Published: June 11, 2019
Buy online and sell online. That’s the mantra of an evolving class of antiques dealers who are carving out a new low-cost model of dealing antiques in the digital age. These enigmatic sellers, shrouded by the vast digital landscape, find plenty of common ground with more public-facing dealers: they are constantly hunting for the next great thing, they spread across selling venues and they take their integrity and reputation to heart. We first met McKenna when he exhibited at MidWeek during Antiques Week in New Hampshire, in 2017, what was then his first walled show since he committed to dealing full-time in 2013. Since, we’ve caught him in the wild only a few other times. McKenna, the 43-year old former-chef-turned-antiques-dealer who helms Boxing Ostrich Antiques sat down with us to talk about life behind the screen and his mentality on selling antiques.
Run us through a day in the life of a Twenty-First Century digital shopkeeper.
I’m up every day between 5 and 6 am, grab coffee and go online. I check my social media for comments and messages, then email, and after that I’ll spend a couple of hours on eBay. When my son wakes up I can unpack new arrivals, then photograph, edit, formulate descriptions and promote for sale. Nearly every day involves packaging and a run to the post office, breaking down boxes, sorting packaging materials. Once or twice a week I’ll hit the shops.
How much time do you spend online working per week?
A minimum of 30 hours.
Is it hard to find great things to buy?
Depends on how you define great. I think it’s hard to find something great at an attainable cost for resale, or that’s completely flying under the radar and the seller doesn’t know how good it is.
Where do you buy and where do you sell?
I offer items for sale through my website, Facebook business page, Instagram and eBay. In addition to that, I exhibit at Brimfield (Hertans #92) for all three shows and consign regularly to a couple of auction companies. I buy mostly online but also from flea markets, shops, shows and directly from other dealers.
What are your rules for e-commerce?
Money doesn’t take precedence over decency. Just be courteous and we’re cool.
Is the “Don’t Buy It Unless You Hold It In Your Hands” mantra dying?
I know a lot of people still swear by that but the rule has some bend. eBay has solid buyer protection in place so I feel more confident buying there than any other online venue.
What do you find are eBay’s strengths?
Customer service has improved greatly over the years and they make an effort to stay current and introduce new concepts.
I’m not sure how effective hashtags are but I feel like I’m thinking creatively to garner interest, in turn making me feel like I’m being productive. Racking up likes and followers gives you the sense that sales will follow, but you have to remember its primarily a social network and not everyone is shopping.
Do more followers equate to more frequent and faster sales? Or are people finding things organically?
It’s a mix, a lot of it is organic, especially on eBay, but the majority of my best sales are to regulars who follow me or who I sell to privately.
How important are keywords in what you do? What’s your methodology with them?
When searching for something to buy it’s certainly a factor, but to be strict with keywords means you’re going to alienate other categories. Specificity is more important when listing something for sale.
On eBay, do you buy better in the auction or fixed price listings? What about selling?
For buying, usually fixed price and by making offers, but I’ve done well with auctions, too. Any auction is a crapshoot, depends on who’s watching and who shows up to bid in the end; it just takes two to drive up the price and a lot of it is fortuitous timing. I sell more through auction but have bigger sales through fixed price and I usually always have an offer option.
Do you ever look through the eBay sold listings?
I used to but I stopped torturing myself by doing so, you can’t have it all.
You don’t have much love for the show circuit. Do you feel like you’re missing out on anything there?
I wouldn’t characterize it that way but yes and no. I enjoy merchandising and love the idea of an edited, walled show. I’ve done one before and did well, I just haven’t found the value to be any greater than online. I understand the logistics of organizing an event and how costly it can be for the promoter, but that doesn’t speak any softer a tone to financial viability. There are other factors to consider, but cost and finding the right fit are the leading obstacles for me. On the other hand, many of the dealers and collectors I see at shows buy from me online, so while there’s a growing overlap, the show circuit and internet cultures are still largely separate entities. There’s an opportunity there to expand my base, I just haven’t cracked the code yet.
Why do you think more dealers don’t go online only?
You don’t need to be that exclusive, even I’ve branched out, but those who I’ve spoken to about it are intimidated by the format. Some will scoff at the idea of e-commerce, it can be a daunting proposition to consider when you’ve operated a single way for decades. The transition will present unfamiliar challenges and it will take time to reestablish yourself. My business was born online, I built a venerable reputation there from years of hard work and I know my way around. I would encourage anyone to give it a shot but in the end you have to decide what works best for you.
McKenna’s website, www.boxingostrichantiques.com, offers his artful objects for sale. Buyers can also purchase through eBay (www.ebay.com/str/Boxing-Ostrich-Antiques), Facebook and Instagram (@boxing_ostrich_antiques).
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