Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Client side of things...Part 2

Ok, I am on a roll with customer stories from the past (which still provide lessons for me today!). When you are active in the antiques trade, you need to hustle just like any other business, be it Wall Street or Silcon Valley. It takes constant innovation to uncover new clients, new treasures and do it before others do! Sometimes the great finds are right in front of us. In this case, a very careful read of a printed newspaper. While the news keeps saying newpapers are dead, I found that only be to be true for a certain audience. The older generation still depends on the paper for their news and for buy/sell classified ads.

Back in 1999, I was glancing through the classifieds of the San Francisco Chronicle. I happened to notice an ad for "vintage space rockets, all kinds. Must sell fast." I called and drove the 50 miles up to San Francisco's Chinatown that afternoon.

The neighborhood was tightly packed, with Victorians all squeezed together like sardines. The street was so narrow that the high buildings blocked out the sun and it felt dark and opressive. I wondered what I was walking into. Down the block I could see a bustling shopping district, with the smells of roasted duck & fish wafting up the street.

When I arrived at the house, steep narrow stairs led me up to the front door. I was greeted by an older man dressed in levi's and a kimono and a sparkle in his eye. What was I getting into? He led me back outside to the front of the garage door. Due to the narrowness of the street, the driveway slanted steeply down to the garage.

He opened the door, ushered me in and quickly shut it. He was worried about city officials spying on his renovation. What a "renovation" it was!! He had dug out the space under the house. I stood on a ledge looking down into a 15' x 25' pit 18 feet below me, filled with boxes. I looked up to see the underside of the house 12 feet high above me. So much for earthquake safety!

He led me down a narrow flight of stairs to the far corner. Under a tarplan he pulled out box after box of 1950's and 60's space toys. Robots, rockets, ray guns and aliens. I'd never seen anything like it. I knew these things had intrinsic value, but I had no idea of actual values. These weren't brands I knew off hand.

All counted, he had 6 large boxes packed full. He didn't want to do a commission deal. He insisted I buy them outright since he was leaving the country the next day. He named his price, I haggled just a bit and paid a fair amount, given his need for cash. He was very rushed and I wondered what he was in such a hurry about. It only occured to me later on the drive home that he might be avoiding the law. (I mean the police-not the county officials who would freak out about his teetering house. Who knows why he was in such a big rush.)

I ended up buying it all for $700. It was a fair deal for him to get the instant cash and it was defintely solid investment for me. (a bit risky since I buying blind, but I had a gut feeling) After I researched all the items and worked hard to sell them, I made that money back several times over. My only problem was that many of the pieces were identical, so I had to be careful not to flood my own market! So after a few years they were finally all gone.

I never forgot the toys, mainly because the size of that enormous basement with the 30 foot ceilings never left my mind. Some clients are more memorable than others, that's for sure! And sometimes the most amazing treasures are right there under our noses. Or in this case, under our neighbors houses!

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