Collectibles

REFLECTION — ONE YEAR ON EBAY

ANTIQUE MAJOLICA PIERCED VASE AUSTRIA

ANTIQUE MAJOLICA PIERCED VASE AUSTRIA

It’s been a year since Linnice Collectibles started up on eBay and we have been reflecting on our experience. This first year has been all about learning. We’ve had to learn what to sell, how to price, how to package and ship our merchandise without breakage, and how to market our brand. It has been an exciting time. We have not seen a profit yet, as all our earnings seem to go back into the business as we try to increase our stock. However, as we go into year two, we may be able to turn that corner.

Selling antique and collectible glass and porcelain on eBay is not a straightforward process. Sometimes we list things at reasonable prices and expect it to sell quickly. At other times, we think it will take a while to sell something and it sells immediately. What we have learned is that you never know who is out there and what they are looking for when they are going for a product. So patience has become an important part of the process. Additionally, there is so much competition from others selling the similar items that we have to wait our turn as the listings churn through the massive eBay system.

Another challenging aspect to our online selling has been shipping. It took a while to figure out shipping costs. Now that has been complicated yet again with the introduction of dimensional shipping charges by Fed Ex, UPS, and to a lesser extent, the US Post Office. Under dimensional shipping larger packages can be given a minimum weight and that is how it is charged. For example, a package may weight 14 pounds, but if the dimensions are large, you could wind up paying for a 28-pound package. Learned this the hard way when we shipped a large candelabrum to California for almost $80 which because of dimensional shipping. So if customers were complaining about high shipping costs, it will only get worse. Additionally, sellers have to re-evaluate everything they once thought they knew about shipping.

In addition to shipping costs, packaging of one of a kind glass and porcelain items presented other challenges. We have learned to package things as if they were going to be delivered by a gorilla. Of course, all that packaging adds weight to the time, which again, increases shipping costs. Shoppers are always asking for us to package the items well and lower shipping costs. Unfortunately, fulfilling one request could cancel out the other.

We have found that the United States Post Office offers the best deals for shipping our products at a reasonable cost to our customers. However, there have been times when unforeseen problems come up that are out of our control. For example, last summer we mailed two packages on the same day by Priority Mail. Somehow neither of the packages arrived at their destination (going to two different states). On another occasion a gorilla did indeed deliver a package, shipped Priority. The package arrived to the customer in pieces.

We again had to learn through experience. Because Priority Mail comes with insurance, the Post Office paid on the packages, and buyers were reimbursed, we thought all was well. Oh no, eBay holds the seller responsible for the Post Office. The sellers had opened cases saying they never received the package and the item arrived not as described. I think they believed that is how you initiate a return. However, every time a case is opened, the seller gets a defect on their account. Too many defects (more than 2% of total sales) could mean loosing the coveted Top Rated Seller status. When asking eBay why sellers were being held accountable for the Post Office, they said something to the effect that sellers are responsible for the customer’s bad experience on eBay so the seller gets the defect. EBay’s answer made no sense. When it was suggested that EBay assume the responsibility for the shippers because they are endorsed on the eBay site, they clearly did not like that suggestion. Of course, eBay does not want to be responsible for the sellers that they host, the buyers who use their site, or the shippers who they work with. But they do like to collect their fees from us.

The bottom line is this, sellers have very few rights on eBay and wind up at the customers mercy. Even when bending over backwards to make the customer happy, if a case is open, there is little recourse for the seller. This is because of the structure set up by eBay. So we have learned that even when we try as hard as we can to keep the customer satisfied and live by the motto the customer is always right, eBay has a one size fits all policy that does not take into consideration individual circumstances or buyer error.

This year we also wanted to figure out the Linnice product line. When first starting out, we were going to sell glass and porcelain. However, much of what is sold is determined by what is available on the second hand market. As a result, we are always on the hunt. When finding something interesting at a good price, in good condition, that you think you can sell; you take advantage of an opportunity that may never surface again.   Hopefully, this strategy will pay off in the long run as we will always have a great selection of items. We want our store to be an interesting place where shoppers stop by to browse once in a while. If the offerings are stale, there is little reason to come back.

Marketing is an important part of the success any business and another area we had to figure out. We are really a garage start up with very little capital, so deciding that best way to market Linnice beyond eBay for no money became necessary. We decided to do it on the cheap by using social media to push our products into other arenas. Thank God for Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter. Although we cannot determine how much of our sales came from these sites, it was good to see the interest it generated on social media.

So in reflecting over the last year, we certainly have learned a lot. We are not the novices we were when we just started out. However, we are not seasoned professionals so we are still increasing our knowledge about the things we sell, how we sell it, and hope that the customers will enjoy their buying experience. It may take several more years for us to get it right but all good things take time to develop.

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FEELING SENTIMENTAL AND CLOSING SCHOOLS

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“Our schools will not improve if we continue to close neighborhood schools in the name of reform. Neighborhood schools are often the anchors of their communities, a steady presence that helps to cement the bond of community among neighbors.”– Diane Ravitch

Every so often I am overcome with emotion. When I was a kid, it happened often when watching sad movies and cartoons would have me gushing uncontrollably. It was embarrassing because of the attention it drew; I wound up with a stuffed nose and a huge headache. So I spent a great many years toughening up, trying not to wear my emotions on my sleeve. That worked to a point. Today you won’t find me going to see movies labeled “tear-jerkers” because the last thing I want is to be seen crying in public.

It was a melancholy week as the marking of 9/11 always brings back so many sad memories. Yes, I did some crying in the privacy of my home. Everyone remembers where he or she was and what he or she was doing when a tragedy of this magnitude hits. I am no different; like it does every year, it brought me back to my time as a teacher.

Theodore Roosevelt High School was a large, comprehensive high school in the Bronx. It began in 1918 as a school located within another school, training secretaries and accountants. By 1928 the school entered its own building on Fordham Road. By the time I went to work at Roosevelt in 1984, gang violence and drugs had ravaged the neighborhood and the school had developed a bad reputation. It consistently made the top ten schools in New York City list for violence. I was not happy when the school district sent me there to work. However, over time my fondness for the school, its students, and faculty grew. It was there that I developed my love for teaching.

That same week, a friend and former colleague of mine from Roosevelt contacted me about planning our second annual staff reunion. (Roosevelt was one of the first schools closed during Mayor Bloomberg’s reign of terror on large public high schools.) Quite honestly, my heart wasn’t in to planning the reunion; I guess it was stress from the opening days of school as I still work part time programming a middle/high school. But then I received an unexpected email invitation from the 2R Teddy Bears Retiree group.

I excitedly read the email and accepted the invitation for my first retiree luncheon. In reviewing the names of people on the invitation, it became clear that something was stolen from some of us who began working during in the 1980’s. We, the leftover teachers from Theodore Roosevelt High School, were scattered to the four winds. We worked together for many years (over 20 years for me), but our destiny was not to be Roosevelt retirees because they closed the school before we had that opportunity. I loved working at Roosevelt and had always envisioned staying there throughout my teaching career. Our place as “Roosevelt Retirees” was robbed from us. School closings affect not only the neighborhood and alumni, it also affects the staff…those of us who dedicate our lives to a profession working in a school we love.

The last ten years were spent teaching in different schools, including, a couple of the Roosevelt replacement schools, Fordham High School for the Arts, Fordham Leadership Academy for Business and Technology, Walton High School, Bronx Academy High School, and Theatre Arts Production Company School. Of these six schools, three were closed by the Bloomberg Administration. Friendships developed in each of these schools, but it was not the same as the experience working at Roosevelt High School. What was it about the school that made it so special?

The experience could be summed up as camaraderie. Although we were quite an outspoken bunch, we knew we were working in an over-crowded school with some wonderful but often difficult students. We pulled together as a staff to provide our students with an education. Our collegial relationship reminded me of a quote, “After a while, you’ll discover that though you may not like all of us, you’ll love us in a very special way, the same way we already loved you.” At Roosevelt, we had a way of growing on each other.

To this day, I cannot explain why I feel so sentimental and sad about Roosevelt. What do I mourn? Having something taken from me before its time? The unfairness of the situation? The attitude by some in this country toward teachers and unions? The attempt to make it seem as Roosevelt High School never existed…why they even took down the plaque dedicating the Auditorium to our beloved Assistant Principal, Pete Routsis…no more Routsis Hall. Really? The building was there since 1928 with tens of thousands of graduates. Where is the legacy? Gone.

Perhaps there was no closure. The year the school closed there was a huge party. They invited everyone they could find, former staff and alumni, to say a fond farewell. Hundreds attended and a vast amount of Roosevelt memorabilia was given away to commemorate the school. People were able to say their good-byes and walk away with a piece of history. I was unable to attend the party because I was recovering from “back to back” surgeries.   Some years later, someone brought me an old yearbook from the party; that memorabilia contains fond memories.

It is funny how an object can symbolize so much and it is sometimes why people will spend money on antiques and collectibles. Recently, a person contacted Linnice Collectibles regarding an item that was for sale. It was a music box that looked like a piano. The person explained that they wanted it because it was similar to something belonging to their grandparents. Apparently, after their grandparents passing, the stepfather proceeded to sell off everything to feed his drug habit leaving little to remember the past. Now the person wanted the music box for a brother who was a piano-player going through hard times. The replacement item was intended to make the brother experience fond memories from their childhood and to lift his spirits.

Quite by surprise, I again find myself becoming overwhelmed with emotion as we plan a second reunion that includes the 2R Teddy Bear retirees. This time, however, there are good feelings when remembering so many people with great fondness. We, the leftovers, are going to see a lot of old friends who served as our mentors and taught us a lot by sharing their wisdom when we were early in our careers.

Some quotes from my favorite educational historian, Diane Ravitch, that I am sure will resonate with teachers:

“Will non-English-speaking students start speaking English because their teachers were fired? Will children come to school ready to learn because their teachers were fired?

It would be good if our nation’s education leaders recognized that teachers are not solely responsible for student test scores. Other influences matter, including the students’ effort, the family’s encouragement, the effects of popular culture, and the influence of poverty. A blogger called “Mrs. Mimi” wrote the other day that we fire teachers because “we can’t fire poverty.” Since we can’t fire poverty, we can’t fire students, and we can’t fire families, all that is left is to fire teachers.”

“The corporate reform movement has co-opted progressive themes and language in the service of radical purposes. Advocating the privatization of public education is deeply reactionary. Disabling or eliminating teachers’ unions removes the strongest voice in each state to advocate for public education and to fight crippling budget cuts. In every state, classroom teachers are experts in education; they know what their students need, and their collective voice should be part of any public decision about school improvement. Stripping teachers of their job protections limits academic freedom. Evaluating teachers by the test scores of their students undermines professionalism and encourages teaching to the test. Claiming to be in the forefront of a civil rights movement while ignoring poverty and segregation is reactionary and duplicitous.”

Diane Ravitch, Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools