Profile: A World of Possibilities

Unlikely venture into vintage collectibles spurs passion to thrive online.

by staff writer
- Sep 22, 2010
Kathy Thomas, Antiques & Treasures Untold

Kathy Thomas spends most of her time playing. It's not the typical kind of play one normally thinks of; there's no running or shouting involved. Instead, Thomas spends hours in front of her computer meticulously tweaking her online shop, adding descriptions that capture her creations' essence and trying to find just the right way to draw buyers to her shop. It's hard work, she says, but it's also a lot of fun.

"My goal is to earn money to pay myself and put a little bit away for my retirement," the jewelry maker-turned-collectibles dealer says. "I don't know when I'll be able to do that, or if I will be able to do that. I get discouraged sometimes, but then I think 'What would I do if I didn't do this?'

"Well, I'd still be making jewelry and I'd still need a way to sell it, so I keep plugging along. Hope springs eternal, that's all I can say," laughs Thomas, the owner of Antiques and Treasures Untold.

The North Carolina native has been selling antiques and collectibles for about a year and a half in her Auctiva Commerce Store. She never intended to open up her own online shop. And she certainly didn't expect to open one that sells antiques and collectibles—after all she's never been much of a collector. But a suggestion from a previous employer inspired her to give e-commerce a shot.

A business is born

The idea for Antiques and Treasures Untold sprang up after Thomas offered to help sell items online for Nancy Stowe, owner of FancyNancy's Antiques and Collectibles, the brick-and-mortar shop where Thomas had worked. Sales at the Gastonia, NC, shop had slowed, and Stowe had been forced to move her shop into her basement.

While FancyNancy's has since reopened inside the Sleeptime Variety Center in Dallas, NC, Thomas saw the Internet as a way to put Stowe's unique inventory in front of thousands of potential buyers across the country.

Having had experience selling online from her days selling old sci-fi books on eBay, she offered her assistance.

"Nancy said, 'Why don't you start your own business?'" she recalls. "I really didn't want to do that, but I thought, 'Well, what the heck? I might as well try to put a few things online.'"

I chose Auctiva Commerce because I wanted total freedom over my store

The challenges Thomas would likely face as a business owner weren't appealing, she admits, but the possibility of making some extra cash to set aside for the future was very tempting. So the two women agreed that Thomas would sell Stowe's products for her in an online store.

While Thomas was familiar with eBay, she wanted total freedom over the store she was going to set up, so she looked for software that would let her build a standalone store. Auctiva Commerce seemed like a good fit.

Oddly enough, she had already picked out the name of her shop: Treasures Untold, a throwback to a Doc Watson album of the same name. However, that domain was already taken, so she added the word "antiques." She admits the name may be a little deceiving—her shop contains more collectibles than antiques—but the name is staying.

"I've considered changing the name, but I'd rather get more antiques," she laughs.

A taste for the vintage

While Thomas was never much of an antiques collector, she was drawn to vintage jewelry. In fact, she "fell in love" with it.

"I make jewelry. I've been making jewelry for 10 years," she explains. "I enjoy the creative process and I can appreciate the hard work that goes into it. I don't wear jewelry, but I love looking at it!"

The size of jewelry also makes it a convenient product to sell online; it's easy to store and easy to ship, she says. Plus, pieces are easy to find at yard and estate sales, meaning there will seldom be a shortage of inventory to offer online.

But there's another benefit to the sparkling inventory choice: "You can get [vintage jewelry] for very little and sell it for a lot," she says. "That's why I put them in the auction format. You never know what people will be willing to pay."

Learning from a veteran

As Thomas has developed her shop, she's learned quite a bit, both about what it takes to maintain a store and how to go about selling vintage goods. For instances, she learned that sellers "don't have to sell [vintage items] for the book price," she says. "I learned that from Nancy; you just have to make a profit."

An expert may say an item is worth a lot, she explains, but if no one is willing to pay that price, the suggested price is irrelevant and likely too high; it's about making a sale. And with vintage items, sellers can never really be sure what price their goods will go for. Vintage jewelry has shown her this, firsthand.

She once bought a 75-piece lot of jewelry on eBay and paid for the entire package with the sale of just one item from the lot, a rose-gold bow pendent. She didn't have much information on the plated piece—and had no idea what it would go for—but she listed it in the auction format to see what buyers would pay for it. The item sold for $50.

I get excited about purchasing lots because I never know what I'm going to find

"I said, 'Wow!'" she admits. "I get excited about purchasing lots because I never know what I'm going to find. I find some really pretty stuff."

Thomas says buying in lots is definitely a worthwhile pursuit for sellers. People often have amassed good, valuable pieces, and may have even thought about selling them. However, with the time it takes to sell an item, some people find it easier to just group items together in one box and offer them on eBay.

"They just dump items in a box, and oftentimes have valuable pieces in there," she notes.

Thomas admits sales in her Auctiva Commerce Store have been less than stellar, but her eBay sales are improving due to the ease-of-use of Auctiva's eBay listing software. In early September she was shipping items three at a time, she reports.

To entice buyers more, Thomas offers free shipping on all her stained glass items, clocks and globes.

"Most of the items at Antiques and Treasures Untold are not brand new," Thomas says. "By their nature, antiques and vintage items will have nicks and dings. [But] this just shows how much the items were loved and used by their former owners."

The shop's motto became "a world of treasures at your fingertips," Thomas says.

Building a business

The biggest obstacle Thomas faced—even when she sold just a few books on eBay—has been finding the time to post quality listings while running a household and working part time. Her housework has suffered as a result, she laughs.

Marketing her Auctiva Commerce Store has also been a challenge.

"I don't have the time to blog," she notes, adding that she knows how important blogging is to merchants and their business plans. However, she continues to experiment with marketing, and has begun handing out fliers about her shop in her area. She's also begun accepting consignment products. She's gotten a lot of e-mails about that, she says. And she'll continue to venture on with her store.

"You give up, you lose," she says.

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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