Learn to buy and sell antiques and collectibles

Comparison Of Selling Antiques At Shows Versus On eBay

The train show season has started so I decided to share some tips on selling antiques and collectibles at shows.

I don't do general antique shows or even general toy shows. These shows just don't bring in enough buyers. I only do Toy Train shows.

So if you have a choice between a show that specializes in what you offer versus a general show, the specialty show will almost always result in higher sales.

Antique Shows Are A Great Place To Meet New Friends

One of the big advantages of shows is the opportunity to socialize. This just doesn't happen when selling on eBay. I've been doing the same shows and seeing the same people for over 30 years. I've made a lot of friends, and oddly I've never made any enemies.

The friends I've made are a valuable source of advice on everything from pricing to repairs. They're also my network of people who offer me items I want for my collection and for resale.

Antique Shows Are Great For Selling Cheap Items Fast

Another advantage of doing shows is they are a quick way to sell items with little hassle. You don't have to pack and ship anything, you don't have to point out the defects on your items, you just need to be able to set prices.

Not having to point out defects means you can get higher prices for items in low- and mid-grade conditions.

A note about conditions. . . There is a scale from poor which Basically means good for parts, to mint meaning absolutely no signs of use.

On a number scale the grades look like this:

  • Poor: less than 2
  • Good: 2-4
  • Very Good: 4-6
  • Excellent: 6-8
  • Like New: 8-9.9
  • Mint: 10

With the toy trains I sell, I only list items that are excellent or better (higher than 6 on the number scale) and items poor or good (below a 3) on eBay. The other items bring better prices at shows.

This is because if you list something in very good condition on eBay, by the time you get done describing the defects, the item may seem to be in poor condition. This impression lowers bids.

Antiques Shows Increase Your Skills

A disadvantage of selling at antiques shows may be the desire to haggle. It seems like everyone wants to offer a few dollars less at the shows I sell at.

I don't see haggling as a disadvantage. I just price items a few dollars higher, so people can talk me down, or just refuse to consider offers. Sometimes I offer people a good deal if they buy a selection of items.

Actually, haggling is an advantage because it gives you a chance to increase your negotiating skills.

Antique Shows Help You Learn About Your Buyers

That brings up an advantage of selling at antique shows. . . the ability to upsell buyers additional items. Sure on eBay you can link to your other auctions, and hope people will bid on multiple listings, but at a show you can spend the time explaining why the buyer should consider other items.

During the selling process, you will learn what the buyer wants. I have a lot of regular buyers at the shows I go to, and I know what they are looking for. This means when I get something I know a buyer will be interested in, I can be sure to take it to the show.

Over the last few years I've become less likely to entertain offers at shows. This is because I know I can just load the items on eBay and they are gone. I've sold enough on eBay I can list things quickly and efficiently. I also can estimate the selling prices quite well.

I'll never sell light, easy to pack items at a show for less than I would get on eBay after fees. I will sell heavy or large items at shows for less than the expected eBay selling price because I've gotten nailed a few times shipping big items.

Theft is a disadvantage of doing antique shows. Over 30 plus years of selling at shows, I've had very few things stolen. But thefts do happen. You can make it harder for people to steal from you, but there is no way to stop it completely.

One of the big disadvantages of selling at antique shows is also an advantage.

This is the work involved. If we just look at the work, it seems like a lot.

I load up the day before, and then get up early enough to get to the show when sellers are let in. Then I have to haul everything in and set it out on tables provided by the promoter. At the end of the show I have to load up what doesn't sell and bring it home and pack it back away.

Today I do most of my pricing and sorting while setting up. The only items I price in advance are things I need to research.

I know most dealers price in advance of the show because they can't concentrate on pricing while being greeted by other dealers and questioned by shoppers. I don't have a problem multitasking so this lowers my workload.

When I pack up, I sort the items so they are ready for the next show and put aside the items I'll list on eBay. Then at the next show I can just price the new items and put them near their cousins.

When I buy items for resale, I pull out everything I'll be listing on eBay then put the rest into boxes and set it aside for the next show.

I said this work is a disadvantage and an advantage. It can be hard if you're a poor multitasker, or if you get too complicated and start feeling in over your head.

The labor itself is hard because I'm not young anymore. My hour nap after getting home from a show has now become 2-3 hours spent recuperating. (I have learned better quality shoes keep my feet and knees from hurting and to stay off my feet as much as possible.)

The advantage is it's done. I'm a dedicated procrastinator so I'll put things off as long as I can. The shows act as deadlines. Antique shows also give me a big area to see what I have to sell.

With eBay I've fallen into the habit of listing some items every Friday. I try to only list items that will sell for at least 30 dollars on eBay. I especially look for items that might cause bidding wars.

That's an advantage of selling on eBay. Bidding wars.

Years ago, I had two people fight over a box of used train track. I would have sold the whole box at a show for $20, but got $200 plus shipping for it on eBay.

These bidding wars don't happen every week, but when they do it's a nice extra profit.

Another advantage of selling on eBay is it's faster. Before eBay my sales stock turned over about every six months. If I was just selling at shows today it would probably take a year to turn my inventory over completely. This is because it's a declining market, and there are fewer shows and fewer buyers.

On eBay I can turn everything over in weeks. Now I sell the good stuff on eBay and take the mid-quality and lower priced items to shows. So while my inventory turns over slower, the profit comes back quickly. The stuff I take to shows has a zero cost basis because it's the junk that came with something I already sold on eBay for a profit.

You might think the big disadvantage of eBay is the fees.

My eBay and PayPal fees run just over 9 percent of gross sales. But antique shows can be more expensive. . .

At a show I did recently my costs divided by my gross sales leaves a cost of 18%. This includes gas to get to the show and the cost of tables at the show, but not incidentals like price tags and the ice cream sandwich I had for a snack.

That's a normal range for a local show. If I sell really expensive stuff at the show the percentage cost will go down, but not into the range of what eBay costs.

Going to antique shows out of state and renting a motel increases costs dramatically.

I regularly do an LA show that costs me $720 in expenses not counting food. To get my costs in the same range as eBay I'd have to do $9000 in sales. That's not going to happen.

I go because it's a social event and I know I'll sell enough to cover all my costs. I have lots of stuff that isn't even worth taking to a local show let alone putting it on eBay. I can sell it by the box load in LA.

Remember this is also my hobby. I went to shows before I started dealing heavily just to meet people and find items for my collection. My dealing activities are designed to lower the cost of adding items to my collection.

If I was just a dealer and wasn't interested in spending the weekend with friends I only see once to twice a year, I'd throw the garbage out and stay home.

Antique Shows Are A Great Place To Buy

One other advantage of shows is the opportunity to buy items. I don't mean items for my collection as this doesn't happen that much anymore - Last time I bought something for my collection at a show was in June of 2009. Over 2 years ago!

I mean buying stuff at shows to resell. I've paid my costs many times by picking up stuff to resell at other shows or on eBay.

Recently I bought an item for $85, put it on my shelf then sold the one I had for $375 on eBay. I upgraded mine and made a few hundred.

Any show I go to has dozens if not hundreds of items that can be bought and resold for small profits, but the big profit items are scarcer. This is because the shows are smaller and the internet has made it easier to research odd items.

A few last disadvantages of eBay are the packing and shipping can be a chore. This is especially true of large, heavy or fragile items.

There Are Fewer Problem Buyers At Antique Shows

Fraud is also problem on eBay. About every 500 sales I get a buyer who tries to play games. This can be returning a different item, claiming they never received the item, claiming damages that don't exist, or - and this is my favorite - deciding they overpaid and then damaging the item and asking to return it.

These occurrences have gone down. 10 years ago one out of every 150 eBay sales resulted in this crap, but it's still a bigger problem on eBay than at antique shows.

As I'm writing this I'm trying to think of problem buyers I've had at shows.

The guy who only bathes twice a year seems like a problem when he's standing next to me, but never get a resentment over his smell.

I've had hagglers get me to the point where I just tell them to go away, but when I'm in a good mood, they can be entertaining.

I've never had someone at a show try to renegotiate the price after the deal was done, and only had one person in 30+ years try to return something.

I mentioned earlier I've had things stolen. I've also had things damaged, and a few times I've lost or forgotten items at shows. I've never had someone successfully switch price tags, but I've had a few people try.

Antique Shows Can be Fun

Shows can be a lot of fun. Even with the work involved I enjoy doing them and look forward to most of them. With the right mix of doing shows, selling on eBay and selling on the phone to people you meet at shows you can increase your profits.

If you're selling antiques and collectibles doing shows is worth your time. You might find them easier than eBay. You might like the social aspects, and you'll surely like the quick money.

Learn More About Selling At Antique Shows

If you aren't familiar with doing antiques shows, or want to improve your sales while lowering the chances of being a victim of theft, I did an interview with someone who does more shows than me.

The interview covers selecting shows, lowering thefts, some negotiating, and a little bit about socializing and tying yourself in to the dealer grapevine.

Here's a link:

How To Sell At Antiques Shows And Flea Markets

PS If you're selling on eBay, you might not be getting the best prices. The Auction Revolution will help you get the highest prices with the lowest possible eBay fees.

Get your copy of the Auction Revolution here.


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