Friday, June 27, 2014

How to sell something

About ten years ago, I was planning a vacation to San Francisco to attend APE.  I had saved some money, done some extra house-sitting, and cashed a couple of savings bonds, all in an effort to scrape up some extra money for the trip.

A couple of weeks before leaving, I cleaned out my closets, comic book collection, CD's, and bookshelves and loaded up the car with stuff, which I took around town to sell.  This is ages before I ever even thought about having a booth, so I hit every place I knew that would buy stuff.  A few stops later, I had 500 more dollars for the trip!

I didn't sell everything, but I sold most of it.  The big money came from the comic shop, because I selected what I wanted to sell very carefully, picking things I knew they would want.  The other stuff was more of a shot in the dark.  Two bookstores bought a few things, but I learned that one of them really preferred hardcovers.  Most of the books ended up going to Half-Price Books, which doesn't pay that much, but I had enough of a quantity (along with comic books that I knew the comic store wouldn't want and leftover CD's) that I got a decent payout from them.  I would never go to HPB to make serious bank, but they're great for squeezing a few bucks out of your leftovers.

I learned a few things about selling stuff along the way, and, even though things have changed a bit since then (namely the economy), most of those lessons still hold.  When I started reselling seriously five years ago, I also started picking up more tidbits about selling that I added to the list.  When you've got a booth or do eBay or whatever, you eventually become a target from someone with a few boxes or a basement or garage full of stuff to sell.  Since I've already talked about how not sell something, I thought I would balance it out with something a bit more positive, so here are some ideas and points to help sell your stuff.

We are going to assume, for brevity's sake, that you are going to be dealing with a reasonable and fair reseller/dealer.  Most of us are.  For every asshole, there are dozens of us who treat people with respect and integrity.  If you need help finding the right people to work with, ask around.  If you do find yourself in a bad experience, walk away from it.  A better one is probably just around the corner.  You should be treated with respect and decency.  If you are working with one vendor, but you cannot seem to come to terms, ask them who else you could take your stuff to. 

You are trying to make a business transaction.  Remember that and act accordingly.  This means pushiness is OUT.  Politeness is IN.  If you want to do this kind of thing regularly, you need connections (relationships).  Someone who has already had an unpleasant encounter with you will not be so willing to deal with you again.  Even if no sale results, treat the encounter as an opportunity to build a relationship and learn about your prospective buyer and what you could do to make the transaction go better next time.

The person you are dealing with probably knows more than you.  They may or may not know more about your items, but they definitely know a lot of things you don't know:
  • How well this type of item has sold for them in the past
  • How many they may have in stock or in reserve at this moment
  • How appropriate your item is for their venue
  • What the market is for this type of item
  • How much they can get for your item
  • What their expenses will be in selling your item
They will use this information to make a buying decision about your stuff.  You need to listen to them and let them.  They're also going to know what they are talking about.

I once watched a guy coming back to a store at the end of the day to try and accept an offer he had rejected that morning.  He had driven his stuff all over town trying to get the better offer he knew was out there.  Turns out the one he had rejected was the best one he got all day.  The first words out of his mouth were:  "You all were right."  The next thing he said was:  "I am so sick of trying to sell these damn things."

It's not personal.  Your buyer is making a decision based on your item, not you personally.  If you take it personally or get offended, then they will most definitely make their next decision about dealing with you a negative one.

You are dealing with someone who does what they do to make money.  If you come in expecting top dollar, you're probably not going to get it.  If they pay you the top of the line price, then there is no room for them to make any money.  If they cannot see making money, then they won't buy.  We all like the things we sell, but profit is what keeps us in business.  Don't begrudge your buyer their livelihood.

Know who you are dealing with.  If you are dealing with a store, call and find out when and how they buy.  Some only see items by appointment.  Others may not be interested in certain items.  You might have to drop things off and come back for an offer.  (Be sure to keep a list of your items if you do this.) If you are consigning, know the policies, especially the timeframes for an item to sell.  Also, if you are dealing with a business, they may ask for ID or have you complete paperwork verifying that the items you are selling are yours to sell.  (I don't have the space here to tell you the stories about why this step is necessary.)

If you are selling to someone with a booth somewhere, check out their space and see what they sell.  If you are not offering the kinds of items they are selling, they're probably not going to buy from you.  Nothing annoys me more than someone wanting to sell me clothing while talking to me at my booth, where there is no clothing in sight!

Have a realistic price in mind for your items.  One of the first things I ask someone trying to sell me stuff is: "What do you want for it?"  Most, if not all, resellers do this as a way to gauge what the seller is thinking and how the deal might go.  If the response is:  "What will you give me?" then that's a sign things might not go well.  You're entering a negotiation.  Come prepared.  The person you're trying to sell to is giving you a chance to own the negotiation.  Don't blow it.  If you leave all control in their hands, then there's a higher chance you are going to feel disappointed with the deal.  Remember, you want to build a relationship here so you can do this again.  You do that by actively participating.

You need to have a realistic (more on that in a minute) opening price and a bottom line price in mind.  You may not always get your opening price, but you need to know how low you are willing to go before it becomes not worth it to you.  You're trying to make some money too. 

No one is going to reach into their pocket and give you some other seller's eBay asking price.  My response to people wanting the eBay money is to put the stuff on eBay.  Do that work.  I am not your substitute online auction.  I know what I can get for an item in my limited market, which is a flea market in Louisville, KY.  It's most likely a lot less than what someone can get in a global market like eBay.  You have to be able to see that difference.  If you can't, you're going to be frustrated and disappointed.

Do your homework, but be smart about it.  Despite what I just said, there's nothing wrong with you looking things up online to start forming your price ideas.  Just do it smart.  If you go to the first auction you find and decide that what that person is asking will be your price, you've cut a corner that will bite you in the butt.

For my money, a good online search:
  • Knows the difference between a completed auction with an ending price and one that someone just put up with no bids.  (If you do not know how to look up completed/sold items on eBay, GET SOMEONE TO SHOW YOU!)
  • Looks at sales over a period, rather than one or two auctions
  • Looks for sales patterns
  • Compares the items in the sales to the ones you have
  • Checks for condition
  • Looks at other sites besides eBay--especially collector's clubs, which may have information about rarity and history
  • Takes sellers asking prices with a HUGE grain of salt
  • Knows that you cannot find completed sales on sites like etsy and Amazon
This is where realistic pricing starts.

Examine your connection to what you are trying to sell, both current and future.  If you have any attachment to an item that is going to make you regret selling it for any price or feel guilty if you don't get top dollar for it, the DON'T SELL IT!  You're not going to be able to think clearly enough about it to negotiate.

If, on the other hand, it's some stuff you picked up at a house clean out, you also need to think about what you're going to do with it if it doesn't sell.  Do you really want to keep hauling it around or leave it sitting in the garage?  That needs to be a factor in your negotiating.

If you're dealing with a large lot of stuff you want to sell all together, the more organized you are, the better!  When a dealer looks at a room full of boxes and crap, they immediately start deducting money from their offer based on how much work they are going to have to do to get everything moved out, cleaned up, sorted through and sellable.  Lots of us run one-person shows.

If you have cleaned out the trash/broken stuff/dirty stuff/nasty stuff  and maybe arranged things in a little bit of order, you've lessened the load on your buyer and they'll see that.  If you just want to make it all go and have someone do the work, that's fine.  Just know that the offer you get will reflect all the work the buyer is going to have to do.

It's okay to stand up for yourself and negotiate.  Nothing I am saying here should be construed as you doing everything the buyer wants, taking what they offer and getting the hell out of Dodge.  I'm talking about creating a win-win for both you and the person you want to sell to.  You want stuff gone and to make a little dough.  They want to be able to make a little dough off what they buy.  You can both do this, plus have the kind of experience that guarantees repeat deals, with a little awareness and respect.

How do you make this happen?
  • Respect and politeness
  • Listen to each other
  • Play fair
  • Be reasonable
  • Do your homework
  • Have your shit together
  • In other words, everything I've been saying this whole post!
In the end it's your call.  Final responsibility for making or breaking the deal lies with the seller.  If you cannot come to terms, it's okay to walk, but leave the door open for future dealings.  If you decide you want to try your luck with another buyer, that's okay too, but make sure that you can come back and get the same offer from your current buyer, just in case things don't work out elsewhere.  In other words, don't burn bridges.

I know people who make their reselling money by reselling solely to other resellers.  I've done my fair share of it in the past.  Even if you only have that one load of Mama's dishes to deal with at the moment, you never know what the future may hold.  What if you end up as sole inheritor of Uncle Pembert the Horder's mobile home of stuff?


We are: Clamco said...

Great post! I just tweeted it! Are you on Twitter?

Unknown said...

This is a really fantastic post, Eddie! Great, well-thought out advice.

Lynn said...

Thanks for the great post! You've given us some wonderful advice.

I did end up with a hoarder's stash in a mobile home - my sisters - in Minnesota! As you know, I live in Virginia, so it took a few trips and some time to clear it out.

Unfortunately, there aren't too many places to sell things to in the boonies so I ended up bringing some home and going the garage sale route and donations, lots of donations besides more than a few landfill trips!

You're so right, you just never know when information like this will come in handy :>)

Roger Owen Green said...

good stuff!