are amenities, merchandise vetting and assurances of sellers’ expertise that cause higher fees and prices.

Flea markets are different beasts altogether.

Darlene Focazio
Culpeper, Va.

Be careful what you ask for

I have been a dealer in ephemera for well over 30 years, and have had a store for 25. Obviously, I have been collecting long before becoming a dealer. So, I’ve been on both sides of the aisle. And, have seen the good and bad in both.

For the most part, I think I have had a good attitude, and my customers seem to appreciate it, ’cause they keep coming back. Then again, maybe I’ve been deluding myself; they just can’t help themselves, because they don’t want to miss that elusive new item in my stock.

I see nothing wrong with haggling; it is, and has been, a part of the business since trading in any goods started. But as many readers have pointed out, it is the attitude of both the buyer and seller that creates a good or bad experience. If the buyer’s offer is made in good faith, then the seller should respond in good faith. That doesn’t mean that if the buyer is rude, the dealer should be rude also.

Many of the attitudes I have learned over the years are just part of the way I am, and I’ll never remember all of them … but I’ll try to recount some of the ways I’ve made offers on items as a buyer, and counter offers as a dealer.

As a buyer, I try never to ask what the ‘best price’ is. Doing that sets the dealer at a disadvantage. He now has two choices:
State his best price, and stick to it (since it is supposed to be his ‘best price’)

Make himself a liar, and give a higher price than his ‘best price’ in the hope that there will not be the usual  counter offer
My way of dealing with that situation: to the buyer that asks, “What is your best price?” I respond with my ‘BEST price’.

When they counter offer, my response is something like, “I’m sorry, but you asked for my ‘best price,’ and that is my ‘best price.’

” To go any lower would make me a liar. However, there may be something else that you can add to build up the sale, and we might be able to do a bit better as a total.

On one occasion, at a show, I was mildly offended by the buyer’s counter offer which was half my price (because the paper item had a slight tear — it was marked ‘as is’).

My reply was to ask, “Where is the tear?” to which the buyer pointed to a less than 1/4-inch tear.

I then said, jokingly, “You call that a tear? This is a tear!” and I ripped it in half. Then, I offered it to him for free. He then said, “But I wanted to buy that.” We then entered into a conversation where I explained how he had committed what I considered to be a faux pas. Today he is still one of my best customers.

Dave Williams
Paper Memories
Milford Green Antiques Gallery, Ltd.

Ed. – In response to the Favorite Finds feature (Oct.14 & Oct. 21 issues), readers are debating the difference between finding an underpriced antique vs taking advantage of an an unsuspecting seller.

There’s a difference between a find and a ripoff

It was kind of fun and amusing to read the submitted entries, but I must say, they made me a little sad. I’m a collector and a dealer, and I run house sales in my local area. The method used for running the estate sale mentioned in the winner’s story was horrible.

I, too, give out numbers for entry into my sales, but the purpose of the system is to PREVENT people from sleeping in their cars and disrupting an entire neighborhood! At my sales you arrive the day before at 2 p.m., take a paper number and LEAVE!! The process is efficient and orderly — preventing the very mass hysteria caused by a sale run the way it was described in the article.
In addition, the man who paid $100 for the entire contents of a garage was essentially STEALING from a disheartened “older lady in her early 50s” (how old is he, 10?) who had no idea of the contents of the garage. I could not have in good conscience profited from such a situation. He should have located her through the tenants of the house or records of ownership at the town hall and either returned the valuable jewelry and coins, or, at the very least, offered her additional money for the items.

They may have been very cherished family heirlooms that were misplaced over the years — they were hidden inside the draperies for a reason. That information was lost with the death of their mother.

As I said, I’m a dealer, and I run many, many sales for grieving families. I have found boxes of sterling and envelopes of money that the family did not know were in the house. What kind of reputation would I have if I simply decided not to mention the “treasures” to the people I’m working for? They would never be the wiser. True, he wasn’t working for the lady who owned the house, but one does have a moral obligation to do the right thing — he didn’t find the coins and jewelry by the side of the road!!!!

By my quick calculations, that man made almost $10,000 on items the owner didn’t intend to sell! I hope he can sleep at night. That is a truly SAD story. No one in these days of economic hardship can afford to give away $10,000!!! Shame on him.

Nancy Van Niel
via e-mail

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Continuing George Ohr’s tradition

We want to thank everyone for their support and purchase of our works over the years, which shows first hand the path and journey to the current success we are experiencing with this new work.

These complex throwing/folding techniques on the potter’s wheel have finally really come together in 2009. This past summer was the turning point for this work.

As you can see, we have fully accepted the challenge that George Ohr put forth many years ago.

It has taken about a ton of clay and six years to teach ourselves these techniques after being introduced to works of George Ohr by David Rago at the Arts & Crafts Conference we do every February at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, N.C. This show is put on by Bruce Johnson and you can see more at his Web site www.arts-craftsconference.com. (Ed.– The next conference is scheduled for Feb. 19-21)

We are going to give another type of talk about George Ohr “from a potter’s perspective” at the upcoming Arts & Crafts Conference.

We look forward with much anticipation to being involved in the first George Ohr Family Reunion and talk with and hearing from Ohr descendants about their most famous, creative and talented relative.

We are also honored to be represented by direct descendants of George Ohr in Mississippi at Moran’s Art Gallery operated by Cindy, Mary and Tommy Moran, www.fortunecity.com/victorian/hornton/260.

Bill & Pam Clark
Clark House Pottery
Greenville, S.C.

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