Survey Results: Who Exactly Are the Ruby Lane Shop Owners? We Asked Them To Tell Us!

The Internet has its obvious advantages. But one that some might view as a negative is that in most cases you can’t “see” and/or easily get to know those with whom you are interacting online. Have you ever wondered who is behind the individual shop home pages on Ruby Lane? Of course they have to meet all of Ruby Lane’s quality guidelines to be able to sell on the site. But who exactly, are the individuals who are selling through Ruby Lane as well as elsewhere in this huge online marketplace? Well we wondered too, and in 2007 we asked our shops to tell us about themselves in depth so that we could better understand their needs as well as the state of the online marketplace. And boy, did they tell us! Nearly a third of all of our shop owners responded to this survey, which is an extremely high percentage for any type of survey. And we found the results to be very encouraging as we saw passion, commitment and drive in the many (though not all) text responses. Here is a snapshot of our community of shop owners as well as a cross-section of comments that we received from them that we think tell a very interesting story:

1. We asked shops how long they have been selling items online, and here are the responses:
Less than 1 year: 12.71%
More than 1 year: 11.88%
More than 2 years: 28.38%
More than 5 years: 38.61%
More than 10 years: 8.42%
We find it extremely notable that a whopping 47% of our shop owners have been selling online for 5 years or more. Of course given the “age” of the Internet it would be unlikely that a high percentage of shop owners have been selling online for 10 years or more. However, the many comments included at the end of this article lead us to believe that this trend is likely to continue.

2. We asked shops if they sell elsewhere online:
Yes: 58.71%
No: 41.29%

3. We asked those who answered “yes” to number 2, to tell us where else they sell online:
Own Web Site: 13.31%
Other Online Mall(s): 7.48%
Auction Site(s): 62.79%
Other: 16.42%
We’d like to note here that a significant number of “Other” respondents listed Craigslist as their additional venue of choice, which is something we hadn’t expected.

4. We asked shops if they sell offline as well:
Yes: 65.17%
No: 34.83%

5. We asked shops who said “yes” to number 4, to tell us what types of offline selling they do:
Brick and mortar store: 32.73%
Antique, Collectible or Craft Shows: 35.61%
Live Auctions: 6.83%
Other: 24.82%
Many of the “Other” responses included examples such as:
-Art shows, festivals and markets
-Home shows
-Estate sales
-Privately to a growing list of clients
- Showroom by appointment only.
-Wholesale to galleries and boutiques
- I have a barn that I open up several times a year
-Private parties, special orders

6. We asked shops who sell offline how long they have been doing so:
Less than 1 year: 5.19%
More than 1 year: 6.67%
More than 2 years: 18.77%
More than 5 years: 23.46%
More than 10 years: 45.93%
We find it equally notable that nearly 70% of our shop owners have been in the business for 5 years or more, approaching 50% that have been in the business for more than 10 years.

7. We asked shops who sell both online and offline to tell us which venue has better sell-through:
Online: 37.81%
Offline: 38.06%
About the Same: 24.13%
We find this split down the middle very interesting as it shows that both venues continue to be valid, depending on who you ask.

8. We asked shop owners what age range they fit into:
Under 25 years of age: .17%
25-49- years of age: 8.61%
40-54 years of age: 46.69%
55-79 years of age: 44.37%
80+ years of age: .17%
Obviously more than 90% of our shop owners are between the ages of 40-80 years old. So the majority of this market is currently “baby boomers” as well as their parents.

9. We asked shops if they were:
Male: 9.11%
Female: 80.46%
Other (couple, group, etc.) 10.43% (Overwhelmingly this group was a married couple)
While we weren’t surprised that there are more female shop owners, we didn’t expect this number to be quite this high.

10. We asked shops if their Antiques, Collectibles, Fine Art or Jewelry business is their sole source of income:
Yes: 22.39%
No: 77.61%
However, we should note that many shop owner comments mentioned the goal of making it their sole source of income, many in their retirement years if not before.

11. We asked shops when they primarily work on their Ruby Lane shop and to choose all that apply:
Daytime: 28.24%
Evenings: 30.43%
Daily: 23.51%
Weekdays Only: 3.46%
Weekends Only: 4.26%
Other: 9.49%
We were surprised to see how few shops rely on the weekends to work on their shops. However the comments revealed a significant percentage of shops who said that they work on their shops “all the time” or “constantly”. Our shops have found what works for them.

12. We asked shops to predict whether they will be in their current online business 5 years from now:
Likely: 75.83%
Unlikely: 3.97%
Don’t Know: 20.20%
We find these to be very important numbers as it shows the level of commitment of shops and their relatively positive outlook regarding the future of their businesses. To further illustrate this trend, here is a tiny cross-section of specific comments we received that further illustrate this:

“I am willing to change with the trends & market.”

“Online selling is fun and convenient, and the sky is the limit!”

“We plan to be in business as long as possible-so far about 40 yrs, 25 in the same location”

“I love what I do”

“I have been doing this for 17 years. While I may change the way in which I do business, I can't imagine doing anything else.”

“We really enjoy the business and can see it going nowhere but up.”

“It's evolving in several directions so I can do this until the day they plant me in the ground. No intentions of ever retiring.”

“I will continue on with my online selling indefinitely. It's easy, done at home, and it's fun!”

“I think I have a lot of talent and drive for this business.”

“I hope to commit more and more time to the Ruby Lane shop. Mom will completely close her seasonal shop in Minnesota and we will eventually have most of the inventory on Ruby Lane. I would really like to be self-employed. This might be my ticket!”

“Unless my business begins to do very poorly, I see no reason to stop!”

“Jewelry design is my passion. I am working on leaving corporate America and being an artist full time.”

“Because I love it! And, with my growing business and success on RL, this will be my sole income stream within two years. I can travel and expand my knowledge in the historical periods I love (18th-early 20th centuries) and use that knowledge and experience to make a good living - not just as a hobby. And I can engage in a continual treasure hunt. Online selling gives me much more free time (and less overhead) to pursue my personal interests and to secure financial security.”

“I love the antique & collectible business and plan to continue selling on the Internet as long as it's profitable.”

“I enjoy my small business and will likely continue in the business as a retirement interest.”

“Hope it will support me when I retire in 3-7 years, or at least supplement my retirement pay.”

“I enjoy it. And I see it as a way to supplement my retirement in 5 years.”

“This is something that I love and I hope to be doing it for a long time. It is a wonderful therapeutic outlet for me to escape from daily stress. I also enjoy history and the chance to research the history of the items that I find to sell. When I retire, I would like to be able to do this on a larger scale than I am able to do it now.”

“I am a soon to be Boomer and this is my retirement 'career'. I look at these last few years as valuable ones, concerned with building, tweaking and refining my business to create a long-term niche with a loyal customer base.”

“This business has been my sole income for 29 years and I don't see retirement in my future.”

“Sales have increased almost ever year and I hope it continues.”

“It's the only thing I'm physically able to do, and I love it. I built my shop from the bottom up with literally nothing, and every penny I made went right back into more and better joolz(sic) till I got where I am now ~ and I've still got a long way to go! So I've got to keep going for at least another 5 years, you see?”

While not every single one of the comments on this question was positive, the majority of them were. Again we see passion and commitment in this business.

13. Here is an overview of where our shop owners are physically located:
Northeastern U.S.: 19.17%
Mid-Atlantic U.S.: 5.62%
Southern U.S.: 23.80%
Upper Midwest U.S.: 13.55%
Lower Midwest U.S.: 6.28%
Mountain State U.S.: 4.30%
Pacific Coast U.S. 14.55%
Alaska/Hawaii: .66%
Canada: 5.45%
UK: 1.49%
Australia: .17%
Other: 4.96%
The countries of northern Europe are where the vast majority of “Other” respondents said they were from. And we want to be perfectly clear that we eagerly welcome the day when many more countries have a strong showing among users.

14. We asked shops what type of a community they live in:
Rural: 19.17%
Small Town: 38.68%
Large Metropolitan Area: 42.15%
We had expected “Rural” and “Small Town” to be somewhat higher than this.

We want to close this article with an additional small cross-section of the comments we received from respondents. We wish we could post them all:

“I am a one-person business and take care of all aspects from merchandising to pricing, advertising to customer service and shipping.”

“I am not obsessed, I'm focused.”

“I've been a full time dealer for over 35 years and I still haven't lost the thrill of finding something great! Sure beats working for a living as I wrote in an article for the "Past Times" section several months ago.”

“I take my business very seriously and I know that my fellow shop owners do as well.”

“Just that it's a lot of work if you want your shop to look good and provide your customers with great photos and accurate item descriptions.”

“Have been in and around this business for sixty years and the best advice is "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

“I had an open antiques shop from 1978 - 1982. From 1982 to 2005 I traveled doing antiques shows across the United States. It was a descent living but obviously not a business that was going to allow for retirement. Beginning in 2001 the shows started declining and the expenses kept going up until I finally decided it made no since to be on the road. I have been concentrating on my Ruby Lane shop in hopes that it will allow me to stay in this business.”

“We've found that it's becoming necessary to focus our inventory on items from the 50's - 80's to meet the demand of a younger buying group. We're re-accessing our buying habits and preparing for transitions that will included more of the "Modern" furnishings and furniture.”

“All my items offered for sale have been collected over the years - three generations. Now I'm trying to sell them as no one in my family is interested and I know they'll end up at the dump or selling at a yard sale for pennies. This way I know they're going somewhere to be safe and saved and appreciated.”

“I have owned a brick and mortar and have a lot of inventory (higher priced...meaning from $300 to $3000) and had extensive press coverage and high end clients as well. I was well respected in my business and fairly well known. All I am trying to get across is... I am a professional and not just a hobby shop owner/seller.”

“I’m quite surprised at the all consuming the effort is.”

“We try to help customers with their collections. My mother in law and her sister once did the flea market circuit and had a shop. They have rooms full of things and we can get to it. I work for an antique shop and also help another lady who has many storage areas full of items I can get to and of course, finding things for others is fun.”

If you as a reader have additional impressions of the results of this survey, if anything surprised you about the results, we invite you to share your points here. (Important Note: Keep it constructive!)

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