You don't have to read this whole thing - just scan it and be impressed with how much I wrote and assume there's a lot that goes into what we do. I mean, that's what I'd do. But for those of you actually going to hunker down and read it all, here we go!
Getting an item into the shop includes most, if not all of these steps, which is what the money we make on an item goes towards. Any shop that buys from individuals directly (collectible stores, record shops, comic shops, etc.) will all know what we're talking about, though some of the steps might not be applicable to all of them.
- Communication with the buyer even before they get to the store.
Then when a person selling brings an item in here are the steps taken from then on are:
- Time to Appraise the item, including:
- Inspection of the item for damage, wear, smell (we get a lot of items that smell like pot for some reason), battery terminal corrosion and if the electronics work if it takes batteries, as well as completeness.
- Research on the item if we're unfamiliar with it including pricing and current market demand.
- Determining a price we'd sell it for in the shop on each individual item based on inspection and price researched.
These steps could take 10-15 minutes or up to entire days depending on the size of the lots brought to us and our familiarity with them. And that's for each individual that comes in. What most folks don't realize is that this usually isn't a scheduled event, but rather people showing up at random. Which means this whole process could happen numerous times a day, and often overlap one another.
It's also worth mentioning that we are a small business and bringing in high-priced items is tricky for us. If an item comes through that retails for hundreds of dollars, taking that risk to pay for it upfront may be a blow to our cashflow that we may struggle to come back from if the item doesn't sell right away. Moreso if a large collection of items comes through and it means selling numerous cheaper pieces to start seeing some return on our investment.
Back to the process!
Once a buy-price has been agreed upon and we've now purchased the item, any of the following can, and usually do, happen in order to sell the item(s):
- Cleaning. This takes up a lot of time as each item itself needs to be cleaned a specific way. Dust is the most notorious fiend to the collector. Collections if not stored in a sealed cabinet or display case, will gather dust rapidly. A lot of people don't want to take the time to clean an item before letting it go. And we get that, you're about to let something go, so why take the time to make it pretty again? But again, dust is so difficult to clean off of items that have a thousand tiny crevasses so every 15-year-old Transformer that comes in here takes some time to clean properly.
- Repair. If an item comes through that we can fix, we do so. This goes from trying to clean marker initials off of a figure, or actually taking an item apart and fixing any mechanism that may have deteriorated over time. Light paint touch-ups if we feel confident in taking care of, are also something we'll do.
- Sorting. Some people bring us in entire TMNT collections with each individual figure bagged with it's accessories. Some people bring us a trash bag full of G.I. Joe figures and accessories just jumbled in there. Don't get us wrong, we do love sorting this stuff, it's very therapeutic and almost like a puzzle, it is very time consuming.
- Stocking. This step takes the most time and we wish we COULD just leave everything on the counter where it was when we bought it from folks, but we know we can't. Our shop is very small and finding spots for everything is very challenging. And trying to decide if an item is going to be here long enough to bother figuring out where it goes is also a constant struggle. We get some stuff in and know as soon as we show it off on Instagram / Facebook that it will be out the door, so why move fifty X-Men figures to make room for a Megazord?
- Time/Space. But if it DOESN'T sell right away, the time an item sits in here and the space it takes up is something we have to take into consideration. A giant Cybertron Starscream may sit up on the shelf for a year before someone grabs it, while an original Zartan figure that takes up no space for the same price will probably sell right away.
Then there's things not specifically related to the items themselves that any store needs to take into account when buying such as:
- Rent. For some reason we can't convince our landlord to give us a break in rent so people can get more money for their broken Batman figures. (We'll try again next time we see him though.)
- Supplies. This one is huge and I forgot about it initially. But there's so many things we go through, not just stuff we buy once that it takes to run a business like fixtures, a computer, printer, audio visual stuff, but all the stuff that we buy weekly like all those cleaning supplies which we burn through so quickly. That includes wipes, paper towels, solvants, soap, etc. Then there's things like trash bags, toilet paper, baggies, price gun labels, printer paper, printer ink, and shipping supplies that we also go through quickly.
- Credit Card Fees. Again, something we've asked if we could just not pay, but Square didn't seem too amused (and between you and me, may have secretly raised our processing fees).
- Insurance. When we were opening our store we went to the company that we use for our personal insurance. They freaked out and quoted us something like 12k for the year. So we also freaked out, until we called Dave over at Quake and asked him what the hell to do. He hooked us up with his insurance company and they've been great ever since.
- Licenses. If for some reason you don't know this, we're in Chicago and this city doesn't show much love for it's small businesses. If there's a way for this city to charge you a fee for something, they will do it. We used to have our Alderman's office next door to us and when they moved the trash can that used to be on the sidewalk outside between our locations disappeared. I messaged them asking why, only to find out that as a business we can request a trash can and pay the annual fee to have the city put one out there and empty it on a regular basis. We have enough taxes and fees we pay to the city already so we no longer have a trashcan in front of our store.
- Taxes. This may come a surprise to some of you, as it kinda shocked me, but even on top of the sales tax that the customers pay (and we in turn pay to the city/state) companies also get taxed on their profits. In an effort to not sound too much like Ron Swanson, I'll stop there and just let that be a point on the list here.
- Payroll. We have people that work here that aren't us. Though we've never taken a paycheck home from here, we don't expect others to work for free.
- Utilities. Need lights to see this stuff. Need heat and air to make sure our lil' butts aren't freezing or sweating, stinking up the place. Need Wifi, it's a necessity even for a trash store like ours. We'd still exist if internet didn't, but who knows for how long? A big portion of our customers come from our social media outreach and without that we may not have been around for as long as we have.
Back to a few things that are item-specific to getting the same item out the door after it came in oh so long ago in this write-up.
- Photos. We have to take photos of items and any flaws to show folks on social media. This is hard to do when the sun goes down so we have a window of hours during the day to do this before we lose our light. Also making sure the counter isn't cluttered with other items when we take the photo is hard to do considering how often things end up on the counter with us sorting/cleaning/pricing stuff and then more stuff could walk in at any moment. We've noticed that people are more responsive to photos if there's not a lot of stuff cluttering the background of a single item. There's a lot more to taking a photo to make it engaging and to make people respond to what you're posting, but this is getting to be borderline tutorial so just know that we have to take photos and that takes time too.
- Posting. A large portion of my day is coming up with captions for items (not including the captions for purchase photos, cause that's not what this is about), describing each item thoroughly as to avoid any sort of confusion for a buyer and any headaches for us after a sale. This is especially true when we have flash sales, posting a bunch of stuff rapid fire. We have to have these things pre-written and monitor claims while responding to DMs and posting the remaining items.
- Calculating shipping costs. People want to know up front how much shipping is going to be, so we try as often as possible to figure out how much an item will cost to ship within the U.S., and though we figure this out after weighing the item and looking up the shipping options, it doesn't always mean the item will sell in a manner that will require shipping. So this is a step that while not always required, is always necessary.
- Packing the item. Other than cleaning toys, I'd say the most time spent out of my day is finding a box that's the right size for all these randomly-sized items that end up needing to be shipped. We rarely buy boxes because we don't always use the same sized box for any two given items. So we do our best to recycle boxes that come into the shop or that we find in the recycle in the back or from our pals over at Logan Arcade that have given us a bunch of shipping supplies over the years. Even our friend who used to work here will stop in periodically with her old boxes cause she knows how much goes out the door on a daily basis. But once we have the right box for each item, there's still time that goes into packing it up properly.
- Creating a shipping label. "But guys, generating a shipping label is simple!" Haha! Yeah, yeah it should be. But tell that to our Brother brand printer. The amount of half-printed labels and things that just refuse to print is ridiculous. But despite the love/hate relationship we have this bastard printer, going back and finding people's shipping addresses, and making the label isn't something that happens magically, it does take some time out of our day so it's listed here just like everything else.
- Q & As. The amount of direct messages with questions we get about items is astounding, if the item is listed on IG or FB. For the most part those are valid questions, but if an item gets listed on eBay in order to sell it, oooh man the questions and stupidity that comes through there is baffling. But there's also questions answered in-store on items and those are more along the line of "I have this at home too, I can get (exactly how much it's priced for here) for it??"
- Customer Service. Meaning once an item has been purchased, dealing with any questions or concerns during transit if an item is lost or taking too long, or if an item arrives and there's something wrong that we need to make right.
- Haggling. Putting this last as a nice little bookend to the whole buying process. People are going to come into our store and assume they can ask for a better price on ANYTHING. Literally while I was writing this, someone asked for two items that were priced at $10 each, if they could get them for $15. They also asked if they could get two items that cost $35 each for $50 total. I've gripped about this before, as people don't walk into retailers that are major corporations and try to haggle with the cashier, so it really breaks our hearts that people try and do that to a tiny business like us. We give deals to folks that are buying a lot of items as well as to our regulars that we see weekly (or even more frequently), but when someone comes in and just loves throwing their weight around trying to haggle, it's pretty upsetting. So while some people think their item that they're selling us is worth a certain price, there's someone on the other end that would like to disagree with you, and that is something else we need to take into consideration, that items we bring in may not even sell for the full price that we're basing our purchase price on.
Bonus chapter - Determining what an item will sell for in our shop:
This is something we wish everyone would know how to do. When we look up items online, we usually look at the sold listings on eBay which gives you a better idea of what the going rate for an item is, versus looking at Amazon or items currently listed on eBay. Because while someone could list a $20 item for $2,000 on either of those sites, that's not necessarily reflective of the current market value. Looking at recently sold items is the best way to gauge what an item sells for.
Even doing this takes some skill, as you have to see how many things are selling for around the same price with a Buy It Now price vs how many items went to auction. If you see an item that's sold a few times at auction for $20, but one item has recently sold with a Buy It Now price of $80, that could mean a few things. Such as, the buyer may hate dealing with auctions, and losing them constantly. Or it could mean it was the only item of it's kind listed at the time and the buyer didn't have the patience to wait around for another one to pop up.
On the other hand, if you're seeing that one item sold with a Buy It Now price of $20, but all the other sold listings are auctions that have ended around $80, it's safe to say that the seller either didn't know what they had, or didn't care and wanted to list it at a price to get rid of it.
Worth noting as well, we try to make our price lower than what is readily available online. Because if we're posting something for sale on our social media, we want folks to chose our item instead of running to Amazon or eBay. We also sell on eBay and know we can get a higher price there, but doing so is even more time consuming than what's listed here.
We know everyone's seen shows like Pawn Stars so they think they're supposed to argue price with us, but we're not a TV show and we're not trying to low-ball anyone for entertainment value. We set our prices and know how & why we've done so but now we hope maybe what you just read will give some insight as to our reasonings and process.
Hopefully this was informative and didn't come off too snarky, again we love what we do and couldn't do it without the countless folks that have brought stuff into the shop for the years we've been a store. We truly couldn't do any of this without you all!
Trump is a bitch.