Saturday, August 28, 2010

Think Vintage: A Picker's Guide

Being a picker of vintage collectibles and antiques requires having a lot of knowledge of your products. If you're new to buying and selling vintage merchandise, then you aren't ready to be a picker. I don't mean to put you off. I'm just telling you the truth.

The picker's motto: Buy then sell as fast as you can will keep the money rolling in.

As a picker, I think in margins and percentages. That's why you have to be a very good buyer. If you pay too much for an item, your profit margin drops. Some people think that pickers "steal" the merchandise they resell. That's not true. It is the seller who sets the price of their items and choses to dicker or not on the price. It is not the picker's job to educate the seller. A seller should always know the value of their item before they sell it.

As a picker, I sell to collectors, antique shop owners, and auction houses. That's why anyone who is considering being a picker must be able to buy the items at a price that enables you to sell it at wholesale or retail prices. The only person you can sell to who will pay what you consider the full retail value of your items is a collector. Antique shop owners and auction houses expect to pay wholesale prices because they intend to resell the item. It is up to you to do the research to know what your item is worth.

Keep in mind that the price items sell for on Ebay are usually wholesale prices unless the item is rare. And the prices given in antique price guides are based on the sale price of the item in a shop. The true value of the item you are selling depends on supply, demand, and location. As an example, an item might sell for more in New York City than it would in a smaller city in a different state. It is worth your time and effort to browse the shops in your area to know what prices they are asking for items similar to your own. Picking up booklets from your local auction house is a good research tool too. It also gives you a good idea of what to buy and how much you should pay for the item when you are out picking for resale. You need to make a profit off what you sell as a picker while leaving room for the shop owner or auction house to make a profit too.

If you intend to sell to a collector, then you can usually find them in antique magazines or papers as well as online. I send them an email inquiry to tell them what I am offering, my asking price, and ask them if they would like me to send them photos of the item. If the collector is interested, they will contact you. Sometimes, after receiving the photos, a collector may send you a counter offer. If the price suits you, then accept. If not, try contacting a different collector. I don't send out inquiries to more than one collector at a time. If the collector buys the item, then I package the item securely and ship it with insurance and Delivery Confirmation after I have received payment.

If you decide to sell to an auction house, then take the pieces you intend to sell and go to their auction house. You should have a wholesale price in mind when you walk in their door. I have gotten between 1/4 and 1/2 of the item's value when I sell to an auction house depending again on supply, demand and location. I sold a pair of sterling candlesticks to an auction house a few months ago and made a nice profit even though I sold them for 1/3 of their value. You make your money when you buy. A good picker understands that concept and abides by it.

Selling to antique shop owners takes a bit more work on the picker's part. Once you've researched the items you intend to sell, I never show a shop more than 25 pieces at a time, list the items on index cards and include your wholesale selling prices. Calculate the total cost on a separate index card for your own use. I also subtract a percentage from the total cost on that index card of mine in case the shop owner decides they want to buy it all. I never sell broken or chipped items to a shop owner. The only exception is if the piece is very rare. Make sure the pieces are clean before you package them in soft wraps or colorful paper, never use newspaper with print as it could bleed into some items, and put them in your box(es). I prefer wraps for my larger items because they are reuseable many times over and they don't tear like paper does.

If you've browsed the antique shops in your area, then you should now have a list of which shops you think might buy from you. Put your box(es) of merchandise in the car, don't forget your index cards, and go to the first shop on your list. Also make sure to carry along some blank index cards. If this is your first time trying to sell to this shop owner, then browse around the shop a few minutes before you ask the shop owner if they are buying today. Most times, the first question they will ask you is "What have you got?" That's when you hand them your index cards and, while they are reading the cards, go out to the car and bring the box(es) into the shop. Show your pieces to the shop owner one at a time, explaining more about the item than you have listed on the card. Keep the items you have unwrapped on the shop owner's counter as you unwrap another one. Many times, the shop owner will start separating what they want from what they don't. Once all the items have been unwrapped tell the shop owner that you're willing to lower your price if they buy all the items. If they want only a few items, then stick to the price you have listed on your index cards. If they decide to buy everything, then tell them how much the total comes to as written on the cards, then give them the lower price you have already calculated.

Once the sale is complete, if you have items that they didn't buy, wrap up the items, put them back in your box(es), take your index cards back, thank them for buying and tell them you will come back again when you have new items to sell. If the shop owner buys it all, let them keep the index cards, then put all your wraps back in the box before you leave the shop. I also ask the shop owner if there is anything specific they want me to look for when I'm out picking and keep notes on what they request.

If the shop owner did not buy all the merchandise, then once you leave the shop you need to rewrite your index cards and go to the next shop on your list. Please don't sit out in the shop owner's parking area if you need to rewrite your cards. There are plenty of other places to stop between this shop and the next. Sometimes a shop owner will pay you in cash, other times with a check. If it is a check, then I usually stop at the bank branch written on the check to cash it. The reason I do it this way is because I once had a shop owner give me a check for the merchandise, I deposited in my bank account, then I found out the check was declined because of insufficient funds.

A picker must have a lot of knowledge about many different items. That's why I don't specialize. Many times a shop owner knows a lot about glassware, or another collectible, but very limited knowledge in other vintage areas. As a picker, it is part of my job to teach them about the items I am offering.

The reason I limit the amount of items I take into a shop to sell is because I know from experience that sometimes the shop owner only has a certain amount of money to work with that day. If I take them too many items at once, then they tend to "cherry pick" me. They try to only buy the very best items I am offering and will pass up the rest. I learned that mistake early on in my picker days.

When I first started out being a picker I asked another picker how was the best way of doing it. His answer: You either need a lot of money and a little knowledge or a little money and a lot of knowledge. I chose the latter and it has served me well.

Another tip for a picker is to buy all the used antique books and price guides you see. The prices in the guides don't matter. It's the information about the items that makes the books worth buying.

Good luck with this endeavor. I hope it works as well for you as it has, and does, for me.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Think Vintage: The Selling Basics

Selling your vintage items is a very broad subject with many variables. For now, we'll stick to the basics. The most important part of selling is knowing what you have and how much it is worth. No matter what you have to sell, the buyer expects you to tell them as much about the item as you know. That's why doing your research is so important. Selling is an art and, like any other art, it takes time to master.

Okay, let's talk about where to sell first. The where of selling all depends on the time and effort you want to put into it as well as the price you want to get for your items (wholesale or retail). Here is a list of places to sell your wares: Auctions, fleamarkets, rental spots in shops, your own shop online or off, garage sales, through ads in various publications, pawn shops, selling to shop owners or selling directly to a collector. I'm sure you can think of other places to add to the list. Any time you display your items, such as at a fleamarket or in a offline shop setting, do it with style. Cover your tables with nice linens. I found it works better if you don't use any cloth with patterns as it tends to draw the eye away from the merchandise. You want the potential buyer concentrating on the items your selling, not the fluff around it. As a beginner, I would start by using price labels. Don't use tape to write your prices on, or write the price on the item itself, because it's more difficult for the buyer to remove once the item has been purchased. If you are selling vintage books, then use pencil to write the price inside the front cover or page of the book. If you are selling cups and saucers, or anything that has an opening on it, then use the tie tags on the items.

If you are selling directly to the potential buyer, I suggest wearing a nice shirt and jeans instead of a t-shirt and jeans. It's all about the presentation. Use wraps for your merchandise instead of newspaper. By wraps I mean those soft pads people put under patients who suffer incontinence. They don't scratch the merchandise and they are reuseable.

Now, let's discuss how to price your merchandise. As a beginner in this business, if you purchased the items using my 10% rule, then you have a lot of leeway in your pricing. If you are selling out of your own shop, online or off, then ask full retail price. That also applies if you are selling to a collector or if you rent a space to display your wares in a shop. When you are selling at a fleamarket expect a lot of haggling on your price and, in my experience, getting full retail price at a fleamarket is rare. When people shop at a fleamarket, or a garage sale, they are looking for bargains. What worked best for me was to set my prices a few dollars higher than I was willing to take knowing the potential buyer would ask me to come down on my price. That way the buyer thought they were getting a better deal and I sold the item for the price I expected to get. Win-win situation.

And this is the end of the "Basics". Once you've mastered the basics, then it's on to the best way I've ever found to sell. Be a "picker." My picker mantra is simple: Buy then sell as fast as you can will keep the money rolling in.

Let me tell you a little story of how I became a "picker". When I was setting up at fleamarkets, early in the morning a few folks would stop by my tables and end up buying my best items. It became a pattern every time I set up. I'd ask them if they were collectors and they'd just give me a little grin, but they never answered my question. I started getting a bit suspicious of what they did with my stuff once they'd bought it. Being a newbie, I didn't have a clue. This went on for about 6 months or so. One weekend I was setting up at a fleamarket just down the road from an antique shop. I watched as my buyer left my table, got in his car and drove to the antique shop. Hmmm. After closing up for the day, I decided to check out that antique shop. I saw atleast 10 of the items I'd sold over the past month setting in that shop for sale. That's the day I knew I could cut out the middleman and sell to the shops myself. I've been doing it ever since.

If you're interested in becoming a picker, then you'll want to read my next post once I have it written. I've delved into it a bit on forums, but there's a lot more to it.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Think Vintage: The Treasure Hunt

Okay, now that you've had some time to do your research on the items you're interested in selling let's move on to the fun part - treasure hunting. Whenever you go out looking for merchandise to resell be sure to carry atleast one of your general reference/price guide books in the car. When you find something and you're not sure whether to buy it or not, get out your notebook, write down the needed info, go out to your car and look it up first.   When you are buying, try not to buy anything that is chipped, cracked or needs to be repaired.  It will save you a lot of work in the long run.  Also, flaws lower the value of an item when you try to resell it even if the item has been repaired. 

Something else to carry in your car is a box with wraps for the merchandise you find. Please don't use newspaper to wrap up your items as it can seep into the merchandise, for starters. More on that subject in the Selling section I'll be writing at a later date. I buy the underpads that people usually use on their beds for incontinence. They are soft and reuseable.

If you're NEW to buying vintage, then you might want to follow the 10% Rule I used to use when I first started buying. It's hard to make a mistake when you follow this rule.

10% Rule: If you see an item you want to buy for resale and it is priced at $2.00, do you think its full retail value is $20? If yes, then buy it for $2. If not, then pass up the item. See where I'm going with this idea? Even if you price the item at $10 when you resell it you'd be making 5 times what you paid for it. Using this method of buying, I've never lost a penny. In a worst case scenario, you can always sell it for what you paid for it. It happens very rarely, if at all, that you can't sell an item for atleast double what you paid for it. That falls into my darn fool theory: If I'm darn fool enough to buy it, then so is somebody else. :)

During the week, start going to thrift shops. I like to make a circle of the shops within a 25 mile radius, twice a week. I've pulled some nice treasures out of thrift shops. On weekends, go to the yard sales and be there as early as you can. Many times I'll get at the sale early enough to help the seller unpack their items. It's true that some yard sales say "No early birds", but it's rare that it's set in stone. I've been to those sales early too and many times they'll let me buy before their set opening time.   Fleamarkets are another good place to buy.  Depending on where you live, some fleamarkets are open during the week as well as on weekends.

If I go to a yard sale and I think their prices are too high, I'll jot down the location of the sale in my notebook and go back to the sale later on in the day. If they've sat on the item all day and it didn't sell, then they are more willing to negotiate. Many times, they'd rather take less money for the item than to have to pack it back up again and save it for another yard sale.

Another good place to buy is at church sales or holiday sales. Holiday sales are mostly arts and crafts sales, but they usually have a table or two of "white elephants" too. That's where you'll find their vintage items.

There are other places to buy, but I'm sticking to the basics right now. An experienced "picker" can buy out of some antique shops too.

Once you get your treasures home, research them so you'll know everything about the items. My next posting will be about how and where to sell what you find.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Think Vintage: The Basics

Antiques and Collectibles.  Everybody I know collects something.  But before you can get serious, you have to do your homework.  That why my #1 basic rule is to buy a few general reference/price guides on antiques and collectibles.  Kovels, Schroeders and the Garage Sale and Fleamarket books are my 3 favorites.  Just glance through them, for starters.  Keep in mind that the books are to be used as reference guides, not price guides.  The prices in the books can't be counted on as the true value of the item.  Many times, the prices in the books are based on what the item was priced for in an antique shop.  The true value of an item depends on what the public is willing to pay for it. 

Basic rule #2 is to start with what you know then spread out to other merchandise.  If you know a little about vases or glassware, start there.  Open one of your books and look up vases or glassware.  Get out a small notebook and use it to write down the names of the pieces that are higher priced in the books.  Keep this notebook with you at all times, and a pen or pencil.  You'll be using it quite a bit.  Is the item glass or pottery, coloring, what mark does it have?  You need to now as much as you can in general about vases - or whatever product that interests you - so you can identify it when you see it.  

Basic rule #3 is doing more research.  Go browse around in atleast one, preferably 3, antique shops each week.  Pick up the items that interest you, check out the mark, feel the weight, check for chips, cracks, or any other flaws.  Check the price.  Make notes of things you want to remember about items.   Soak it all in.  If you make this a weekly ritual, I guarantee you'll start knowing the quality items from the mediocre in record time.

Basic rule #4 also invoves more research.  The more you know...   go to online auctions and other online shops, such as Etsy ;-), and do some browsing.   I use Ebay for research because I can go to the completed items and see what stuff actually sold for.  I used to be an Ebay seller years ago.   When I check prices I keep in mind that many items on that venue sell for wholesale prices.   You can also get a lot of important information from reading the listings of the merchandise.  Another good place to find info on items is by typing the product into a search engine.   

Okay, I think that's enough info to pass on right now.  Next time, we'll talk about the treasure hunting.