Monday, September 20, 2010

The Money Issue.

I want to (belatedly) thank Selena Cate at Apron Thrift Girl for adding me to her list of  favourite "Thrift Blogs." I was wondering how my number of "followers" seemed to have jumped to 14 right after that time!  I do realize that I likely have a "readership" in higher numbers than that (they are actually at 15 right now as I write this), as many of you connect with the blog via my Facebook postings, rather than "joining" this site.

 It seems that there is no "notification" about my new postings is being sent out, and I have looked high and low, and there seems to be no way that I can control that.  But, I am still getting the hang of this site, and they also recently changed some stuff.   Being a Taurus, I am pretty stubborn when it comes to change...and I like the "Keep It Simple" premise...And, frankly, change is not always a good thing.  But, that said, I do need to look at some way of making this blog connect to my business more, in a way that there is some money being generated.  Dealers generally charge around the $65 an hour range for written appraisals, and I know I charge $35 an hour for verbal appraisals...and likely am far more qualified to do a written appraisal on an estate of antiques than many of the general "appraisers" I have come across.
That is something to be aware of, by the way. That is, to get an appraisers certificate all that is required is a course on appraising. No, you don't have to have any experience in the field you are appraising in.

 Thus, antiques appraisers don't actually have to have any experience in the antiques business to appraise antiques!

So, is that appraiser that is coming over to your house may know the values of used cars, but is appraising your grandmother's parent's 1700s bedroom suite....hmmm...

Not a good plan. Might end up being appraised equivalent to the value of some piece of junk from the local furniture warehouse outlet. Then again, it may get appraised at 20 times market value, which can cause just as many problems if it happens to be destroyed, and a claim is made.

 I have heard and seen the appraisal values dropped onto things, and seeing/hearing the figures make my eyes roll. Yes, I realize "insurance value" is generally quite high in comparison to market value, but some of the appraisals I have seen were so far out that I pity the people trying to collect the insurance money if the items were to be destroyed...they will be laughed out of the insurance company's building.

 Jewellery is one of the worst for extreme differences in appraisal value versus market value.  I bought an antique wedding band/engagement ring set some years ago (was engaged at the time.) Set had 3/4 karats worth of diamonds, mainly white gold,  and dated from 1911. Appraisal value was $3500. Purchased from an estate jeweller I knew for $350. Yes, that is correct, three hundred and fifty dollars.  Yes, I got a deal because I knew him well, but retail value was still well under appraisal value by $3000.  There is an "auction" website that sells jewellery shall remain nameless. An item will have an appraisal value of $500...and it will sell for $20.

So, what is that item worth?

What the market will bear...which was obviously $20 at the time it sold.

Hmm...getting off topic here...not unusual for this blog, is it?

So, what are the results of over 20 years of accumulated knowledge being spilled out in written form worth?

And does it have entertainment value that can be shoe horned into a dollar value?

Who knows. Sure someone out there has a formula of some sort that could figure it out, but I don't.

What I do know is that I have done, and still do, tons of work for little return. I tend to openly give free advice on antiques & collectibles; including values, research methods, markets to sell to, and lots more.

I am not complaining, though. I don't mind giving out advice (etc), to a point. 

But, I have to wonder how many lawyers give out free advice. Yeah, I know, everyone hates lawyers...maybe that is a bad example...let's see...Ok, how about a Proctologist?  Imagine him/her being quizzed about people's various ailments at some party....Oh, yeah, I guess most people wouldn't want to reveal their bowel issues in public...



Ok, let's avoid the medical profession...How about your local furnace repairman? Does he/she come by to give you free advice on how to fix your furnace yourself, refer you to all the best places to get parts, and refer you to other furnace guys who specialize in your particular furnace?  No? Hmmm...why is this business so different that SO many people have come to expect free advice?

I have gone on some "house calls" and made offers on assorted items...which in the end amounted to a free appraisal, as they wished to sell nothing despite inviting me over to make offers, or were going to "think about it"....sometimes it became obvious they never intended to sell anything, which is the most aggravating. Other times I'd get a call back from them accepting some or all of my offers. But it would be once I had heard from dealer friends that they had also gotten calls from the people to go through the place after I had, and make offers of their own...sometimes being told what offers that had already been given! A cheap "auction" is what that amounts to...if they happen to get dealers who are willing to play that game.  Many of us will pass on the entire situation.

 Sometimes I see the items for sale somewhere at just above what I offered, or see them in an auction (and I end up buying the items for less than my offers....I love that!)....or I would hear of another dealer having bought the items at the amounts my offers were (or less!), or see the items at a sale with my suggested values. Yes, I was polite, kind, honest with the sellers & have a very good reputation..and a hard earned one. Very easy to get a bad rep & it is tough as heck to hang on to a good one. I have a good enough rep that I have had a few "dealers" impersonate me!

Back to the offers I made.... is odd, not one of those times do I remember getting $35 an hour for those hours of my time.

 I have been at plenty of places AND bought a number of things, and assisted the seller in valuing other items, some/many/all of which were not for sale. No big deal, the person is not taking advantage of my kindness, I am offering it as a bonus service for allowing me into their home to purchase some of their things.  It is just those who take knowing advantage of my generosity of spirit without any form of payment that annoy me.

And I am not necessarily talking about cash here. Some appreciation goes a long way.

 I gladly assist friends & family, as they are my FRIENDS & FAMILY. Their love/appreciation/caring/support/etc/etc is enough "payment".

I openly help folks on Facebook, eBay, other chat type antiques groups, and the like, if I can. Most of the time I get "payment" in the form of verbal (or, typed, as the case may be) appreciation. It is also part of business promotion, getting my name out there, making myself visible in the "community".  I have helped lots of other customers, as well as strangers who call, came in to the store, etc. 

I have come to realize that I'd be a millionaire if I had been paid for all the advice I have given away for free over the past 20+ years.

 Oh well, I am in the antiques business....

One thing I was a little annoyed at recently is that I somehow missed a casting call for hosts for the new program "Canadian Pickers" back in April (a spin-off of History Channel's ultra successful American Pickers).  Yes, I know, some of you who know me figure I would have been a "no brainer" choice. Thank-you to you for the sentiments, encouragement, etc. I also did send a "resume" that the "headhunter" person seemed impressed with, but I was simply too late...the "hosts" had already been selected, and filming was supposed to be starting right away. 

I am pretty involved in the business online, but I guess my slant tends to be more frequenting the American based sites, and the "call" came on a Canadian slanted site...stands to reason, I guess.

The largest market is the USA, or, rather, it is the largest market easily accessible to Canadians. Many Canadian sellers online cater more to the US market than to the Canadian market.

  I had searched "Canadian Pickers" on Google several months ago, and got ZERO hits.  Search it now, of course, and up comes the TV show, the casting call, interviews with the "hosts", interviews and such with Mike & Frank where they mention Canadian Pickers, etc.

Why did I search "Canadian Pickers" in the first place? Well, I planned to register

And did.
Guess I should have copyrighted it, too.

I thought I would pursue something in that vein, as I had essentially the same concept that American Pickers uses...and easily 15 years ago.  I ran it by some movie/TV industry folks; not the "big guys", but people who worked in the industry those years ago. I planned to pursue it further than just talking about it, but, life as it is interrupted plans, and it "got in the way."

  So, when American Pickers appeared on the scene early this year, I registered "Canadian Pickers" at the prompting of my wife, and because I figured it was really high time to revive the idea.

I am glad someone eventually ran with the that idea and pushed it until it caught hold, as this business does need a boost. I'm even happy for Mike & Frank of AP. Nice to see my chosen profession being truly "recognized" as an actual profession, a real business... which, to me, has always been a real business.  A few of the pickers & dealers I have talked with about the program are not happy with the show, but I think they seem to be in the minority.

But, there is that "pang" of regret. It is like seeing some new product that is making the inventor of it rich, and thinking "Geeze, I thought of that 10 years ago."

On the other hand, it has gotten me making some inquiries, talking more to people, digging deeper into my own contacts, doing more networking than I have in the past.

 Maybe something will come of the inquiries I have made/am making, maybe not.

 At least I have finally started writing about my experiences, that is a plus. I do have another blog, one I have neglected for awhile. It is on environmental issues, easily a 3 year stint of fairly regular writing. It was mainly environmental related, with recycling being the main focus. My interest in "junk" went past "old junk" for a few years, and still stray there at times, still.  I have another business that is essentially in limbo, awaiting government legislation changes, and a government program being implemented that may destroy its potential for it being a viable business in rural areas...or, may elevate it to a decent money making enterprise. Only time will tell.

I have strayed from my antique-ing path a bit, but, considering the state of the market for the past few years, it is not surprising. Even in the last 20 years, while I was making my full (but meagre) income for easily 15 years on just buying & selling antiques & collectibles, easily 95% of the dealers I knew had other gigs to bring in money. They were refinishing furniture, doing repairs/restorations, handling estate sales, running antique malls, running flea markets, doing work for auction houses, working a 9 - 5 job, a part time job, operating an inherited family business, were retired with a healthy pension, their spouse was working a good paying job, etc, etc, etc...

Winnipeg, where I lived for 20 years, is a tough market. It is even tougher when the economy is not rockin' and rollin'. Many shops have closed their doors. Many collectors have stopped buying they way they have. Many have even died. Antiques shows all over (western Canada) can't bring in the crowds they used to, and some have decreased their size dramatically. Flea markets used to be buzzing on the weekends, but are no longer humming like the "old days". 

The market has changed.

Was it 9/11?

The world economy?

Fashion & decorating trends?


The Internet in general?

Martha Stewart going to jail?

Ok, that last one is unlikely to really have had an effect...though she is responsible for Jadeite's popularity & prices going insane, I am sure...

I am sure that it is a combination of most of those things, among others.

Life throws us curves. (It is weird how many sports analogies I use, considering I'd rather be out picking than watching some football, hockey or baseball game)

I have been planning to write a book on my experiences for quite sometime.  The idea was planted in my head...well, actually I was TOLD I really should write a book about one particular experience I had....a trip with another "dealer" (this guy turned out to be a shyster/gun runner) to a show 3 provinces away.

A good friend told me I really should write it all out, and, for one reason or another, I haven't.  The story itself takes 2 hours to tell fully.

Halfway through the trip I met up with this friend and another friend at the hotel we were staying at.

Exhausted, frustrated, injured, on pain killers, bewildered to still be alive, among other things, I related the story of this harrowing first leg of the trip to them.

Before I was done, one friend was laughing so hard and so uncontrollably he rolled off the hotel bed he was sitting on, and couldn't gain enough control to pull himself back up for awhile.

The other friend was blinded by tears of laughter.

My one friend had me tell other friends the story over again, and again, in his presence, and it keeled him over in laughter every time.

I guess it never got old.

It will take a fair bit of time to write, will be the size of a novella at least.

Which brings me back to making money.

How? Well, bear with me for a bit.

Been "eBaying" (how did that become a verb?) pretty much every weekend (and throughout the week, between packing, shipping, answering questions, etc, etc) since 1998.  I have noticed a steady decline in sales, as well as profits on those sales over the last, oh, 7 years.

The ol' nag ain't what she used to be.

I have weathered out the changes, stupid as many of them were, the rising fees, worn & struggled in the straight jacket that eBay has fitted sellers with, dealt with the brick wall eBay represents as "communication" with its users, and all the rest that has given most sellers "eBay induced ulcers."

I could go on and on about eBay and its faults, as I am sure many sellers can. But, I am tired of eBay...exhausted, pretty much. I know I will still have to use it for some things, but it is not a reliable sales platform for the antiques/collectibles market any longer.   I have been in business long enough to know when it is no longer good business to deal with the hassles when you consider the returns. Again, I could go on and on, but I am tired of talking about eBay. Been doing it too long.

So, I need some other sort of weekly income to replace what I was making on eBay. Realistically, it should be about $500 - $1000 a week, which is what I used to do on eBay....and at one time, I reached those figures with little effort. Now it takes literally 25 times the effort to make the same $ figures coming in...and the expenses are higher....Oh, wait, I said I wasn't going to talk about eBay, didn't I?

So "that website" is now just a minor part of that income...the ol' nag is near to the point of having to be shot to put her out of her misery.

Which brings me to this question:

What would you pay for?

Access to this blog? No, I figure that access to this shouldn't cost anything.

But, would you be wiling to toss in, oh, say a buck, just a dollar, to receive a fresh-off-the-keyboard page, two or ten of "The McDowd Chronicles"?

Ok, some of you look a little confused. Let me explain.

That is to be the title of my "adventure" I intend to write out as I mentioned earlier, just prior to my eBay rant. Interested parties each would pay a set amount for access to "X" number of pages of my work in progress. Or, you only pay for what you want to read. If you decide you don't want to read any more past the first few free pages I provide (likely here in the blog), then you don't need to pay a dime. But, if you want to read more, you will have to pay per page. Maybe it won't be a buck, maybe it will be 25 or 50 cents a page or something.

Get the picture?

I'd likely have somewhere below the first few free pages for you to leave comments, encouragement, criticism, etc, as well. Kind of a participatory thing for those of you who are so inclined. Plus, the "pressure" of having a readership "clamouring for more" would encourage me to keep at it on a regular, perhaps daily, basis.

So, drop me a note on my wall on Facebook (add "Fedora Antiques" as a friend),  leave a comment here, or drop me a private email via Facebook, etc. I'd like to hear/read your thoughts.

If I don't have to be dealing with eBay (and its related daily annoyances), I can spend more time writing. Problem is, I also need to make money to pay bills, and to go picking (of course!) Now, in winter it does slow down picking wise "up here." It gets cold, and tends to be uncomfortable going through unheated buildings, and when the snow starts getting deep, it is worse...and can be substantially more dangerous being on little travelled back roads. I used to go picking in all kinds of weather, but I have gotten older, and thus...well, smarter. Ok, well, maybe also a bit more paranoid...feeling more mortal than I used to when I was in my 20s, you know?

So, I do more around home, and when I do go picking, I choose more comfortable environments. Like, doing some picking of basements in buildings that are still in use, and thus usually heated, that sort of thing.

If there is money coming in from some other source, I don't have to post items on eBay (and get pennies on the dollar...but I digress.) I'd also like to use some of my time to get my own website started.

Question is, are there enough of my "readership" to support me in that endeavor of creating a book? That is, are the numbers high enough, and would there be the amounts contributed to make it a viable situation?

  I have a grand total of 15 followers. Say all of the 15 bought access to the number of pages I write in a week. With that "grand sum" coming in I'd also have to apply for welfare. Not really an option as far as I am concerned.

So, how did I add to that meagre dollar amount?

Well, one thing I thought of is doing a "Save Karyn" type of site. But, people have "soured" towards online begging, from what I have read. Still, maybe a few "shekels" could be brought in that way. A "donation" button here on the blog is also a possibility.

I have also thought of a fund that readers can contribute to as a "picking trip" fund. And, those contributors will receive a share in the profits of the sale of the items picked.  The main problem is that it would be tough to keep track of, seeing as not all things get sold right away...and depending oh how much profit is made on an item, and how many contributors there are, I'd be writing checks for pennies every month. Plus, it would likely mean I'd have to get even more into the eBay grind...something I'd like to do less of, not more....I at least want to switch to decaf.

A variation on that same idea is that I would film the picking trip, and contributors would get to watch the entire trip (bathroom breaks not included). Your own personal "Canadian Picker" show.  Heck, if I could figure out how to do it, I'd do live streaming video!  Problem there is that many areas I tend to go don't have cellular reception....last thing you'd want to do is pay for a blank screen when the signal is lost.

I really am not one of those folks who expect to get money for nothing. I have worked my ass off my entire life for what money I have made. Even when I was a teen and working for other people, I worked damn hard for my wage. I suppose that is part of the reason I am self employed. I got quickly tired of seeing others around me doing half the work for the same money I was getting. If I was going to work so hard, I might as well be the one benefiting in the end, aside from the immediate (meagre) cash return.

So, back to benefiting, money wise, from my work.

How can this blog generate cash? "Click throughs" on ads that are shown around some blogs can be constructed to "monetize" your blogs. But, I have implemented that, and it is only mere pennies added to my pocket, so that is not all that feasible..and they only pay out to the blogger once the total reaches a $10  minimum, so that is not going to go very far now, is it? Pennies add up, eventually, but not quite as fast as required! If I have to save up for a year just to buy a single Starbucks coffee, that won't cut it. (Actually I prefer "Sunstone Coffee" ....and no, I don't get anything from the click-through on that....just don't mine promoting another small business....and their coffee IS far better than Starbucks or Tim Hortons anyway..and you can make it at home and it tastes the same as in any restaurant that serves it.)

I've thought of creating t-shirt designs (mottoes, sayings, picker lingo, that sort of thing), getting transfers made, and offering them for sale, but that is pretty time consuming as well. Plus, the whole idea is to get this writing thing paying for itself, or at least in conjunction with selling stuff.....but not on eBay. Getting to be a bad 4 letter word, that one. about a t-shirt that says "FUEBAY!"?  Bet there are lots of disgruntled eBay sellers that would buy one of those! I have a feeling that has already been copyrighted, though.... and "" is already gone....!

So, I write and write and write. Have you learned anything? Has that knowledge made you any money? Willing to give ME a cut of the profits?  Oh, wait, I forgot, I am in the antiques business, people don't pay me for my advice most of the time.

I do jest. But, you know, I am willing to do research on your finds, and give you some advice, history, values, etc, in lieu of a fee.  Maybe that is the ticket. Online appraisals! Just giving folks an idea of what their stuff is worth. An online "Antiques Roadshow" sort of thing. Pay $5 or $10 for a rough market valuation of what your item is worth, its history, etc.  A possibility, I suppose. But, if I put more than an hours worth of time into the item it is a pretty darn low wage, that $5, isn't it?

So, I continue to contemplate what I could do to make this writing thing pay for the time it takes.  I am genuinely interested in your thoughts. Can always use someone else's view!

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