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Antique Business News (ABN) #28 June 2007

Antique Business News (ABN) #28 June 2007
Online marketing tips and news for Antique Merchants,
Auctioneers and Antique Show Promoters.

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--In This Issue of ABN--
1. Why is the antiques & collectibles trade in decline?
2. Surviving strategies for a tough market.
3. Questions? Comments? Ideas?

1. Why is the antiques & collectibles trade in decline?
We've all heard the stories and seen what is happening in recent years. Antique shops, malls and shows have been closing at an alarming rate. The big question is, what is the cause? Our sister publication, "The Collectors newsletter" recently asked their 270,000 readers why they thought the business was in decline. Here are some of the responses that came in. If you have some theories or comments, send them to me at phil@tias.com and we'll get them into the next ABN newsletter.

I sell on ebay - mostly dolls and glass and small older collectibles. The market is about 1/3 to 1/2 what it was a year ago - with just a few exceptions. When gas costs in the neighborhood of $3 a gallon, and people have to go to work and MUST have gas, adjustments must be made somewhere. They just can't stretch their dollars to include as many fun things. I had a booth in an antique mall for years and did quite well. Now, I do Ebay. It is easier - less overhead - and no leaving home. I hadn't thought about it, but I would think that antique dealers would be suffering because there are hundreds of thousands of sellers on ebay. There is not really any antique or collectible you come across these days that you cannot find on Ebay - the selling prices are what I use as a price guide and I rarely come across anything that there is not a similar or identical item already on ebay or just sold. The market is really glutted - everyone has something they want to put on ebay and more and more are learning how to do it. The computer and the Internet have made a HUGE change in the way we live in the past 10 years and that includes a shift in our buying methods. I buy many, really most items aside from groceries online - as do most of my friends - that has to be hurting local retailers. Diane

--Another Comment--

Hi, I live in Chicago and frequent antique stores in the areas that Frank refers to in his note.

I think that Ebay has really changed their business and if they would like to have increased sales, they must be willing to be more competitive in their pricing, just as many other businesses have found. I love shopping for antiques but have found the prices very unreasonable compared to Ebay. And, with all the security measures and some due-diligence, Ebay has become an easy affordable way to purchase antiques and collectables for me. I still would rather see and touch my purchase and am willing to even pay more, but that 'more' has to be reasonable, perhaps 20 - 30 percent, not the 150-200 percent I have found. Jackie Justice,IL

--Another Comment--

Greetings from Bucks County:
In response to Frank's inquiry regarding the state of the antiques/ collectible market, I guess we all have our own opinions. In Bucks County, Penna. many of the dealers with whom I am familiar are also despairing about the downturn in apparent interest in the items we have traded in for so many years. So many of my contemporaries are in their 60's, 70's and even 80's and we are finding that todays shoppers are not relating to the gracious lifestyle of the Victorians or the frenetic fashion of the flappers or the desperate daydreams of the depression era. In fact, World War two is just so much boring history to today's potential home decorators. But that is not to say they don't still have a desire to feather their nest with articles that wax nostalgic for them. It is our job to find the pulse of the consumer and make it race with desire, not for the old inventory that we m ay be hoarding (unfortunately), but for the items of aesthetic and intrinsic value that they can relate to.
Thank God for eBay. It provides a marketplace where the rare and elusive as well as the mundane can be exposed to the largest variety of potential buyers the world has ever known. Not only the financial aspect but also the wealth of knowledge that is available to help each of us determine the desire and demand and hence the value in the market for those who can adapt and change with the fluidity of the market.
Thanks for the forum. Bill

--Another Comment--

I live in the Puget Sound Area of Washington State, and my favorite antique malls and stores have all disappeared too. I think eBay may play some part in it, but I think that, despite the robust economy, people are being more careful about how they spend their money. I have noticed over the last year or so that collectibles on eBay are not going for nearly the prices they have gone for in the past. That's great if you're a buyer, but not if you're a seller.

Some Baby Boomers probably are downsizing, but as a younger Boomer, I find myself becoming more sentimental, and thus more inclined to search for and buy items from my past. Anyway, that's my perception of things. I sure will miss the antique stores and malls from my area. Cynthia :-)

--Another Comment--

Here in Mid Michigan the Antique Malls are pretty slow too. Here many are pulling out too. Don't be quick to blame E-Bay because it is slow too.We sell on E-Bay and at a Consignment store and they are both slow. The economy is so messed up everything is slow. Naomi Michigan

--Another Comment--

The number one problem? Most of the malls are unwilling to change with the times. Some are locked into age restrictions (the young buyers want 60's and 70's, not Victorian or primitives) while some haven't changed their look since opening up years ago. Fun and funky sells, stuffy and elegant are in a slump. The really great items will always find a buyer but most malls offer the same old, same old. Sure, everyone claims to be "downsizing" but just look at the turn out at local auctions and the traffic on Ebay and that claim just doesn't ring true. The typical customer is no longer typical. Students are discovering the wonders of vintage shops, new home owners are always searching out a usable bargain, and most if not all people shop to find some kind of treasure that just has to go home with them. Let's face it, in this case, it IS the economy stupid! Most of what you will find in antique malls are not needed items but wan ted. As spending money gets tighter, impulse buys get put on hold especially if the price is on the high side. I have had a shop for 10 years and in that time, I have seen the angst point of price come down from the $50.00 range to the $20.00 range. If an item is more than $20.00, it needs to be thought out and rationalized where as three years ago, $50.00 and less was the no sweat price. What is the answer? Rotate inventory - keep your booth fresh and fun - keep up with the trends - price your items well and hang in there.

--Another Comment--

Regarding the state of the antique business, I would have to say it is truly depressed. I am a dealer from Toronto, Ontario Canada and I have been a vendor in the same antique mall since 1998. During that time span, there have been ups and downs but I would have to say it has gotten harder and harder to sell. I am not a "garage saler" -- I spend quite a bit on advertising to access private sellers and estates in order to get a higher standard and interesting range of merchandise. I am also conscientious about my price points so that they are not "book price" (or overpriced). My sales, as well as those of other savvy dealers (some are hobbyists with minimal knowledge), are dropping monthly. The overhead of my mall space, the commission, the tankfuls of gas I burn, advertising costs, not to mention the countless hours that go into providing an interesting array of goods does not appear to be appreciated by a public who wants to purchase great items at garage sale prices from a mall. My actual profit doesn't appear to be worth the effort. Those of us who had the "fever", as we were all collectors in the beginning -- and enjoyed the thrill of the hunt -- are deeply discouraged. There are many factors at play -- young people do not collect -- decorating styles are driven by designers who malign the cluttered look and promote minimalism. The average life-style is more expensive than it used to be -- real estate prices have risen, we now have cell-phones, MP3 players, computers, blackberries, digital cameras, large-screen tv's, higher gas costs -- you name it. Fifteen years ago, this wasn't the norm. Furthermore, it wasn't that long ago that if you wanted interesting items for your home you bought antique or vintage items -- now reproductions rule, because the price points are much lower and people just don't value the history of an interesting piece the way they used to. There is little or no status attached to owning or cherishing antiques -- designer branding makes a person 'cool', whether it is clothing or home decor. America is over-run with "stuff" and people are feeling overwhelmed by the plethora of goods being thrown at them. Of course rare and valuable items will always have a following, but that whole middle ground of collectibles has fallen off tremendously. It is rather sad, because it used to be an enjoyable business fueled by delightful collectors and buyers. And the Antiques Roadshow has deluded people about the actual value of their antiques -- but that is another story!!

I would love to know if anyone thinks that there will be a return to a love of history and the objects that have survived the past or whether we are simply living in a disposable world with a dollar store mentality. Sincerely, Kate G.

--Another Comment--

A possible answer to the above question might be the explosion of Internet buying and selling.

Using these methods, vendors don't have to pay the high rent and other expenses associated with having a place to show their wares. Plus they can reach a larger audience of buyers - nation-wide and/or world-wide versus local.

All they need to have is an account with the on-line auction house or the group that hosts their store, a digital camera to take pictures of their merchandise, a method of receiving payment and a method of shipping
merchandise to the buyer. In most cases, these costs are a lot cheaper than maintaining a store in a building.

I personally have purchased a number of items via the Internet. Although it is not necessarily the preferred method, it allows buyers to purchase items which might not be available locally. Peggy Murphy

--Another Comment--

After being gone for many years, I returned to the once fascinating main street of Arvada, Colorado. Where the row of interesting antique stores once stood, now were "updated" print shops, coffee shops, bath boutiques and candle shops. All, and I do mean all, of the Mom and Pop collectible shops as well as three large group dealer business' were replaced with very much the same merchandise to be found in any ordinary mall. Disappointed and saddened to lose a destination for finding and discussing the history of wonderful objects from the past, I tracked down old friends for explanations. Over and over.....the answer came.
E-bay ruined the survival of the business. This may have been a simplistic answer, but many believe it to be true, and in the end perception becomes reality. Thank you for your newsletter and giving us a voice.
Loretta Higgins

--Another Comment--

As a history teacher, I have long observed the "pendulum effect"--that a pendulum will swing one way in history only to swing back the other way in a successive era. As far as that effect is applied to the antique business, I look at my grandparents' day, when very few old things were valued. It was out with the old and in with the new. Every time I bought some antique as I was putting my life and home together, I would hear from these dear grandparents, who put their lives and homes together in the circa 1910-50 era, "Why, honey, did you buy that old thing? We had so many of those when I was your age, and I was only too glad to throw them out!" Still, I have cabinets full of Depression glass and and some of those cabinets are the "Hoosier" style cabinets! In fact, I have curtailed my antique shopping because I just don't have room for any more! Today, as my son and his wife are putting their life and home together, I find that they are not necessarily so interested in those things. They opt for the clean, no-frills style. So, maybe antique collecting as a whole is an every-other-generation thing! The pendulum is swinging again!


Editors note:
I've been involved in the online antiques and collectibles trade for 12 years. My personal opinion is that Internet sales, primarily eBay, have flooded the market with goods, driving down prices and creating a classic supply and demand scenario where the demand for merchandise is much less than the available supply, resulting in prices dropping to the point where many sellers can no longer make an adequate profit on their inventory.

Unlike the brick and mortar world or even some "fixed price" online stores and malls, the prices on the eBay auction platform are dynamic and change rapidly based on what buyers will pay, rather than the perceived value placed on the item by the seller. On eBay, if an item is rare and there is great demand you will probably see a great deal of bidding and a higher sale price. If the item being sold is common and there is little demand, you are not likely to see much bidding at all.

The efficiency and volume of the eBay marketplace has changed the availability and value of many antiques and collectibles. Some antiques and collectibles are so common online, they would be more aptly described as vintage commodities, with eBay determining the current market value. It was inevitable that the declining values and glut of inventory online would have a dramatic impact on the off-line market as well. The result is that many brick and mortar antique shops, malls, shows and even auction houses have closed their doors.

It's not all bad news. At some point, as the number of sellers declines and their inventory is pulled from the market, prices will begin to increase again. I think we are close to that turning point now.

I'd like to hear your opinion. Email me at phil@tias.com ....Phil

2. Surviving strategies for a tough market.

So after reading the comments above, here are a few ideas to help you through this tough market.

a) Communicate and market to your existing customers. - You probably have a customer list of people who have bought from you in the past. Have you marketed to them recently? These people know you and have probably had a good buying experience with you. Send them a post card or an email or even a letter about an upcoming sales or some other promotion. If you don't maintain a customer list, then start to ASAP.

b) Don't put all your eggs in one basket. - Sell in as many different online and off-line venues as you can support. You should be selling on at least 2 online venues ( hey, try TIAS.com :-) if you are not using us already) as well as off-line at shows, malls, shops and even auctions. If one venue goes bad, you have the others to support you.

c) Get the word out about your business. Do some cheap online PR at LEAST once a week. Here is more info on how to do PR. http://www.publicityinsider.com/freesecret.asp
Then post your release to http://www.News-Antique.com . There is no cost for this service

Do you have a few ideas that have worked for you. Share them with us. Send an email to phil@tias.com

3. Helpful Resource List

a) Online archive of past ABN newsletters and the "Subscribe to ABN" Link. You can also use this links to send a friend a copy of this newsletter. http://www.tias.com/abn

Questions? Comments? Ideas?
We want to hear from you. Send your email to phil@tias.com

Thanks for reading. Feel free to forward this to a friend. To subscribe use the link in the "Helpful Resource List" shown above. Please note that stories and other information from readers may not be checked for accuracy and may be edited prior to publication. 1995-2007 TIAS.com Inc.

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