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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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Blue Paint Spot

Selling my house meant that the basement would have to be cleaned. I remember thinking to myself at the time that such an accomplishment would be equivalent to Hercules cleaning the Augean Stables.

For nineteen years the basement had been the repository for a million and one items to be stored. Some of which I never looked at during those nineteen years. And then there was my tool bench. Covered with tools and bits of metal and jars full of nails and tacks and innumerable goodies that I knew I would need at some point in the future. Even if I had to view the future in the way that the universe sees progress. Then there were the treasures, memories and other “junk.”

I could put it all on one thirty yard dumpster. But I need all of it. Orr most of it. Some anyway. So I got to work packing boxes and crates and whatever I could use to hold these testaments to my past, present and future.

Sweeping the floor I noticed a spot of blue. Kind of a dark royal. It was paint. Marine paint that I had spilled while I was restoring a sailboat in the basement. I didn’t build it in there so in spite of the images that floated in my head of having to cut either the boat or the house in half to get the thing out, it fit nicely through the double door.

It was an older, classic style Moth racer. Designed for one person, it had a main and a jib and was sixteen feet long. My neighbor had recently moved from California and brought the boat with him. He hadn’t sailed it in years, and no intention of starting now. I think his wife talked him into getting rid of it. And lucky me, I got it. No cost, but I had to promise to restore it. Gladly!

The hull was intact, but had a lot of spidering cracks. The boom, tiller and part of the dagger board were teak. All in need of refinishing. The standing rigging was missing and the running rigging was rotten. It needed new pulleys. And paint.

Kind of a mess I realized when I got into it. What had I signed up for?! A deal is a seal and I knew it would be a lot of work, and fun. I rolled up my sleeves and got started.

The mast could stay outdoors, but everything else needed to come inside to be worked on. The basement. I brought in the boom, the rudder and tiller, and the dagger board. And then I set up a pair of sawhorses to rest the hull on. And then I headed to West Marine to shop for supplies. What’s on the list? Bondo, sandpaper, steel wool, metal polish, teak stain, lines for the running rigging, cable for het standing rigging, three colors of marine paint, and a special tool designed to crimp the cable to assure that it held the mast up properly. And a pirate pennant.

Six hours and three hundred dollars later I was back in the basement. Ready to restore. The teak was easy to sand down and refinish. I polished the brass bolts and wing nuts on the tiller. Stainless steel screw heads along the top of the hull were all polished up to a bright shine. And I polished up the thirty pound steel dagger board. Check. Check. Check. Now for the hull and standing rigging.

Classic car enthusiasts prefer original parts. And real metal. I was working with a fiberglass hull so I decided Bondo would be OK to fill cracks and scratches and dent and dings. It was all getting painted anyway.

Bondo. Sand. Bondo. Sand. When I was satisfied that the entire hull was as smooth as glass I was ready to paint. The hull would be royal blue. The deck a cream color. And the splash rail a bright red. And inside the cockpit I was planning on some sort of arrow design.

Since the hull was resting upright on the sawhorses I painted that first. Three coats. With a brush. And not a single brushstroke showing. Took a week.   Then I hit the splash rail with a couple of coats of red. Just a splash of color! Ha-ha.

Enlisting some help from my daughter, we very carefully flipped the hull over and set the deck side down on now padded sawhorses. No scratching!!!

And then the blue. Five coats of it. With a brush. Long strokes. And nary a brush mark. It looked brand new. Fabulous.

Flipped over again I taped of an arrow on the floor of the cockpit and painted it blue. Pointing forward. Thataway to the finish line!

It was ready to go back outside to have the mast set. New halyards port and starboard. And then a new forestay. That one had to be custom measured. Add the rudder, tiller, dagger board, and boom and viola!, we have a sailboat.

I had the sails. Once the battens were slipped into their pockets I could hoist the sails. And the pirate pennant. All in my backyard. I took lots of pictures. And then I sold it.

I had sanded, bonded, sanded more, stained and painted. And on the floor of the basement was that blob of blue paint I had spilled. It would stay there forever as a reminder to me of the sailboat I had reborn.

Of course the new owners of the house would have no idea what it was. And would probably never guess that a boat had been there. But I know. And now I’m looking for another boat to restore.

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

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Pickers

In the antique business everyone knows what a picker is. A person who goes around scrounging through piles of stuff in crowded barns and backyards and basements looking for valuable treasures. They are looking for that thing that you, or Aunt Jane of Grandma put in the barn or attic twenty or fifty years ago, and forgot about. That thing that is now worth a bunch of money. And they buy it from you for, well, less that what they will sell it for. Nature of the business.

But, a lot of other people know pickers as Mike and Frank, the two dudes from Iowa who go around the country picking. And their sidekick Danielle, who makes a lot of phone calls and sets things up for them. These guys have a show on television called American Pickers. And that is what the show is all about.

They nearly picked my pockets. Or my treasures to be more exact. I’m not sure who initiates this, them or the local area, but the county where I live put out a notice on Facebook that the Pickers were interested in coming to the area and wanted anyone with valuable items to send an email to the pickers people. To cut the wheat from the chaff they included a list of things they were specifically looking for. And a list of things they did NOT want to see. After looking at the list, I realized that I had quite a bit of stuff they were looking for. Folk art, military items, old advertising items, and a scooter. They love scooters and motorcycles! So I sent an email describing my items. And waited. And waited. And waited. I have good junk!

Finally I got an email from the pickers. No, not Mike, Frank or even Danielle. Not even Mike’s brother. They wanted my phone number so we could talk more about my stuff. Oh man! I might get to be on TV! Wow! I was jumpin for joy!

Well, I waited again. And waited some more. And finally the phone rang. It wasn’t Mike, Frank, or Danielle. Not even Mike’s brother. It wasn’t even anyone from Iowa! It was some dude from New York. TV executive of some sort. Whatever. If I get on TV this dude will be my best friend forever.

He asked me several questions about my collection. He was interested in several aspects of it. But what he was really interested in was how it was gonna look on TV. Not my stuff per se, but how I had my stuff situated. He kept asking me if I was a hoarder.

I live in the suburbs. In a single family dwelling. No barn, no shed, no storage bins in the yard. The house is jammed with all this stuff, but you can maneuver around without having to follow narrow paths cut between stacks of junk piled high. Not a hoarder. A serious, and overzealous collector.

He finally said that it sounded like I had wonderful junk, but that I was much too neat for their show. They want the boys to be climbing, and digging, and shining their flashlights. And getting dusty, dirty and sweaty in locating some incredible thing. The same damn thing I have sitting on the shelf in my house. I told him I’d be happy to junk the place up. But no, it didn’t seem like it was going to work. That had to be the first time in my life that anyone had told me that I was too neat!

Oh well. Wouldn’t be the first time I was “this close” to being on TV. There was the crowd scene for the Today Show, and the last round of eliminations for Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. Maybe next time.

Television or not. I know I have some really cool stuff! And I enjoy collecting it. That’s part of my story. What’s yours? www.personalhistorywriter.com

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The Antique Shop

Poop or get off the pot!  That’s what they told me.  Well, they may have used some other words, but the gist of the statement was to make up my mind and do something.  One way or the other.  Quit dilly-dallying! 

Over the years I’ve often thought of opening an antique shop.  Real moneymaker, eh?  It’s just that I love all those old things.  Maybe not all of them, but a lot.  Everyone likes what they like, and maybe I like more old stuff than other people do.  When I was young my parents would take me to old dusty places filled with lots of old junk.  At least that’s what I thought until I found “it.” 

We were in a place in New Jersey.  Oh, what was its name?  Pinskey’s? Probably closed by now.  The man that ran it was ancient those many years ago.  Sprawling. Dusty.  Jam-packed.  But I found it.  That old bugle.  Nice patina.  It had a dent on the bell.  But it had a mouthpiece and it tasted like old metal when I blew it.  A horrible sound.

The old man came around and said to me that the bugle was the very one that Teddy Roosevelt carried up San Juan Hill during his famous charge.  Oh, what a story, what provenance!  Had to have it.  I think it cost twelve bucks back then.  My dad knew the story wasn’t true, but he saw the look in my eye and bought it for me.  Today it hangs by a golden lanyard inside a wooden frame lined with blue velvet.  History!

So now I want to open this store.  Filled with all the stuff I like.  But it’s a scary move.  High risk.  Not such high reward.  Other than that I control my destiny that way.  Yeah.  That’s valuable.  Beyond belief.

I’ve done some research on opening a stand-alone store.  And on running an antique mall.  And on just having a booth in a mall.  I’ll start with the booth in the mall.  But the stuff, what will I sell?  Those old antiques are expensive and I don’t really have a nest egg to begin with.  I’ll just wait some more.  Boy it sure would be nice to do this.  I’ll just wait.  Man, it would sure be nice to do this.  You get the picture.

Then one day I got off work early and decided I’d go to an antiques store nearby.  I walk in the door and bam, there “it” is.  No, not the bugle.  Something else I had to have.  And then there was something else, and another thing.  Before I knew it, I’d bought a whole bunch of stuff!  I said to myself, “self, time to jump into the game!”

I don’t have the store yet, but I know which mall I’ll be in.  I can picture the booth, filled with my stuff.  I see dollar signs.  I keep buying stuff.  Every weekend, yard sales.  Craigslist.  Ebay.  I’ll be selling everywhere.  It’s really happening. 

At yard sales I look and buy.  I see what others are buying.  Dang, why didn’t I buy that?  Oh yeah, I don’t care for that kind of thing.  I’m still learning what’s hot, tempered by what I like, and what stuff is worth.  That’s a scary part, but I’m in.  My biggest problem right now is where to keep all this stuff until I have a store to put it in.  My wife says, “Why don’t you wait.”  I’m in now.  Coming up my problem is going to be this:  sell it?  What do you mean sell it?  I can’t part with any of this stuff; it’s all so cool! 

I’ll enjoy the hunt and the purchase.  I’ll treasure each item for a while, and then pass it along for other s to enjoy.  I’m sure I’ll keep some things for a long time.

That’s part of my story.  What’s yours?  www.personalhistorywriter.com

 

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