All right, it's about time for the A La Modern 2010 end-of-year shop roundup. Yes, yes - this is quite the last minute post at one day before the next year starts! =)
I'm not sure if readers are going to get anything out of it, but I decided to write this as much for ourselves as for other people. It'll be nice to refer back to it next year, and see what kind of changes took place. Feel free, however, to skip to the end if you just want to hear about what kind of things we have planned for next year...
2010 was our first year as a "real shop" selling vintage housewares and other items. But we've had some early (2004-2006, pre-Etsy!) experience selling handmade jewelry online, and that actually helped a lot with the logistics of setting up and running the main shop and our Etsy outlet.
We opened both shops around April of 2010. I'd say we've been extremely pleased with the initial results over the first eight months. The goal was to use more than one shop to hit different demographics and markets. While we still have some concerns, this has worked out fairly well with Etsy handling the cuter, less expensive vintage items and the main shop reserved for the higher ticket, "collector" and midcentury items.
We were originally going to try use Ebay to sell items as well this year. However, Etsy seems to have done well enough so that we may not have to. We might still explore that avenue for select items that we'd like to sell quicker at a reduced price.
We had said earlier that we were going to be fairly open with this vintage shop experiment. That said, I guess we won't be posting the EXACT numbers here!
However, in general the shop did better than we had forecasted for this first year. We actually overshot our gross sales mark by about 30%. Interestingly, we UNDERSHOT on the predicted "number of units sold" by about 30%.
Part of this is probably because we'd expected to use Ebay to sell, but just never got around to it. I think this may actually be a good result - originally, we were extremely concerned with the shops getting bogged down with selling lots of items for very little gain.
It's definitely a morale booster to have a ton of sales, but we really have to watch out for the amount of work that we put in PER item (uh, because we do such a good job, if I do say so myself). At the end of the day, we'd rather sell fewer mid to high priced items as opposed to many cheaper items. Of course, that leads us to the next segment - the problem of actually acquiring these higher end items for cheaper prices...
So far, we've stuck with thrift stores, estate and garage sales, and flea markets for finding most of our items. We've given estate and public auctions a try, but were clearly out of our league with most of the ones near us. (Los Angeles seems a little tough in general, at least the ones we've tried. Oh, to live in the Midwest!) Well, perhaps we're not attending the right ones, but it is just amazing the amount of money these auction pros will pay for boxes of goods.)
We love thrift stores because they're open all of the time, as opposed to only on the weekends or set days. More than half of the items in our shops have come from thrift stores. The problem, of course, is that most of the items we find at thrifts fall in the $6-12 range. While these sell quicker, there's less profit involved.
We tend to do the same amount of work (cleaning, photographing, inventory/listing, promoting) for an $8 item as a $40 item. I guess if we were really serious about it, we could pursue the Ebay grind of vintage selling - very little work per item and focus on volume. But - we don't want to go down that route. So mid-priced items are what we're shooting for.
Storing inventory is also a problem with having tons of inexpensive items - the worst is having tons of physically large, inexpensive items! Oh boy. I'm not going to go into just how many boxes of items we have in the garage. Oh, and if you ever decide to sell vintage goodies online, make sure you write down or label which box each item is in! Looking through 30 boxes for one item is no fun...
Boring, boring, boring - I'm not going to go into the technology a great deal here. Earlier, I wrote a bit about what goes on behind the scenes of an online shop/blog. I guess it really doesn't matter as much, but so far it's been working for us.
We have the main shop and blog running within a custom Wordpress install using the Eshop plugin. The products AND blog entries are all the same type of post, we just wrote our own code to tell Wordpress how to handle the two different types. The site runs off of ordinary shared server space, and we also have a mirrored development server so we can test changes and updates.
That dev server is critical, because while we really like the Eshop plugin, we have been trying to deal with the constant updates that occur for it. We have no need for all the extra new and fancy things and shortcodes that the plugin keeps adding on (though we understand that other folks need this because they aren't programmers). Every time there's an update, we hold our breath as to whether the shop is going to break.
Actually, to tell you the truth, the only part of Eshop that we really need is the stock control, cart functionality and Paypal gateway stuff. We might be revisiting this in the future - it might turn out we'll eventually have the main shop be a "contact us to buy" instead of using a cart.
Incidentally, this is the really nice thing about the Etsy shop - no need for messing around with carts, etc. Everything is handled by them. Something to think about if you ever start up your own shop.
BUSINESS AND LEGAL
I'm not going to go too far into this subject here either - actually, we were thinking of including some tips on the business side of selling vintage items as part of our future "Thrifting Tips" section of the blog. Not that we're experts on this (or lawyers), but I think we might have some good tips and experience to share.
For what it's worth, we went full legal, including a business license, California reseller's permit number and full tax records. I would encourage anyone who's looking to start up their own vintage store to go this route as soon as possible.
You don't HAVE to (well, technically you do), but what happens if your store starts to become really successful? Well, you're going to want to go legal - but shouldn't your goal be to become successful anyhow? In my opinion, it's better to get all that stuff out of the way in the beginning. In addition, there are various tax advantages to be had if you consider your store a business. More on that later, I guess.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
This year we've had a lot of fun finding items for the shop, meeting new vintage and midcentury modern collectors/enthusiasts online and, uh, actually earning some honest to goodness income from selling things.
I think the most important thing is that so far we've really enjoyed this type of work - you're not going to get extremely rich in this line of employment, and anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or trying to sell you something. It's a LOT of work, for at best an average "salary". So it's really important that you enjoy what you do.
We like lists, and that seems to be the "in" thing to do for end-of-year posts. So here's a list of things we're planning for A La Modern in 2011:
1. A La Modern Physical Shop?
We've been thinking of renting a booth in an antique mall since the first day we started selling online. However, the high rent at the antique malls near us have been difficult to deal with. Right now we just don't sell enough to cover the monthly costs. In addition, there's so many other things to worry about with a mall booth (competition, breakage, theft). However, it would be really nice to be able to sell some of the larger items and furniture. We'll see.
2. Increased focus on midcentury and "collector" items.
To be honest, we've been holding back quite a few of the "higher ticket" midcentury modern items. This could also be the reason we sold smaller, inexpensive things for this first year. Being collectors ourselves, it has been somewhat difficult to part with the better finds we've had (ahem, hoarding). Knock on wood, but we hope to list more of these items in the shops next year. But we're still going to be keeping SOME things. =)
3. More Sales and Promotions
We had 4-5 "themed" sales this first year. For the most part, we didn't see a whole lot of interest in them - but it was difficult to tell. Most surprising was that the "Holiday Sale" that we ran had absolutely no takers. However, the minute we took it down, we suddenly experienced a high volume of orders! This could be just last minute Xmas shoppers, but something to investigate for next year.
We hope to have at least 5 different sales next year. You might note that one of the missing "topics" in this post has been "PROMOTIONS". This has always been the most difficult aspect of the business for us. Granted, promotions for an online vintage shop like ours is a lot different than the traditional means of getting the word out, but we need to take a closer look at that. One area that we haven't explored yet is a "Newsletter".
4. Community and friends
In terms of social networking and making like-minded friends, I guess we've only scratched the surface. However, we've met a lot of nice people on Flickr, Twitter, and various other vintage, thrifting and collector blogs. We hope to meet more of our fellow vintage shop folks in 2011 as well. I think we've done pretty well by our standards, being somewhat less "community" oriented than most.
5. Blog posts
As we've said previously, we hope to post more frequently on the blog in 2011. The purpose of our blog is not necessarily to make sales directly, but rather to bring in search engine traffic from "outside" and to re-connect with collectors, vintage friends and other midmod folks. I have a lot to say about the importance of organic search engine traffic - maybe an upcoming topic for the blog.
We're planning to include more thrifting and vintage business tips, in addition to shop update posts. We originally wanted to start doing profiles and interviews on selected midcentury modern designers, but this may have to wait a bit. We just don't want to bite off more than we can chew!
6. Goodies and Giveaways
This sort of ties in with promotions - we've always wanted to do some giveaways for the shop. However, it seems as if you need have a bit more "traffic" in order for it to be a success (talk about chicken and egg dilemmas!) We might try one or two anyhow, though we aren't going to make this the main focus of promotions.
One last thing that we were thinking of doing is creating some free promotional goodies. We have plans for a window-cling sticker and are considering making an A La Modern calendar sometime next year in the Fall. I guess we'll have to wait and see if we have the funds for all of that though!
OK - thanks for sticking with us through this long-winded post. See you all soon - Happy New Year in advance!