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Thursday, January 28, 2016

The Value Provided by Stamp Dealers and "Market Value"

Before I get into writing about the 1908 Quebec Tercentenary Issue, I wanted to share some thoughts about dealers, market values and some problem areas in Canadian philately that I am noticing these days.

A couple of months ago, I wrote a post about the many ways that I feel stamp dealers provide value to the hobby. Since I wrote that post, I have encountered quite a lot of anti-dealer sentiment on Facebook groups and Facebook itself. The general tone of this sentiment is that the collectors feel that we are nothing more than greedy middlemen who drive the price of stamps up beyond what they are really worth. Their evidence to support this is threefold:

1. The latest deal they made with Mr. Fellowcollector half way around the world for the following stamp:

The stamp of course is the 1908 Quebec Tercentenary Issue and has a catalogue price of $100 for fine. Well the collector has just purchased this one from Mr. Fellowcollector for $30, which shows that us dealers who are selling this same stamp for $65 are just a bunch of greedy people.

2. Their experience in purchasing collections from auction houses, in which they can buy collections of Canada or any country they want at 25-30% of Scott.

3. Their experience in trying to sell their collections to dealers who often offer between 10-15% of catalogue value for their "collection".

In many collectors minds, all of this is evidence that dealers are unscrupulous and take people's collections for a song and then turn around and charge two to three times what the stamps are really worth.

My take on all this is the subject of this post and is decidedly different from this. My response addresses the following assertions:
  1. Wholesale and retail markets are completely different.
  2. "Good" deals are often not what they seem. 
  3. Not all collections are created equal and when you sell to a dealer you are operating in a wholesale rather than a retail market. 
Wholesale Versus Retail Markets

An auction house is a wholesale market. Yes, these businesses do sell high quality, valuable single stamps. But what makes them a wholesale market is the fact that their relationship with the customer is largely transactional in nature and there is little to no ongoing service provided with the product. 

To illustrate this: when was the last time you got a call from an employee of an auction house saying "Hey Mr. X, we just got a consignment of Large Queens and I happen to know that there are several pieces in this sale that are right up your alley."? Or say you purchase a collection of Canada for several thousand dollars and as you are going through it you notice that the Bluenose stamp that you thought was VFNH has a corner crease. What then? You see the disclaimer in the auction catalogue that says "lots with more than 10 stamps cannot be returned under any circumstances". Or what if there were no damaged stamps, but the catalogue value was actually quite a bit lower than what they "estimated" it at? Can you call them up and say "Hi Mr. Soandso, I'm calling about the Canadian collection I bought in your latest sale. Yeah, it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment and I'm wondering if there is anything you can do?". 

Now, I'm sure that these businesses will make the odd exception to their own rules for their largest and most valued customers. But for the average collector who bids once a year? Not much chance. 

What about service to the hobby and promotion of the hobby? Have you ever seen major auction houses promoting philately in the community at large? How many blogs are there written by auction houses that aim to educate the customers about the product? Very few that I know of. Most wholesalers assume that you know all about the product and that you do not need them to educate you. This is a large part of the reason why they have such strict return policies. Caveat Emptor is the rule of the day when dealing in a wholesale market. 

Another aspect to wholesale markets like auctions is that you cannot choose what they sell you. They will have an accumulation of merchandise and it is up to you to search for the item you want with the very real possibility of not finding the item you are looking for. For example, if you really want the 10c Quebec Tercentenary above and you only have $60 to spend on one, you can look in the auction catalogues, but at that price point:

1. You will likely not find an individual 10c stamp for sale that has $60 as a suggested bid. Instead, most of the 10c stamps will be the much more expensive grades with suggested bids over $100, as auctions tend to shy away from offering individual items that they expect to sell for less than $100 each. 


2. You will find an wholesale accumulation of 10c stamps, but to buy it you will need to spend several times more than you had budgeted. Then you have to find a way to sell the stamps from the lot that you don't want or need. This can be done with e-bay and the like, but takes a considerable amount of time, and there is always the risk of not recovering your cost. 


3. You will not find any 10c stamps, but rather just whole Canadian collections that contain a 10c Quebec Tercentenary, and you have to buy the entire collection. 


4. You don't find any Quebec Tercentenaries at all. 

The wholesale auction market works well for collectors who are highly knowledgeable about the stamps they are buying, who are not particularly concerned with obtaining a particular stamp at a particular time and who are happy to buy in much larger quantities than their immediate needs. These collectors are also comfortable with the whole concept of competing with other bidders and taking the risk of ultimately losing the item they have set their sights on.  

In contrast, the retail stamp market is completely service oriented toward the individual customer. A good stamp dealer builds a relationship with you and gets to know your collecting interests, your condition preferences and your budget. A dedicated stamp dealer will call you when something comes his or her way that he or she thinks will be of interest to you and is within your price range. Stamp dealers often promote the hobby within the community at large, by giving away stamps and collecting supplies to youngsters. Many dealers are happy to share their knowledge with you - sometimes for hours on end. 

A good stamp dealer also devotes his or her entire days to acquiring and maintaining an in-depth stock of material at all price ranges. They do this precisely so that should you decide that you need a mint Canada #101 for $60, you stand an excellent chance of finding one that you can afford that has been graded professionally and consistently by an expert who deals only in the stamps of his or her chosen field. The ability to collect at your own pace and add to your collection at your own convenience and by dealing with an expert is a service that many collectors find enhances their collecting experience. A good dealer is here to help you have the most rewarding collecting experience possible. For this reason they tend to stand behind everything they sell, so that if there is a future problem with a stamp they sold you, they will have a record of the sale and they will happily refund you or otherwise work with you to solve the problem. 

However, to do be able to deliver this very high level of customer service, a dealer must necessarily carry far more inventory then they expect to sell at any given time and consequently, must have a very large financial investment in the business. Indeed, they know full well that there is a percentage of their inventory that will never sell. The problem is, they have no way of telling which percentage that is, as it is next to impossible to predict what future collector demand will be. But what this does mean is that where they are offered material in large quantity, they cannot pay as much on a per stamp basis as they can for single items because they have to factor in the knowledge that some of those stamps are likely never going to sell, or at least not for a very long time. 

This brings me to my next point that not all collections are really collections to a dealer. To a dealer, a collection is a well organized assemblage of stamps and postal history that are individually salable, or is salable to a large range of customers as a complete lot. For example, a Canadian stamp album containing one of each stamp is a collection, since the dealer can either sell it as a complete album, can pick out some of the stamps needed for stock and sell the rest as a lot, or can break the entire album down for stock. If the quality is high and consistent throughout, then he or she most likely can pay more than 10-15% of catalogue for the collection, since it will contain much needed material that the dealer knows he or she can sell quickly. However, a large accumulation of 100 copies of each Canadian stamp from Scott number 34 to 300 is not a collection to a dealer. It is a wholesale accumulation, which will probably contain a lot of material that the dealer can never hope to sell and some material that they can sell easily. The problem is that for the dealer, it will take a lot of work to go through it to sort the wheat from the chaff and organize the stamps. Also, the dealer probably won't have many customers who want to buy the entire lot as received. All of these factors will affect what they can pay. This I believe, is often the scenario where someone goes to a dealer with $50,000 of catalogue value and reacts badly when the dealer offers them $2,500 for the lot. 

Many collectors fail to understand that when a dealer sells to them, they are receiving a service in addition to the stamps that they are paying for. The dealer cannot provide the service unless they can make a living doing it, and in order to make a living selling stamps at retail, a dealer's margins have to be very high to compensate for the very slow turnover in their stock. So why don't they just sell their stamps cheaper? Well because of the labour component. It takes time to retail stamps and if the price is low and the volume high, the dealer would have to hire many employees to handle the volume and the cost of doing that would likely make such a pursuit not worth his or her while. In addition when collectors sell to a dealer, they are also receiving a service from the dealer - that of a quasi finance company, like a factor of accounts receivable. They are able to liquidate their holding for cash on the spot and it becomes the dealer's problem as to how to turn that material over at a profit. So it is not possible for a dealer to offer collectors more than 10-15% of catalogue in most cases. It's not that they are being greedy, but rather the sellers are not understanding the differences between the wholesale and retail markets. 

Not All Good Deals Are What They Seem

I am a firm believer that ALL stamps have a value and a place. I am not one of those philatelists who thinks that any stamp should be destroyed for the good of the hobby. As stated in an earlier post, I am against the use of earlier stamps for "discount postage" because mint stamps are being delpeted and we don't know how many future collectors are being deprived of the chance to collect them. 

Having said that though, I am also a firm believer that you get what you pay for. Value and price are very heavily dependent on quality. If you visit my store and look for Canada #101 you will find the following stamps, at the following prices:

This one is very fine, with fresh original gum that has only been hinged once. It catalogues $300 in Unitrade and I have it priced for $180 USD. It is a nice, solid copy of this stamp. 

This stamp is the lower end of very fine, but is definitely better than fine. However, the gum on the back is not in its original state of freshness. I only know this because I am familiar with what the gum on these stamps is supposed to look like. A collector with only a passing familiarity with Canada, such as a general world collector or even a novice Canadian collector would likely not know that the gum is disturbed. I sell this one for $95 USD - just over half of the one above. 

This next stamp has fresh original gum as the first stamp above, but is just fine in terms of centering. It is a solid stamp for a budget conscious collector who wants sound, but not perfect stamps. It catalogues $100 in Unitrade. I priced it for $50 USD.

This last stamp at first glance looks fine just like the one above. However under a loupe, you can see a very small tear above the "E"of postage and a small tone spot under the left 10. It is therefore at the bottom end of very good in terms of grade. Unitrade no longer lists prices for VG, but I priced this for $30 USD, knowing full well that I will probably accept a lower offer from a collector that wants it. 

At first glance, the stamps don't look that much different, but as you look closer you can see the differences in quality and the subsequent range in price from $30-$180. I'm still not asking 100% of catalogue, and I am disclosing the condition upfront and grade consistently. 

Lets go back to the first stamp I showed you above. The one bought from Mr. Fellowcollector for $30. It looks pretty similar to the one I have priced at $50, with one key difference: it has been expertly re-gummed. Again, the only way I know this is because the gum looks nothing like it should for this issue, and I know that because I have handled hundreds of these stamps over the past 38 years. Mr. Fellowcollector probably doesn't know either, if he is just a general collector. On the other hand, he might know and has priced the stamp to what he feels is fair for a re-gummed stamp. What would I sell this stamp for? Well it is actually in my stock and I have it priced for $28. 

In this hypothetical example, a collector would have bought this stamp for $2 more than they could have paid if they bought it from me, except that they wouldn't necessarily know it was re-gummed, whereas I would tell them upfront that it was. So the so called "good deal" is really just an okay deal from a collector that will disappear into the sunset, never to be heard from again. 

This is an example involving a single stamp. But what about buying collections at auction for 25-30% of Scott? Aren't those a good deal?

Well, yes and no. The number of fakes, repaired stamps, re-perforated, re-gummed stamps that I have seen on e-bay for pre-1935 Canada is not insignificant. Some issues are worse than others, but by and large:

1. Many of the coil stamps from the Admiral Issue that I see offered are fakes made by either trimming the part perforate coil blocks, or re-perforating corner booklet singles with wide margins to resemble jumbo margined coils. You have to know the plate characteristics of the coils in many cases to tell the difference between the well executed fakes and the genuine stamps. 

2. Many high value 50c and $1 stamps up to and including the 1930 Mt. Edith Cavell  are expertly re-gummed, or have badly disturbed gum and you would never know if you were not familiar with the proper gum. 

3. A very large number of imperforate pence issues from Canada, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia have been expertly repaired, and these repairs are very easy to miss if you don't know what to look for. 

4. A large number of so called mint or unused Large Queen stamps are either re-gummed or cleaned used stamps that have been re-gummed. Again, close inspection with a good 10x loupe of a UV lamp would reveal the true nature of the stamps.

5. A large number of Admiral issues with straight edges have been re-perforated to produce well centered stamps and they can fool you if you are not careful.

These are just a few of the problem areas that I see all the time and there are more. But my point is that if you buy a collection from an auction house, even if it is an auction located in Canada, there is a very high chance that it will contain some of these problem items that have been overlooked. This is not because the auction houses are being dishonest, but because they are processing such a large volume of material that they simply cannot check every stamp for these issues. So if you are buying based on catalogue and that value is inflated by the inclusion of these items, then you are really paying more than 25-30%. 

Another factor to consider is that auctions do not usually factor in condition when arriving at catalogue values on large lots and as we have seen through my above example, fine stamps are generally only worth half as much as very fine and very good, only half again. So if the collection contains a large proportion of stamps that are only fine or very good, chances are very high that the catalogue value may be inflated by as much as 100% or 200%. Thus if you are bidding more than 25% on such a collection, you may be paying the auction house more than I would charge you for the same material, and you are having to buy it all and pay the 10-15% buyer's premium that auctions charge on top of it. 

Now I have presented you with worse case scenarios that reflect well on me as a dealer. But just to be fair, I will say that there are many instances where buying a large lot at auction is a better deal than buying stamps individually from me. The best example I can think of is when you are just starting a specialized collection and you have no material. You want to get your hands dirty and don't much care what you buy - only that you can buy some quantity and get it cheap. Say you decide you want to collect Admirals in all their aspects - papers, shades, plates the whole shebang. In this case, it makes sense to go to the larger auction houses and spend several hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars on some larger accumulations of Admirals and go though them and study them. You can likely do that for less money than you would pay me or any dealer for the individual stamps. I would be happy to even help you buy such a lot. 

However, once you have become familiar with them and have a good working knowledge and know exactly what you are missing, there will come a point where buying more large lots just does not make sense because you will be buying the same stuff over and over again. It is at this point that a "sharp shooter" approach over the "shotgun" approach will make sense to you. Even at my prices, you will come out ahead overall once you factor in the money you saved on the large lots you purchased originally. 

So there is my take on the value that we dealers bring to the table and why we behave the way we do. I believe that most dealers are driven by passion for what they do and a genuine desire to serve the hobby. But the reality is that we have to be able to make a modest living doing so and this is much less easy than most collectors realize. 

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Scanning of the Quebec Tercentenaries Gets Underway and Steph Hits the Ground Running

Fabio has been with me for just over 2 weeks now, and is learning a lot. I gave him a large lot of British Commonwealth material to sort and catalogue. This was ideal for him as it gives him a chance to learn all about shade differences, perforation measurements, watermarks and so forth. He is asking lots of questions and I think he is slowly finding his way through it.

Steph started on Monday. I put her in charge of organizing some 10 boxes of post 1952 Canadian commemorative issues, which form a large part of my Canadian stock. My son had already rough sorted each box, but it was now time to combine them all so that everything would be in order and the material could now be prepared for listing. Steph has almost finished the sorting after 2 days! She loves the work and is really interested in the modern material, which is fantastic! Her next step will be to ensure that all the paper types and shades are identified, the grading is correct and that everything is ready to scan. It will then be up to her to scan and list the material as she sees fit. I think I will probably have to invest in another laptop, scanner and software program for the scanner.

I have decided to take a break from scanning the Admiral Issue to list the Quebec Tercentenary Issue, as I had been telling my customers for the past two weeks that I was going to start listing it. I figured I had better make good on my promise. I managed to list about 60 lots yesterday, being all the 1903-1911 Edwards that I had bought over the past two weeks, all the 1/2c and all the 1c stamps from the Quebec Tercentenary Issue. I am hopeful that I can finish, or come very close to finishing the issue today, which will give me my late night tomorrow to scan a good number of Admirals. Hopefully by the end of this week I can have the Admirals scanned up to the 8c value. Next week I hope to have the scanning complete by Wednesday or so. Listing will take about 15 days or so - so most of February. I haven't decided yet whether I want to keep listing Canada past 1927, or whether I should start on Nigeria. On the one hand I am building momentum with Canada, but on the other, I know that colonial Nigeria will generate much needed cash flow. I'll have to see how the Admirals and the modern material does I guess.

I will conclude today's post with a glimpse of the issue that I am working on: the beautiful 1908 Quebec Tercentenary Issue:

Queen Mary and George V when Princess and Prince of Wales

Jacques Cartier and Samuel Champlain

Queen Alexandra and King Edward VII

Champlain's habitation in Quebec

Marquis de Montcalm and General Wolfe - both killed at the Plains of Abraham

View of Quebec in 1700

Champlain's departure

Cartier's arrival

In my opinion, these are some of the most beautiful stamps ever printed in Canada - 108 years ago.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Admirals and Quebec Tercentenaries Are Ready to Scan and Steph's 30th Birthday Bash

Since my last panicked post, things have gotten better: sales have now just passed $1,100 for January, which is not at all bad when I consider that people are all spent out from the Christmas season, and I am getting between 5 and 10 new customers a week. I have just passed 200 new customers since July 2015 and I have to remember that each and every one of these has the potential to be a repeat customer. All I have to do to maximize my chances of this is to look after them as best as I can and make them feel special and valued. I am doing everything in my power to do this by communicating with each and every one of them, whenever they order something from me and I am making sure that my messages are completely tailored to them.

I have been working frantically for the past two weeks organizing the stamps from the 1908 Quebec Tercentenary and the 1911-1928 Admiral Issue. Last Thursday I had finally completed my identification, grading and pricing of this material. I have well over 1,000 items to list and I must say that I am extremely proud of the work I have done on these. I have taken no shortcuts whatsoever. Shades have been identified using the Stanley Gibbons Colour Key, which every philatelist with access to a stamp dealer can obtain, rather than relying on the inconsistent colour descriptions contained in the Scott or Unitrade catalogues. Papers have been checked using a micrometer for thickness as well as being described thoroughly so that specialists of this issue can know exactly what they are buying when they order from me.

This work was not without its low points though: my work did turn up several re-perforated stamps that I had not noticed before, and although I should still be able to sell them for what I paid, I probably will not make any money on them. Still, it is better that I noticed these issues before my customers did.

Steph turned 30 on the weekend, and I decided to have a big birthday party for her. We had discussed the idea months ago of a "dip party" in which the food was different home-made dips. So I thought, a great idea was to do a party with 30 different dips, one for each year. I called it "Steph Dips Into her 30's". The dips I made can all be found online by Googling the following names and taking the first or second search result in each case:

1. Sweet onion dip - this one was pretty good, but not amazing.
2. Buffalo chicken dip - incredible!
3. Jalapeno popper dip - pretty good.
4. Warm blue cheese dip - amazing if you like blue cheese.
5. Beer dip - pretty good.
6. Spinach and parmesan dip - good.
7. Creamy salmon spread with horseradish - amazing!
8. Warm caramelized onion dip - amazing!
9. Herbed lemon-ricotta dip - good, but heed the warning not to chill for more than 4 hours!
10. Cheese and guiness spread - good, but gets very hard and difficult to spread.
11. Cookie dough dip - this was by far the most popular dessert dip at the party.
12. Caramel dip - good.
13. Farm stand fruit dip - amazing and very popular.
14. Raspbery cheesecake dip - amazing.
15. Maple bacon dip - amazing.
16. Guacamole - amazing.
17. Pizza dip - I only thought it was good, but it was the first to disappear.
18. Hummus - good.
19. Fig and olive tapenade - leave out the rosemary or use fresh as my guests didn't like the texture.
20. Gazpacho salsa - surprisingly good and simple.
21. Devilled egg dip - I thought this was amazing!
22. Lemon garlic edamame dip - sounds really good, but not as amazing as I expected.
23. Spicy beer mustard - one of the most popular.
24. Zesty green goddess dip - very good.
25. Roasted garlic, tomato and white bean dip - I liked this one a lot, but it was the least popular.
26. Mint pea dip - I liked it, but again most of my guests said it tasted like grass.
27. Moroccan spiced roasted carrot dip - very good.
28. Nutty Swiss chard and roasted garlic - a very good, non-dairy dip for vegans.
29. Roasted red pepper dip - excellent.
30. Garlic walnut dip - maybe I made this one wrong, but not that good.

There you have it - 30 different sweet and savoury dips! I served them with a variety of dipping foods from crudites, to french bread, crackers, cookies, baked sausage chips, chips and fresh fruit pieces. The party was a great success and some of the guests were able to take the leftovers of their favourite dips home. There was more than enough food to feed everyone, even though I made 1/2 to 1/4 of the stated recipe amounts. I had 14 guests, and with the amount of leftovers, I would say that I could have fed 30 people very easily. For drinks I served a large 10 quart jug of Sangria and three 2 litre bottles of soda and that more than satisfied everyone who attended. The total cost of everything was under $200. So this is a very good idea to develop if you are looking to do a large party without spending a lot of money. The idea of making 30 dips sounds daunting, but I started on Thursday night and made 9 dips in just under 2 hours, and made the other 21 on Friday starting at about 3pm and finishing by 9pm. The dips all use common ingredients, so once you have them all in front of you and as long as you keep rinsing out your food processor, you can make one dip after the other. I stored them in Ziploc plastic containers and then when it was time to serve the cold dips, I just took them out of the fridge an hour before the party was scheduled to start and brought them to room temperature. For the warm dips, I made those right in the stoneware baking dishes, covered them in plastic wrap and popped them in the oven just before the guests arrived.

Steph made little flags using blackboard tape and skewers so that guests would know which dips were which. Cleanup took less than 1/2 hour, as we used paper plates and plastic cups, and for the leftover dips all we had to do was put the lids back on the containers and pop them back in the fridge. We couldn't have done it though without the help and support of her mom and dad who helped make some of the dips and supplied all the vegetables, fruit and the sangria.

So all in all, it was a great theme for a party and one that I would definitely do again.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Feeling More Upbeat Today

After a touching outpouring of encouragement from many friends and a few customers, I am realizing that I am maybe worrying too much. As one of my friends pointed out, it is good to face these fears head-on and having this fear is important to being receptive to the need to change.

I spent most of today filling weekend orders and organizing the next group of material to list. This felt more productive. After tallying up the orders I can see that sales are not quite as low as I thought, so I felt better.

I have to remember that I spent many quiet years thinking of my business model - it wasn't something that I just came up with on a lark. I have made many observations over the years of working in the professional stamp trade as to how customers behave and these observations form the basis for the model that I eventually chose. I must be alert for evidence that contradicts what I believe the ideal business model to be, but at the same time, I need to have confidence in my self and in my ability to develop and execute an effective long-term plan.

One thing I do feel very good about is that I am constantly adding new customers every week and after 6.5 month, I am up to almost 200 names. I just need to figure out how to make these people regular customers. I think the attempts at relationship building and the blogging will eventually pay off.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

My First Real Doubts About My Business Model

I am  now half way through my 7th month and I've been feeling an almost uncontrollable sense of fear. I had promised when I started this blog that I would present my journey, warts and all. So far, all of my posts have been upbeat. I have spoken of the "long game" of value creation and the importance of staying the course.

When I left public accounting last year to become a stamp dealer I did so because I was tired of living a life that I felt had no ultimate meaning. I had reached the pinnacle of my profession: I had made it to partner. Yet I was profoundly unhappy. I can still remember the exact moment that I knew I had to leave. I had just returned from the office Christmas party and I was sitting at my desk which overlooked the entire staff work area. I remember thinking "so this is it". This is all there is to my life: I'm going to come here every day and tell a constantly rotating group of people what to do and then I'm going to retire. I remember thinking "why bother?".

I love stamps. I owe virtually everything I know about this big, wide world to this hobby. If I did not see it on a stamp, then I was inspired to learn about it because something I saw on a stamp made me curious: everything from places in countries, to historical figures and events, to exotic flora and fauna. Stamps were my way and an entire generation's way of travelling the world without ever having to leave home. I really believe that so many people could benefit from this hobby and I can see from the number of Facebook friends that I have made over the past year, that there are a lot of stamp collectors out there.

So I thought that the best way to contribute to this hobby was to provide collectors with the best possible selection of material from a few specialized areas on a retail basis and to focus on quality by:

  • providing highly consistent descriptions and grading.
  • providing highly detailed descriptions.
  • providing high quality scans. 
  • shipping orders out promptly.
  • contributing to the body of publicly accessible  philatelic knowledge by maintaining blogs that I would post detailed and informative articles to that would provide information not available in standard catalogs.  
  • charging reasonable prices and giving my customers the option of making offers if they considered my prices too high. 
I have experienced some success with this model, but not enough to make a living. I have up to this point assumed that this is because I do not yet have enough material listed on e-bay and that as I listed more items, sales would increase. This seemed to be happening until December. Then sales just ground to a crawl. 

When I analyze my sales to listings ratio on a micro-level everything looks like it is going to plan. But I am aware of the fact that there are dangers inherent in using margins and percentages to analyze everything, for a business that makes a 500% profit margin is still not viable if it only sells $20,000 per year and requires a full time effort to earn those sales. 

So what if I am wrong? What if collectors really don't value any of my above contributions? What if all they want is their stamps for the cheapest possible price, offered in bulk for them to pour through?

I have avoided that business model because it is the model that many stamp dealers follow. You'd think that what everyone else is doing is a good indication of what I should be doing as well. After all, they are successful and making a living right? But that begs the question, "How do I compete?". "What is my value proposition?". "Why should collectors buy from me?".  

To me, competing purely on price has been a non-starter. I still don't see any compelling evidence to suggest that charging a low percentage of catalogue price causes sales to increase. It seems to me that all this does is signal to collectors that you do not value the services you provide the hobby and are willing to work for peanuts. It seems to me that in the long run, it will undermine customer confidence in the quality of my product, since if I cannot make a living providing quality stamps, then I will not be able to continue to do so, and the only way to survive would be to lower the quality of my service. But what if I am wrong about this?

I am wondering now, for the first time, if I should abandon the retail model and take up a modified wholesale model - one where I can take what the other dealers and auction houses are doing and add more value for customers. God knows it would be a lot less labour intensive than what I am doing now. It wouldn't allow customers the flexibility to buy the exact stamps they want when they want, but then maybe there aren't enough collectors out there that want that flexibility anyway.

I just spent $6,000 on an accumulation of 30,000 covers from Finland that were sent from Nigeria and I did not particularly want to buy it. But I had made a commitment, 6 months ago to do so, and I cannot renege on my commitments. Don't get me wrong - it is an amazing group of postal history to the right collector. I think that, more than anything, this is what has me questioning this whole model. I know that there is no way that I can ever sell these covers one at a time: there are just too many of them and too much labour involved to scan them all and upload them all to e-bay. I didn't realize that six months ago, but I knew last week when I made the payment. 

So, I'm going to have to sell these in large lots of 100 or 500 different covers. Even if I do this, that will mean 60-300 lots, which is still a lot of work. So Steph and I are going to try it and see what happens. I have also discounted by prices by 20% across the board to see what the impact is until next Friday when the sale ends. It seems to me that if the discount does not cause a significant increase in sales, then it will suggest that lowering price is not the answer. 

Hopefully my next post will be more upbeat, but for now I am at that low point that I keep reading about other entrepreneurs experiencing. I am slowly coming to terms with the idea that maybe my survival depends on my willingness to deviate from running my business they way that I want to run it to do what the majority of professional customers want instead.

I just wish I knew what that was, instead of just thinking I know. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Food For Thought About Online Stores

The other day I was visiting my local stamp dealer to pick up some supplies and something struck me. There was a box of modern Canadian mint stamps with a sign above the box that read:

"Mint Canadian Stamps  - Double Face Value for Each"

We often hear that one of the major advantages of an online store is the fact that there is no "rent"the way that there is with a bricks and mortar store. While that is indeed true, it has become very apparent to me over the last several months, that there is a hidden cost to online stores that never gets talked about. What is that cost? It is labour. Online stores are way more labour intensive to operate than traditional bricks and mortar stores. Why is this?

The main reason has to do with the fact that a customer cannot physically rummage through your stock in an online store. My dealer was able to take a bunch of cheap stamps that are too much work to sort out, catalogue and list and simply throw them into a box and let his customers do the work for him. All he has to do is ring up the purchase once his customers have selected what they want.

There is no way for me to do this. I have no choice but to do the work of sorting this stamps, grading them, putting them into stock, pricing them, scanning them and listing them. All of this takes a tremendous amount of time. The result is that some stamp lots that my dealer friend would be happy to buy I might have to turn down as the labour cost associated with processing them is too high.

It is something to think about if you are thinking of starting an on-line store. Of course, I chose to go thee online route because you can't beat it for market reach and traffic. But I wanted to point out that an online store is not "free" or "near free" the way people might believe.

2016 Listings Start Off With Edwardian Era Postcards

My listings were off to a slow start last week, but I managed to list all of my Edwardian era postcards, which made me happy.

Now this is a topic that even those of you not interested in stamps could appreciate, I think, as the quality of the artwork on this is incredible. The first postcards appeared in the early 1890's - these are very rare. But the Golden Age of postcards was at the turn of the 19th Century. Germany was a leading producer of very high quality postcards with some truly fantastic art:

Two Dutch girls in traditional dress

Little girl and her grandfather with "Don't tell anybody grandpa."

Easter postcard showing two angels atop a bible.  
Another Easter postcard depicting an altar boy. 

A New Year postcard from 1907 depicting a girl with a chello.

A thanksgiving postcard from 1909.

A romantic card from 1906. 

St. Patrick's Day postcard from 1909.

 St. Patrick's day postcard from 1908. 

Scarborough Bluffs in 1907. The bluffs still look much the same today.

Toronto postcard from 1911 showing a view of Yonge St. 

Aren't they beautiful? The best part is they are not that expensive. It does take a bit of patience looking through postcards to fine nice ones like this, but they are very attainable and affordable, with most being in the $3-10 range, depending on condition.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Year Begins With a Massive Cleanup and Chicken and Milk Soup Recipe

The period over the holidays was quite productive as I took advantage of it to get some things done that I don't normally have time for:

1. I was able to go to my E-bay store and explore all the marketing features and tools available to me. As a result, I was able in one evening to give my store a complete overhaul. My blog links are now on all my store pages and all of my product categories for British West Africa have been created. 

2. I was able to send e-mails to all of the stamp clubs in Canada that are listed in the Royal Philatelic Society's directory - 69 in all, introducing my blog. To date the response has not been bad - 6 people have gotten back to me, one club has placed a link to my blog on their web page and another has extended an invitation for me to come and speak at one of their meetings. 

3. I came up with a schedule of topics to post to my Canadian blog of over 30 posts which I expect will take well into March. This is great as I now have a goal to meet in terms of topic coverage, where before it was all purely open-ended. 

So with my plan in hand, I started this week with the task initially of gathering together all the material I would be working on over the next two months:

The 1903-1911 King Edward VII Issue

The 1908 Quebec Tercentenary Issue

The 1911-1928 Admiral Issue

Gathering this material together took the better part of a day and much to my delight, it filled 1.5 large red #102 card boxes, so about 1,500 items I estimate. That's a pretty good concentration of this scarce and desirable early material. I'm looking forward to listing it finally. 

However, I was encouraged to continue organizing my stock as I also had to get material organized so that I could give Fabio something to do next week when he starts with me. So I decided to organize all of my pre 1952 material and got to work Monday night and all day yesterday. I got it all done and filled another 7 red boxes about 3/4 full. So I reckon that all told I've got about 7,000 items from the period to 1952 to list. It was a good exercise because I can see where the gaps are in my stock and there aren't many in the basic material. I do desperately need early plate blocks and postal history, but in terms of basic stamps I'm in pretty good shape.  It was really satisfying and confidence inspiring to see so much desirable material at once and made me feel again that I will meet my sales goal over the next few months. 

I had an opportunity to make another simple yet delicious soup on Monday night, which I will now share with you: Chicken and Milk Soup. 

You will need for 6 servings:

1 large onion, finely chopped
1 chicken breasts finely diced
2-3 teaspoons of salt and pepper mixture
1 can of creamed corn
1 small can of whole corn
6 cups of milk
1 cup of half and half cream
2 tablespoons of cornstarch
1/2 cup of water
1/3 cup butter

Melt the butter in a large soup pot over medium heat and saute the onion and chicken until the onion is soft and the chicken is white. Season generously with the salt and pepper mixture. 

Then add in the corn, creamed corn, milk, and cream. Simmer over low heat for 40 minutes, partially covered to allow it to reduce by about one-third. 

After 40 minutes, make a slurry from the water and cornstarch and add it to the soup and stir to partially thicken. Check the seasonings and adjust if necessary and serve hot with bread, crackers or buns. 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

Happy New Year!, 2015 Ends With a Large Sale, Wildings Are A Success, Recipes And Direction in January 2016

Happy New Year to all my readers! I am optimistic that 2016 will be an awesome year for humanity as each year keeps getting better and better. I say this in direct opposition to the constant doom and gloom that our culture has become so addicted to.

I ended 2015 after a month of apprehension with just over $1,800 in sales, selling one stamp for $315 USD at 5:02 pm on December 31!!. It just goes to show that anything can happen at any time. I was certain that my sales were over for the year even when I started working that morning. My notification of the sale came as I was enjoying a craft beer while cooking dinner, which brings me to the recipes that I want to share with you.

The first is a recipe from Mr. Gordon Ramesay for the most amazing pork chops I think I have ever had. The second is a fantastic recipe for red curry with chicken and pineapple, which comes from my one-pot cookbook. I have varied both slightly to omit ingredients that I think would be too difficult to find, or to omit steps that I think are not necessary.

Pork Chops With Onions and Peppers

To serve 4 you will need:

4 pork chops - can be any type. However cooking time will vary as described.
1 large red onion sliced into thin rings
2 red peppers, seeded and  thinly sliced
2 teaspoons dried thyme
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon white sugar
2 teaspoons salt and pepper mixture
4 cloves of garlic, skinned and crushed

Start by preparing the onions and peppers. Heat some oil in a skillet and saute the onions and peppers until soft (4-5 min). Make sure you hear sizzling. If you don't, remove the mixture and let the pan get hotter before adding it in. Add the sugar and salt and pepper at the start of the sauteeing. After the 4-5 min, add the vinegar and cook for another 2 min,or until the vinegar has evaporated. when this is done, take the mixture out of the pan and put it into a bowl for the flavours to infuse while you make the chops.

Take the pan without wiping it out (why would you want to waste all that flavour?) and add a small amount of oil over high heat. When the pan is hot, place the chops in the pan and sprinkle them with 1 teaspoon of the thyme. Add the garlic cloves to the pan in between the chops. Now cook them without moving them for 2 min if the chops are 1/2 inch thick and 3 min if they are 3/4 inch thick and 4 min if they are a full inch thick. After those times, turn them over, sprinkle with the other teaspoon of thyme and repeat the cooking times. In the last minute or so, melt 3 small chunks of butter and use the butter to baste the chops. You want to be really careful not to overcook the pork. As long as it has reached an internal temperature of 160 degrees Fahrenheit, it is safe to eat. It may still be light pink at this temperature! If you cook pork until it is white, it will usually be tough and overcooked I find. A meat thermometer can be used if you aren't sure.

Take the chops out, put them on a plate with all the pan juices, cover them with tin foil to prevent heat loss and let them rest for 5-10 min, depending on how long you cooked them - 5 min for the thinner chops and 10 min for the thicker chops. This will allow them to reabsorb the juices.

Then place some of the onion pepper mixture on a plate and place a chop on top. It is a fantastic looking mean and tastes just wonderful! The sweet and sour of the onions and peppers contrasts nicely with the flavour of the pork.

Chicken Curry With Pineapple

This will serve at least 4. You will need:

1 red pepper thinly sliced
1 chopped onion
2 garlic cloves finely minced
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 bay leaves
1 tablespoon of soy sauce
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 can of coconut milk
1 can of red curry cooking sauce, or t tablespoons red curry paste and additional can of coconut milk
1/2 cup of cashews
2 tablespoons of pineapple juice
1 can of crushed pineapple
1/4 cup of chopped cilantro
4 boneless chicken breasts sliced into thin strips (across the grain)
10 cherry tomatoes cut in half.

Heat some oil in a pan over high heat and saute the onion and pepper with the cashews, paprika and turmeric until aromatic (about 2 min). Take off the heat and add the pineapple juice. mix well and place back on the heat and add the garlic and ginger and saute for another 2-3 min. Add the soy sauce and brown sugar and cook for another 2 min. Now add the curry paste (or curry sauce) and additional coconut milk and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to low and reduce the total volume by one-third.

Then add the chicken right to the sauce and simmer for about 15 min to cook the chicken. After this time, add the cherry tomatoes, crushed pineapple and cilantro. Check for taste and add a little salt and pepper to balance the flavours. Serve hot with your favourite rice. I like to serve it with coconut rice, which is simply Jasmine rice made with coconut milk instead of water.

Now that we are into a new year, apprehension is beginning to be replaced by excitement. Steph is joining me full time in less than 2 weeks and Fabio is joining me in a week on a part time basis. Rather than continue with Queen Elizabeth II Issues, I am going to go back to 1903 and resume listing the Edward VII issues of Canada through to the 1911-1928 Admiral Issue of Canada. I expect this to occupy all of January with the additional manpower that I will have. After this, I was thinking of tackling the next two Elizabethan Issues. Then I think it will be time to revive my Nigeria blog and start listing the Queen Victoria material from this fascinating British colony.