Last weekend, after browsing through a live auction preview, I sat cross-checking my notes against my online research service. As my research progressed, I made notes for each item that I was interested in: high selling price, low selling price, how many were offered on eBay, how many of those sold. The item’s sell-through (number sold divided by the number listed) would tell me what my chances were of selling an item quickly.
I hate to have money sitting in inventory. I’d rather sell an item quickly and make a little money than sit on it for months hoping it will sell for big bucks. I can only leverage an inventory investment if I sell it; having it sit on a shelf doesn’t make me a dime. So, I check my research service before I buy anything. I know before the bidding starts how much I should bid, how I should price an item and about how long it will take to sell it.
The gentleman sitting behind me was curious. “What’s that you’re doing there?” he asked.
“I’m deciding how much I should bid for the lots I’m interested in,” I replied. “Do you ever look items up online?”
“Nope! I know what my customers will buy and how much they are willing to pay. It’s all right here,” he said, tapping a finger to his head.
“Good for you.” I smiled and went back to work. >> Read More
Greek mathematician Archimedes once wrote, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”
The concept of leverage — using small efforts to achieve great results — is a curriculum basic to both engineering and business schools. Business owners and investors who use leverage wisely can turn a small investment into a big gain. And if a big gain doesn’t materialize, then it’s easier to lose a small investment than a big one.
Over the past five years, this column has discussed dozens of topics designed to help dealers sell more, manage better and plan effectively. The ideas presented were not original to me; rather, they were compiled from discussions with dealers who had used such ideas successfully. A common thread running through these discussions is that the Internet is a tremendous tool for leveraging an antique business if it’s used properly. It’s easy to spend thousands — or tens of thousands — of dollars to develop a strong online presence in your market. But if you were to spend thousands of dollars, you wouldn’t be leveraging, you’d just be spending.
Thirty-eight-year-old Kevin Mayeu of North Carolina’s Raleigh Furniture Gallery is an antique dealer who understands how to leverage his marketing efforts and operating policies to produce outstanding results. His website, incorporates email, Facebook, and Twitter>>>Read More
I’ve always marveled at fictional sidekicks. A good sidekick lends perspective to enigmatic heroes and helps us to know them better. How well could we understand the complexities of Sherlock Holmes’ mind without having Dr. Watson to ask the questions we are thinking? How much more dignified is Andy Griffith when compared to simple-minded Barney Fife? How much cooler is Ferris Bueller when compared to his uptight best friend Cameron?
Sidekicks give us a point of comparison, and the drive to compare is inborn in humans. There is a branch of behavioral economics titled “Social Comparison Theory” [http://bit.ly/1jMgrXj], which postulates that humans have a basic drive to compare the various elements of their environment. Sidekicks provide us an easy way to compare A with B.
Antique dealers can use a consumers’ basic drive to compare to improve their merchandising. Dealers love to fill their shelves with unique, one-of-a-kind items. Perhaps these treasures would sell faster (and for more money) if we provided a “sidekick” item as a point of comparison for our shoppers. Big-name retailers have been using the “sidekick” marketing method for decades, with good results. Back in the early 1990s, Williams & Sonoma introduced the first bread-making machine to America. Their research had shown that the item would be well-received by consumers: Pour the ingredients into a machine, turn it on and a few hours later one has fresh baked bread. No kneading and no floury mess to clean up. Read More >>
Work-arounds: We’ve all used them. Sometimes, we use them for so long that they become our normal way of doing business. Eventually, the cost of a workaround — in time, money and aggravation — becomes so high that we consider changing the way we do things. A few months ago I spoke with a dealer whose business was at just such a point. Her records consisted of spreadsheet lists of inventory and sales, and her business had grown too complicated to continue to use such a cumbersome system. She sold online, executed estate sales, displayed at antique shows and sold on consignment. Details were getting dropped, sales were being lost and she was spending too much time keeping track of sales, merchandise and settlements. The dealer asked me to suggest a comprehensive software system that would track all of the operational information she needed to access while simultaneously keeping her books. Her objective was to enter information once, and then be able to access that information in real time for various sales venues, inventory acquisition, customer details and settlements. After all, she said, this was the 21st century, and it’s a mobile world. Surely there must be software available that would fit her needs. At the time, I didn’t know what to suggest. There were software programs available that would track consignment sales, or online auction sales, or retail sales of owned inventory, or do accounting, but none that would track all of these without some sort of workaround (at least that I knew of). I determined at the time that I would find some suitable software options for growing dealers, and in the past few months I have interviewed CPAs, read software reviews and browsed dealer and software user forums. I’m now in a better position to make software suggestions. Read More>>
In the early 1980s, I was fortunate to live near Wilmington, Delaware’s Winterthur Museum. Winterthur is a former estate of the DuPont family and was used as a residence until 1951, when it was converted to a museum. The estate contains one of the country’s finest collections of 18th and 19th century furniture and decor.
Like many wealthy American families, the DuPonts furnished their homes with pieces that were both practical and investment-quality. No run-of-the-mill, mass-produced furniture could be found at one of these elite estates. Wealth wasn’t maintained by investing in disposable consumer goods; only antiques and fine art would suffice.
The “antiques are a good investment” mindset endured through the 20th century, but is losing its appeal in the 21st century. The Annual Furniture Price Index, a compilation of Great Britain’s Antique Collectors Club, shows that values of antique furniture have steadily declined since the 1980s (a fact well known to American antique dealers). The club’s February 2014 report attributes the value losses to the decline in formal dining and falling demand for dressers and “coffers.” Investment quality furniture is only an investment when demand goes up. Those of us who watched antique prices rise in the 1980s were shocked to find values evaporate 20 years later. Read More…
In 1933, struggling 22-year-old musician Leonard Slye needed a guitar. He found one at a California pawn shop and paid $30 for it. In 1933, $30 was an average week’s wage, but Slye believed that the guitar—a three-year-old Martin OM-45 deluxe model serial #42125—was worth the price. New Martin OM-45s retailed for $225.
Slye went on to become the famous movie and recording star Roy Rogers, dubbed “King of the Cowboys.” The Martin stayed with him through the 1940s. Although Rogers didn’t know it at the time, the Martin was a rare find; there were only 14 of the OM-45 Deluxe models made, and his guitar was the prototype: #1 in the series.
In 2009, Rogers’s OM-45 was sold by Christie’s for $460,000. A similar 1930 vintage OM-45 (#44999, with an Adirondack spruce back and sides, Brazilian rosewood neck, mahogany fret board with ebony frets, and gold-plated banjo tuners with pearl buttons) will be sold in an auction atGuernsey’s of New York on April 2-3, 2014, titled “The Artistry of the Guitar … A Landmark Collection at Auction.” The starting bid for Guernsey’s 1930 OM-45 guitar is $875,000, and it is estimated that it will bring $1,750,000 to $2,000,000.
If Guernsey’s 1930 OM-45 crosses the $965,000 mark, it will be the highest price ever achieved by a guitar at auction. The $965,000 price was reached just last December (2013) by the Fender Stratocaster owned and played by Bob Dylan at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. The prior record for a guitar at auction was Eric Clapton’s 1956 Fender Stratocaster, which brought $959,000 in 2004. Read More…
Americans value their leisure time. I know I do; it’s nice to have some time to spend however I see fit. My ancestors (yours, too, I suspect) worked all day and had little time for hobbies and amusements. Now, middle-class families have a wide range of leisure activities that they can engage in.
As the middle class grew in the late 19th and 20th centuries, entertainment technology grew as well. We all love to be entertained, and over the years manufacturers have fed our desire for amusement. From machine-age diversions like mechanical arcade games and player pianos to digital-age gaming consoles and smartphones, our leisure hours have been filled with technology for more than 100 years.
Some technologies (player pianos, for example) took a while to reach their market saturation point. Other technologies—like radio—gained a foothold quickly. Every technology needs an infrastructure to support it, whether retail distribution, phone lines or radio transmitters. Whenever a new entertainment technology was introduced into an existing infrastructure, the possibility of a sales explosion existed. Such was the case with America’s first electric chord organ, the Hammond Model S.
Introduced in 1950, the Model S was designed to have non-musicians “playing lovely organ music within 30 minutes.” The Model S chord organ was laid out in easy-to-navigate divisions: keyboard on the right, chords on the left, and two pedals underneath. Read More…
Collecting records is easy. Records are widely available and often cheap. But assembling a meaningful record collection requires thought, vigilance and no small investment.
Records have been produced for so long—since 1894—and in so many different musical genres and formats that serious collectors must consider the boundaries and contents of their collections or they will be overwhelmed by the available choices. Will they collect a certain genre of music (rock, jazz, etc.), or type of record (78, 45 or 33 rpm) a certain record label (Sun, Verve) or perhaps just 33-rpm albums with interesting album art?
Some record collectors focus on a particular technological era, collecting not only the records of a period but also the machines that played them. Collectors of 78-rpm records often collect Victrolas, and collectors of Edison-style wax cylinders must, of course, have a cylinder player or two to enjoy their collection.
Other collectors focus on the music of a particular social period or cultural group: the Depression-era protest songs of Woody Guthrie and his contemporaries; the roots music of the Mississippi Delta; the early “hillbilly” music of the Virginia and Kentucky mountains or ’60s psychedelic rock.
Collections that reflect cultural, technological or musical change tend to be well-thought-out collections. Collections that can represent all three of these attributes have the potential to be fine collections, indeed. All three of these attributes exist for collectors of rockabilly records. Read More…
To garage-salers and flea market buffs, they seem to be everywhere. Most folks walk right by boxes full of them with their nose in the air and an attitude of indifference. For collectors, though, boxes of unwanted 8-track tapes are pure gold.
Monthly sales of 8-track tapes number in the thousands on eBay, with prices sometimes exceeding $100 for rare quadrophonic tapes. There is even a brisk market for broken 8-track tapes, because collectors regularly disassemble and repair tapes to gain access to their favorite music format. 8-track enthusiasts claim to love the feel of the tape cartridge in their hand and to crave the full-bodied analog sound of the music contained therein. To collectors, 8-track tapes are the embodiment of the 1970s.
That’s not how I remember them. I remember 8-track tapes as being the most aggravating music format ever invented.
For starters, the tapes were on a continuous loop, which meant I couldn’t fast-forward or reverse to search for a particular song. If I was cruising down the highway listening to “Freebird” on my Lynryd Skynyrd tape (it was the ’70s, after all) and wanted to hear the song again, I’d have to listen to every other song in the set first. As tapes were played repeatedly, the rollers wore away and they would get dirty and fill with grime. The tapes would jam, break, and sometimes change programs in the middle of a song (No! Not on “Freebird!” Not again!). Stretching would cause tapes to lose firm contact with the playback head, and sound quality would suffer. Worst of all, I would occasionally unwrap a brand-new tape only to have it break on the first playing, sending me back to the store for a replacement. Read More…
One of my “go-to” movies when I’m in the mood for a caper-flick is “The Italian Job” starring Mark Wahlberg. In a clever bit of cinematography, Wahlberg’s gang of thieves steal a safe full of gold bars by using explosives to cut a hole in the floor around the safe causing it to crash through two lower floors and into a Venice canal, where they open the safe and steal the gold.
I’m reminded of that scene every time I appraise an estate that contains one or more of those big, heavy, steel safes. I comment to the executor that I’m glad that I won’t be the person required to move them, because I’ve moved too many already. I’d almost rather blow a hole in the floor and let a safe drop into a big, dark pit than move another one.
Auctioneers and estate-sale operators will admit that one factor affecting the price of some estate property is the difficulty of getting it moved. Pianos, gun safes and concrete yard art sometimes cost more to move than they are worth. When they don’t, their prices are generally lowered to compensate for the difficulty of moving them.
Residential safes are becoming more common with each passing year. Sales are up for residential safe dealers. A 2011 New York Times headline reads: “Sales of Home Safes Surge, Driven by the Recession and Recent Disasters.” Read More…