Jan 25, 2014

Is Memorabilia Fostering Better Mental Health?

The classic car cruise-in was a hit, judging from the size of the crowd. Classic and antique cars were parked up and down Main Street in Galax, Virginia, and more were circling the block in an impromptu parade. Radios blasted 1950s Doo-Wop and Rock n’ Roll; every 20 feet one song would segue into another. As I turned a corner, there it was: my first car, a 1959 Chevy Impala with its horizontal tail fins, teardrop taillights and “spaceship” dashboard. With no power steering, it handled like a tank and was difficult to parallel park. The car was just eight years old when I bought it (for $350). It wasn’t the least bit sexy and none of my friends were impressed by it; in 1967, muscle cars ruled. But I loved that car, sexy or not. Seeing this one brought back fond memories.

Which is exactly the point of having a classic car cruise-in. Such car shows are nostalgia driven; people attend solely for the purpose of reliving a part of their youth. Read More

Jan 24, 2014

Grab Buyer Attention in the Blink of an Eye

Blink. No, really; pause for a second, blink, and pay attention to the speed of your eyelids.

An average blink takes about half a second to complete. The New York Times recently quoted Google research demonstrating that “web surfers” will dump your website in favor of a competitor’s if the competitor’s site loads just 250 milliseconds faster than yours. Two hundred fifty milliseconds: That’s roughly half an eye-blink, one-quarter of a second.

Fortunately, there’s a way to make this push for speed work to your advertising advantage. Twenty-first century consumers are speed sensitive. In a culture where advertising messages are ubiquitous, advertisers have the blink of an eye to capture a consumer’s attention, or they will move on to the next offer. The “information superhighway” has become similar to an autobahn: Eyes cruise along at speeds too fast to read the billboards. Instead of reading, the cruisers opt for looking at the pictures. Read More

Jan 23, 2014

Cataloging Collectibles is the First Step in Safekeeping

It was a collector’s worst nightmare.

About 20 years ago, a fair portion of my appraisal business came from assessing moving damage claims for van lines. On one occasion, I was called to inspect a claim on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: a tractor-trailer had taken an off-ramp too fast, flipped over and rolled down the embankment with a full load.

The damage was the worst I’d ever seen. Steel sofa-bed frames were twisted, furniture was in splinters, and the shipper’s treasured porcelain collection was crushed. Lladro, Limoges and a variety of antique porcelain figurines were gone — all of them.

The shipper valued her collection in the mid-five figures. Her settlement from the van line for her porcelain collection? $16.74. In an attempt to save money on the moving cost, the shipper had failed to protect her interests on several counts: she packed the porcelain herself (relieving the van line of responsibility for breakage of packed items) and didn’t insure her shipment. The van line was only liable at the “released rate” for interstate shipping: 6 cents per pound. So, a single Lladro figure valued at $3,000, weighing just 3 pounds, was settled for 18 cents. Tragic? Yes, but completely legal according the statutes for interstate shipping. Read More

Jan 22, 2014

Adding Profit Centers Levels Out the Revenue Ups and Downs

When I graduated from high school back in the Neolithic Age, my uncles pressed me as to what my future plans were. Being a bit of a teenage scamp, I replied that I intended to be an unemployed ski instructor in the summer and an unemployed lifeguard in the winter. That plan didn’t work out too well, but my concept of seasonally balancing my income turned out to be one of my better ideas (though I can’t lay claim to its originality).

Throughout high school and college, I spent my summers working for swimming pool management companies as a lifeguard. I couldn’t work for these companies in the winter, because they only operated in the late spring and summer. Come September, they closed up their pools and the owners went south for the winter. Other companies seemed to be stuck in seasonal ruts as well: ice cream shops, coffee shops, music stores, lawn care, snow removal, tax preparers, moving companies, and others. The list is endless. Read More

Jan 21, 2014

Clearing Inventory with Unique Solutions

For an antiques dealer, there are several circumstances that have the same physical impact as being gut-punched: a levy notice from the IRS, your partner running off with all your money and the fire marshal telling you, “I’m afraid I’m going to have to shut you down.”

Linda Balentine heard those jarring words from a Roanoke, Va., fire marshall just three days before a scheduled auction. Her consignments had been arranged, her advertising was done and paid for and her room was set up and ready to go. Cancelling the auction would be problematic — and expensive — for everyone involved.

The visit from the fire marshal was just another blow in the harassment of Linda by a local auctioneer who was not pleased with the success that she had been having with her auctions. The visit was also the first step in a new direction for Linda’s business — a direction that would result in a unique business model and even greater success. And, Linda’s solution offers a roadmap for antique and consignment dealers who struggle with excess inventory and sluggish sales. Read More

Jan 20, 2014

Finding a Cost/Services Balance that Pays Off

Most of us who have determined to run our own business have done so for one reason: To be our own boss. Master of our destiny. Captain of our ship. We soon find that our most important skill is the ability to make decisions, because we are faced with dozens of them each day. Marketing decisions alone are legion. It doesn’t take long to learn that in marketing we can do anything we choose to do, but we can’t do everything we’d like to do. We also learn the corollary to this statement: Just because we can do something doesn’t mean that we should do it.

In my last column, I mentioned that I’ve been seeing a lot of ads for some very nice auctions, and I wondered why these auction houses didn’t offer live streaming or an online bidding option. After all, more bidders mean higher prices, which also mean happier sellers and higher auction commissions. Read More

Jan 19, 2014

Hanging Out Your Shingle on the Web

If my grandfather knew I’d become an auctioneer, he’d roll over in his grave.

Back in the Great Depression, my family was one of many that were turned out of their homes by a bank foreclosure. Since auctioneers were agents of the bank, the family’s ill will toward the bank transferred to all auctioneers. Nary was a kind word said about those in my profession as I grew up.

Consequently, I didn’t attend my first auction until I was in my mid-30s. Seeing that first auction changed the course of my life. I found the whole affair invigorating: the chant of the auctioneer, the competitiveness of the bidding, the energy of the crowd. Soon thereafter, I began my apprenticeship in the auction trade and never looked back.

In the years since, both the auction business and commerce in general have changed substantially. When I started in the business, auctions were mostly local affairs with a bidder pool derived from the surrounding community. Crowds would vary and were generally the worst during bad weather. Bigger crowds equaled more competition and higher prices for the consignors (not to mention higher commissions for the auctioneer). Read More