Saturday, April 25, 2009

Our eBay Business: Postcards, Part 1

Orleans Apartment Hotel - Miami Beach, Florida.  With cool cars.

I think I'll have to have more than one post about postcards.   Consider this one the intro.  The next one will be about types of postcards I sell, and then there'll be something about pricing and expenses.  Unless I change my mind and decide to do it differently.

I've always liked postcards.  I've traveled a lot and bought them here and there, and held on to many of them, so I had something of an undisciplined collection going.  The picture above is an example of one I'm holding on to, mostly because I like it.   I stare at it and it makes me think. What kind of lives went on in those buildings?  What kind of car is that green and white two door?  What was it like to live in Miami Beach in the 1950s?  

Until we decided to start selling postcards, I really knew nothing about them.  I was surprised at how much there was to learn.

In Feb 2007, our eBay business was just kind of loping along.  We were looking for something sustainable and predictable, or at least something a bit more predictable than one of a kind collectibles and such.   I knew that people sold postcards on eBay, but I hadn't really paid much attention, but for some reason, I began to think we should give it a try - see how it worked.  So in the middle of Feb 2007, we bought a shoe box full of 400 postcards from a vendor down in Myra's Antiques, just off Main Street in Valdese, most of them sight unseen, and we were suddenly in the postcard business. 

If you're ever in Valdese, you owe it to yourself to drop in.  Then head on over to Cornerstone Antiques, on the corner of Main Street & Roderet - they have a coffe shop as well.

Anyway, the cards were all standard sized (not the large "continentals"), and dated from the 1970s back to the very early 20th century.    Since I was interested in actually seeing if they were profitable, I found and modified an excel spreadsheet that allowed me to track all the income & expenses associated with those postcards.  It was extra work, but it told me what I needed to know.

This is what I found:  it took until August 2007, six full months, before we broke even on those postcards.     I did not consider this turn around to be very quick.  And while cards continued to sell out of that box for a long time afterwards, it was not a huge money maker.  I studied other postcard sellers, ones who had a lot more experience than me and began to emulate them to a degree.   I began to list more cards - a lot more.  I lowered my starting prices on almost everything, lowered my shipping & handling prices, if the cards didnt sell at auction I moved them to the eBay store.  I standardized & simplified the listings where I could.  Later I decided to keep the cards in our eBay store on a "Buy It Now" basis for an extended period before I did other things with them.  Sales volume increased dramatically.  And that's where we're at today. Most of our listings are postcards.

Advantages of postcards:   ease of storage, ease of packaging, very predictable shipping costs (both foreign and domestic), and I have a lot of fun with them.  It's nice to work with something you enjoy.

Disadvantages:  they are a usually a low price item, so it's hard to make a lot of money with them.   You have to figure out away to create a high volume of sales, without losing money.  One of the easiest things on earth to do is lose money trying to sell a low priced item on eBay. Postcards, bless their little standard/chrome hearts, provide just that opportunity, on a large scale.   You have to keep a sharp eye on expenses, or you'll think you're making money, but in reality, you aren't.  

Another disadvantage, is that they are not generally a high traffic item.  They all get looks, but something like an Empire Sofa or a Hoosier Cabinet will get hundreds of people on your site, while a postcard might get 10 or so during a 30 day period, sometimes more, frequently less.  I keep up with my site traffic reports, I can see that traffic to our eBay site is down a little from a year ago, and I look at my own records and can see that $$ are down from a year ago too. This despite the fact that we have a lot more items for sale than we did a year ago.  We need to figure out how to react to that.

Maybe it's the economy, stupid.

Frequently I can give an educated guess about a particular postcard - I know from experience that a particular card may sell, even if I've never had that card before.  But it is impossible to tell.  People collect these cards for lots of reasons, but the one that seems most common to me is pure sentiment.  It's something from their childhood, or a picture of a place they way it used to be.  So, even though I can make an educated guess sometimes, I can never predict.  

I almost always start my cards at auction, then move them to the store as buy-it-nows if they don't sell.  Most don't sell at auction.  Of those that do sell at auction, 90% or more only get one bid and go for the starting price.   However, occasionally one will take off.   Last year one of my cards sold for $64.00 - for no reason I could see except two people really wanted it.  I had another sell for over $30.00, and I started it at 99 cents.  Again, there was nothing special about it, just more than one person wanted it.    I've heard of (and seen) cards go for much higher than that, but it doesnt happen very often.  Anytime a card goes in the $20-30 range, consider it a very good postcard day.  Most days we just slug it out with lower prices and hopefully higher volume.

You have to have some sort of organization, when you're dealing with thousands of postcards. When one sells, you have to be able to find it, and you don't want to spend a couple of hours looking for it.  Postcards have all kinds of categories and sub-categories,  and sub-categories of sub-categories.  There are a hundred different ways of organizing them.   I deal mostly with USA views, soI organize them by states - if it's a hotel in Florida, I stick it in the Florida group.  If its a Hotel in California, it goes in the California group.  But not all of them lend themselves to that - there are art cards, artist signed cards, comics, cowboy/western motif, cards from other countries, RPPCs and dozens of others.  What ever eBay category I use in my listing, that is the corresponding group I'll physically store the card in.  It's just a logical (to me) way to organize them, and it makes a lot easier to find when they sell.  It is no fun when you can't find a card that someone has just bought and paid for, so keeping things organized really cuts down on problems like that.

Ok, enough of this.  

My son is coming for a visit, so I may or may not post anything tomorrow.   If I don't, it'll probably be Wednesday or Thursday before I post my next one.  The next one will be about different types of postcards I deal with, with pictures.


Jennifer Trinkle said...

Catching up here ... when I got married, we made the invitations and response cards using copies of old postcards that we got on eBay. The wedding was on a beach in Malibu (Leo Carrillo State Park -- it's a very picturesque place, with rocks and lots of kite surfers). The cards fit the vacation-y theme of the wedding. Anyway, it's interesting to read about how the business works.

A Valdese Blogger said...

Howdy - yep, I've learned that people buy postcards for all kinds of reasons, and a lot of postcards find their ways artistic type projects of one kind or another. Thanks for reading!