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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. 


  1. After responding poorly (the comment you took down), I think you have done the right thing. As much as my comments have tried to be positive with a little bit of constructive comments, it may be more worth your while to listen to the more critical points. They may be wrong, but my bet is they are right enough times so that overall they can help to make a positive impact on the business. If nothing more than you thinking about ideas that had not occurred to you, then they are a help. This blog article is a good well thought out response to the questions raised which is the point.

    1. OMG. It was you the whole time wasn't it. You are the only commenter on my blog. I'm extra sorry about what I said now. The thing is, this building a business is really hard work. I haven't had a paycheck in months. I have to believe in what I am doing to make such a huge sacrifice. So it has naturally made me very resentful of the average employee with all their complaining about how little they are paid and how their bosses are idiots. Most people have absolutely no idea of what a business owner gives up of goes through to be in a position where he or she can give someone a job. That is where I was coming from on the comment I had taken down. Again, I'm sorry for the tone in which I wrote it.