There are multiple factors that determine the value of an object. Condition, desirability and scarcity are the Big Three value determinants. Age, pizzazz, provenance, regional appeal and size are some of the other value considerations. In this instance, value means the retail cost to acquire the object on the secondary market by a collector or other person who desires to buy it. This value is the highest value that can be assigned to an object. It is not necessarily a value that will sell the object. In fact, it may be a value that ensures the object will not sell; the difficulty being that the collector or person who would buy it at that price might never be exposed to the object.
There are not fixed prices in the antiques and collectibles trade. An object’s value is place and time related. The same object in the same condition often sells across a wide price range that is difficult to predict.
[Author’s Aside #1: The above paragraph sounds (reads) like a stuck record. (If CDs stick, I am unaware of it; hence, the record analogy.) By now, some “Rinker on Collectibles” regular readers are likely to find my constantly repeating this information annoying. It appears here because it is necessary groundwork for what follows.]
Assuming an individual, a dealers or private individual wants to sell an antique and collectible, a key question is, “What is the ideal sell through price?” The first criterion is a price that sells the object in 30 days or less. An object that remains in inventory for longer than 30 days is costing the seller money. A dealer receives no money to pay himself/herself, expenses or purchase new inventory. A private seller gets discouraged. Objects that remain in inventory for 90 or more days should be sold for whatever can be obtained, even if it means selling the object at a greatly reduced price or loss. Antiques and collectibles are not bank monetary assets. They do not earn interest.
The second criterion is a price that is below the standard dealer’s asking price for the same object. When individuals write to “Rinker on Collectibles” and note they saw the same object listed on Craigslist, eBay, Instagram, Pinterest or a similar Internet site at such and such a price, I inform them that a listed price is not a sell through price. If possible, use a source such as WorthPoint.com to obtain a general idea of what a viable sell through price is.
Next, look to see how many followers the object has on the various websites. The higher the number is, the easier to decide on a selling price. List the object at a price that is 20 to 25 percent lower than that asked by the other sellers. In simple terms, undercut the competition. I have received dozens of emails from individuals telling me how well this concept worked.
The third criterion is to price the object at a price that is attractive to a potential buyer as well as a dealer. This price ranges from 60 to 70 percent of the high retail value. Nothing sells an object quicker than a bargain price. Since sellers normally give dealers a discounted price, dealers will buy at a shorter margin than normal if they have one or more customers they can call and quickly turn over the piece.
There are two critical considerations the seller needs to weigh. First, what did they pay for it? If the cost is zero, as it so often it is for private sellers, any amount is a profit. Ideally, a dealer should triple his purchase price based on the adage “double your money, pay your expenses; triple your money, pay yourself.” Sellers do not always buy well enough to achieve this. Second, understand where the object falls on a desirability scale of one to five with one being minimal desirability and five being extremely high desirability. Seventy-five percent of the objects in the trade have a one ranking. The desirability curve is exponential. The higher the desirability number is, the more limited the customer base becomes. Since value is related to desirability, the more desirable an object is, the higher its value.
Is a good selling price enough to close the sale of an object? The answer is perhaps, but more often it is no. The early 1980s recession (July 1981 to November 1983) taught the antiques and collectibles trade two valuable lessons: 1) There is a price at which every object will not sell; and 2) Objects no longer sold themselves.
In order to sell an object, the potential buyer needs to be attracted to it. It has to be available in the field or on the Internet and presented in such a way that the potential buyer’s eyes see it. In the field, the key is to display objects in a favorable light. On the Internet, key search descriptors are essential to make certain the object appears in the buyer’s initial search.
The antiques and collectibles trade is notorious for its lack of display acumen. The standard approach is to put as many objects as possible into the space allotted—the crowd and stack things approach. Like items by material or category usually are displayed randomly. The traditional theory that buyers like to hunt for bargains continues to prevail in a market where buyers have limited time and want instant gratification.
I shop in the field using a simple rule—if a booth is so crowded that I cannot easily see what is in it or I am concerned that if I shift my derrière, I will knock something off a shelf or table, I will not enter it.
I visit antiques and collectibles flea markets, malls, shops and shows about midday. I no longer find sport in the initial rush through the gates. During a mid-afternoon visit on Day 2 to Renninger’s February 2020 Extravaganza in Mount Dora, Florida, I was struck by how many spaces and booths gave the impression that little to nothing had been sold.
[Author’s Aside #2: If an antiques and collectibles seller retails 5 percent of what they display in a mall booth in a month or in three days in an outdoor show, they had a “good” month or show. I will never understand the fun of hauling home 90 to 95 percent of unsold goods. Sellers almost always blame the lack of sales on outside sources rather than looking in the mirror.]
Sellers should identify ten to twenty pieces in their inventory for which they have the highest sale expectation and create a display that highlights them, one in which the pieces are easy to see and stand out from the rest. Creating an urge in a buyer to pick up a piece in the field or spend time researching it on the Internet is critical to closing the sale.
What happens next is the clincher. The seller needs to enter into a dialogue with a buyer. Forget the phrases “Can I help you?” or “I can do better.” The goal is to make the potential buyer feel that he/she has selected something special. Good opening phrases are: “I see you are admiring that piece. It is one of my favorites.” Or “You have a good eye. That is a quality piece.” Make the piece and the potential buyer’s choice of it special from the very beginning of a conversation or email exchange. Flattery is an excellent sales tool.
Continue the conversation by telling the potential buyer why the piece is special. Provide stories that the potential buyer can tell to others when he/she shares the object with them.
[Author’s Aside #3: Whether you agree with me or not, remember what is sold in the antiques and collectibles business is dreams, stories and wonder, first, and objects second.]
In today’s selling environment, objects have to be room or wear ready. Stress the point that the potential buyer can take the object home and immediately display, wear or use it.
Finally, do not forget to say “thank you,” even if the “thank you” is for the customer visiting a space or booth rather than for purchasing an object. Fostering a sense of good will is every seller’s responsibility and duty. If the antiques and collectibles trade wishes to survive, it needs to keep encouraging potential buyers to return.
As a reporter, I am an observer, an immediate but, more often, a distance one. I spend a great deal of time studying the interactions of buyers and sellers. The most important thing I have learned is that, while there is no single right answer on how to do things, there are general rules that work more often than not. It is my privilege to share these from time to time.
Do you have suggestions to close the sale that I did not touch upon? Email your suggestions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Selected letters will be answered in this column. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5955 Mill Point Court SE, Kentwood, MI 49512. You also can e-mail your questions to email@example.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Copyright © Harry L. Rinker, LLC, 2020