AT Inbox: Would your antiques business/hobby survive without technology?

AT Inbox: Would your antiques business/hobby survive without technology?

I’d be lost without my work Blackberry, or my personal cell phone, or any of the three email accounts I maintain on a daily basis, or without my ability to type my antiques-related feelings about various antiques-related happenings in the world on the Antique Trader blog – www.antiquetrader.com/atblog, by the way…

If all the technology upon which my work is predicated were to suddenly disappear into the ether, I’d probably wander around, bereft for some time, in the words of Beatrix Potter in Peter Rabbit, going lippity, lippity, lippity…

Then, I reckon, I’d hitch up my jeans and get on with it, doing business the way it was done for thousands of years – in person, face-to-face. It might, in fact, be quite refreshing.

Here’s what Antique Trader wanted to know from readers last week: How would your antiques business or hobby fare without technology? How exactly would you cope in the short term, and what would you do long term?

To join in on our weekly online dialogue, and to get our weekly e-newsletter, go online to www.antiquetrader.com, and sign up.

You can also find more letters – and there were a lot more than this – on our Web site, as well.

Noah:

I recently Googled the Trader site and wish to share my experiences with you.

I owned and operated a small antique mall for one year just outside a downtown area in a small town in Oregon called Albany. We had adequate parking but no walk-in traffic. We decided to close the mall and move into a smaller store and move downtown with eight other shops. It was a disaster.
The bottom line is: no customers walking the streets and construction of the buildings took up parking with large dumpsters. The building owners received grants and borrowed money to restore the buildings, which they had to relay to the shop owners in the form of higher rents, which, with no customer base, the shops could not pay. Now the shops have dropped from nine to five, all of who are struggling.

We decided to bail in November of 2007 and go do shows where the people have money in their pockets to buy. Shows are drawing good crowds, but customers are not buying. Vendors are no longer making the profits they used to and are slowly bailing. I have not made money in the last four shows (I closed the shop on weekends last summer to do shows and did double what my shop brought in a whole month). I now, like many others, have a storage unit full of antiques and collectibles and am running out of places to sell them, other than auctions or garage sales and the value is dropping dramatically because others are in the same situation.

I just came back from (a large Northwestern show) and lost money. I talked to many other vendors who lost money and will not return, either.

I feel fortunate for the last six months that my Ruby Lane shop has been doing quite well and I will concentrate on it for the near future.

Gary and Patricia Wolfer
Pattycake’s Plunder
Albany, Ore.


Noah:

I believe technology has hurt the antique business and that it will probably never come back. We closed our antique store and now mainly do flea markets. It seems the younger crowd is not interested as they used to be, and us older folks are getting to the age where we cannot collect more.

I think the theory now is buy, use and dispose of when no longer liked.

Deanna Wittstruck
Omaha, Neb.


Noah:

I am not boycotting eBay and would consider doing so to be a bit like biting off the hand that feeds me.

However, I continue to analyze how the new fee structure will affect me, and am trying to position myself to respond in a way that will produce positive changes for my eBay antiques business.

First, before the changes even took effect, I contacted the eBay seller outreach program to find out how I would be impacted. The analyst pulled up my information and determined that under the new system with no discount, I would pay slightly more each month. At my current 5 percent discount level, I actually shave a bit off of my monthly bill.

If I can reach the 15 percent discount level, I will achieve a fairly significant savings over what I am paying now. So, it looks like if I do nothing I will be just slightly better off than I was under the old system.

That is not the full picture. For me, one thing that’s so wonderful, and so terrible, about eBay is how dynamic it is. Things change quickly! I am experimenting with various tweaks to my listing formats and shipping rates to try to improve my DSRs and move into the highest discount level. These changes take some effort on my part, but will make my items more competitive.

Also, because the upfront fees are lower but the back end fees are higher, I’m looking into some alternatives for the higher priced items that generate the largest final value fees. For items with a fairly stable value, that are less subject to an auction effect (i.e. higher prices because of an auction frenzy), a high-traffic online mall with no final value fee may be just the ticket.

I do hear a lot of rumbling and complaining out there about the eBay changes. Rather than just complaining, why not try to work within the system to turn the changes into a positive that works for your benefit?

Nanette Zupon


Noah:

Oh me, technology is just another tool for us all to use to better the antique world.

Not the only tool, just another tool.

Wonder what is next?

Barbara Brasell
Thomasville, Ala.


Hello Noah:

My antiques business would be almost wiped out without technology. I have moved out of the group shops, dramatically reduced the number of shows I do and increased my inventory purchases online. Most importantly, my main source of sales income is my online shop on Ruby Lane. It has much less overhead than other venues and has worked out to be the best for me.

Technology has brought about many changes, not all of them welcomed, but it is indispensable to me.

Keep up the good work.

Marion Steinbrunner
Tea Rose Antiques


Hi Noah:

Somewhat displeased with the new eBay changes. I’m not involved in a boycott, but I will be cutting back on my listings because the percentage of successful sales has decreased dramatically this year.

A warning to eBay: There might be a guy with a name similar to Sam Walton, who slew the mighty Sears Empire. EBay needs competition from someone who can deliver a better product cheaper – and he or she is out there.

Mike Doyle
Chicago, Ill.


Dear Mr. Fleisher:

You raised the question: How would your antiques business or hobby fare without technology?

My answer as both a dealer and a collector is unequivocal: I would be totally lost.

In fact my three antique business principles are: Invest in quality, invest in technology, invest in yourself.

Best regards,

Nicholas Zumbulyadis
Rochester, N.Y.


Dear Noah:

My business has been online for four years and I don’t think that it would do to well without technology.

My cell phone – well, that I don’t use as much yet. Now that I’m a certified appraiser maybe that will change.

I think the Internet is necessary for looking up what we can’t study in books. We can reference sites that have what we are looking for, like Antique Trader or other auction places. Everything is Web related now, but books are a great tool for studying, and I love books. You can’t always count on a computer. If it crashes, good old-fashioned books are always there. The Internet opens up a lot of forums for auctions, selling and other ways to get your job done much easier. Shipping can be done via the Internet and you don’t even have to leave your home now.

Patricia Deleon
Appraiser and small business owner


Noah:

I’m a collector of many things who occasionally sells at auction. I’m not a dealer, so maybe I cannot see it from a dealer’s perspective. However, the antiques business in the U.S. for decades, prior to eBay, Blackberrys, etc., seemed to thrive. I don’t buy on eBay. I guess I’m old-fashioned, but I like to touch the item I’m buying, not look at a picture trying to decide if I should buy. It has been very disappointing to see antique malls and stores close down because of eBay. I’m betting there are a lot of collectors, like me, who enjoy the search through malls, auctions and shows, looking for that treasure you think you’ve got to have.

Frank Stafford


Noah:
In answer to this week’s query: Would my antique business survive without technology? Absolutely not!

After having a brick-and-mortar antique shop for years, I decided the Internet was the future in 2001 and opened my first Webstore. After a year we realized the gross online was about equalling the store, but with much less overhead and certainly more freedom to be with kids and grandkids for the holidays, so we closed the store to be exclusively cyber merchants. We now have three Web sites.

Without technology we would be unable to be in business unless we went back to a bricks-and-mortar shop, which, at our age, we’re not interested in anymore… too physically difficult as we are at retirement age.

The Internet/technology allows us to remain active in the antiques community and we hope to for many years to come.

Regards,

Ruth Weston
Time Was Antiques


Editor’s Note: A few responses from our question of last week (Are you participating in any eBay boycotts, or alternative sales?) continue to come in. Here’s a few more responses:

Noah:

After being an eBay seller for 4-5 years, I’m not using its seller services anymore. I’m looking for another place to sell vintage collectibles on the Internet.

Not being a “PowerSeller,” I’m sure my little contribution of seller’s fees ($60-75/month) will not be missed by the giant corporation. The new eBay powers seem to be trying to penalize the little sellers. Really poor business decision on their part.

Elizabeth Bow


Hi Noah:

Been reading your comments for sometime and thought it was about time to write.

My wife and I had sold on eBay until the new changes, so in a sense we are boycotting by not selling.

We still buy on eBay, as the economy is down, so bargains are to be made if you collect, but the sellers are taking it in the shorts.

We are looking at Ruby Lane and TIAS to sell, or just quit and sell it all to a local dealer.

Thank you for having a good column for comments.

Charlie Leapheart
Washington State


Noah:

I am 39 years old and am the start of a new generation of antique dealers.

When I go to shows and travel on buying trips, I find I am without a doubt the youngest in the crowd. So few people my age do this. I have always had a passion for antiques, but found eBay the first avenue to sell them. I have done quite well on eBay for these years, and have been a Powerseller since 1999.

Now I can say that eBay has put the final nail in the coffin for myself, and many others. I am the bullseye for eBay. I start all my auctions at $9.99 and I sell what I consider high-end antiques and collectibles. I have been told by my customers that I offer the finest quality antiques with no reserves. EBay tells me that I am their bread and butter.

I use their picture services, and use all their extra features. I have been offering 50-70 items a week and with the eBay fee hikes, and just awful treatment I have received from the very people who say I am their bread and butter, I have decided not to boycott it in the traditional sense. I have decided to cut my sales in half.

I will now only offer 20 items a week and find alternative routes for my items. I search for my items all over the world, but must admit I do quite a bit of my buying on eBay itself and re-sell them. It’s gotten much more difficult finding quality items on eBay. The well, so to speak, is drying up.

Often times we see the live auctions that run through eBay. However, I am competing with live floor bidders who are paying 10% less on the buyers premium. I must also find a third party shipper who will charge three to four times what I would charge to ship an item I sell on eBay. Lets not forget I am competing with the very people I am selling to. Not always easy when I get four emails after I list the item, telling me how they saw the item online only weeks before. Therefore I find it very difficult to turn a profit from eBay live auctions.

These are just but a few instances where my profit is lowered. EBay’s fees, Paypal’s fees – when all is said and done, the profits are lowered to less than 20%. I now find myself working for a wage, when I was once doing well.

The greed of this company is senseless. Just when an avenue came along that allowed a good profit to be made in the wake of weak antique show numbers reported all over the country, another obstacle towers over our heads. All those sellers out there who have complained eBay has hurt their profits, they may have the last laugh, because I have never once set up at an antique show. Thousands of us have never known what it’s like to wake up at the crack of dawn in a different city trying to sell our antiques. For the first time, we may start this trek.

I simply cannot understand why a company who is looking to turn around its own profits is alienating those who made it what it is in the first place. This is American greed at its best.

Alan Schnall

COMMENT