Profile: A Rocker's Bazaar

Seller creates eclectic blend of memorabilia for rock-music fans of all ages.

by staff writer
- Jan 24, 2011

Sue Carlson Dunn has created an emporium that encourages rockers of all ages to indulge their passion for music without having to worry about rocking too hard.

"When head-banging means a neck brace for six weeks, there has to be a gentler way to indulge your passion for the great—and not-so-great—bands and artists of the past," she notes.

That's why the rock-music fan created The Novelty Rock Emporium, which features rock 'n' roll memorabilia from yesteryear. The eBay Store mainly offers vintage patches and badges of bands like The Clash, Black Sabbath and others. But it also carries fractal images, pendants and pins for rockers who want to rock the bands they love. Carlson Dunn first thought of offering this product line after seeing similar patches in a brick-and-mortar shop, and wondered if there was a market online for the pieces.

"I had been looking around for some time for something to sell, and felt that whatever it was [that I sold] should interest me, otherwise my commitment would be halfhearted," Carlson Dunn recalls. "It also had to be something that was small and easy to store, easy to pack for posting, and have a viable profit margin."

Working out of her home, she had little room to spare, the U.K. seller adds.

After a little research on eBay, the patchwork seemed like the right inventory choice. It was compact, easy to ship and there was a definite demand for it. "The rest, as they say, is history," she says.

There is always something new coming along, and revival of the old 'classic' rock influences turn up

Rocking the classics

Music has always fascinated Carlson Dunn, and it's been a big part of her life.

"You can look at all the rock family trees, [for example] which artists are in which bands and where they were, and trace some interesting influences as artists move from band to band," the music lover explains. "There is always something new coming along, and revival of the old 'classic' rock influences turn up."

Growing up in the 1960s, Carlson Dunn says she was "naturally" drawn to the pop idols of that time, like The Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

"I loved watching the television pop-charts programs, such as 'Ready Steady Go' and 'Top of the Pops,' and frequently tried to listen in to radio stations, such as Radio Luxembourg and Radio Caroline," she says.

Carlson Dunn even did a little rocking of her own, playing the English flute—also known as the recorder—and participating in choir and musical productions throughout her scholastic career.

Molding a passion into a business

The enthusiasm Carlson Dunn has for music has translated well into her eBay business. It inspires her to thoroughly research all the items she offers on eBay prior to listing them. She loves learning about her pieces and the bands behind the memorabilia, and even encourages customers to share their knowledge if she's missed a detail.

"Item descriptions are as accurate as I can make them," Carlson Dunn says. "I don't gloss over any defects that I find, but I'm not expert on anything in particular, and am always interested to know more about the items I sell."

The seller's approachability doesn't stop there. She knows building relationships with buyers is at the core of a good business and she strives to do this by always thinking like a shopper. This means being "honest, polite and never greedy," Carlson Dunn says. Sellers should always take this approach to build a rapport with all buyers and encourage repeat business, she adds.

Connecting with buyers

Carlson Dunn combines this buyer-focus with a little buying incentive, which she calls "Customer Loyalty Bonuses." With these bonuses, buyers get one point for every transaction they make with The Novelty Rock Emporium. After 10 purchases, buyers get a 10-percent discount.

Upfront sales terms have also proven helpful to this rocker's business plan, letting buyers know what they can expect when they shop in the Rock Emporium. Auctiva's eBay listing templates have also been a help, allowing her to display products in a professional, attractive manner that also makes item descriptions easy to read.

I wish someone had told me how addictive selling is

Selling on eBay has had its bumps along the road, Carlson Dunn admits. The 2010 holiday season was challenging, as fewer shoppers stopped by her store than in previous years—perhaps due to the economy, or shifting customer demographics: "Maybe the old rockers are starting to drop off the perch," she says. But, while traffic was down during the 2010 holiday season, non-U.K. sales seem to picking up at the moment, she adds.

She's also dealt with a fair share of customers who "want something for nothing and are determined to find fault, despite one's best efforts," she says. "I have a long memory for them."

But Carlson Dunn hopes sales will pick up this year, that she'll be able to expand her store and that she'll continue meeting interesting people. She plans to increase her range of inventory to include more pins and collections.

"I wish someone had told me how addictive selling is," she laughs.

The buyer experience

It all seems to be about buyers for Carlson Dunn. In fact, when asked about her favorite eBay moment, she had plenty of buyer-focused responses: "[There was] a buyer who asked if I could fax their patch because it would be quicker than the postal service," she recalls. "It still makes me chuckle. [Another] memorable sale was of a railway badge that I bought as part of a very inexpensive job-lot. It went so well that I was on the edge of my seat in the closing moments of the auction."

In another instance, a man from in Illinois sent her "great pictures of his fantastic concert jacket covered in Rush patches and badges," she notes. Even a payment glitch proved memorable, when she had to call French and German buyers to discuss the problem—but it was memorable for good reasons, she notes.

"They didn't speak English, and actually understood my rudimentary French and German—which was amazing, really," she says. "I love getting to meet lovely people from all over the world and bring them a little piece of happiness."

Visit The Novelty Rock Emporium.

About the Author

Auctiva staff writers constantly monitor trends and best practices of those selling on eBay and elsewhere online. They attend relevant training seminars and trade shows and regularly discuss the market with PowerSellers and other market experts.

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