Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Put a Price on It

Last week, I told you the story of a flea market dealer who hadn’t priced anything and wondered why no one was asking about her items, let alone buying them. So to help you price your antiques and collectibles, especially for a yard sale or flea market, I thought I’d offer some guidance. But before I do, I’d like to offer another example of how not to.

To do that, I continue a few tables down from the previous dealer to another at the same flea market. This guy had a number of U.S. stamps for sale, all packaged in groups by age. Since I collect U.S. stamps, my eye immediately zeroed in on a little “stock” book, with four manila pages with overlapping strips into which he had inserted an assortment of U.S. commemorative stamps. Collectors use these little books to transport stamps to shows or to store a particular group for further study. The dealer had placed two stickers on the cover. One said “$3.50 net with book” while the other said “$4 postage.” At first glance, I noticed the $4 sticker, so I offered him $3, and after some hesitation, he agreed. Then he directed me over to a plastic bin with other packages of stamps. I didn’t see any I wanted, so he directed me to a looseleaf binder with plastic pages filled with stamps. I chose two of them, each with a sticker that said “$2 postage.” He said I could have the stock book filled with stamps and the two pages for $10. I did some quick calculations and came up with $7 for the three items, not $10. “Oh,” he said, “that’s only for the face value of the postage.”

“You said I could have the book with its stamps for $3, so I’ll just take it,” I replied. Needless to say, he wasn’t too pleased. If he had put a definite price on each of his items, there wouldn’t have been a controversy. Instead, his stickers were vague and communicated the wrong message.

So how do you go about pricing your antiques and collectibles so they sell? First, price isn’t the same as value–it’s usually about half that. So while you may use an antiques pricing guide to look up your items, what you’re really looking at is a value guide. The authors of these guides research the value of a particular item by checking the most current amounts the item fetched both at auctions and in shops, then they average the different amounts together.

For you see, the market value of an antique is what someone is willing to pay for it. And just because an items lists for $25, for example, doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to charge the same amount for it, especially if you’re selling your item at a market entry-level venue like a yard sale or flea market. To sell successfully at these places, you’ll have to start your pricing much lower than the guide amount.

Some antique sellers take a shortcut and go directly to eBay to check prices. While prices are current there, many have been inflated by what I call the “entertainment” factor. Many eBay shoppers look upon “winning” an auction much as they would winning a game of chance at a casino. At a regular auction, the highest bidder “buys’ the item while on eBay, the highest bidder “wins” the item. Generally, this drives final prices up.

But even beyond using pricing guides and eBay to research prices, you should check the prices in the same sort of selling venues near you. Go to several yard sales and/or flea markets and check what similar items are going for there. This is known as pricing what the market will bear. You can’t charge more than people are willing to pay in a particular area. The item just won’t sell, no matter how valuable it might be.

Monday, July 19, 2010

How Much is This?

[NOTE: Occasionally, I’ll be posting some blogs that are more my opinion of a particular situation involving antiques and collectibles than an answer to a quesiton about one. This is the first.]

“How much is this?” If you have to ask, then the antique shop or flea market dealer hasn’t completed their job–or the person is just downright lazy.

I went to a favorite flea market of mine last Saturday. I say favorite only because it’s the only regular one left in my area–it occurs on the third Saturday of each month from late Spring to late Fall. A lot of the same dealers display some of the same things they’ve had for sale for the last couple of years.

While most of the dealers price their goods beforehand, a few don’t. Take Mr. I-Don’t-Price-Anything, Mr. Idpa for short. This rather smug dealer always seems to offer interesting items, none of which has a price. So I’m always forced to ask, “How much is this?”

There’s a slight pause as Mr. Idpa sizes me up. If he thinks I’m a Yuppie with a Beamer parked out under the trees, he’ll immediately raise his price by as much as 50 percent, even before he says anything. I know this because I’ve conducted a little study over the last few months in which I wear different styles of clothes on different visits to the market. I then pick the same or similar item and ask the same question: “How much is this?” He rarely remembers me and so far, none of the prices quoted for the same item have been the same.

A few times I really wanted an item I collect, but resisted because not only did he make up prices as he went along, he also refused to bargain when I asked “What’s your best price?’ If he were the only dealer doing this, I would just pass by his space. But, unfortunately, he’s not–although he’s the king.

Last week, a new dealer had set up next to Mr. Idpa and like him, she hadn’t priced her goods. As I neared her table, I overheard her say to another woman, “I don’t understand why no one has asked about my chairs.” She had four well-used ladderback rushed chairs arranged out in front of her tables, each nicely draped with colorful silk scraves.

After the woman left, I approached her and said, “Perhaps it’s because you don’t have any prices on your items.”

“Do you think that’s it?” she asked.

I explained that customers need a place to start–a pricing reference point. “When I approach a dealer’s tables and see something I like, I look at the item, then at its price to see if it’s within my budget.
“But I thought prices might scare customers away,” she replied.

“Not at all,” I said. “ You see, people who are serious collectors, like me, come here [to flea markets] looking for items to add to our collections...for the right price, of course. If a dealer overprices an item, I move on. But if it’s within my price range, I begin a conversation with the dealer about it.”

Just then, a woman approached the dealer carrying an old hand washboard she had picked up out near the dealer’s chairs. The washboard had a price on it of $18. From my previous conversation with the dealers, I assumed she left the previous price sticker on from when she bought it. I stepped aside and let them haggle. A few minutes later, the customer walked away with the washboard under her arm and a smile on her face.

I again approached the dealer and said, “That makes my point.”

“I guess so, “ she replied. “Now what can I use for price stickers.”

More on pricing antiques and collectibles next time.