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Monday, May 30, 2016

May Comes to a Close With Strong Sales and Lots of Repeat Business

I must apologize for the length of time between posts. Until this week we only has one laptop computer and Steph needed it to list her modern material. So I was limited in my access to it during the week. I took advantage of this though to complete my identification, grading, pricing and description of all the pre-1952 Canadian material, with the exception of a large lot of 1870-1897 Small Queens that I had purchased a couple of months back. I started sorting this material toward the end of last week and made such progress and gained so many insights as to the profit potential of this material that I decided to purchase a bunch more over the weekend. So I spent last night looking at all the Small Queen lots for sale by this dealer in Nova Scotia - some 900 lots. I could tell that he had not picked them over as he had priced them all the same, but then when I looked at the scans, I could clearly see that some contained better stamps than others. So on that basis, I looked carefully through them all and picked out the better ones. I then went back and made offers on them all - over 170 lots of 20 stamps each. This morning I awoke to 170 e-mails signalling his acceptance of these offers. So in the next week or so, I will be receiving a shipment of some 3,500 Small Queens, mostly 1c and 3c values. I expect that this will yield a very strong showing of Montreal printings and should sell very well if my previous experience is anything to go by.

Sales this month slowed in dollar amount this past week, but not in volume. We have had a good number of new customers purchasing the modern post 1952 commemoratives that Steph has listed for 99c each. This is excellent because it shows that there is a market for this material and it allows us to hopefully develop some of these customers into repeat buyers. This was the first month that we began to track the repeat customers and the dollar value of sales made to them. Even though there is technically still one day left this month, I think I can share some of this month's statistics now:

  • Total sales this month: $2,870.
  • Number of items sold: 169
  • Average sale amount: $16.98
  • Sales coming from repeat customers: $1,528 - so around 53%. 
  • Number of new customers: 43 - this is higher than any other month so far.
These results are highly significant in several respects:

1. They show that sales in any given month are equally dependent on gaining new customers, as well as having more an more material listed to appeal to the existing customers. Given that there were a large amount of repeat customers, there is an excellent chance that sales will continue to either hold steady for this group as more material continues to be listed, or it will increase. We are hopeful that it will increase of course as these customers become more comfortable shopping with us. However, the business is generating a good number of new customers, and as long as we can service them well, there is no reason to believe that we will not continue to grow the base of repeat customers. 

2. Two of the new customers this month, who were also repeat buyers specifically mentioned our blog as an important source of information for the material they are interested in. While they did not actually state that they came to us as a result of the blog, it definitely appears now that the blog is beginning to yield engagement from readers and may now be a source of sales leads - 10 months after we started posting to it in earnest. Other readers have begun to comment more on the posts, ask questions and otherwise engage us, while telling us that they are tempted by the store offerings -all excellent signs. 

3. The average sale amount is a bit lower this month, as a result of the large number of low dollar value sales represented by the modern material. I expect that this will change for the better once we re-list the older issues in CDN$, as I suspect that they are currently somewhat overpriced, and as we start to list the 1927-1952 issues, which are always popular with collectors, as the price point is within the reach of most collectors. 

So all in all, an excellent month, in which we managed to accomplish many goals, particularly those related to diversifying our online presence away from E-bay and increasing the amount of engagement with our blog. 

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Plan Comes Together....

Last week I tried to use the Listing Migration Tool that E-bay spent the last two months developing to help convert my non-compliant US dollar listings to CDN$. For those of you new to my blog, E-bay Canada had announced in March that it would be ending support for US dollar denominated listings by the end of August 2016. This means that any good-till-cancelled listings will not renew after that date and they will simply be lost forever. In my case, I have some 4,000 such listings that took 8 months to write and produce, so like a lot of sellers, this move by E-bay has me pretty pissed off. However, they have tried to soften the blow by developing a bulk editing tool that would allow us to edit our listings in bulk, to supposedly save us time.

Well, I went to use it last week and low and behold, the tool does not work and is a complete piece of garbage:

  • It only found 1,200 listings, even though I know for a fact that I have over 4,000.
  • It included many sold items in the list, so that if I used it blindly, I would wind up re-listing things that I actually don't have in stock anymore. 
  • It does not allow you to actually edit your existing listings, but instead requires you to prepare a duplicate listing in draft format, which you then publish. The problem of course is these new listings have a new number, so you have to go back and re-number all your inventory and you have no easy way to control the process of finding and deleting the old duplicate listings. 
  • After telling me that it had prepared drafts of the 1,200 listings it found, I could only see 250 drafts in my drafts folder. There is no way to re-set this tool once you have used it. 
So from where I sit right now, it looks as though I stand to lose over 3,700 listings unless they fix the many issues with the tool. Personally, I don't think that is going to happen. I have to admit that my confidence in E-bay's team is pretty low if the above is the best they could come up with. Hoping to gain some insights, I attended a one hour webinar on Tuesday this week, but much to my and everyone else's dismay, the presenters pretty well ignored any question about the limitations or bugs that we were encountering with the tool, so it was a complete an utter waste of time. 

So I am beginning to realize that our best strategy going forward is to rely on e-bay as little as possible. This is going to mean getting the store that I have set up on Auctiva to work properly, get the old e-bay listings into that store, rather than wasting time trying to make them compliant on e-bay and then only listing items on e-bay that I can also list in the store at the same time, in other words, items that I have in quantity. Developing a really effective Google Adwords strategy is going to be critical. 

With that in mind, I spent 2 hours yesterday watching all of Google's Adwords tutorials and I can see very clearly that setting this up properly is going to take a lot of thought and work if we are going to avoid wasting money on ineffective ads. The good news is that stamps are very specialized and specific so that my keywords are not going to be difficult to pick out. But there will be a lot of them, and it looks like you really do have to have a separate ad for each keyword if you don't want Google to clobber you with a low relevance score. Having a relevant landing page for each keyword will be tricky and not possible in some cases. Coming up with a good list of negative keywords will be tricky. The good news is that it looks very much like we could do very well if we re-direct the money we are paying E-bay now towards an effective Adwords campaign that runs on both the search and display networks. I have to say that the new store is starting to look very nice indeed - much nicer than our e-bay store. So if we can get the bugs worked out regarding shipping and the shopping cart, then I think we're in business. 

I'm nearly finished organizing the pre 1951 Canada, with a small number of issues from 1930-1934 to go. Then I am ready to start listing en-masse. I don't mind doing this on E-bay through Auctiva, since I have a copy of everything on Auctiva and can migrate the listings to my store easily if something blows up at E-bay. 

Bonanza appears to be a bust, which is too bad because I really like their site. However, without a single sale in 3 months, it is hard to justify paying them any more money. I think we will keep the store as a testing ground to see how effective Adwords is and then after that I'll probably close it down, or at least downgrade to free service. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Sales Explode This Week, Not Selling Yourself Short Part 2 And The 1985-88 Twilight Zone Series

This past week has seen some truly amazing momentum with the business. Sales have been very brisk this past week, with close to $2,340 of sales at the mid-month mark. With one exception back in November 2015 when a single customer bought two stamps for $3,000 USD, this has been our best mid-month total yet. Best of all we have three quotes to repeat customers for items they have requested, and if they wind up buying, then our sales will be even higher. This month I have also started to track the number of repeat customers and the amount of repeat business. The results this month so far are:

Total number of stamps sold: 111
Total number of repeat customers: 19
Total number of stamps sold to new customers: 50
Total number of stamps sold to repeat customers: 61
Total sales dollars to repeat customers: $1,220
Total sales to new customers: $1,120
Average sales to repeat customers: $20
Average sales to new customers: $22.40

So just over 54% of the number of stamps we have sold so far this month are to customers who have returned to us. Some of these have come back multiple times during the month and some as often as 2-3 times a week. A good, healthy amount of new business is coming in as well and it is our hope that we can retain the regular repeat customers, while turning some of the new customers into repeat customers as well. That is the basic mechanics of how a business grows sustainably. It is somewhat interesting to see that the total sales dollar split is almost the same for both groups of customers and the average sales for each item sold to each customer group. However, the results for the repeat customers are skewed by the presence of a large number of stamps under $5 each. This group in reality has bought two stamps for over $300 each, which means that in general, it is only the repeat buyers who will spend the larger amounts on the scarcer stamps. The new customers are willing to try us out for $10 or $20, but generally not much more than that.

This brings me to repeat my next point, which was the subject of my last post about not selling yourself short and making sure that you have the higher priced inventory to service you best customers. Only now, I have an actual example of this to relate as it just happened yesterday.

About a year ago, a reader of my blog on Nigerian stamps contacted me to let me know that he was putting together an exhibit of Nigerian stamps and told me about some of the stamps he needed - all better high values from the pre-1914 period - stuff that is actually quite rare. I told him I could definitely help him and then I never heard from him again - until last week. He got back in touch and told me that he had to delay his exhibit and was getting ready to go at it again. I told him that I could definitely help him and could he please send me his want list. Yesterday morning I woke up to an e-mail from him with a list of about 15 stamps from the pre-1914 period that he wanted in very fine never hinged condition and the set shown below:

He told me that although the Scott price of the above set was low, he found them hard to find. He also said that he would accept hinged stamps if they were lightly hinged.

Immediately I felt excited at the prospect of a new customer - my first for Nigeria, but then my heart sank a bit. The reason is that he referenced Scott prices. Scott is the standard catalogue used by American collectors. While it is a very good catalogue for a generalist collector, it really is not very good at valuing specialized material and the above definitive set from Nigeria, which consisted of 17 stamps from the 1 kobo - 2 Naira, is practically impossible to find in mint condition, even though used copies abound. This set was issued in several formats between 1973 and the 1990's, and some of the stamps are actual rarities in mint condition - every bit as rare as stamps that trade for $1,000 each. But Scott only prices this set at something like $40 in mint condition - a ridiculous amount. To illustrate how absurd this is, I built my Nigeria stock buy buying from E-bay on an almost daily basis for over 5 years. I think I can confidently say that I have one of the largest stocks of this country in the world. In that time, I think I have only managed to find about 20 sets of the original 1973 issue and maybe 5 complete sets of the 1975-81 series with the watermark. 5! How can that set possibly be worth only $40?

So I was wary because I expected this man to expect to pay a percentage of Scott for these stamps that he wanted and I just wasn't willing to sell them cheap. So I sent an e-mail explaining the scarcity of this material and let him know that a complete set would cost $150 USD which I felt was perfectly fair. I then quoted him for the other pre-1914 stamps he wanted and let him know that if he wanted never hinged from that period it would be at least 200%-300% more than normal.

To my pleasant surprise, he replied that he understood where I was coming from as he had been collecting Nigeria since 1960. So he knew how scarce this set is. He gladly accepted my price and ordered a full set plus an additional hinged copy of the key stamp in the set, the 15K. He said that while he couldn't afford the others right now, he would get back to me with a schedule to purchase them. I invoiced him. He paid right away and I spent the $36 it cost to send them expresspost to him. I wanted to give him the best possible service, and with my price, I could now afford to do that and still make a healthy profit.

But what if I'd had that set listed for $40 USD?.I would have sold out long ago, made very little money and not have that set now when this gentleman wanted it. He told me by e-mail last night that he had been looking for this set for YEARS and had never been able to find it. He was visibly excited to finally have a chance to own it. So there you have it - an actual example of this principle in action.

After I was done work and was relaxing last week, I decided to do some poking around on Youtube for some TV shows that I had watched as a teen that had had quite an impression on me. I looked up the Twilight Zone series from 1985. It was not a particularly popular series, I think because it was watched mostly by people that had seen the original. However, I think that the many of the stories had fabulous plot lines, such as:

"The Misfortune Cookie", in which a restaurant critic who gives unfair review gets what's coming to him. Click the link below to watch:

There are many other really good ones. My picks, if you want to check them out are:

Push the Button
To See the Invisible Man
A Little Peace and Quiet
Welcome to Winfield
Examination Day

They are all very original story lines and you will recognize a lot of the actors that are in them. Enjoy!

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Not Selling Yourself Short - The Importance of This in Business

People who have had their own business for even a short period of time will have no doubt noticed that there are no shortage of very demanding customers out there. These are the types of customers who go to a jeweler and try to buy a VVS1 diamond for the price of an SI, all the while trying to argue that the VVS1 prices are too high. Because most of us who have opted to own our own businesses, were attracted because we genuinely want to help people and are NOT primarily motivated by money, it can be tempting to want to model our businesses around accommodating these types of customers.  However, doing so can seriously hamper the ability of our businesses to thrive over the longer term. 

I have had two exchanges over E-bay this week with two different prospective customers that drive this point home.

The first was with a fellow who wanted to purchase this stamp:

This is the 20c olive green War Tax Issue of 1915, in a condition grade, that is as close to perfection as you will ever see in a lifetime of searching. These issues were intended for use on revenue documents, as the War Tax rate on mail was only 1c. Consequently the quantity of stamps overprinted was not large, so the pool of stamps from which to draw in looking for well centered stamps is very limited. Of the few well centered stamps that do exist, most were mounted into albums using hinges. So to find an example like this with pristine never-hinged gum is a once-in-a-lifetime find. It is well outside the bounds of what the standard stamp catalogues are valuing when they price this stamp. 

I also have some other nice examples of this stamp that are more in line with what the Unitrade stamp catalogue is valuing when it prices a very fine never hinged example at $540:

As you can see these two stamps are very nice, but are not perfect. These are what we call very fine: much better than average, but by no means perfect. I have these priced for between $144-$395 because one is hinged, while the other is not. These are perfectly reasonable and fair prices for these stamps. 

The first stamp above, I have priced at $1,400. I make no apologies for this price, as it is in line with the quality. In the Jeweler's world, this stamp is the equivalent of a VVS1 diamond with A colour. This brings me to an important axiom that applies to all businesses that carry inventory:


For all the talk about the importance of turning inventory quickly, etc, there is still something to be said for having an item for a customer who really wants it and is willing to pay for it. Most conventional wisdom about inventory turnover or drop-shipment business models applies to businesses where the product is readily attainable - all one has to do is call up the supplier and place the order. However, such is not the case in this business. While I will very occasionally come across more examples of this stamp like the two shown above, it is highly unlikely that I will ever see an example like the first one shown again once I sell it. Therefore I have to make the price high enough that I will have it when a customer who really, really wants that quality asks for it. There are many such customers like those who have the other stamps in the set in that same quality and are missing just this one, but I digress. 

So earlier this week, I receive an offer from this fellow for the above stamp of $300! That is 21% of my asking price. It is only 60% of the catalogue price for the VF quality as well, so it was a really lowball offer. I responded with a counter offer of $850 and explained that this customer will never see a better example  of this stamp. After a few days, he counters back with $400 saying that he is now sure there is a small defect on the gum and that this is the most he can pay for this stamp. I told him that $850 was as low as I would go, that I had other stamps in  his price range and that if he wanted this quality, he would have to be prepared to pay. 

This is at odds with the way a lot of my fellow dealers do business. Most would have sold this stamp for the $400 thinking that they got 80% of catalogue for a very fine stamp. The fact that they would give up the opportunity to sell it for more in the future wouldn't faze them. Their rationale would be along the lines of "I have to move the stuff to make a living." I fully agree with this line of thinking on stamps that are readily replaceable, and which I have in stock in quantity, but not on stamps like this, where I will only see them once or twice during my career. 

The second exchange occurred today in regards to this stamp:


This is a very nicely centered used example of this very difficult 20c stamp fom 1904 with a very light cancellation for this stamp. You could look through hundreds of used copies of this stamp and not fine one as nice as this. Nearly all of these were used either on parcels or large registered covers with very heavy cancels. There is just one minor imperfection on this one: a small wrinkle half way up the left side. I reduced the grade for this minor imperfection and priced it for $40 against the catalogue price of $60. 

This fellow, who I have never done business with before, but whose name looks familiar to me, messages me and says: "Nice stamp overall, but it is clearly damaged - left side." Why he felt compelled to send me this message is beyond me, since he clearly has no interest in buying it. Maybe he wants it at a lower price. The sense I got though was that he was trying to suggest that I do not know how to grade stamps.

Now, I will admit that I follow a grading system that I developed that is a little different from what most collectors and dealers use and I can see why many collectors would disagree with my grade on this stamp. There are many collectors who would not want this stamp because of the wrinkle. However, there are just as many who still would. Both my evaluation of this stamp and the price were designed to reflect this fact. Had this stamp been pristine, I would have priced it at the full catalogue price of $70, not the $40 I was asking. The fact that some collectors do not think it is worth more than $5, shouldn't factor into my pricing decision as long as there are a reasonable number of collectors who would pay more. 

I share these two stories because I think it is really important when you are building a niche business to know your value and not allow your extremely demanding customers, who in most cases remain non-customers anyway, to erode your perception of that value. As long as the majority of your customers like your value proposition, there is no reason to turn away from it just to please a few extremists. It can be tempting to think that their opinions represent the majority because they are usually expressed forcefully. However, the truth is that their opinions usually DO NOT represent the majority of your customers and altering your business model to accommodate them will actually hurt your business rather than improving it. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

May Is Off To A Good Start And A Month Of Fine Tuning

May has gotten off to a good start sales wise, with almost $800 in sales after the first week. On Sunday, I posted 12 orders that had come in since Friday afternoon, which is easily double the volume that we usually see over the weekend. I have started tracking repeat customers and repeat sales and from what I can see, roughly half of the sales are coming from repeat customers now and the other half is coming from new customers. I am seeing greater engagement by customers to our welcome e-mails that we send with each first sale, with about 20% of people responding now, which is double what we were seeing just a few months ago.

Steph's modern Canada continues to sell very well with the first 150 or so lots that have been listed, experiencing almost immediate sales. So much for the perception that nobody collects modern. I have actually had conversations with some of these buyers who have told me that they collect stamps from the year they were born!

This month is shaping up to be a month of organization:

  • E-Bay is slated to release its migration tool on the 11th, with a webinar to discuss its use next week. So we will have to make a final decision about whether we want to migrate listings over to (unlikely now) or switch to CDN$. 
  • Our free trial on Auctiva Commerce runs out in a week, so I've just upgraded to the starter plan, which is $14.95 per month to keep the store "warm" until we can start listing products there and experimenting with Google Adwords. 
  • I have after many enquiries with Bonanza started the process of manually assigning our store items to categories so that customers can find them in the store. Steph and I have concluded that inability to navigate the store might be one reason why there have been no sales yet. We have held off including business cards with sales orders, as they have our webstore address on them and until that store is user friendly, and easy to navigate, I have been reluctant to send customers there. That will hopefully be finished soon, though I see that if we choose to convert our e-bay listings rather than migrate them, that all this work will have to be done all over again. 
  • Because Steph is in lotting mode for the modern, and we only have the one laptop, I am using my time now to finish organizing all the pre-1952 material and getting it ready for scanning. I have as of now completely finished to 1930, and then from 1935-1942. So all I have left is 1930-1934 and 1942-1951 to go. Once that is done, I can scan and list it quickly. We are thinking that at this point, it will be time to purchase a second laptop, and possibly a second scanner. 
  • Fabio is almost finished organizing the worldwide material that one of our shareholders contributed for his shares. Once he is finished, we can get a final value tally and complete the issuance of the shares. The other legal work is finished now. 
In addition to all this, the blog readership continues to grow. We started our third stamp blog about general stamp collecting and have had an excellent response to the first two posts. 

So with that we remain optimistic and are looking forward to getting things resolved with respect to our e-bay lots. 

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

My Response To An Anonymous Commenter

Ever since I started this blog in July last year, I have only ever had two regular commenters:

1. A friend of mine in the U.S. who comments positively on some of my posts, and
2. An anonymous person, who I believe lives in my city. 

More often than not, this person's comments always have a critical edge to them. Usually, they are asking me how much sales I've made, or they have suggested that what I am doing is not worth my time because the return is so low and I could be making so much more money in another way. I have to admit, this person's comments get my back up, especially on those days that I am not feeling upbeat. 

Yesterday I received the following comment from this person to the post I wrote about the stamp show:

I disagree with your assessment on a few levels:
1. I would expect that, as a 'new dealer', you would get MORE traffic as collectors would want to see what you've got.
2. Sales are the key to every business, and $44 for all the effort you put in by getting your stuff ready, and a full day of driving, working the show, and driving home is a very low return on your time.
3.Why were you only able to give away 10 copies of your blog? I would have thought that more collectors would be interested.
4. How worried are you as to the long-term future of the hobby? I assume that your hope is to be able to make a living doing this for the next 20+ years.

My response was dismissive and rude. I hate to admit it, but I lashed out at this commenter. An hour later, I apologized and took down my comment. I realized that the points this person raised are valid and deserve a response. I thought they would form an excellent basis for a new post about the uncertainties inherent in establishing a new business. 

With regard to the first point, yes I would expect to get more traffic as a new dealer to a show that had the same dealers attending it year after year. That didn't happen though. I talked to several people who were in the age group of the collectors in attendance at the show, and here is what they told me: "Older people from our generation are not as adventurous as they were 20 years ago. They did not approach your table because you are new, young and untested. They may not have approached your table, but if you handled it professionally, you can bet that they will talk about you to one another. If you go next time, you may find those same people approaching your table.". Now I don't know if that is the case, but that explanation made sense to me when I considered things from the older person's perspective. Not when I consider it from mine, but when  I consider it from theirs. Like all things, whether it be establishing a new blog, or Youtube channel or business it takes TIME to get people to engage. It just doesn't happen automatically. 

On the second point, yes sales are indeed critical to every business, I would definitely agree. But as I continue to establish this business it becomes apparent that getting sales is not as easy as having the product the customer wants at the right price. Selling is a game of persuasion. You have to convince the potential customer that you have what they want at the right price. This requires establishing credibility and trust. That, is what takes the time. I have several good repeat customers now who spend hundreds of dollars at a time with me. But to develop them, I have had to show them that I am knowledgeable and scrupulously honest. How did I do this? I have helped them buy from my competitors! Some would call that suicide. But by focusing on my customer's best interests which in this case was buying a stamp that I couldn't sell him anyway because I didn't have it in stock, I have shown him that I care. He responded to my help by buying a stamp for $310 US yesterday, a week after I helped him with his question. 

Another aspect to this lack of sales at the show is that it is very difficult to sell at a stamp show in general. Why? Because most of the collectors in attendance are elderly and have been collecting for 50-70 years. Older collectors I have noticed are extremely frugal and patient in forming their collections, which means that they don't mind spending 20 years looking for a particular stamp. By the time they have been collecting that long, there are very few items they need and the chances of you having it at a price they want to pay is very low. My main reason for attending was to:

1. Meet the other dealers,, as we could cross refer business.
2. Meet the newer collectors if there were any, 
3. Meet the older collectors and establish rapport, even if we couldn't sell to them right away. 

To me, an investment of $40 for a table, a Saturday afternoon and $20 in gas money was an investment I could afford to make to do this. What would the return on my Saturday afternoon be in most cases anyway?

On the third point or question, I don't know why more people didn't pick up my free blog article. It could be:

1. The article was too long at 11 pages, or
2. The article wasn't of interest to more people.

The thing with my Canadian stamp blog is that it is very technical. It is not a fluff blog. It is a reference source for serious collectors to look for information they cannot find anywhere else. What this lack of interest tells me is that I need to start a more general blog with lighter, less techical posts. So that is what I did. My first post on that blog is below:

It didn't tell me that I should stop producing my regular blog. Rather it tell me that while the interest is limited, those who are interested appreciate it greatly. Why just yesterday I had my first topic request come from a regular reader of the blog. So today, I am going to write about the requested topic. 

Finally on the last point. How worried am I about the future of stamp collecting? Not at all. I firmly believe that there is a reason why a certain percentage of people have been interested in stamps  and that reason will never go away. The trick, I believe to promoting the hobby to younger collectors is to show them how it will fill a need that the other competing sources of entertainment can't, and then to promote the kind of stamps that are likely to appeal to them. There are plenty:

1. Bhutan issued stamps in 1973 that are real records and play various national anthems. How cool is that?

2. Canada is about to issue Star Trek stamps. 

These are the kinds of things young people are interested in, not Queen Victoria and the British Empire. That's for later - once they have been collecting for several years and decide to work their way back. 

My comment about the current hobby being in trouble was more of an observation about how most of my competitors seem oblivious to this fact and are focusing 100% of their energies trying to sell to a market that already has most of what they have to sell instead of trying to sell to newer, more promising markets, such as young professionals. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Our First Stamp Show - A Learning Experience

So we attended our first stamp show yesterday. We had spent the past week getting our Canada stock organized to take to the show and getting signage and blog articles printed for distribution to people at the show. We went in with low expectations: I did not expect to sell any stamps, but I did hope to hand out business cards and 35 copies of my latest stamp blog post. I had wanted to hand all 35 copies out and to meet as many new collectors as possible. To encourage visitors to our table, I provided plates of cookies and ju-jubes.

So how did we do?

1. We sold a grand total of $44, which covered the cost of the table and about $4 of the gas money that was spent to drive there and back.

2. We handed out maybe 10 copies of the blog article.

Many would call that a dismal failure. Given the lack of traffic to this event I would say that we did OK, especially since we were new dealers. The unfortunate part is that I don't know if we will be invited back, since the only reason we were invited was to fill a table that one of the established dealers would normally occupy, but couldn't given that he had a scheduling conflict. I have to say that I was disappointed about the fact that many people who were at the show completely ignored our table and I practically had to beg people to take a free cookie of handout.

All in all this event was a learning experience that provided me with some valuable insights as to why the hobby, as it currently exists is in a great deal of trouble:

1. Most of the dealers who came to introduce themselves to me were only interested in telling me about the amazing purchase they scored at the last estate they looked at. One dealer, did have the sense to ask for my card so that he could work with me to obtain stamps that he didn't have for some of his customers, but generally the dealers that I met did not use this show as a networking opportunity.

2. One child who was about 10 came up to my table looking for the latest Superman stamps. I unfortunately did not have them and could not supply them to him, and I felt really bad about that. However, one other dealer was trying to force 5 albums of old stamps on the poor kid. He had the best of intentions and meant well, but the child was not interested in old stamps, as I knew he likely wouldn't be. He was polite and took them, but you could tell he didn't come away excited by any of this. Most collectors and dealers that I speak to are always lamenting about how the hobby is dying and how no kids are getting into stamps. But this interaction showed me that this isn't always true or that if children are not sticking with stamps, it is because we are not paying attention to what interests them. Instead, we are trying to force our hobby on them. When I spoke to this kid and asked him why he got into stamps, his answer was the same basic answer that I, or any of the 70+ year old collectors in that room would have given. That was evidence that the basic interest is there, but we as dealers are failing to nurture it and develop it. I must have had three separate conversations with different people about the lack of youth in the hobby where I pointed out to them the potential reasons. Everyone I spoke to agreed with me, but then little had been done to set this show up in a way that would be of interest to kids.

3. One dealer was telling me about how he had just bought two estates from families where nobody had any interest in stamps. He was very excited about what great deals he got on purchasing the stamps, but he seemed oblivious to the bigger picture of what it means for the future of the hobby when nobody in family after family wants to continue a stamp collection they have inherited.

4. Most of the people who did pick up the blog articles seemed interested in them, but very few people that I spoke to were interested in writing their own blogs or otherwise sharing their own knowledge with the philatelic world at large via the internet.

5. Out of about a dozen dealers there, I am the ONLY dealer who is selling exclusively online and the only dealer who maintains a blog.

It struck me that while the hobby of stamp collecting may not die, it is definitely going to evolve in a way that is going to leave behind a large number of its current participants. I was looking at my Facebook statistics for the blog posts that I publish to Facebook and according to Facebook, my fans are all over the world and over 70% of my fans are under the age of 55. Nearly all are men. Now, I'm not selling to any of them yet, but clearly, there are a large number of people interested in stamps that are not that old. It's just that they aren't attending shows, and they don't seem to be interested in collecting stamps in the same way as the collectors at the show. I can see a time coming in the not too distant future, when many dealers who have catered primarily to older customers are going to flounder when this market dries up, as they will not have invested in developing the market of younger collectors who are mostly online. Likewise, many older collectors are going to find themselves without a ready market for their collections, or are going to be disappointed with the offers they receive from dealers, who are reacting to the economic conditions of a shrinking market not by trying to expand that market but by lowering their selling prices.

It makes me aware of the need to find out what the demographic profile of my customers are and to ensure that I am selling stamps that younger people actually want to collect.