Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Pokemon, Pikachu, and my "aha" moment

Rebecca over on the Late Night Coffee blog ( posted a very informative “Dooyahavwun” article about Pokemon plush, and the wide range of Pokemon collectibles selling well on eBay.

Being an obviously out of touch middle-aged guy, I never understood the power of Pokemon until one day in a local department store. While waiting for Ella to finish shopping, a woman came by pushing a young boy in a stroller.  The boy was mesmerized by the character bed sheets, pointing his finger, and speaking in a hushed, almost reverent tone, “Pokemon.”

To say the least, it was an “aha” moment.

Now, I grab everything Pokemon-related that I can find.  My latest collectible to sell was an “I Choose You Pikachu” that I picked up for a buck at a yard sale.  His biggest selling point was that his ears wiggled, his mouth moved, and his cheeks lit up when he was talking. It sold for $24.99. 

Interestingly enough, at least to me, was the fact that the Pikachu was my first listing to use video to help sell the product.  My thought process was that showing potential buyers that the Pikachu wiggles its ears is a lot better than just telling them about it.

So, I picked up my little Flip camera, filmed about 30 seconds of Pikachu in action, posted it on YouTube, and coded my listing to feature the video when the listing was viewed. It was easy.

I was so impressed with myself that I did the same thing for my Tickle Me Elmo, also bought for a buck.

Both sold rather quickly.  Now, I realize that both items have good sell-through rates, but I figured seeing the products in action might sway a potential buyer my way.  Apparently, it worked.

Now, I always consider how/if a video can help sell my products, and never, ever underestimate the power of Pikachu.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Stumbling over treasure

Saturday got off to a slow start.  First, I slept a little later, 6:30 as opposed to 4:30, trying to decide if I really wanted to brave the elements to go to yard sales.  There really weren’t that many sales, and, honestly, I was just being lazy.

However, I talked myself into it, and after searching Craigslist, and making a quick plan, Ella and I were out the door for a sale that started at 9 a.m.  It sounded promising, but, alas, it was a bust.  After several other hit and miss sales, and two church-run thrift stores, we ended up at a “huge business liquidation sale” in a warehouse that promised “Computers, tools, antiques, electronics, furniture, wholesale lots, kids items, automotive items, tires, equipment, etc.”  It was around 11:30 a.m.

I wasn’t impressed when I first walked in.  Everything was dirty, and after picking up a few empty boxes, I figured everything had been picked over.  Ella settled in to look at some old record albums, and I continued to look around.   After several fruitless minutes, I literally almost stumbled over several pallets of old computer software.  Catching myself, I noticed two things on the pallets: the word “IBM,” and lots of boxes.  Taking a closer look, I realized that it was software from the 1980s on 5.25-inch and 3.5-inch diskettes, but it was NEW AND STILL IN SHRINK-WRAP.

Sensing a potential gold mine, I hurriedly found the dealer running the sale, and asked him how much for the software.  One dollar per box. Words cannot describe how I felt at that moment, as I grabbed Ella, and pulled her toward the pallets.  Pull out everything still in shrink-wrap, I told her.

We pulled about 20 software packages, several packs of new HP paper/transparency film, six boxes of unopened 5.25-inch diskettes, and one technical book, worth $49, also still in shrink-wrap. We added half a case of copy paper, and one Partridge Family record album to the pile.   We negotiated our price to $25 for everything, and drove away smiling.

I spent all day Sunday researching and listing the software.  Most had not been sold on eBay in the past year, according to Terapeak, so I listed many of the packages for $49 each + shipping.  One particular software package, though, I knew about.  It was IBM Interleaf Publishing.  If purchased new in the 1980s, it would have set you back about $2000.  I listed it for $100.

By early this morning, I not only had sold several of the $49 software packages, but also I had sold Interleaf Publishing to a computer museum in California.  I have confidence that the other items will sell as well.

The lessons of this story are that being lazy doesn’t pay the bills, the early bird doesn’t necessarily catch every worm, and it’s just as easy to stumble over treasure as it is to find it.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

It's more than a game, it's a memory

I mentioned in yesterday’s post that every storage unit has a story behind it.  Well, I was reminded last night that many items that we sell have stories behind them, too.

Last year at a big sale sponsored by the Historic Macon Foundation in Macon, GA, I picked up a Monopoly game based on the city of Macon, GA. Local businesses, many now defunct, made up the squares.  It was cool because it made me a little nostalgic for my formative years, all of which centered around Macon, and I had frequented many of the businesses featured on the game. Plus, ever the “picker,” I thought someone on eBay might just be willing to pay a little more than the $5 that I paid for the game.

After some fruitless research, I decided to list the game high, $299, with Best Offer.  Unfortunately, it has sat in my store, well watched, but, ultimately, unbought.

Last night, out of the blue, I received a question about it.  “Did it have instructions or any other information?”  I checked the game; no instructions. I relayed the information to what I hoped was a potential buyer.  Turns out, she wasn’t a potential buyer, but the creator of the game.  Here is what she wrote:

The reason that I am asking is that I, along with my husband and other friends, made this game. Most of the "properties" on the board were at the time owned by our friends. We made the game (~1988) as a fund raiser for our childrens PTA. And raised around 20 thousand dollars. We sold them for $20.00. Good luck with your auction.”

I felt a little sheepish about my high asking price, given the back-story of the game, and, especially, when confronted by one of the game’s creators.  However, I got over that fast because it got me thinking. 

Raising $20,000 at $20 per game means they sold at least 1000 to 2000 games, not a real big production run.  Given that the game was produced 24 years ago, and I haven’t seen another copy during my many years of “picking” in the area, plus Terapeak has no record of it in the past year, it might be possible that I have one of the last copies in existence.

Suddenly, my $299 seems … reasonable.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Storage Wars = Storage Work

I’m a fan of the storage auction shows.  I mean, who hasn't dreamed of opening a storage unit and finding untold riches?

So, naturally, I had to test the waters and buy a unit.

So far, my first and only unit was a doozy. I purchased it for a mere $225, and it was an 8X10 unit full of what best can be called “stuff.”  Actually, upon first glance when the doors were opened, my impression was that it was someone’s whole life stored in a storage locker.

Upon winning and digging through the unit, I determined that my initial impression was correct.

The unit was so full of stuff that you couldn’t see to the back.  The front of the unit consisted of a giant speaker, and assorted boxes.  I could tell there was either a washer or a dryer toward the middle, some sort of couch, a probably bed-bug infested mattress, and several damaged end tables.  Not exactly a gold mine, but I was determined.

Along with the aforementioned items, there were headboards, a stove, a microwave, and clothes stored in Georgia suitcases (big black plastic garbage bags).

Did I mention the big screen projection TV with a bullet hole in it?

What was really interesting, though, were the items found in the multitude of boxes throughout the unit.

From looking through everything, I determined that the former owner was not nice guy. My first tip off was the multitude of drug paraphernalia scattered about.  I quickly gloved up after finding the hypodermic needles.

I also found about 20 disposable cell phones, a sure sign of a drug dealer. I also found boxes of more personal items, including drivers licenses, work permits, parole cards, car keys, and believe it or not, a gold bridge that the dealer … er .. former owner wore over his own teeth.  Yuck, but after quickly dousing it with Lysol, it brought about $40 at the gold store.

Sadly, I also found his kids’ birth certificates, photographs, report cards, art projects, and a card that let me know that at least one of his offspring was in the Youth Development Center, a local “jail” for juveniles.

Between all the little items, and the gold bridge, I made my money back on the unit, but I didn’t know what to do with the bigger items.  I didn’t have a warehouse, nor thrift store in which to sell them.  In short, the unit quickly became an albatross around my neck, with the storage company pressing me to quickly clean out their space.

Luckily, fortune favors the prepared mind.  I saw an ad on Craigslist for a couple wanting donations.  Her husband lost his good job, she was unable to work, yada, yada, yada.  It sounds bad, but I saw opportunity in their alleged misfortune.  To make a long story short, I gave them everything that was left in the storage unit with the understanding that they had to clean it out.

I learned a valuable lesson from that experience.  Buying storage units is fun, cleaning them out is hard work, and, most importantly, every unit has a story behind it, if you look hard enough.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Things I've learned from selling stuff online

Here are a few things that I've learned in my short online selling career.   Feel free to add your own in the comments section.
  1. Even if the customer is wrong, the customer is always right.
  2. Inventory takes up lots of room.
  3. Plastic mail totes can scratch hardwood floors.
  4. By noon on Saturdays, I don’t want to see another garage sale.  Until the next Saturday, that is.
  5. Big book sales make me anxious.  It’s the thrill of the hunt combined with the dread of not finding anything sellable.
  6. No matter how hard you try, you can’t please everyone all the time.
  7. Properly grading/describing an item will save you a lot of trouble later.
  8. It’s embarrassing to not be able to find an item in your inventory.
  9. It’s OK to lie to people who ask what you are doing when you are scouting for books.
  10. Always keep enough packing tape on hand.  Running out on a Sunday night means a trip to Wal-Mart.
  11. Electronic gizmos don’t guarantee success.
  12. On the other hand, GPS devices are worth their weight in gold when driving to yard sales.
  13. Paying $.25 to a child at a yard sale for a book that is worth good money makes me feel guilty, but only for a little while.
  14. Always buy the cookie or the lemonade from the kids trying to make a few extra bucks at their parent’s yard sale.  It’ll make you feel less guilty for taking their book for a quarter.
  15. People will buy anything on eBay.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Will You Be "My Valentine"?

Way back in 1997, Martina McBride had a hit song called “My Valentine,” with Jim Brickman.  Ever the romantic, I bought the CD; printed out the lyrics and put them in a frame; and presented both to Ella for Valentine’s Day.  I’m fairly certain the frame is still around our house somewhere, even after 15 years, but I know the CD is still in her CD tower.

What brought this to mind on Valentine’s Day 2012 is an article on questioning whether it still makes sense to buy CDs today.  You can read the article here:

CDs have been part of my online inventory since I opened my virtual store seven years ago, and they are still a big seller, at least for me.  I understand the allure of digital music, though, and have downloaded many songs.  Yet, it would be a big blow to my bottom line for the bottom to fall out of the CD market.

After some thought, though, I realized that with every setback comes opportunity. There are many CDs that are still worth good money, and they are practically being given away at yard sales and flea markets.  That’s right, as more people switch to digital music, they are discarding their CDs, usually for $1 or less.

Cha ching!

Admittedly, it takes some effort to find them, but my PDA/scanner combo makes short work of stacks of CDs. Also, depending on the price, a bulk buy of a CD collection could reap big rewards.  For instance, I bought a huge collection of classical music CDs last year at an estate sale for $200, including the CD stand.  Some were high priced, some were low priced, but all were worth money, and are still selling today.

I guess the moral of the story is don’t be dismayed by the rise of digital music, and, to the same extent, ebooks.  There will always be opportunity in “old technology.”  After all, the CD that I bought 10 years ago will still play; the book that I bought is still readable.  Ten years from now, will the ebook or the digital music file be readable on the current crop of computers or readers?

Happy Valentine’s Day.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Monday Musings

It’s been very warm here in the south this winter, but temperatures were predicted to plummet into the low 20s on Saturday morning, so I decided to stay in bed, and nurse this cold that’s held me in its grip for several days.

But, alas, it was not to be. Ella, my wife, decided she wanted to go to a storage auction in a nearby town because one of the units was advertised as having a DVD collection inside. I’ve never mentioned it before, but Ella lives by the rule of “she who dies with the most DVDs wins.”  So, begrudgingly, I climbed out of bed, dressed warmly, and braved the wind chill.

Like at most storage auctions these days, thanks to the TV shows, there were quite a few people there.  Twelve units were advertised, but that had been whittled down to eight, according to the note on the storage company’s door.  Thankfully, the DVD unit was still on the list.

Trying to stifle my sniffles, I watched as unit after unit of what charitably could be called trash sold for what most of the seasoned buyers there though was too much.  The DVD unit was last on the list, and I just followed the wife from unit to unit, biding my time, sneezing occasionally, and wishing the warm weather had held off for a day or two more.

Finally, the next to last unit was up for bid, with the DVD unit being next.  After the unit sold, the woman thanked everyone for coming.  WHAT?

Apparently, the owner of the DVD unit paid just before the auction started.

Ella was bummed; I was just glad it was over.  I just grabbed her arm and pulled her toward what soon would be the warm car.

Since we were out, we decided to stop at a couple of yard sales that were on the way home.  Thankfully, I happened across a seven DVD set of Bible story DVDs, worth in the high $40s, which was being sold by a little old lady.  I asked her how much for the set, and she thought about it a minute, and asked would $1 be too much.

Have I ever mentioned that I like sales run by little old ladies?

Naturally, I paid the dollar.

Ella even found a couple of DVDs for $.50 each, which helped her get over her storage auction fiasco.

So, thankfully, the morning wasn’t a total loss for either of us.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

“But noooooooo.”

As an online seller, I have had many instances of customers complaining of non-receipt of their purchase, even though Delivery Confirmation said the item had been delivered.  I tell them to check with roommate, spouse, kids, and/or the Post Office to verify the whereabouts of their package. Usually, I do not hear back, and assume the missing article has been located.

This week, though, the shoe was on the other foot.

I ordered an item from a reputable eBay seller, who shipped the item promptly via Priority Mail. Delivery Confirmation showed that the package had been delivered on Saturday. Unfortunately, there was no package in my mailbox.

I waited until after the mail delivery on Monday (no package) before checking with my local post office.  Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, they really don’t handle mail routing anymore, so they gave me the number to the regional post office in another city, about 10 miles away.  Tanya at that Post Office was very nice, and said she would look into it.  True to her word, she called me back later that afternoon, and said she had spoken with the carrier, who distinctly remembered putting the package in my “black” mailbox on Saturday.  Since the carrier verified that he had delivered the package, my only option was to file a police report, according to Tanya.

Since the item was only worth about $20, I decided that filing a police report would be frivolous. Instead, I contacted the seller, and explained the situation to her, including my dealings with the post office.  She offered to send another package out, even though I didn’t ask, and I graciously accepted.

Should be end of story.  However, as John Belushi frequently said on Saturday Night Live, “but nooooooo.”

Flash forward to Wednesday afternoon.  The seller already had sent me shipping confirmation on my second package.  I’m satisfied that all is well.  Then the phone rings. It’s Tanya from the Post Office, who had some new information about my errant package.

Apparently, the seller had misaddressed the label, and the carrier put the package in the wrong box (actually, the correct box, according to the address label; obviously, he wasn’t a mind reader).  Upon his route on Wednesday, he somehow reacquired the package, and delivered it to me. I was happy; Tanya was happy.  End of story.

“But noooooooo.”

I checked my mailbox when I got home from work, and there was a package.  However, it was not the package in question.  I was confused.  This new package, which I was expecting, had the correct address on it.  So, if the carrier had put this package in the wrong box on Saturday, even with the correct address, what kind of idiot must he be, and where is my original package?

I suddenly became worried about my incoming replacement package.

I called Tanya right away, and explained it to her.  She was exasperated, and promised to take the matter to her supervisors on Thursday morning.  End of story, at least for the day, right?

“But noooooooo.”

On my property, I have two houses.  Our large house, and a smaller guest house in the back.  To my way of thinking, there can be no confusion as to which is the main house (you know, the big one with the car parked out front) that should get all deliveries.  After it had gotten dark, I had the occasion to go to the guesthouse to grab some packing supplies.  As I walked to the house in the dark, and fumbled with my key to unlock the door, my foot hit something. Finally, opening the door, I turned on the porch light, and saw my missing package, complete with wrong address.

Suddenly, the carrier’s story had a ring of truth to it.  All was as he said, except that he delivered it to the right address, but STILL the wrong house.  I knew then that I had to have another conversation with Tanya in the morning.

Of course, there was still the matter of the replacement package coming in the mail.  I contacted the seller, and explained the situation to her, offering to write “Refused” on the package, and have it returned to her, provided I actually received it.  After verifying that she had sent this one to the right address, she told me to keep the second package. 

By now, I’m sure she considers me a problem buyer. She’ll obviously get a very glowing feedback from me, though, for her troubles, and for the extra item.

On Thursday morning, I contacted Tanya again, and explained how I found the original package. I even told her to thank the carrier for his efforts in ensuring the package found its way home.

End of story, right?  We’ll see.  I still have another package to receive.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Billy the Kid - Big Bucks or Pipe Dream?

In my last post, I mentioned that my wife, Ella, had picked up some Old West items at the estate sale where all the Elvis memorabilia was sold.  Apparently, the collector was also a Billy the Kid (BTK) fan, and had many BTK items.

Among other items, she picked up a small book called Billy the Kid - Las Vegas Newspaper Accounts of his Career 1880-1881, published in 1958.

It’s a very thin paperback, First Edition, and only 1000 copies were printed.   It is unavailable on, and a search at finds no other instances of this book currently being sold online.

It seems that I have a rare, or, at least hard to find, book in my possession.  On one hand, I’m happy about this because rare = money.  On the other hand, it makes me nervous because I have no idea of its true value, not being a BTK expert. I don’t want to list it too high, because it won’t sell.  And, of course, I don’t want to give it away at a low price.

Decisions, decisions.

So, I decided to list it very high with best offer.

So far, it has one watcher, but no takers.  I’ll let you know if it sells.

**UPDATE**  I  received a laughable Best Offer of $.99 from a potential buyer who questioned my Top Rated seller status with a vulgarity, and said the price borderlined on fraud.   Perhaps he was just upset that he couldn't afford the book.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Elvis Has Left the Building

Collectors always amaze me.  I mean serious collectors, collectors who dedicate whole rooms of their house to their passion, and have collections spanning decades, and many, many thousands of dollars. Sadly, I never get to meet these collectors, and only learn about them after their death, when their family begins to sell off their prized possessions.

Such was the case this weekend.  You wouldn’t know it to look at it, but a small, non-descript house in middle Georgia held one of the largest Elvis Presley collections in the U.S, and due to the owner’s death, it was for sale, piece by piece.  The sale ran for three days, starting on Friday, and ending on half price day on Sunday.  My wife, Ella, went on Friday, and was among the first 50 that were allowed in the house.  She came away with mostly wild west items/collectibles (another of the deceased’s passions), but told wondrous stories of all the other collectibles in the house, including the Elvis room, and the Star Wars closet.  So, naturally, I was chomping at the bit to get there on Sunday to see if anything was left.

We got to the sale right at 1 p.m. on Sunday, and there was a small line already.  The door promptly opened, and Ella pointed me in the direction of Elvis nirvana.  On the way, though, I was waylaid by the Force, and had to stop and look at the Star Wars closet.  It was interesting, with Star Wars record albums, and a few new action figures.  The closet also featured a box of magazines, which, in some way, featured Star Wars.  There was also a cardboard standup R2-D2, and, get this, boxes of Dixie cups featuring the Star Wars characters.  Only, the boxes were empty.  He was displaying empty boxes. 

Deciding to come back, since there didn’t seem to be a great interest in Star Wars by the patrons in the house, I stepped into the Elvis room.  The room was dominated by a large table with what had to be hundreds of albums and 45s.  On the walls were tables filled with photos, magazines, newsletters, memorabilia, and, my favorite, books.  Now, remember, this was the third day of the sale, and I really wasn’t expecting to find major value.  I was wrong.  Book after book scanned for good money.  High ranks, but good money, nonetheless.  I quickly amassed a large pile, which sale workers promptly grabbed for me and took to the holding area. I then concentrated on the magazines and memorabilia.  I grabbed a box of Elvis fan club newsletters, dating back to the 1970s, for the princely sum of one dollar, an Elvis concert T-shirt, a baby shirt featuring an Elvis festival logo, and several Elvis magazines, which were protected in plastic covers.  I wanted the Elvis scarf, which I assumed was one of the ones he would throw into the crowd at concerts, but decided I would have no way to verify its authenticity.

I looked over the posters and photos, but passed on them because I really don’t know their value.  I have a feeling, though, that doing so was probably a mistake.  I also passed on the albums and 45s because I wasn’t sure of actual value.

Deciding I’d done all the damage that I could do in that room, I went back to the Star Wars closet, determined to find something.  I settled on an original four CD-set of the Star Wars soundtrack, while looking wistfully at the other items.

I also grabbed two $1.50 power center/surge suppressors onto which you sit your computer monitor, and into which you plug all your peripherals.

I wanted more, sure I could make my money back easily, but decided that the logistics of storing everything outweighed my need for more inventory at that moment.

Upon arriving back home, the image of all that potential inventory still haunted me.  I emailed the estate sale, asking if they would sell everything left for one money.  They replied that they already had an offer of $1700, but would let me know if it fell through. 

I’m not sure that’s a good deal, but know that I’ll feel Moody Blue if it’s offered and I don’t buy it.

OK, you knew I had to get an Elvis song reference in there somewhere, right?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Holding a Cat by the Tail

If you hold a cat by the tail, you learn things you cannot learn any other way.
Mark Twain

Mark Twain was a wise man.  In this single quote, he summed up my experience with selling online. I keep doing things the wrong way, but as a result, I’m slowly learning the right way to do things.

Take, for example, eBay titles.  On the surface, titles seem easy enough.  Just say what you have to sell.  It’s like holding that cat by the tail. You can do it that way, but you quickly learn that it’s not the best way to hold the feline.   For some of us, though, we have to get scratched, clawed, and bitten a few times before we learn our lesson.

My most recent lesson involves a pair of Nike shoes that I got out of a storage unit.  The moment that I saw them, I was sure they would sell.  That was a year and numerous auctions and off and on fixed priced listings ago.  Here is how I listed the shoes:

Several watchers, but no sales.  But then I started reading eBay how-to articles, and really thinking about titles.  So, I tweaked (added three words) the listing to this:

Much to my surprise, “watchers” increased, and I finally had a “best offer” for the shoes after a day or so.   Cha ching.

The change was small, but the results were big. Now, my goal is to look at all my slow sellers and see if I can improve the titles.  I also plan to think more carefully about the titles as I list.

I know, I know.  It’s just common eBay sense to do this. But some of us have to hold that cat by the tail a few times to get it through our thick heads.