That Was Then Antiques: The Evolution of an Antique Dealer - The Game Changes

How many readers remember that the first year of Ebay was only in black and white? Really, you ask? Yes, indeedy! Not only that, but only about half the listings had accompanying photographs! The predominant and favored method of payment from 1996 to early the early 2000s was United States Postal Money Order - basically plain old cash! Do you realize that the online payment method, Paypal, didn't begin in earnest until early 2000 when by then, over 1 million Ebay sellers offered Paypal as an option! It grew so fast and furious that by 2002 Ebay acquired Paypal and abandoned its own "Billpoint" payment method.

How many readers realize that in the 1996-2000 timeframe a decent digital camera cost a minimum of $500.00? You needed a translator to understand how to use it and an expert to demonstrate how to edit with it!

Fortunately for me, more than half my years working at IBM were spent supporting, demonstrating, and eventually teaching desktop publishing products. Using those skills to sell online was a simple transition for me. Navigating the many sinkholes along the way was another story altogether. Non-payers, switchers, and general scam artists abounded. It could make a cynic out of the most trusting person!

I have to say that for me, 1997-1999 were amazingly fruitful years, money-wise. During those early days, you could list just about anything on Ebay and you would make a profit. Often an item would sell for substantially higher than one would have priced it at an antique shop, mall shop or at an antique show - all traditional retail sales venues. By the time I chose to opt out of all the local antique malls in my area and open my own shop, prices on Ebay had diminished almost as quickly as they had risen.

The reasons are fairly well known and often discussed on various blogs, but to summarize they included too many people entering the marketplace - many with little experience and poor business ethics. That fact alone tainted the Ebay selling platform and many buyers chose to stop buying altogether or limited their buying to known, trusted sources. Nearly all local shops were using Ebay to sell their best items which caused potential buyers to abandon shopping those local venues. Soon after, many of those shops were closed due to lack of traffic. To me that opened up a new opportunity - an "anti" store - a shop that would proudly offer the best merchandise locally available and with the assurance that the items were not being offered for sale on Ebay. I thought that if I did that then I would attract people to sell me their best items, thus creating my own little "anti" store that was mainly for buying. Selling to cover overhead, including the purchasing of new items, and my personal expenses plus a small profit was easily achieved the first few years.

Then 9/11 happened.

The impact was immediate. Funny how some of us forget. I imagine that shopkeepers like myself and everyone in the NYC or DC area hasn't forgetten the months immediately following the attack. Here in South Florida, everything seemed to come to a standstill. CNN repeated the footage of the towers falling and people running and jumping on what seemed like a 24 hour endless loop. People were terrified to go out of their homes. This kind of standstill went on for weeks and the fears people exhibited foreshadowed the coming recession in this region and how that fear affected spending.

Encouraged by our leaders to thwart the terrorist attack by returning to doing things normally and to "spend, spend, spend", business gradually improved. For my shop, it had already harmed the income flow and put us in the red. Then came a couple of years of unharnessed, irresponsible, real estate buying which overflowed to all the other supporting businesses, including furniture and antiques. But - and this is a big "but" - as it unfolded here in South Florida - trends had changed dramatically away from antiques and towards mid-century modern, and then into any kind of modern. "Dustables" were considered impractical and work-making. Even the Antiques Roadshow started to reflect this leaning but not as noticeably as every other decorating show on mainstream and cable TV.

Coupling those factors with the continuing demise of individual antique stores due to unrelenting greed on the part of landlords, antique malls dominated the landscape throughout the South and the general public began to rely more on buying online or at those malls. By the way, the number of antique shows in our area started to dwindle from at least 2 per week in season, to barely one or two a month! Yet another factor affecting the success of buying and selling antiques! Buying had fast become a much greater competitive business at the same time sources for buying diminished. Buying decorative items which was common practice here, became a losing proposition unless the decorative item had an important brand (or maker's) name. That way it was conceivable you could list it and sell it online. Without that brand name decorative pieces (especially large pieces) floundered.

South Florida experienced a series of hurricanes in 2004 and then in late 2005, Hurricane Wilma yielded the final devastating blow. The damage Wilma imparted was almost unimagineable but it in the national news, was overshadowed by events from Katrina in the Lousiana region and, of course, New Orleans. The impact to businesses here was worse than what we had endured from 9/11!

Due to lack of electricity, blocked roads, roof damage, etc. our shop could not reopen for a couple of months. Even though we got back up and running, the rest of the area remained carpeted with blue tarps on rooftops for nearly a year - testimony to the scope of damage Hurricane Wilma left in her wake. Due to lack of availability of building materials, physical recovery was slow and prices in many industries, started to rise unabated (remodeling, construction, decorating, etc.). Attention was 100% focussed on restoring one's residence and any insurance money derived from the hurricane was spent on remodelling, reconstruction, and taking advantage of the ruined furnishings to replace with brand new, Rooms to Go - and definitely not old and definitely not antique! Given a choice, most people opted to buy a large, new flat-screen TV rather than a gorgeous antique bronze or the pedestal it stood upon!

As some of you might know, Florida and especially South Florida, felt the impact of the bursting real estate bubble and subsequent recession at a much higher rate, earlier, than other states and the pundits now predict a much slower recovery here and a potential for a non-recovery!

Our saving grace has been Ruby Lane. For many years we continued to list and occasionally sell on other online venues, but without the results Ruby Lane yielded. Eventually we found ourselves doing well enough to abandon the other sites and to change our status to "Exclusive" on RL. As we all know..."When one door closes, another opens".

The journey to this point in time has been extremely interesting, frustrating, maddening, and more often very satisfying. We look forward to whatever changes to our "game" comes along. And we know those changes are coming. We predict that selling using video will become commonplace by 2012. If so, I better get learning...

Barbara Jokel
That Was Then Antiques

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