Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Musings – Disney Edition

After packing my last book on Sunday, September 16, I put all my listings across five different venues on vacation in preparation for our family trip to Disneyworld on 18-23 September.   After this much needed break from reality, I should feel rested, refreshed, and ready to face the Christmas selling season.

Instead, I’m exhausted, broke, and my feet still hurt.

Yet, despite my whining, we all had a wonderful time, especially my 6-year-old niece, Jacelyn, who was celebrating her 7th birthday early. She was treated like a princess by everyone on the Disney payroll, starting with her appointment at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, where she was “magically” turned into Alice, complete with appropriate hair style, nail polish, and dress.  After her pampering, she was fortunate enough to be selected to actually meet Alice, get an autograph, and ride the teacups with her.

Alice took time out of her busy Wonderland schedule to pose
and ride the teacups with Jacelyn

Not even Jacelyn could remove the Sword from the Stone

The rest of the week was a blister-inducing thrill ride, with park hopping from the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and Downtown Disney.  Crowds were fairly light most of the time, wait times for rides were only 5 to 10 minutes usually, and our hotel, the Pop Century Resort, wasn’t spectacular, but was clean and comfortable.

The only negative from the whole trip was on Thursday when it started pouring rain just after Tinkerbell flew from Cinderella’s Castle and the first fireworks lit up the sky.  I lost Ella in the crowd as we tried to dart, along with hundreds of others, to the nearest shop, all the while getting pushed, shoved, and run over by baby strollers.  Fortunately, she found me a short time later, and after a little forced shopping (it was still raining), we left the park, along with everyone else, it seemed, and endured a long, cold (A/C on full blast) bus trip back to the hotel.

While I enjoyed the time away from my online activities, I couldn’t fully turn off the thrifting portion of my brain, and continually thought about the business, and how we could learn a lot from Disney’s business model. 

Granted, there is nothing thrifty about Disney.  However, they are experts at separating you from your money.  To do so, they mine every conceivable niche (vacations, food, toys, souvenirs, etc.), and they are constantly marketing, advertising, and, of course, selling.  Disney also excels in customer service, with every employee, from the restroom attendants to the cast members on the parade floats, trained to ensure that park guests are treated like royalty, or, at the very least, like human beings, and not just like paying customers.

To be sure, our businesses are not and will never be comparable to Disney.  However, if we take advantage of every opportunity afforded us; learn as much as we can about what actually sells; train ourselves to recognize, then exploit, potential new markets; and ensure that our buyers receive nothing less than total customer support, then maybe we will have a little more magic in our kingdom.

OK, that last line was kind of corny.

Back to work. Have a great week!

Monday, September 17, 2012

No nudes is good nudes

Saturday, for all intents and purposes, was a total waste of a perfectly good morning. It started out badly, with geek tool (scouting PDA) trouble, making us late for the first sale, and really didn’t improve, with sale after sale yielding little if anything of resell value.

So, I decided to just relax, and appreciate the hunt, rather than the buy.  In addition, since it’s Disney week in two Davis households (yes, we are going to Disneyworld this week with my brother and his family), I felt OK with saving my inventory money for Mickey Mouse Land.
Even though I wasn’t finding anything of value, I did have an interesting experience.

One estate sale had advertised a large collection of nudes, with no other information. Such quirky descriptions always intrigue me, and about mid-morning, we pulled up to a fairly non-descript looking house.  We wandered through the house not seeing anything remotely resembling nudity until we went to the basement.  While that may seem like the opening to a bad porn movie, it really wasn’t, for at the bottom of the stairs was the largest collection of nude artwork and statuettes that I have ever seen.  OK, it was the only collection of nude artwork and statuettes that I have ever seen, but that’s beside the point.
This collection included a multitude of oil paintings and charcoal drawings, both framed and unframed; tapestries; the aforementioned statuettes; and even small selection of Marilyn Monroe (sans clothes) items.   It was beautiful, more art than porn (OK, maybe that small box of Playboys and assorted girlie magazines technically could be called porn), and everyone was looking, but no one was buying.

While I was looking at the girls … uh … art, it was announced that everything was going to half price after 12:30 p.m.  As most of you know by now, I love buying in bulk, and I began to think about how easy or difficult it would be to sell such items.  I must have had a certain look in my eyes, because Ella, who had been patiently watching me fawn over Marilyn and the rest of the babes … uh … models (purely from a resell standpoint, of course), had one word for me:

She then asked for the car keys, and left the basement.  I ogled … uh … examined the artistry for a few more minutes, before deciding it was one fight with Ella that just wasn’t worth waging. 
Have a productive week everyone.

Friday, September 14, 2012

90 reasons why I love FBA

I started using Fulfilled by Amazon (FBA) two years ago with some trepidation.  I had read horror stories about lost shipments and increased negative feedback and returns, but I was drowning in media, and was starved for time in the evenings due to my caregiver activities for my elderly mom. 

So, one Sunday, I signed up for FBA, followed Amazon's step by step directions, and by Monday afternoon, had dropped off three boxes of books at the local UPS store for shipment.  It was time-consuming at first, but relatively painless.  On Wednesday night, Amazon had received, checked in, and began "receiving" my inventory.  Shortly thereafter, in my "View Your Orders" section on Amazon, I noticed that my FBA inventory was already selling fast, and my inbox was filling up with "Amazon.com has shipped the item you sold" emails.

Granted, many of the items that I sent in had low rankings, and would have sold relatively quickly anyway.  However, FBA items in your inventory get a boost from a competitive pricing scheme, and the fact that many shoppers get free shipping on your items thanks to Amazon Prime and/or the Super Saver Shipping promotion.

It's a great feeling when your online inventory sells, obviously, but it's an even better feeling when your inventory sells, and you don't have to worry about packing and shipping.  In fact, once Amazon has your inventory in house, they even handle any customer service issue, including returns.

Overall, I've had a good experience with FBA, with very few returns, and overwhelmingly positive feedback.

FBA does have its drawbacks, though, and one seller likened it to the Hotel California, where "you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave." Not totally true, but if you wish to quit the program, you have to pay Amazon to either send your books back, or to dispose of them.  However, even if your inventory doesn't sell, as long as you only have one each of your items, it's free warehouse space until the right buyer comes along.

The chart below shows my sales over the last seven days.  My seller-fulfilled sales are somewhat disappointing, but the FBA sales have more than made up for it. 

Another plus of FBA is that when you put your store on vacation, FBA keeps plugging along, semi-guaranteeing you at least some income while you hopefully are resting and relaxing away from your computer, or taking one of those Disney vacations that we all save up for.

These weeks are just flying by, and it's amazing that it's Friday already.  I hope everyone has a productive and profitable weekend.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Are we negotiating again?

Another Saturday, another lot buy.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about an estate sale where I purchased hundreds of books, new CDs, DVDs, and computer games.  During the transaction, Debbie, a sister of the deceased owner of the media bounty, mentioned that they also had comic books to sell, and asked if I would be interested.  I said yes, left my card, and promptly forgot about it.

Friday night, Debbie called, and said that she finally had sorted the 3500 to 4000 comic books, which were mostly from 1970s and early 1980s, and that they were ready to sell.  She also said that she had looked up their value online, and sidestepped my question of how much she wanted for the lot.  Still, I made an appointment to look at the comics on Saturday.

I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know anything about selling comic books.  I still have two full boxes that I purchased in July that I haven’t even touched yet.  So, I decided to take a crash course in comic book sales.  Between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, I spent some time perusing the web, looking up everything I could find about buying/selling comic book collections. Forewarned is forearmed, so to speak.  Here are some tidbits that I gleaned from my research:

  • Comics from the 50s and 60s are worth the most.
  • Comics from the 80s to today are worth the least (or nothing at all).
  • Comics from the 70s are usually worth something.
  • Selling comic collections is not easy.

I also learned that most comic book dealers only offer between $.05 and $.10 per book for large collections.  After all, dealing with 3000 comic books is apt to be very labor intensive.  I also learned that to take a full value tax donation for the collection, if you believe it is worth more than $5000, you have to have the collection appraised, which, of course, costs money.

I also learned that as in all negotiations, the person who names a price first usually loses.

Satisfied that I knew enough to make an informed purchase decision, I decided to offer $350 for the collection, with no negotiation. 

Debbie was late for our meeting (she had the comic books in her SUV), so I chatted with her brother-in-law for a few minutes.  I learned that Debbie had spent weeks sorting and researching the comic books, and that she also had shopped them to a comic book store in Atlanta before offering them to me, but wasn’t satisfied with their offer.

When Debbie arrived, I looked over the collection, which consisted of eight long boxes, plus about four other boxes, which contained, as Debbie put it, the more expensive books, as well as comic/TV/movie-related magazines.  Again, I asked her how much she wanted for the lot.  She hesitated, and the asked for $1 per book.   I refused (nicely), and the price dropped to $.50 book.  After some more discussion, I offered my best (and only) deal of $350.  Ironically, she then admitted that was about what the comic book store had offered.

As she hesitated and thought about it, her sister and brother-in-law, who made up the original negotiating team for my media purchase, joined us.   Debbie asked their opinion about the offer, and to my semi-delight, they really didn’t care, and said so.   It seems that neither of them wanted to store the comic books any longer, nor go to the trouble of trying to donate them for maximum tax benefit.  So, after more back and forth, and after trying to negotiate her perceived most valuable comics out of the deal, we finally settled on my original price for the full lot.

After getting them home, I looked over the more expensive comic books, and listed a few of the graphic novels, one of which promptly sold to a buyer in Australia.  I also looked over the magazines, including bagged copies of Starlog, Star Trek magazines, and Dr. Who magazines, and after some research, discovered that those were worth money as well, and probably will help me recoup my investment without listing a single comic book.

I stored the rest of the boxes in our guest house, and I’m sure I’ll be hearing from Ella soon about getting rid of them because they are cluttering up the place.

Speaking of Ella, she also benefited from the buy.  As I’ve mentioned before, she’s a big Western buff, loving all things cowboy.  In fact, she wears one of her Western character shirts (i.e., the Virginian) on Saturday mornings, and it’s a running joke between us that when she wears said shirts, she finds something Western to add to her collection.  This Saturday though, despite wearing her Western shirt, she didn’t find anything, and we even talked about it on the way home.

Late Saturday evening, though, as I was going through the comic books, I found a book about The Wild, Wild West TV show, and gave it to her.  So, her streak is still alive.

How was your weekend?

Friday, September 7, 2012

An Oopsie Daisy Christmas Story

It’s a familiar story.  Christmas. Hot toy. Short supply. Crying kid. Desperate parents.

Solution?  Search the Internet … Amazon, Ebay, etc.  Pay a premium, but have a happy kid on Christmas morning.

Only, this was the late 1980s.  Amazon and eBay weren’t even twinkles in their creators’ eyes. The Sears Christmas Wishbook was king. And my niece wanted a special doll, an Oopsie Daisy doll, that just could not be found.

My brother and his wife had searched all over Atlanta for the doll to no avail, and finally asked if we could search in our area, about 90 miles south in Macon.  Of course, the doll was sold out here as well, and I broadened my search to the small town where I worked, Milledgeville, and to the city where my sometime girlfriend lived, Athens.

Unfortunately, it seemed like Santa wouldn’t be able to deliver that year.

Then, I had an epiphany.  I worked at a newspaper, so I wrote a column detailing my problems trying to find the special gift. Now, Milledgeville is a small town with a small town paper, but never, ever underestimate the power of the press.

Two days after the column ran, I received a call from a reader who said they had a doll that they would sell me.  It seems that they too had wanted a doll for their little girl, and were lucky enough to have found one.  And like my brother, they too had put out the word to relatives to look for the doll.  And, lo and behold, a relative in Alaska had found a doll, and sent it to them.  So, they had two, and offered to sell one to me at retail price.

Obviously, my niece had a merry Christmas that year.

That was about 25 years ago, and while the song may have changed, the dance is the same.  Kids still want the newest, flashiest, cutest toys, and parents are still eager to please their little munchkins, no matter how much it costs. 

As online sellers, we can take advantage of this parental devotion, provided we have enough foresight to purchase stock of hot items before the Christmas frenzy hits. For example, in 2009, Zhu Zhu Pets and their accessories were hot, and in short supply, even months before Christmas.  Retail price was around $9 each, but I was fortunate enough to buy a few on eBay in September for around $20 each.  I held on to them until Black Friday, and listed them for $60 each, and most sold within hours.  In December, though, the manufacturer caught up, and the online priced dropped back to normal.  Luckily, all mine had sold by then.  Today, it’s hard to give away Zhu Zhu Pets; their time has passed.

By now, I’m sure you are asking yourself which toys are hot this year.  Wouldn’t it be cool if there was a website that lists all the hot toys?  You maybe could catch a few on sale now, and sell them for a profit later as we plunge headlong into the silly season. 

And wouldn’t it be even cooler if that same website could tell you which major retailers had the toys in stock? After all, if no major retailer has them in stock in December, and you were lucky enough to buy a few in September, cha ching!

OK, I’ve kept you suspense long enough.  There is such a website:


Good luck, good hunting, and don’t say I never gave you anything.

Have a profitable weekend!

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Trendy sales

There are many sellers out there who live and die by statistics, meticulously plot sales trends, and try to anticipate current/future sales by looking at past sales.

Fortunately, I am not one of them.  Math tends to confuse me, and one of the reasons I went into journalism was to avoid working with digits higher than the number of fingers and toes that I have. However, there comes a time when even the most numerically challenged seller has to look at the numbers, and either shake his head in disgust, or smile in relief.  

After what seemed to be a particularly busy August, and after packing my last item on the 31st, I felt the need to assess my sales for the month.  My sleep-deprived state preventing me from even attempting such an endeavor at that point, but the long weekend provided ample opportunity, as Jethro Bodine would say, to do some ciphering.  Truthfully, I was expecting a moderately successful month (after all, it had been busy), but was pleasantly surprised to see just how well the month had treated me.

Like many booksellers, I use www.theartofbooks (AOB) to manage my online inventory. Not only does it allow me to sell across multiple venues (Amazon, Alibris, Half, Biblio), but also it provides some rudimentary record-keeping, which is just perfect for a rudimentary guy like myself.  In August 2012, I sold 270 items across all venues, plus another 40 items on eBay.  Using simple math (my favorite kind), that equates to shipping approximately 10 packages a day, which wasn’t too shabby.

Impressed with my analytical skills at this point, I decided that to judge just how good August 2012 actually was, I had to compare it against August 2011.  I also decided that number of packages shipped didn’t adequately define how successful the month was, so I decided to use gross revenue.  Now frightened by my own initiative, I opened Microsoft Excel, and created a chart comparing August sales for 2011 to 2012, using data from AOB. 

It was a cute chart, but kind of sparse, so I added sales from as far back as August 2007 (my first year of serious online selling), thinking I may see some trend.  Sheesh, did I actually think about a trend?  I realized at that point that I was dangerously close to becoming a math geek (not that there’s anything wrong with that), but the information provided showed that August 2012 was my second best August ever.

More revealing, though, is that it shows just how consistent my sales actually are from year to year, at least in August.

Talk about a smile of relief.

At that point, I was hooked, and decided to compare eBay sales for August 2011 and 2012.  The current year sales far outstripped 2011, but that was to be expected since I was fairly new to eBay selling last year. 

On a totally unrelated subject, Ella and I had our first foray into hunting for our new Barry’s Bookmobile over the weekend. In a previous blog, I had discussed either wanting a Ford Transit Connect or a pickup truck with a cap on the back. After test driving the Transit Connect, I can say that it’s a cute vehicle, and probably would suit our needs, but the pokey engine (4 cylinder for you car enthusiasts) and the high price $22,000 to $25,000 led us to believe that the truck/cab combination probably would be the better deal.  To my amazement, Ella has taken the lead in looking for the truck, and was routinely talking to the salesmen about mileage, model year, and number of doors (she wants a four-door truck).  Unfortunately, everything we (Ella) liked was out of our price range, so we are still looking.

As far as actual thrifting, the weekend was pretty much terrible, with few sales yielding even fewer treasures.  I’ll chalk it up to being a holiday weekend, but August garage/yard/church sales had been trending (there’s that word again) badly, and the first weekend of September followed suit.  Fortunately, there already is a church sale advertised for next weekend, so maybe with Fall upon us, the trend (I just can’t get away from that word) will improve.

How was your weekend?