This week’s blog will focus on our progress from a fledgling internet site to what is arguably the Premier Internet site devoted exclusively to selling Magic’s Antiquities on a fixed price basis.
No, we are not as big as some of the auction houses, but I do not consider them our direct competition. How did we do it? What rules do we play by that make us different? It’s not often we would lay out our “secrets” to the world but in this case, they are much less secretive and much more common sense. Having a deep love for magic’s history also helps along with my experience running the internet supply chain for a major (well it used to be) department store.
Since we took over what was then “Old Magic Props” we have increased the business by over 800% from their best year. We have increased our membership list from 327 members to over 700 and rolling on toward the 800 number. Our growth is limited by my own self-imposed constraints which I will discuss at the end of this blog when we discuss the future for our MagicCollectibles.com business.
I will break our approach down into several critical categories and discuss my thoughts on each. This will probably be the least read of all my blogs but that is OK with me. I hope my competition has stopped reading in the first paragraph!
MERCHANDISE: There is an old saying in the retail world that states “You can’t sell out of an empty wagon”. It is oh so true. In this one of a kind business it was always apparent to me that it was specifically driven by having the goods. That has been true since the early days of magic dealing when Mario pretty much began this whole thing. He had the goods. If you wanted something you could go to him. So began the role of the Antique Magic Dealer and the increase in not only prices but the popularity of magic collecting. Some of the old timers think dealers were the downfall of magic collecting, I think they developed it.
Specifically, for us we spend an inordinate amount of time searching for stuff to sell. Not always easy for a fixed price dealer since the age of the Magic Auctioneer was started a few years before I entered this business. I will tell you that we have been very successful in that endeavor though. I think it is because we offer a straight forward approach to those people we deal with. Without going into detail, we have always parted as friends with those we purchase magic from. We strive for a “win-win” relationship and so far, have been able to achieve it.
In the last four years we have invested over $450,000 into purchasing collections for our site. This business is not for the faint of heart. You must have some faith in what you are doing and be good at it or you will find yourself out of business quickly. We have over $400,000 at retail that is yet to be placed on our site. I am not talking about my private collection, but merchandise bought specifically for our website. We are going to be around for a while!
PRICING: I have been in the magic collecting business for 25 years, so I certainly understand pricing from a customer’s point of view. I stay educated by spending time researching the current market price of items we list. Our goal is to provide value. We wish to be at market price or less.
The price of an item is like a three-legged stool: one leg is scarcity; the other is desirability and the third condition. These factors come into play when determining a price. We do not throw a price on the wall and see if it sticks. When we price an item we fully intend it to sell for that price and think it has at least that value in the marketplace. We have some customers say we are too expensive, we have had dealers say we are too cheap. We figure that makes us about right where we want to be. I will say now, that on an exact item of the same condition, we will not be undersold by our competition. We invite price comparisons. Just remember that third leg of condition.
CUSTOMER SERVICE: You hear these buzz words a lot. A lot of people talk it but talking it does not make it so. I will say that the world of antiques is particularly tough since there is only one of an item, it is not generally new, and people’s sense of condition varies radically. So how do we approach customer service: We simply try to treat everyone the way we would like to be treated.
We try very hard to describe our items as they are. We post as many pictures as necessary to show the condition of the item. Our competition generally shows one. We try very hard not to oversell our items. In the past 5 years we have shipped over 8,000 items out to customers. We have had 9 returns. 5 of those nine were from one customer.
When we do have a problem, we deal with it quickly and with the customers point of view central.
We have had issues with package damages and we try to take the customer out of that mess and handle it as much as possible ourselves. We have had one lost package (funny we are in the middle of that now). Any damage I am speaking of is a carrier damage. We go out of our way to package items so they will not be damaged. No one likes to see something irreplaceable show up damaged because of poor packaging. We make sure that does not happen.
SHIPPING COSTS: Shipping is expensive. We made the decision early on not to add any additional charges to our invoices other than the actual shipping charge. We shop around to try and find the customer the best rate we can among the two main carriers we use. We do not charge handling charges. Never understood that as a customer and never liked it. Sure we have large expenses for supplies and labor. Each carton leaving our shop has an average cost of $6.35 for supplies and labor. We do not pass that on. It is part of the cost of doing business the way we look at it.
We have not made the transition to automatically calculating shipping cost at the time of checkout. We actually package your item, determine actual shipping cost and then send the invoice with shipping included. We are small enough that we think that does not affect our business negatively. When a website calculates shipping automatically it is going through a series of calculations to determine the cube and weight of the box to be based upon the cube and weight of the product going in it. If we are selling widgets that is an easy calculation, but we are selling very unique items varying greatly in size and cube. It is almost impossible to calculate accurately without packing and weighing. Those people who do calculate pricing upon checkout are generally insuring that they cover their expenses plus. That is not our intention so for now we will keep it the way we have it. I hope this explains why it sometimes takes a day or two to get your invoice.
At this point I am sure I have lost most people so if you are still reading this please write me and let me know! I am curious to know how many stick to it type people are out there.
WEBSITE: The website is everything. Without it nothing gets sold. When I first acquired Old Magic Props it was barely functioning. You had to email me to see if the item was still for sale. Because of this some people still email me today and ask if an item is available. If it is on the site and the quantity is one or more then it is available for you to purchase.
We have gone through two iterations of websites since then. The second was a big improvement and the current one is a home run! It is very fast! The search engine is robust! It monitors my site for external threats to keep it safe! It gives me wonderful statistics which help me run my business!
It is easy for me to maintain (yes, I take the photos, write the copy, list the items, edit and load the pictures and take the markdowns if necessary). Its customer service engine is robust as well. I get all your questions!
This website keeps track of all your purchases in one place for you! I don’t know why people purchase as a guest over and over instead of registering and creating a permanent password. It makes ordering so easy. One of my mysteries of life!
I know many of you complain about the password generation. My website has to comply with certain standards and unfortunately in todays world the password standard that I have is required. More reason to register and create the password once and sign in using the same password!
The website has done two very important things for Magic Collectibles. It has grown our customer base significantly by providing easy sign up for our newsletter. It’s abilities to influence search engines has led Magic Collectibles to be number one on many typical searches for magic antiques and rarely out of the top three. Try it and see. Our sales consist of ½ new customers and ½ existing customers. This is very healthy as it shows we are constantly adding new customers which is the life blood of any business. Our international customer base has grown to 22% of our total volume! All of this means business growth and I attribute much of our growth to Double Fox Websites.
THE FUTURE: So, what is left and where are we headed? What can we improve? How much can we grow? The answers may surprise you.
One of the areas we have not touched is social media. About 80 % of our hits from the search engines come from google. We will be launching our Facebook Webpage soon and beginning to dip our toe into social media. It is a necessary evil.
I would also like to become more consistent. My business spikes and valleys depending upon how much time I can devote. Hopefully it can equal out and become more linear.
As far as growth, I would not expect to grow that much more. Why? I simply don’t want it to.
My growth right now is restricted by time. I simply do not want to give it anymore. I am supposed to be retired and this a part time interest, but I have turned it into a monster. It is just in me to do that. I could never do anything half way.
To grow the business, I would need to begin hiring people. That gets complicated and I am just not ready to do that. I always remember “Pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered” so I am happy with the way things are now from a volume perspective. It has already exceeded my wildest dreams.
I would be remiss if I did not say I have some of the finest customers in the world. People who have become true friends. Thank you for all your support and I hope to live up to your expectations in the future.