ESTATE SALES

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.

DEALERS, DRUG DEALERS, WHEELER-DEALERS, NOT

May 24, 2014

Today was my father’s birthday, he would have been 106 years old, wow. Happy Birthday, Dad!

My father was an entrepreneur; he always worked for himself, first as a barber, later as a beautician, then back to being a barber. It was an honorable profession; he paid the bills, put his children through college, and bought a house, etc. Our family was able to live a decent middle class lifestyle. I don’t think there ever was a day when he felt embarrassed by what he did. No regrets.

So as I have been exercising my entrepreneurial spirit, something happened this week that made me feel embarrassed by what I was doing. It is no secret that Linnice Collectibles has to hunt for their products at garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops, estate sales, etc. To earn a profit, the old adage buy low, sell high is true as it is for any business. Additionally, this business sells luxury items, not toilet paper. So it is not like people are flocking to our eBay store to purchase our products on the basis of need. Instead, they used their discretionary income (if they are lucky enough to have it), to purchase the treasures we find. So for us, the price at which we purchase a treasure is important if we are ever to make a profit.

Now back to the embarrassing moment…we were at one of our favorite church thrift stores and were inquiring when they were having their 50% off sale. We were speaking with one of the volunteers telling her how we liked so many of their items, but at the price they were listed we would be unable to earn enough of a profit to make it worthwhile at this time. It was then that another volunteer looked down her nose at us and said with disdain, “these items are making money for the church, you are dealers!” Really, I didn’t think of myself as a dealer? She replied, “if you are buying and selling, then you are dealers.”   I turned to my partner in crime and said, ”hey Bernice, did you know we are dealers?”

I don’t know why the label dealers made me feel so embarrassed. Perhaps it was the intonation of the woman’s voice, or the term being used when referring to “drug dealers” or “wheeler-dealers”, but it bothered me. Bernice, always quick with a very polite comeback, said, “Yes, we know the money goes to the church. And that is one of the reasons why we like to come here, because our purchases go toward a good cause. But everyone has to earn a living; it is hard out there today and we have limited funds. So if we are looking to buy things at a good price so we can earn a profit, it becomes a win-win situation.” Thank you Bernice. The woman immediately changed her tone with us.

Bernice’s statement made me realize that even as a dealer, I can hold my head up high. We are not wheeler-dealers trying to chisel unsuspecting people out of their property, we are just trying to turn a profit, which by the way, hasn’t happened yet as we continue to grow our inventory.

That incident aside, we are actually more than just dealers. Our next outing brought us to the estate sale of a woman who has a 23-year-olf downs syndrome daughter and who just lost two of her parents. She is struggling to help her daughter find a place to work. Her parents died within two months of one another. How do we know this? We know this because we are friendly, compassionate and converse with people. We are parents ourselves, have children with special needs, and parents who have passed on. As we were leaving the estate sale, the woman said how nice it was to meet and talk with us. The world had become a better place as we shared our humanity.

So, today, as I remember my father and think about how his entrepreneurial spirit has reached out to me, I am never going to feel bad about what I have chosen to do in my retirement years. Somehow, I don’t think I will ever really like being referred to as a “dealer”, but Bernice has given me the words to use for those who look at dealers with disdain. However, in my heart, I know we are more than that. I hope our humanity continues to shine through as we continue in our new business venture.