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A Well of Collectibles

Family's love of antique leads to eBay business.

Tim and Cathy Blair have more than 25 years of experience selling items from yesteryear. The couple previously operated two antique group shops in which various collectors displayed and sold their products. At the same time, the Blairs also sold a few of their own items on eBay, and Cathy ran a dance studio. Needless to say, they were plenty busy.

Then four years ago, the couple decided to close up their brick-and-mortar stores and devote themselves to selling on eBay, full time.

‘A wonderful thing’

It’s been the best decision they’ve made, Tim Blair says. The couple, who today are the owners of Wells Antiques and Collectibles on eBay, has reached Top-rated seller status specializing in, what else? All things vintage—more specifically coins, paper money, jewelry, baseball cards, toys and pottery.

“I just kind of wished we had started sooner,” Blair laughs thinking back. “Back when eBay was starting, you could put up a ballpoint pen, and it would sell for $1,000.”

The potential profit was a big reason for their move to an online venue, but so was the idea of having more time to themselves and being their own bosses.

“Time is a wonderful thing,” Blair notes.

Moving their business to eBay reduced the couple’s overhead costs, gave them more time to be together and with their family, and hasn’t hurt their pocketbooks. In fact, the couple’s making just as much as they were when they were running two brick-and-mortar stores, he notes.

We try to treat [customers] right to keep them coming back, and we have a lot of repeat buyers, so I think it’s working

Developing a love for the old

The love of antiques runs in the family. Blair’s father is an auctioneer and, as a kid, Blair was an auction runner, the guy who held up items for bidders to see.

“I got $20 for the night,” he recalls.

Being around so many auctions growing up, Blair eventually began buying lots at weekend auctions, cleaning the items and then reselling them at sales he held on his front lawn. One fateful day, another auctioneer visited his lawn sale and asked for his help clearing a lot he had purchased.

Blair agreed and did such good work that the two men worked together at the man’s auction house for four years. During that time, Blair helped pick up estates, continued his career as a runner and learned a lot about antiques and what to buy.

Then he decided to sell vintage items on his own. That’s when Cathy came on board and eBay became the family business. Blair admits that, at first his wife didn’t have much of an affinity for antiques, but she liked jewelry, and that drew her in.

Blair’s specialties are antique coins and money, but he admits he’s “king of all trades. Anything I can buy and flip, I will buy,” he notes.

Customer care

Wells Antiques and Collectibles has more than 10,000 sales to its name. The couple sends out more than 120 packages every week, and, at any one time, the sellers have more than 2,000 items for sale on eBay. They add 100 new items every week. That new inventory might be what attracts buyers to their listings, or it might be the attention they pay to buyers, Blair isn’t sure.

But their success likely has something to do with the couple’s pride in superior packing, fast shipping—next day, in most cases—and customer care. The sellers have achieved 100-percent positive feedback with more than 10,000 feedbacks. For other sellers who want to do the same, Blair has but one piece of advice:

“Just take care of the customer, and treat them the way you want to be treated,” he suggests. “We’re all human.”

And being human means admitting to mistakes and correcting them right away when it comes to customers, Blair adds. He recalls a recent instance when, while packing a bracelet they’d sold, he noticed a crack in one of the gems.

He could do one of two things: send the item as it was without contacting the buyer, or email to let her know about the crack. He chose the latter, and offered to either refund the buyer’s money, or give her a discount.

“She took the discount,” he says. “She was happy we were honest. We try to treat [customers] right to keep them coming back, and we have a lot of repeat buyers, so I think it’s working.”

I use tons of bubble wrap. I shake everything to make sure nothing moves inside the package

Perfecting the process

The couple has a system down when it comes to their business, Blair notes. When Cathy wakes up, she prints out a list of buyers who have already paid for their items. Then, while she’s in the shower, Tim gathers up the inventory. As Cathy makes lunch, Tim packs orders, and when they run errands, they make a stop at the post office to drop off shipments.

It might seem like a jam-packed day to some, but for the Blairs, it’s a welcomed routine. And it’s just nice to be their own boss.

“I’m happy to be able to work from home and work together with my wife. We’re one of those couples who gets along,” he says laughing.

Keeping it in the family

Another plus: They can take breaks to do things around the house if they need to. This freedom to step away from the business as needed also comes in handy if they get a negative email from a customer.

Unlike in a retail store, “You don’t have to look the customer in the eyes and respond right away. You can take a minute to cool off, so you don’t feel like you want to grab them by the neck,” he jokes.

Auctiva’s tools are another help. The Blairs use Auctiva’s eBay templates to make listings look professional and easy to read. They also use the scheduling feature to prepare listings when they have some down time, and schedule them to post later on.

The couple’s daughter recently began helping out with creating listings, continuing the family tradition of reselling. She’s even starting her own eBay Store, Ceciliasjewelrybox. Her first round of inventory will be antique jewelry from Mom and Dad.

An eye for what sells

Things have really changed since the Blairs began selling on eBay in 1998. Back then, they took photos of their items with a VCR camera and used a still frame to show buyers the items in their truest form.

Today they use a digital camera, and they’ve developed an eye for what sells, like costume jewelry and mid-priced coins.

“We know what to look for and how much we can pay for it,” Blair adds. And they’ve learned that people really appreciate good packaging. That’s why he now packs everything with plenty of padding.

“I use tons of bubble wrap. I shake everything to make sure nothing moves inside the package,” he adds. “I’d rather it arrive alive than get there in pieces,” he adds.

Other sellers should do this, too, and never skimp on packing materials, even it might increase costs a bit, he advises. His other tip for sellers: “Try to buy unique items,” he notes. “The more rare the item, the better it sells.”

Visit Wells Antiques and Collectibles on eBay.

About the author

Olga Munoz
Olga Munoz is editor of TheOnlineSeller.com. In addition to writing news and feature articles about e-commerce, selling trends, online marketing and other topics of interest to online sellers, Olga manages the site's social media efforts. A journalism graduate of Chico State, Olga says her favorite part of being a journalist is learning interesting facts that help put stories into perspective, attending industry events and meeting interesting people "that leave you smiling, even in tough situations." Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.



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