Tuesday, March 06, 2012

This is How We Do It: Craiglist Edition

Welcome to the inaugural "This is How We Do It" segment, where I'm going to spout off and pontificate on a variety of subjects related to selling in a vendor mall.  Now, I don't claim to be a see-all, know-all guru-expert.  But I have been doing this for a couple of years now.  I've made a little money and I've learned a few things, which I'd like to share here for anyone who might be interested in pursuing a booth some time in the future.

I'm going to address topics either as they arise in my life or as they occur to me, so there really isn't any kind of order here.  You know how I do things here.  It's pretty much spontaneous and as they pop into my little head.  Still, if there is something you would like to know about, leave me a note in the comments, and I'll address it in a future post.

A couple more caveats and then we'll begin.  First off, while there are certainly some principles that do crossover into other types of reselling, I am a dealer in a vendor mall--not an antique mall, not a flea market or swap meet, not online.  There are some concerns that sellers in those other environments have that I don't and vice versa.  I'm planning on doing a post one day soon that outlines the differences between those different kinds of establishments.

Secondly, this is what works for me as a seller in my malls in my city.  You may have different experiences.  If so, I certainly want to hear about them.  You may have opposite opinions.  Again, I'd like to entertain them.  I'm not claiming any kind of omnipotence or special knowledge here.  I'm jut a guy doing the best he can to get by in this tough, old world.  This has worked for me, so I thought it might work for someone else.

I offer it in that spirit.  Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

I chose Craigslist as the inaugural topic, because it's one that comes up in conversation a lot for me. I make use of Craigslist frequently, and it has led to a number of sales for me.  Some sales I can credit to CL, because I was in the store when someone came in to get the item, and they asked about the item and mentioned the listing.  At other times, the item sells within a day or two of being listed.  While I cannot directly link that kind of sale to my posting, I've got a pretty good hunch that it usually is related.

It's pretty standard around here for vendor outlets to encourage posting on Craigslist by their dealers.  Some will even do it for you.  I prefer to do my own, though, because I like for mine to have a specific style and consistency.  I want to promote myself, my booth(s), my outlook, my philosophy and all of my items, not just the one that the ad is focused on. I also want to promote the venue where I am selling, though that is a secondary concern.  If I can create strong, well-crafted listings, I can create a favorable opinion of both me and my wares and, by extension, the place where I am selling.  It's great free advertising, all the way around, which makes everyone a winner.

Despite all the advantages, though, I know a lot of vendors who either don't know how or don't take the time to do a CL post.  I know others who do them all the time, but aren't making the best impressions with them.  Here are some things to consider when doing a post to promote your wares on Craigslist.

Again, while I don't consider myself to be that much of an expert, I do have a record of sales from my postings.  I also have several other vendors and the management of one store I'm in complimenting me on them.  I take all that as a sign that something I'm doing is working. 

Set up an account.  You don't have to have an account to post on CL, but having one helps you with little things like editing posts, deleting sold items, relisting things, and just all around staying organized.  Besides, it's free.  So what have you got to lose?  All you need is an email account.  And I don't think I've gotten one bit of unsolicited email from them since I opened my account.

Delete your posting when the item sells.  Nothing is more frustrating for a customer than to come to a shop and find out the item they came specifically to get has been sold.  Most of them can be understanding if it sold earlier the same day, but not so much if it sold three days (or more) ago.  And the next time you list an item they might be interested in, they're not going to take a chance on it.You set up that account for a reason, so use it.  I try to get mine deleted the same day I get the notice that an item sold.  The next morning at the absolute latest. 

Stay classy.  Talk yourself and your stuff up.  Don't talk others, be they other dealers or other stores, down.  It only reflects poorly on you as a seller and, indirectly, on the store where you sell.  You'll turn off a lot more people than you'll draw.  Remember, the junking world is small.  Bad karma and bad news travel fast.  Dealers shop from other dealers, so don't cut off your nose.

Take a good photo.  Seriously.  It's not hard.  Point and shoot.  Take several photos from different angles that highlight features and flaws.  And take each one several times, so you can have a choice of possiblities to use.  Honestly, if I see another listing with a photo that's blurry, dark or overexposed, I'm going to scream.  This is your business here.  Do right by it.  When you go through the pics later to choose some for the listing, use the best ones.  If you have any that are blurry, washed out or dark--DON'T USE THEM!!  It all speaks to your professionalism and attention to detail.

Stage your photo.  If you're like me, your booth is overflowing with all kinds of goodies for sale.  it has to be, since that's how we get sales--by having full booths.  Photos of full booths, though, can come off looking clutered and uninviting.  Worse, they can distract from the item you are trying to sell.  If a buyer cannot tell what you are listing, they're not going to come and buy it.  Pull it out from the everything else to photograph it or take the pic before you take the item to your booth.  It will display better and attract more attention that way.  If your item is a flat surface, like a table, remove other items that you may be displaying on it so that buyers can see all of it.  These little touches make all the difference.

Edit your photo.  You don't have to be a Photoshop genius to make your pciture better.  Find a simple free photo editor.  I like Picasa, which is very easy to use.  Crop out all distracting elements and make your photo focus on the item for sale.  Straighten the photo.  Adjust the contrast and brightness.  Just use the automatic settings in the software for this.  It usually works just fine for me and makes the items look so much nicer.

Include information about the place the item is located.  Store name.  Store address.  Store hours.  Store phone numbers.  Your booth name/number.  Your location in the store.  These are the key bits of info the buyer may need to get to your item.  Use the store name in your listing title for the location.  Promote!  Promote!  Promote!  There are always going to be tons of people who have never heard of you, your booth, your store or anything else.  Target your ad to those readers.  One way to do this is to create some boilerplate language in a word processing program that you can copy and paste into the end of your ad.

Make it clear that this item is being sold by a dealer from a store.  Craigslist is mostly about people dealing with people one on one to make transactions.  That means that users are used to making arrangements, like meeting somewhere, to buy and sell their goods.  As a busy person with at least one booth, you don't really have time to do that sort of thing, yet you may still get requests for it.  Try to cut those requests off before they start by making sure the info listed above is clear and prominent.  It's best to try and keep folks from asking with good up front information.  That way, you don't have to come off like a jerk by telling them they have to come to your booth to get the item.

Describe your item well.  Back your good photos up with good text.  Colors.  Brands.  Materials.  Dimensions.  All of this info up front can help a buyer make a decision from your posting.  They'll only ask you for that stuff later anyway.  Making a trip to your booth only to find out your item is too large for their space will turn a potential customer off of your future ads, so get out that measuring tape.

Include the price!  So many Craiglisters plop "1.00" in the price field for the header as a ruse to get people to look at their listings that many folks searching for goods on the site automatically disregard whatever is listed in the post title.  Be sure to repeat your price in the body of your post.

Write in short paragraphs or bullet points, but don't skimp on the info.  Reading on a computer screen is a little harder on the eye than reading on paper.  Remember to add more white space.  Short paragraphs and single lines or bullet points can get your point and information across, while still staying easy on the eyes.  You don't want the buyer to miss an important detail.  Being succinct is a learned art, one that I struggle with daily, as you can tell.  But, in the end, it's worth it.

Put it in the right category.  Craigslist is full of pedantic followers who delight in flagging anything they feel is out of place.  If your ad gets removed, no one can see it.  And, I have to admit, as someone who regularly looks through the CL ads, I get tired of seeing individual items listed for sale in the garage sale category, where they don't do anything but clog the place up.  Annoying potential customers is never a good idea.  If you don't know for sure where to put you ad, then do a search and see where similar items have been placed.  The right category also gets you more views, which means more potential customers.

Don't have anything particular to push this week?  Do a general listing!  You're not always going to have special items worthy of a posting in themselves.  That makes it a good time to do a post pushing your booth in general, or some special aspect of it.  For mine, I sometimes flog my books or religious items--two specialized categories that can bring in specialized shoppers.  Just remember the importance of good photos.  Wide angle shots of well-stocked booths can come across as cluttered.  Focus on one shelf in your photos or one or two unique items.

Respond to emails.  Truth to be told, a Craigslist post will generate a small amount of spam for you.  But mixed in with that will be customers trying to get in touch with you.  Honestly, I've never gotten more than an occasional spam, even when I have several active postings.  Just flag those puppies and go on.  Don't cut yourself off from potential buyers over it.   

Don't overpost.  One category per post, please.  And remember, just because you have a booth full of stuff doesn't mean that every little item is worthy of its own post.  If you've posted an item a couple of times and it hasn't sold, retire the posting for a while and focus on something else.  Bring it back in a few weeks, if it still hasn't sold.  Flogging the same item over and over makes it look like you don't have anything else to offer in your booth.  I've found that bringing something back after a few weeks of rest can result in a sale, whereas bringing the same thing up over and over just makes it look tired.  Make sure that you aren't sending wrong messages about your booth and stock

Edit if you have to.  Once you put an ad up, you might realize that a couple of tweaks or a better photo would dramatically improve your ad and chances of selling.  Well, that's easy to do!  Just a few clicks and you've just made your ad a little better.  Don't be afraid of improving on your work, if it'll bring you sales.

Don't get discouraged.  Some things you post won't sell.  Some will sell, but not right away.  Don't give up on Craigslist right away.  Give it time.  Keep posting and hone your skills.  Look at your ads for things that haven't sold.  How can you improve them?  There's no such thing as easy money.  Your return will always be equal to your effort, so keep plugging.

Promote yourself and your booth in your listing.  You've got more than just that one item in your booth, right?  At the end of your listing, throw in a line like "Be sure to check out the rest of our seclection of unique and eclectic items at bargain prices. New small porcelain figures just arrived this week!"  The buyer is going to come in kind of tunnel-visioned on the item in your listing.  Gently breaking them out of that rut may earn you an extra sale or two.

Keep your booth stocked and neat.  No matter how much they want that harpsichord, if they can't get  into your booth for the clutter, they can't buy it.  It's that simple.  You're inviting the world into your booth space.  Make sure it's ready for them.

Be regular.  Don't list every teacup and doily that comes into your space, but make an effort to have something worth listing ready every week.  If you're serious about your booth, you'll be making a point of trying to bring the best possible merch in anyway.  Some of that will be worth the time to do a listing.  Your secondary goal, after selling the item, is building a customer base.  Some people will hop on your bandwagon after that first CL find in your booth.  Others may take some reminding that you are there before you become a regular stop for them.  Keep listing until you win them over.

Proofread.  Badly worded, poorly punctuated, and haphazardly spelled ads reflect badly on you and your store.  There are people who don't want to deal with someone who seems to take so little care in their work.  If your attention to detail is that lax, how do I know that you haven't "overlooked" a huge scratch on the top of that coffee table?  Proofing will also catch missing info and make sure your formatting is consistent.  If you're not good at catching your typos and errors, let someone else do it before you upoload the listing.  Print it off and let them look at it, then make changes as needed.

Look at your listing a few hours after you load it.  Give yourself a little space away from your work and then look at it with new eyes.  Think like a customer would.  Ask yourself:  "Based on this listing, would I call or drop by this store to check this item out?"  If your answer is anything less than a "Yes!"  (and that includes a qualified "Maybe"), then edit that listing.

It doesn't take much to do a Craiglisting.  That's why there are so many of them.  It also doesn't take much more to do a listing that's going to stand out and promote you and your products well.  Take the extra step.

As I was working on this post last week, I got a call from one of my stores telling me that an item I listed that very morning had sold.  It does work!  Now, if you'll excuse me, I've got some more listings to prepare.


Sue (Vintage Rescue) said...

I've been pondering doing this, so thanks for the kick in the butt!

EM said...

Good luck Sue!