Friday December 31, 2010 | Comments
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!
Thursday December 23, 2010 | Comments
The torrential downpour that's been hitting California for the last week or so FINALLY let up today. It was actually good timing, as it made us stay in and work on other parts of the A La Modern store instead of going out thrifting. However, that resulted in a bit of cabin fever with the result that we just HAD to get out into the thrift store was the rain stopped. (Incidentally, I have no idea how people in rainier climates, such as Seattle, can deal with it!)
Vintage loot at thrift stores seems to have dried up a bit as we've come to the end of the year. However, we still found a few nice things destined for our shops. Starting in the front left, we came across another two Taylor & Ng "Vintage French " mugs. These mugs might not look like much to the average shopper, but there's a pretty large crowd of collectors who really like them. We know that some of the mugs have been reproduced, but these are definitely the older ones. We believe these mugs are part of a "cat group" - the two we found are "Le Chat Aile", which means "Winged Cat" and "Chat Et Souris", which means "Cat and Mouse".
Right next to the Taylor & Ng mugs, is another piece of Hornsea Pottery. You might recall our earlier amazing Hornsea haul. This time, we only found the one creamer. The pattern is quite nice and is known as "Tapestry".
The little orange-brown piece next to the Hornsea piece appears to be a creamer, and we thought for sure it was from Heath Ceramics at first. However, it is unmarked on the bottom and rather rough which seems unusual for a Heath item. It also has an unfinished "seam" at the bottom - I think Heath is pretty meticulous about trimming this off. The glaze looks remarkably similar to the pumpkin colored Heath ramekins we found earlier. However, this creamer is orange inside and out as opposed to only on the inside.
The vinegar and cruet set in the back is likely a late 70s production from Japan. It's quite interesting because the upper half is a basketweave patterened ceramic, while the bottom half is actually hardwood.
Finally, we came across some more Rosenthal cups - this time all with saucers. We immediately thought that these might be Loewy designs - and the cups do look similar to a shape that he's supposed to have designed called "Form 2000". However, we're wondering why ours do not have the Raymond Loewy signature stamp on the bottom. They only have the Rosenthal mark on the bottom. The Form 2000 cups that we've seen appear to be taller, though we're not sure if ours weren't simply a different size cup in the same line. We did check Replacements, and the cup does appear to be listed. The plain white color we have is "Classic Modern White", but the Form 2000 shape was also sold in various different patterns.
OK, we (probably) won't have another thrifting post until after the actual day - so hope you have a great Christmas! We'll have that end-of-year wrapup for A La Modern some time next week...
Sunday December 19, 2010 | Comments
Ah yes, a very weak pun attempt - please excuse us. We still have quite a few thrifted items that are stuck in "inventory purgatory", somewhere between and photo taking. Actually, we have about 5 boxes worth of it, but who's counting...
We had vowed to avoid thrift stores until the end of the year in order to work on inventory. But that vow lasted exactly 5 days... but again, who's counting.
In any case, here are a few more goodies coming soon or already in the shop. I'm sure your eye was immediately drawn to the bright orange chalkware tiger bank with the goofy smile. He definitely stole the show in the picture. Sort of looks "Tony the Tiger"-ish. This guy was made in Japan - we didn't know that there's quite a few vintage chalkware fans out there.
The greenish Heath Ceramics cup and saucer is a thrifted item that we never get tired of finding. When we located this one, we immediately looked for more pieces, but no luck this time. This is actually a great thrifting tip - if you find a single piece of vintage dinnerware, immediately focus on looking for more of them. More often then not, they get separated within the store.
Speaking of thrift tips, we're probably going to start up a series of posts on that in the coming year. We're no experts, but since we spend a lot of time at thrift strores, we have some tips from experience that we can share.
The little crouching bulldog with sparkly eyes next to the Heath cup/saucer is most likely a Roselane of Pasadena ceramic figurine. These were called Sparklers and were made in California from the 50s until the 70s. We have seen some repros made in Japan, likely in the 80s, but we think this one is an original. The plastic rhinestone eyes are glued in. Roselane made all sorts of Sparkler animals - more info on the company is available on our sister site Potteries of California.
Behind the dog is a sweet little ceramic birdhouse, likely made in the late 70s to early 80s in Japan. At first we had thought this might be an ashtray. But it has a little loop for hanging, and it seems a little difficult to get ashes out of it! We think that this may have originally had some sort of wooden stick for birds to sit on since there is a little groove on the front that seems intended for a perch.
Lastly, the tray everything is sitting on is another Georges Briard glass serving tray with wooden handles. We actually see these quite often, but the goldleaf decoration is often rubbed off, or the glass is damaged. This one was in pretty great shape so it went into our cart.
OK, that's it for this thrifting roundup. We have one more upcoming, and then we'll probably wrap up with one last post before the New Year.
Tuesday December 14, 2010 | Comments
Hi everyone - just a little note that we've switched out our ongoing sale. Because of the winter season we decided to focus on glittering glasswareobjects for our feature this time.
And yes, we know we're a little late on putting this sale up, so we're going to leave it up throughout January of next year. Selected glass items will be discounted 10-20% (or more), and we'll also be adding more items over the next month or so.
Also, while the main shop will be open throughout the holidays, we currently have our shopping cart functionality disabled as we need to perform some long-needed maintenance. The cart will be down at least until January 3, 2011. So, if you'd like to purchase an item during this period, please contact us and we can work out the transaction details directlly through email. However, please note that the deadline to guarantee shipping by Xmas day has passed. (The same goes for our Etsy outlet)
OK, we'll cut this post short so we can get back to fixing up the shop. We might have a few more thrifting posts before the end of the year, and probably a wrapup of our impressions for A La Modern's first year as a vintage shop.
Tuesday December 7, 2010 | Comments
OK, this one may take awhile to appear in the store, but we just couldn't resist putting up a picture! It's rather uncommon to find Hornsea Pottery here in the United States. We understand it's not the case in the U.K., which is where the pottery was originally started in 1949. Hornsea produced wares up until the 1980s. Most people who collect Hornsea know about their collectible mugs, but they also made a whole host of other dinnerware items.
The pattern we found is known as "Heirloom" and it came both in this Brown color and in Green. We could not believe our luck when we found this large set of Heirloom in one place. We've seen the odd mug or cup here and there, but never a larger set like this. It was produced in the early 1970s, and we're wondering how it got to California - did other retailers carry the line and sell it in the States? In any case, we hope we come across more Heirloom in the future - we're still figuring out if we want to put this up in the shop or keep it! =)
Sunday December 5, 2010 | Comments
For whatever reason, we often find that there's often a "theme" to our thrift finds. We're not sure if it's subconscious or not, but it seems to happen quite often!
In any case, here are a few more of the thrifted items that we've come across lately. The theme here seems to be yellow and white glassware, though we did pick up one or two other things that didn't fit with this photo. So I guess we're cheating a bit. =) We'll save them for another post.
First up are the sunny yellow, plastic lidded Heller Designs glass canisters in the back. We have to admit that we're still unsure whether or not Massimo Vignelli was involved with their design (Ebay sellers seem to think so, but they've been known to spread incorrect information before, so we're on the fence about it). The plastic seems to be softer than on Vignelli's Heller Max items we've come across. In any case, they're wonderful canisters for use or decoration.
To the right of those is a nice sunny yellow #502 Pyrex refrigerator dish from the "Citrus" set. This one has a chipped lid, so I think we might keep it. Plus, we already have the larger orange #503 refrigerator dish and one lemon yellow #501 refrigerator dish from the set so we thought we'd try complete the set.
The five goldleaf fruit glasses next to the refrigerator dish look a whole lot like they might be Georges Briard, but they're actually Culver glass. We believe they were part of a cup / pitcher set. Maybe you have the pitcher? =)
Our favorite item from this batch was the squiggly Alvar Aalto "Savoy" vase which was actually made back in the 1930s. While this amazing, wavy vase is still being made today by Iittala, it's still rather collectible and we've been searching for one at thrift stores for ages. Could not believe it was still there when we came across it!
Lastly we found 4 elegant Rosenthal Continental China teacups designed by Raymond Loewy. Loewy is probably one of the most famous designers that you've never heard of - he's known as the Father of Industrial Design. He designed the U.S. Postal Service emblem, the Greyhound bus logo, the Shell logo, the Lucky Strike packaging, the skinny Coke bottle, the Exxon Logo, the Studebaker Avanti, the GG-1 electric locomotive ... the list is just too amazing.
OK, hope that you enjoyed this thrifting roundup. We've got a couple more to go before the new year. On that note, we're probably going to be closing the main shop over the holidays starting the middle of this month. Our Etsy shop will remain open - however, we won't be shipping any items that are purchased until the new year.
Thursday December 2, 2010 | Comments
Continuing with documenting our recent thrift finds, we've come across a number of pretty cool plastic items lately.
One of our favorite finds was this small cache of Heller sky blue plastic bowls and mugs. Often overlooked by thrifters, these Heller items were actually designed by Massimo Vignelli and are very popular with the midcentury/retro crowd for their minimalist design and bright solid colors.
This Dansk green plastic "clover" tray is another favorite item of ours to pick up at thrift stores. Most people don't realize this was designed by Gunnar Cyren - they're fairly collectible and came in several different bright colors as well as clear plastic.
That little plastic timer in the front is by Mark Time. Yes, I know, they really had to think hard to come up with that name. =) I think we might be hanging on to this timer for now - it has a really pleasing bell sound that's less harsh than the usual vintage timers we've had.
Lastly, we found this super cool a href="http://www.etsy.com/listing/63464891/retro-emsa-orange-floral-watering-can">yellow plastic watering can by Emsa. This is actually a German company that's still around today, but the watering can is probably from the 70s. We just couldn't resist the mod retro flower look.
OK, we've got a few more "goodies" posts that we need to work on - stay tuned!