Want your antiques inventory to sell itself? Share the story behind your business

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Behind the Gavel by Wayne Jordan

As a “follicly challenged” gentleman, I take comfort in my collection of hats. Not for their collectible value mind you, but for their value in keeping my head warm and dry during the winter season.

Being so practical about my hats, I just had to smile when I read of the recent auction sale – for $14,160 – of the baseball cap worn by Neil Armstrong after the splashdown of Apollo 11. The cap’s buyer paid over 70,000 percent more for Armstrong’s cap than I have ever paid for one of mine (usually about $20).

Would Armstrong’s cap keep the sun out of my eyes any better than my tried-and-true “Key West, FL” cap? Probably not. What made the cap worth five figures to the buyer? Bragging rights.

The cap has zero intrinsic value: Would you wear a $14,000 cap to mow the lawn? No, the collector will display this cap prominently in his home as a testament to his own shrewdness. The buyer didn’t walk on the moon, but he owns Armstrong’s cap and will forever be associated with the name Neil Armstrong through the provenance of the cap.

And that’s as it should be; $14,000 should buy a lot of bragging rights. Bragging rights is what the auctioneer was selling and bragging rights is what the buyer was buying.

So, dealers: what do you sell in your shop? Investments, as in: “This collectible has been going up in price for years and if you buy it you will certainly get a good return on your investment?” Or, are you selling commodities, as in “I paid $100 for this and need to get three times my cost to make a profit.” No matter how much you sell your item for, you can be sure that the buyer will take it home, display it, and show it off to all his guests. He bought bragging rights.

What makes bragging rights valuable? It’s the quality of the story attached to the object. Collectors love to tell stories about the items they have collected. Too often, the stories they tell are based on their own research and knowledge of the subject. Why is that? Shouldn’t the buyer have heard the item’s stories from the dealer who sold it?

The difference between Neil Armstrong’s cap and a collectible from your shop is the quality of the story that is attached to the item. The better the story, the higher the items value to a collector. Stories create value (don’t confuse value with price; value is a personal issue; price is the intersection of supply and demand). Consistently and enthusiastically shared stories will help your business in the following ways:

  • You can create brand awareness for your shop. Antique dealers are notorious for their “sameness.” It’s very difficult to differentiate your business from your competitors when your inventories are similar and in constant flux. Having stories about the origins of your business and the provenance of your inventory will set you apart from your competitors.
  • You can create additional value in the minds of your shoppers if you enthusiastically share stories about the merchandise.
  • Adding brief stories to your online product descriptions (or a link to a blog post or webpage containing the story) will help you sell more online.
  • You can sell more inventory at higher prices in your shop.

Mark Satterfield, author of “Unique Sales Stories: How to Get More Referrals, Differentiate Yourself from the Competition and Close More Sales through the Power of Stories” says that a good story goes beyond merely educating your customers about your merchandise. “As I learned from hard-won experience,” says Mark, “simply educating people about what I did wasn’t enough. In order to be remembered, I needed to make my services come alive through the use of unique sales stories.”

Fair enough. Speakers throughout recorded history have employed storytelling to get their point across. But, as Satterfield asks: “Why are some people so good at this while others are so painfully bad?” In a word: preparation.

We’ve all seen musicians who make playing an instrument seem effortless, and athletes who ably glide across the playing field. What we don’t see is the years of practice and training they went through in order to acquire their skills. Storytelling is an acquired skill, and like all other skills it must be practiced if we are to master it. Let’s take some tips from Mr. Satterfield about how to improve our storytelling skills:

  • What’s the point you wish to make? Begin your story with the end in mind. If you want to make the point that your family has been in the antiques business for generations, don’t just say “my family has been in the antiques business for generations.” Tell the story about how your great-grandfather started selling railroad keepsakes to the folks back east when he was laying tracks for the transcontinental railroad back in the 1860’s. Or whatever.
  • Target your audience. Your readers and listeners should see themselves (their aspirations and their hobbies) reflected in your stories.
  • Create sympathetic characters. If your customer is reluctant to buy because of price, tell a story about a customer of yours who was at first reluctant to buy (had the same problem) but later was thrilled with his purchase (formula: feel/felt/found; “I know how you feel. Last week Mr. Collector was in here and said he felt the same way you do. He made the purchase anyway and let me tell you what he found).”
  • Be your authentic self.
  • Practice.

One thing is certain: the one element that separates you from your competitors is your stories. No one has your stories but you. The stories that you choose to share will reveal your personality to your customers. An antiques business is built on trust, and customers like to know who you are and what your background is before they decide if they can trust you. Storytelling is a great way to build the bridge of trust … and to dealers who are already employing this technique, I take my hat off.

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. Learn more at www.waynejordanauctions.com.

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