All My Fault?
inJune 14, 2012 - 5:40am
It was an eye-opening experience this week as Cowboy Rick and I traveled to the flea markets in Pennsylvania on our way to Boston. We arrived excited, but the mood was somber. Throughout we heard the same sad song from vendors: business was bad and it was because of online shops! Really? They were blaming us?
Many complained that customers were simply absent. According to them, no one wanted to drive the distance, pay the gas prices or get up early to come to the country when items that were once rare are now readily available on line. Another frequent complaint was that everyone wanted to pay next to nothing instead of what items were “really worth.”
One dealer talked about past glory and the vendors who had been at the market for decades but were ending with this season. There was quite a buzz when a guy suddenly announced “Stick a fork in me, I’m done,” loaded up his truck and drove away—it was only 8:30am. One lady explained that just a few years ago there wouldn’t have been room for my wheelchair in her booth, with people packed in, jostling for position. Sadly, I had the space all to myself.
I too was disappointed and had to agree—it was the internet’s fault. I heard over and over how much THIS was online. One vendor even had a printed eBay page attached to each item. One guy, while showing a pair of tiger eye cufflinks made from a craft kit in the 70s, explained to me that at any “fine” jewelry store on line I could expect to pay $25 just for the stones.
One particularly grungy booth had large boxes of jewelry to dig through—with only a glimmer of hope that you might find a matched set. The sign said “All earrings $10-$15 a pair.” I resisted the temptation to say that at least in my online shop customers didn’t have to sift through all of my listings to find the matches!
I guess their complaints had a basis in truth. Why trudge through muddy fields on a 40 degree morning to dig through boxes of damaged items only to pay top dollar? Sifting through boxes in the pre-dawn hours it’s easy to miss finish flaws, missing stones, even major damage. Shopping from home has the advantage of examining photos that enlarge at a click of a button, revealing even the tiniest flaw. While only one piece may be available at a flea market, there may be several of the same items online to compare quality and price. If I am going to have to pay top dollar, give me the comfort and convenience that goes with it!
I find it charming to meet the various personalities at the flea market—in fact one of my favorites this weekend, a dealer named Tracy, informed me that it had taken her years to become a “character.” But, the truth is some of these people were just plain rude. I am a very friendly shopper and often my greetings weren’t even acknowledged. While some were quick to converse and fun to get to know, it was the exception rather than the rule. I know that here on Ruby Lane shop owners are expected to handle transactions with polite professionalism. It could be that customers find online shopping a more pleasant experience these days.
And while many of the dealers seemed to have found their prices online, many hadn’t gained expertise or experience there. We saw bone advertised as ivory, plastic bangles with mold marks touted as Bakelite, aurora borealis rhinestone jewelry called Art Deco, loads of fakes and reproductions and much more—it was definitely buyer beware. One honest dealer confided in Cowboy Rick that the reproduction market on cast iron had devastated their vintage Griswold business. It was a double whammy—no one trusted that what they were selling was the real deal with the flood of fakes for sale on the internet. And the cheap price of the fakes was making it hard to ask reasonable prices for their actual antiques. This has to be a major concern in many arenas.
I saw awesome displays of jewelry that I drooled over—pieces that I had only seen in books and talked with dealers who were experts in the field. But I had to wonder if the flea market was really an appropriate exclusive venue for these treasures at these prices and wondered why they chose not to follow the market to the internet.
I don’t want to leave the wrong impression—there were exceptions and we still found great deals and had a wonderful time. We met some awesome new friends and ate amazingly fluffy Pennsylvania Dutch pancakes and Dutch potatoes at the café! We just found it interesting that so many dealers felt internet shopping had ruined their customer base and yet they failed to see how much internet sales had changed their own expectations and business practices which in turn affected their customer base.
We left knowing that one thing is for certain—times they are a changing. It was a wakeup call not to be complacent, but to be sure we are staying in tune with our customers and on top of market trends and technology to remain relevant and profitable in this ever evolving business!
Written by Cindy Brown
Cinsababe’s on Ruby Lane
Cindy and her husband of 35 years, Cowboy Rick are now based in Conway, SC but continue to travel the country part time in their RV to find treasures for their shop on Ruby Lane.