Thursday, 23 October 2008

Can you sell on Specialist Auctions?

I am Robert Forsythe and in this blog I hope to describe the practical ways by which I have made selling on Specialist Auctions work. There will be comparisons with the inevitable market leader but I hope they will be realistic and invective free. My online trading uses the nick robertatforsythe. Every vendor will have their own rationale but I want my buyers to easily find and recognise me in the areas in which I trade.

I joined ebay on the 4th February 2000 and Specialist Auctions on 29th June 2006. October 22nd 2008 was a significant date in my Specialist Auctions relationship. I recorded my 400th sale and 275th piece of positive feedback. By that date we had 1324 items live. The ebay feedback comparison was 4168 on feedback, all positives on both sites.

The number crunching is significant. ebay set out to be a market place where niche traders would flourish and for a long time I found that to be so. I think however that that ground has shifted. The litmus test is simple: could I afford to keep 1300+ lots live on ebay until they sold. The answer must be pretty obvious: no way. In itself that is not ebay's "fault". It is a consequence of what I sell and this is the education bit. What do you want to sell? And how long does it need in the market place before it will find a buyer? In my case, I have a good supply of highly Specialist material for which there are a limited number of buyers but those buyers are themselves usually dedicated and determined people who know their subject. They may want to spread their spending. I am active in a low cost collecting field. Have I ever sold any individual lot on Specialist for more than £10? No and I don't think any of my individual lots on ebay have fetched more than £100. We are not high value sellers but we are selling material that in the main cost nothing to obtain and usually ends up in the bin (draw a comparison to Reginald Perrin and grot). The point is because most of the time it ends up in the bin, used and abused, the items that survive gain interest.

We explained a lot about this in a blog for Ephemera . Very roughly speaking for every four items I have uploaded onto Specialist, one has sold. Apart from my time (which is the major cost), uploading items onto Specialist has been free. When there is a sale, the fee structure is straightforward at 3%. Failure to sell has not incurred a penalty. The logic says Specialist Auctions is playing a long game. Build up what you have to offer so that your lists show plenty of choice. The chance is someone interested will always then find something that connects to them. It has taken time. The growth to 1300 lots has taken over two years because we do have a life outside on line auctions! Given time, we guess we could quite easily reach a figure of 5000 lots. It is having that rich realm of choice that has grown business. The feedback will show many of the buyers keep on coming back to more. Inevitably positive relationships with individuals who bought from my other listings have been established. ebay cannot stop its vendors getting to know their own customers directly! Those individuals have had the confidence to move their business. But like all good business this revolves around trust and communication. Generally, when I upload lots I have one or two potential buyers in mind. I will often send them a positive alert. I will ask a regular buyer to tell me about their collecting interests and their requests so that when material surfaces I can think of them.

Words about start prices are important. Elsewhere the urge is on setting a low start price. If your lot does not sell, you will be financially penalised and the hope is that a low start attracts buyers. But if the item is a niche item and the buyers are simply not there that week or miss your lot in the sheer bulk of choice, what is the point in listing at 99p start? Specialist Auctions is offering a more measured and less frenetic model.

This is my pricing philosophy. On the criteria of time spent, time listing, time packing and posting, it is not really comfortable to sell a lot for a £1-£1.50. My rough rule of thumb is that a lot needs to realise £3 for me to think that was worth the effort. With Specialist Auctions you can do this. You can set a range of pricing from a realistic, not necessarily bargain basement start price and end at a higher snap it up. Usually my lots show a price range this way between the minimum price that I am comfortable with and what on a good day I do think a lot can achieve. After all, the joy of Specialist Auctions is the sheer flexibility. If the buyer thinks differently and if you have clicked the right box, a haggle can develop. Some people are uncomfortable with this, but there is no obligation to participate and no obligation for the vendor to agree. Many of my sales have been haggles and often in the median range between the two prices shown on the listing. Sometimes I have been persuaded to settle for less than the start price. It can happen. Not often, I usually resist. But if the low haggle is in the context of someone placing a considerable order over a number of lots, it may be considered. Where you decide to end a haggle is often a question of the business context that you have with the other party.

If you are reading this and wondering whether to start listing with Specialist Auctions my summary advice: are you prepared to give the task time? Be patient, be prepared to keep on uploading to build up presence, it will not cost you money. Do you have other outlets where you can draw attention to what you are doing? Do you have an already existing customer base who you know and with whom you communicate? Remember that Specialist Auctions offers a good number of real people keen to help. Nosing around the forum discussions will show that.
Accompanying the blog will be several illustrations which give chapter and verse for actual realisations over the last few months on Specialist Auctions from our material.

Left is sale no 400, sold for £2.95 on 22nd October 2008 as Specialist Auctions no. 1066403.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Monday, 22 September 2008

Isle of Man

I just searched Isle of Man on Specialist Auctions and got 241 results from inputting Isle Man. That is a good return. The 30 mile long Isle of Man is widely recognised as a beautiful tourist island in the middle of the Irish Sea. It has a long and proud history. Tynwald claims to be the the oldest continually running Parliament in the world. It was an island settled by the Vikings whose influence is still apparent. A version of a Celtic language is Manx. Another very identifiable symbol is the three legs of Man symbolising the difficulty of overthrowing the Manxmen. Yet another classic image of the island is the Laxey Wheel, the Lady Isabella. This huge waterwheel has been a tourist attraction ever since it was built around 1854 to drain the lead mines. Passengers on the Snaefell Mountain Railway have a good view as they pass to the 2036' mountain summit from where on a good day five kingdoms are on view. That railway is just one of five vintage systems left in operation. The railways have produced plenty of collectables as have the shipping and aviation lines that have served the island. The island plays up to its history and Manx stamps and coins are collectables in their own right. I am about to upload the item just above which is a newsletter about these from a couple of years ago just when they celebrated their own car building industry. This was the Peel microcar made in that little fishing port around 1960. Amongst the 241 listings were many of my own for ephemera from the railways, buses and ships serving the islands. More unusual items cover a competitor to the Steam Packet (another good search) called Norwest who worked from Fleetwood. The Laxey Wheel, Steam Packet ships and the railways readily appear in some of the stamps being listed. There are even Manx stamps on offer produced for use in mainland Britain during one of our postal strikes. The term Manxman is a good search as it covers one of the most famous ships which before it ceased working in 1982 became a film star in Chariots of Fire. The Tourist Trophy TT, Manx Grand Prix or Six Day Trials are worth searching for. These refer to the motor cycle races for which the island is famous. I can offer shipping handbills covering these operations and there are stamps and covers available from other vendors ( TT Races as a search got results). A number of attractive first day covers from the island are on offer from Specialist Auctions. A newish function is that the Isle of Man has its own heading now in Books>History>Local History>Isle of Man so hopefully that can grow. All in all we are not doing the island badly but we will as ever welcome more bidders and vendors.

Thursday, 18 September 2008


Lake Windermere is the best known of the four main lakes of the British lake district. I define main in a clever way by the lakes on which scheduled passenger boat services have worked. By this score Ullswater, Derwentwater and Coniston are the others. The Lake District is a British National Park and a centre of National Trust activity. An abundant literature including famous poets like Wordsworth and Auden and range of collectables is bound to follow. Various items can be found through Specialist including (not from me) Goss ware, other china, and postcards. Search Windermere, Lake District, Lakeside, Ullswater and you will soon get results. My special take is transport paperwork from the area and I can offer a wide range from the vintage to the recent. Windermere is especially well served. The illustration is one of my lots, the 1960 timetables. I have material on offer from the late 1950s forwards. Old handbills, a very attractive sequence of brochures, even from this 21st century, they continue to be attractive, some tickets, can all be found. There is also the Cumbria full public transport timetable, a now deceased beast. Material from the Lakeside & Haverthwaite railway connects to the bottom end of Windermere whilst a Ravenglass search takes you over to the famous miniature railway on the western edges of the Lake District and to the standard gauge coastal railway which is very scenic as it runs between the sea and the mountains. The old names for the area were Cumberland, Furness and Westmorland and each of these as a search will reveal more material. Happy hunting.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

Hello and welcome to the start of this blog. It may acquire an independent life of its own but at the outset it is a placeholder to cement my place in the system and to link to the other incentive to be here which was a response to an invitation to blog on What's New at Specialist Auctions (so look that one up). What I have done though is to drop in posts made at that blog and consolidate them here. Our big interest (of several) is transport and travel ephemera so do check out our own website or .

Friday, August 22, 2008

High Speed Train Intercity 125 HST

First of all a welcome as this is my first contribution to the Specialist Auction blog. For a topic I've chosen one of the most popular of the subjects that I sell. Anything related to the Intercity 125 or HST trains that have run around on Britain's railways since 1976. To get an idea of what I sell covering the subject a search on Specialist for High Speed Train or Intercity 125 should always get some results. We will usually be able to offer some timetables or leaflets from the first few years with a good assortment later on. These trains have since privatisation operated in many different liveries and trying to find official literature for all these options can be quite challenging. Cross Country, Midland Main Line, GNER or First Great Western are all searches which should produce more results relevant to the HST train and with any luck an HST model might be available from another vendor on Specialist.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

There's no doubt that one of the big areas of my interest, both for my own collecting and for what I sell is the Irish Sea. Believe it or not, only a fraction of the material available for other collectors is yet listed but already there is plenty of choice on Specialist Auctions. The story of how this area of the collection grew is interesting. A book was part of the process. I am an author as my own website explains. One of the books which I have written is Irish Sea Shipping Publicised and yes, you can get signed copies via Specialist at . Another day I will post about the limited but select books that we vend via Specialist. For now, back to the Irish Sea. The book was written, and as a result, another author made contact and the upshot was that I was offered the Raymond Brandreth collection. Raymond had unfortunately passed away but he had a very good innings from his base at Meols on the Wirral during which he cruised happily with a Contactors ticket on the Isle of Man Steam Packet, Liverpool and North Wales' St Tudno, P & A Campbell etc. And on his trips he packed up handfulls of paperwork. We have been selling from his collection since 2003 and much has moved on. If this interests you, recommended searches which bring up results quickly on Specialist would be Irish Sea, Steam Packet, Norwest, Heysham, Holyhead, Liverpool & North Wales, Belfast, Llandudno, White Funnel, Wirral, Mersey. By the time you have done that I am sure you will have the picture.