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Scrap Metal

This is supposed to be a profitable business. And sometimes it actually is.  But it’s not the kind of thing you’d want to rely on to keep a roof over your head or to put food in your mouth.  It’s just enough to keep feeding the antiques shopping addiction.

Buy.  Sell. Trade.  And collect.  The idea is to sell more than you buy.  It doesn’t always work that way.  Any sale is a good sale, but some are better than others.  It’s always really sweet to be able to buy something real cheap and know that you could sell it for two, three or even ten times as much.  At the same time, if I see even a dollar of profit in it I might buy it.  And try to sell it.

The selling part is harder than the buying.

In the past I’ve bought things that I just knew would sell quickly. And held on to them for a long, long time.  They might sit gathering dust in one of my shops. Or in my garage.  Also gathering dust.  Sometimes I’ll put them into my home décor scheme.  Maybe for a little while.  Maybe for a long time.

This particular item was one of those I bought thinking it was fabulous.  And that I could sell it for probably thrice what I paid for it.  Quickly.  Just to be on the safe side, I never buy anything I don’t like myself.  That way, if it doesn’t sell, and I’m stuck with it, it’s still something I like.  But this one was a no brainer.

I found this in an antique shop in Asheville, North Carolina.  It was marked down.  Should have been a hint to me.  But I got it and hauled it home.  It was a mid century dining table and chairs made out of cast aluminum.  The style was maybe not high Mid Century, but the fabric on the chairs certainly was.

So I put it in one of my shops.  And it sat.  So I moved it to my other shop.  And it sat. Even after a couple of price reductions.

A table and four chairs take up a lot of room in an antique mall booth.  Space that I could be using for things that might move faster.  So I moved it back to the house.  Into the garage.  Instead of parking my car in the garage, I had this cool table and chairs.  But I had no use for it other than to sell it.

It went on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace. Several times each.  I changed the price each time.  Sometimes down, and sometimes up.  A lot of people looked at it.  And a few even said they wanted it.  But no one actually ever came to plop down their money and take it away.

This thing had to go.  And I slashed the price.  Asked for offers.  And I got some stupid offers too.  Surely it had some value as scrap metal.  I was that desperate.  No, I couldn’t do that.  As a last resort I’d move it to the basement and figure out a way to set up a table and chairs down there.  I could always go sit in the basement and stare at the dust balls.

I’m always skeptical when people inquire about something I have for sale on Market Place.  From lots of experience.  But this time I had a good feeling about the person asking about the table and chairs. She said, “I know this is from a long time ago, but is it still available?”  Why that gave me a good feeling I don’t know.  But after answering her in the affirmative, she came back and said she would get her prop master to come get it.  That convinced me.  A real buyer.

When the prop master showed up at my door to get the table and chairs I learned that she was with the local university opera program.  My table and chairs were going high society!  I’ve had several things that turned up in movies.  Little things that are really hard to spot.  But a big table and chairs on stage in an opera! Cool.  I like the opera.  But now I like it even more.

When you know something is valuable, it’s worth holding on to.  Even if it takes forever to find the right buyer.  I hauled this stuff all over the countryside.  And sold it for a bargain basement price.  I might have made a total of ten dollars on it.  But it sure was pretty.  And what a fun adventure.  Now there is a big hole in my garage.  Think of the possibilities!

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Crappy Customers

Long ago and far away, back when I was working as an automotive sales consultant, we had a saying at the dealership that it wasn’t sold until it was burning gas and busting bugs.   That meant that the customer had signed on the dotted line.  And driven it off the lot.

I learned a valuable lesson, the hard way of course, about the fickleness of the American consumer in that job.  One instance that stands out vividly in my mind involved a brand new, fire engine red, Volkswagen van.  It was a beautiful machine.  Luxurious and very functional.  And it looked a little like a mini fire truck rolling down the street.

Great vehicle at a great price.  And I was convinced I had a great buyer.  Nice woman with her family looking for a van. They spotted that and went right to it. We took it for a ride and I did my job and talked it up.  Which was pretty easy because I liked it myself.  Back at the dealership things went well but something, and I can’t remember what now, prevented this lady from taking it with her right then.  Could have been a thousand things.

But I was so sure of this sale that I had the detailing department wash it and vacuum it out and I parked it, gleaming in the sun, right at the front door in a spot marked “sold vehicles.”  I felt great.  And I waited.

The sales manager asked me about it a couple of times.  Oh, she’ll be back later this afternoon I kept telling him.  I heard the whispering.

Late in the day I finally called to find out what her schedule was for picking up the van.  I ended up speaking to her son who told me that she liked the van but was concerned because she had suddenly realized that it was an import.  The name Volkswagen hadn’t registered as a foreign make in her mind.

So she never came back and rumor has it that she ended up with an older model Chevy van.  But the damage was done.  My name at the dealership was Dumkopf for quite some time.

So I learned that you can’t believe what customers tell you.  Until they lay their money on the table.  And that’s the same thing I’ve found in selling antiques.  In the shop people will say things like “let me think about that,” or “I need to talk to my spouse,” or “I need to take some measurements.” If they don’t take it while they are there, most likely they won’t be back for it.  And I get it.  Its human nature to not want to hurt the seller’s feelings.

At least for some people.  Others will just say stuff like its too ugly, or too expensive, or it’s just a piece of junk and why would anyone want it in the first place? Sometimes they’ll fool you and come back.  That always gives me a good feeling about humanity.

Selling online can be even worse.  I’m not sure if it’s the platform.  Or the customers.  You see some real doozies.  People will respond to your advertisement by asking if the item is still available. When told yes, they vanish into thin air.  I guess they were just checking to see if I was running legitimate ads about furniture for sale.  Or they will make crazy lowball offers on things.  Will you give me a seventy five percent discount just because I asked?  Well, nice customer, no I won’t is my actual response. But I’m thinking something like if your employer told you they were going to cut your salary by seventy five percent, but still expect the same work, you’d be ok with that.  Right?  But I get it. Everyone wants a good deal.  And in antique shopping people bargain.

I’ve even had people agree to a price and a date for pickup.  Then not show and not respond to any inquiries.  It’s ok to change your mind.  Just tell me.

But online it’s easy to be rude because you don’t see anybody face to face.  It’s just some nameless, faceless person on the other end of the internet.  Or is it?   It may not occur to people, but with some platforms buyers and sellers can identify each other in many ways.  So it is a little more personal.

We all know that this inter-human disconnect is great for those among us who are less scrupulous.  Scammers.  They’ll tell you they are going to send a certified check and even add a little extra for you to arrange the shipping.  You get a check and ship the thing off to Timbuktu and then the bank tells you the check was no good.  Oh darn. That’s never happened to me.  That is, I’ve never fallen for that.  With me it’s face to face, cash.  Non-sequentially numbered bills with nothing larger than a twenty.

Retail is tough anyway.  Long hours, lousy pay.  Customers.  But if that’s your business you deal with it.  And I get it all because I’m a consumer too.  I’ll bend the truth to avoid making a purchase.  But I’ll never say “it’s a deal” and leave you hanging. That’s just me.  And the world would be a lot less interesting to me if everyone were like me.  More pleasant maybe, but less interesting.  In the end, the sins of the buyer are absolved upon receipt of payment.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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More Is Better!

If you tell me what something is with a single noun, I will understand the thing.  But if you give me more information, I will not just recognize it, but more fully appreciate it.  In the antique business you often find simple tags on items for sale.  And sometimes that’s enough.  Or all that will fit on the tag.  But being me, I like to provide some extra information.  Sometimes silly stuff.

This is mainly for my entertainment. Something to write on the tag that makes the item really interesting for me.  I like to write, what can I say?!  I don’t know if customers read them.  Or if the funny tag convinces them to buy.  Maybe.  But I do know that the people who work in the antique malls where I sell stuff enjoy reading my tags.  They often tell me that.

But it really hit me the other day.

We use a computerized system to keep track of sales at one of my venues.  I don’t know how it all works but when they sell something they can tell the computer which vendor it belonged to, what it was and how much it sold for.  The information they put in regarding what the item was comes from the tag that the seller provides.  So if you just describe your item as “boat,” that’s what you get in the description on the computer.  Sometimes I get lazy and do simple descriptions.  That’s ok if it’s an obvious item.  But I’ve read my sales reports and asked myself what the hell was that thing?  With a detailed description I’ll be much more certain. Though not always.

Back to my story.  I read the report one night and there it was.  The full description.  Whoever entered that didn’t have to put it all in there.  The first part was plenty to identify the item.  But they chose to put the whole thing in there and I have to think it was because they thought it was funny.  The item was a model of a boat.  Made of tin. It was a tugboat.  About a foot long.  I always liked that thing.  But on the tag I had written “nice model tugboat made of tin.  Ahoy Matey!”  And there it was on the computer: Ahoy Matey!  Made my day.

But one day I read the report and it said simply “get a grip” and I was dumbfounded.  What? I had no idea.  It was a good sale though so I figured I’d just go look in my booth and see what was gone.  When I got there on my next regular visit I couldn’t tell what was missing.  Get a grip?  Maybe I was losing my mind.  At the end of the month I got the printout of everything I’d sold.  And the original tags.  So what is “get a grip?”  Looking at the tags it hit me.  Well, yes the tag said get a grip, but that was only part of it.  The other part told me what it was.  Ice tongs.  But whoever put it into the computer liked the get a grip description better than ice tongs.

I must be the only one who entertains the sales staff with stuff like this.  They are always happy to see me.  Maybe because I’m such a nice guy.  Or because I always have such cool stuff in my booth.  Or maybe just because I create unique sales tags for this cool stuff.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Mysteries at the Antique Shop

What do you think of when I say the word antiques? There is no right answer. Everyone has their own ideas. That’s because there are so many different kinds of antiques.  And antiques shops.

Some of these places can be a little intimidating. Even for a professional dealer like me. But they are all easy to navigate. Just walk in and start looking around! The only prerequisite for entering is an interest in the contents of the shop.  They are not museums so yes, you are encouraged to buy.  But like in any other store you go to, you don’t have to buy anything.  Look around and see what’s there.  Learn about some history.  Ask questions if you like.  Share an interest.

The places I sell in are pretty much middle of the road as far as sophistication goes.  They are not fine furniture galleries or French salons.  But don’t misconstrue this to mean that you can’t find fabulous things inside.  Neither are they dirty and smelly, musty and dusty true junk shops. But that doesn’t mean you won’t occasionally find some junk inside.  I sometimes shake my head in wonder at what I see other dealers selling at my places.  Something for everyone they say.  And all antique shops offer the opportunity to find undiscovered treasures.

Because my places are what they are I don’t have a lot of opportunity to go into the fancy places, but I enjoy visiting them when I can because they offer a glimpse into a very different world.  In my store antique means something fifty years old. Or close to fifty.  Ahem.  And older. So what I see is a lot of stuff from the late 1800’s through the 1980’s.  The fine and dandy antique shops go much further back into history.  And sometimes  much deeper into your pocketbook.

This past weekend I had the opportunity to visit Scott’s Antique Market in Atlanta, Georgia.  They try to play it down to bring in a variety of customers, but walk in the door and you’re hit with lots of sterling silver, gleaming showcases and mahogany furniture from great mansions of the past.  It costs a couple of dollars to go in.  The admission is really for the parking, but it’s certainly worth the price.  You won’t find some of this stuff anywhere else other than a museum.  Or some grandmother’s mansion.

The people watching is fabulous too.  Dapper Dans and fine ladies, noses high, and diamonds shining brightly.  And country things just in from the hills.  And everything in between.  Makes for a very interesting fashion gallery.

I don’t necessarily like put-ons.  But I don’t mind talking to them.  And if you are potentially a buying customer, they will talk to you too.  They can tell that by listening to what you say.  If you have a good question, or an intelligent and obviously well informed comment, they know you are at least a potential.  I do ok with all the vendors because I bring humor.  If I don’t know what I’m talking about, which is more often than I care to admit, I can a t least make them smile.  I ‘d rather be known as funny than as stupid.  Humor brings us all together.

So if you like antiques, or even think you might, go on into the shops.  They won’t bite.  And you never know what you might find.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Partial Progress

I’ve been driving by this house for months noticing that it was falling apart but also that there was an interesting piece of furniture on the front porch. Wonder what happened to that piece of furniture?  I would’ve liked to have it, but I didn’t want to go up on the front porch to steal it. Maybe I should have because  now it’s buried under a pile of rubble. Oh well.

That place needed some extensive restoration. Or to be torn down. I’m pretty sure that a new house of modest stature will soon rise on the site because in the past year someone has built seven new houses within a few hundred yards of that old place. And restored two other houses and four duplexes. Someone is building themselves their very own town. Already has a stoplight!  Progress!

A few miles away I was surprised to see a newly vacant lot. Not long ago I’d been to a yard sale at a house there. A dump of a house reeking of decades of cats. It had a blue tarp on its roof for as long as I can remember. As far as I remember, the house was there yesterday.  But  today it is all gone and the lot is clean as a whistle.

I think on this spot someone will build either some sort of retail operation or professional space. Both of those are squeezing in nearby. No one wants a dumpy house there. And no one would want to live on that stretch of rapidly developing road. So tear it down and build something else.  I’m sure that the owner feels optimistic that she will get rich renting out a building to a boutique, or a doctors office.  It may take a while to get a tenant because there are a number of such properties already available.  But hope springs eternal.  Progress. Of sorts.

It was a busy day for bulldozers as I also noticed a fleet of trucks and heavy equipment working on the corner lot by the traffic light at the busy highway intersection. They were cutting down the stately oaks and leveling the ground. Gotta have a car wash there. At least that’s what the sign says. That will be great since there is already a gas station across the street and two fast food  places cattycornered nearby. And behind the car wash a new, upscale retirement facility is being built. Talk about some earth moving.

Twenty years ago, when I first moved to this area, that intersection was agricultural land. With an old time convenience store on one corner. Two gas pumps and a little building where you could buy a coke and a candy bar. I had once considered building an executive, par three golf course and driving range on that property.  At least it would have been green.  But now this. More progress?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for progress.  Lets make things better.  It’s all driven by growth because this once sleepy bedroom community is a good community to live and work in.  And by optimism.  Work hard at anything and you can get rich.    I’m not really a NIMBY kind of person. But I am a tad nostalgic. And I do wonder sometimes whether this progress is for the good of us all? And whether it’s really progress…

That’s part of my story. What’s yours?

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Bumper Buzz

Every day, all across America, salespeople seal the deal on hundreds of cars, trucks and SUVs.  Two doors, four doors, drop tops and sedans.  They come in red and brown and green and blue.  And of course black and white and gold and silver.    With so many choices, the fact remains, no matter what you get, someone else, somewhere, has one just like it.

As a budding genius my dad made me take a summer program math class.  We learned all sorts of things but the only one that I remember was that there is a formula for calculating how many possible combinations there are of a given number of traits.  That was all before cell phones and laptops and even hand held calculators so we did the math with pencil and paper, or a slide rule.

I forget the formula now but I remember that the numbers were impressive.  So it’s a little dismaying to think that with all the possible combinations of styles, trims, levels, options, colors and even wheels, I am not the only person put there who drives a white minivan!  Hell, my next-door neighbor has the same exact one!

It’s easy to tell which one is mine when its in the garage or the driveway.  But sitting in a huge parking lot makes it a little harder to find.  And I’m bad about remembering where I parked anyway.  Yes, I’ve wandered around in parking lots looking for my car.

What is even worse though, and I’ll use the dark of night as an excuse, is that I once actually got into a car which I thought was mine and tried to drive it away.  The key I had didn’t work and I quickly realized that this was not my car at which point I leapt out.  And hoped that no one had seen any of this.

So how do you personalize your car?  Make it into something that no one anywhere has. Except you.  You’ve got to accessorize.

Many people have a vanity plate on their vehicle. A name or clever saying.  Some of them are easy to read, others not so much. But whatever it says it means something to the owner.  Or there is the front vanity plate.  There is more variety here because you don’t have to use a state issued plate.  And of course vehicles used for work always have a company name and logo on them.  Some people like those stick figures of people to describe their family.  You know, mom, dad, couple of kids.  Maybe a dog or cat.  Then there is the whole world of bumper stickers.  Which fit in places far beyond a bumper.  Specialty lighting is also popular.  Light bars and undercarriage glow sticks.  So many choices!

Some people don’t care about decorating their vehicle.  They can identify it by the broken headlight or dinged fender.  Maybe there is a plastic bag taped over a broken window. Or duct tape holding some loose piece of metal on the car.  My dad once recognized an old car of his because of the way the bumper had been twisted after a fender bender.

But I like to decorate my car.  And my scooter.  And it helps me to find them in a parking lot.  No more getting into strange cars!  So I have a vanity plate on the front.  My initials in nautical flags.  Reminds me of my seafaring days.  But it’s the back of the van that really stands out.  On the roof, sitting on the roof rack, I have Buzz Lightyear.  It’s a twelve inch tall toy that bends and twists and can stand or sit or whatever.  He’s pretty stationary on my car, sitting patiently waiting to go to Infinity, and beyond.  Behind him is an old CB radio antenna.  Because if Buzz wants to talk to Woody or Jessie or the Green Army Men he can use his wrist radio.  But to talk to Infinity…he needs this booster antenna.  And to help him move this old van to Infinity, and beyond, there is a boat propeller spinning in the trailer hitch.

Sounds silly.  I know.  But its fun. And makes me feel good.  And unless I’ve started some new craze, I’m pretty sure there isn’t another white mini van out there that looks like mine.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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Memories

Today is Halloween, so I guess late in the day it’s ok to begin talking about Christmas.  I hate to do it because I like Halloween, and there is still Thanksgiving yet to come.  A very important holiday.  But this is kind of business related so here we go…

This weekend the antique mall where I have one of my shops is having it’s Christmas open house.  I know, it’s very early in the year for that.  Gotta give customers plenty of time to shop for Christmas items, and gifts of all sort.  And I like all the festive feeling and merry making of the holidays.

Anyway, the owner of the mall asked all the dealers to write up a little blurb on our favorite Christmas memory.  When I gave mine to her the other day she acted like I was the only one who had submitted anything.  Too bad…  I don’t really know what she’s planning to do with these stories, but it was fun to reminisce a little while putting mine together.

I have lots of Christmas memories.  Good and bad.  Favorite gifts.  Funny events.  Great experiences.  I saw the Pope at eh Vatican one year.  But one thing kept coming back into my head over and over.  It was the tree.  I’ve always had a live one.  Sometimes so alive it needed to be planted in the ground after the season.  And sometimes barely hanging on until its last needle turned brown and fell off.

Big trees and little trees.  Firs and pines and cypress.  Anything green.  But its not just the tree that stands out.  Its what we did to the tree preparing it for the holidays.  Making it beautiful….

My favorite Christmas memory is not of one event, but of one that happens every year. And every time with a different result. No, its not like in the movie Groundhog Day where I get to come back over and over to do it again until I get it right. I get it right every time. It just turns out differently. I decorate he Christmas tree.

When I was a kid Christmas Eve morning meant going to the garage to grab the tree we had chosen and cut in the forest the previous weekend. It sat in a bucket of water waiting for this day. My dad and I would wrestle it into the house and get it set up in its stand.

After lunch I was given the honor of putting all of the light on its boughs. String after string I’d test the lights and replace burned out bulbs, carefully choosing the color to be placed in each socket. This was the old days wen bulbs screwed in and could be replaced. When one loose or missing bulb shut down the whole string. And when each bulb had to be clipped on to the tree branch.

After dinner we would break out boxes and boxes of ornaments and everyone in the family would carefully hang dozens of them. A very eclectic looking tree, just as the members of my family are very much individuals.

We’d go to a Christmas Eve church service and when we returned home the children would drift of to bed. Not to sleep though! My mother would then get busy hanging tinsel on the tree.   Each strand carefully place to reflect the multicolored lights. She always told us that Santa Claus had put the tinsel on the tree. And the tree would remain in place until January 6th, the day of Epiphany. Thus, the twelve days of Christmas.

Now that I have my own family some of that has changed. I still do the lights, but now its much more a matter of shoving the strings into the tree, burying the lights deep to give a sense of depth. I usually forget to test them until after they are on the tree, and find that some work and others don’t. Or maybe I’ve strung them somehow I’ve sequenced the strings wrong so one has no power. But it always ends up beautifully lt.

And stays up for a long time. Going up right after Thanksgiving, we enjoy it all of December. The Southern tradition is that it must come down before New Years, which we observed of r many years. Now though, we put it up early and leave it up until the last needle is dried up and falls off. Well, not quite. It comes down in Epiphany.

Lots of other great holiday memories, but this one I get to refresh every year. To make it better perhaps, but always to make it memorable.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?

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