Profile: Making Memories

Collectibles merchants appeal to buyers' sense of nostalgia.

by staff writer
- Sep 21, 2009

When Anne and Dave Kearns began looking for a business they could operate in their post-retirement years, it seemed a natural choice to sell what they both know and love. Being longtime collectors of vintage pieces that appealed to their nostalgic senses, they decided to sell the kinds of items that would spark fond recollections in others.

Maimeo's Memories began as a brick-and-mortar shop in a San Francisco antiques mall, though the Kearnses dabbled on eBay as well. But it wasn't until about a year ago, when by chance they acquired an assortment of Rolls Royce wrenches, that they recognized the true potential of selling online.

"At one auction, we'd bought a collection of old clock keys and money clips," recalls Dave Kearns, who together with CEO Anne, now operates Maimeo's Memories on Auctiva Commerce. "When we started digging into the box. On the bottom were these slightly tarnished wrenches, which we initially thought we'd donate. But when we looked more closely, they all had Rolls Royce emblems. In researching them, we learned that each wrench was unique to a year and model—and there are collectors of these things. So we listed them on eBay. We had bidders from the U.K. and Australia going crazy over this stuff!

"That's when we realized that [being] online was a way of attracting customers that you normally wouldn't get walking through your shop," he says.

According to Dave, the store's name derives from their grandchildren's nickname for Anne, "Maimeo"—which is the Irish word for "granny"—and the reminiscences stirred by the items they sell.

"There's a term called 'remembery' that means when you see or hear something that triggers a forgotten memory and you get that warm, fuzzy feeling," he explains. "We're hoping the stuff we sell will give you that warm feeling, too."

Just to make sure it does, selected items in the store get a "read the story" icon that links to their blog, Maimeo Remembers, where visitors are treated to a touching anecdote about the piece's background and its personal meaning to Maimeo.

You have to look at an item in terms of is it a saleable piece, and what's the market for it

Past and present

The Kearnses have always been collectors, and when they first began buying items to resell, they bought items they liked. However, they quickly learned to shop with buyers in mind, otherwise most of their inventory would end up in their own home.

"Just because we like it doesn't mean anyone else will," Dave says. "You have to look at in terms of is it a saleable piece, and what's the market for it? Where will we find a buyer—online, on eBay, in San Francisco?"

When he first started looking for an online host for the shop, he considered building a custom site himself using shopping cart software. But that seemed too cumbersome, even for Dave, a former programmer, who still writes and consults on technology issues.

He knew doing it himself would take forever if he was going to get the site up and running the way he wanted it. "I decided it would be much easier to go with a package, even though it might not have everything I want," he says.

He explored a number of e-commerce store solutions, such as eBay Stores and Go Antiques before learning about Auctiva Commerce. Being a user of Auctiva's eBay listing tools, Dave says, he "jumped in with both feet."

"Auctiva Commerce tools are more modern," he explains. "Everything else looks like it was built in the mid-'90s—and works like it."

Maimeo's Memories opened online in the spring, and since then has posted "a few hundred in sales, nothing to get excited about—but considering what it's cost us, it's not bad," Dave laughs, noting that Auctiva has not yet begun charging monthly store fees.

Meanwhile, the online shop has had "lots and lots of visitors, many of whom have spent a good amount of time looking around," he adds. While that's encouraging, Dave notes that it's harder online to convert browsers into buyers. But he's optimistic that as Auctiva Commerce begins to build its brand image, people will be more comfortable spending money with its merchants.

For now, the Kearnses plan to experiment with free shipping, sales and other promotional devices, like the blog. They also drop links and references to the store as much as possible on discussion boards and Web sites where collectors gather.

Online, they can better showcase items that are harder to display prominently in a physical setting

The long view

The couple chooses to operate their online and brick-and-mortar stores as separate entities; there's some cross-promotion via the Web site and brochures they hand out at the shop, but no near-term plans for integration. The reason, Dave says, is that the mall site mainly houses furniture and large, heavy items that don't lend themselves to packaging and shipping. Online, they can better showcase the "kitschy" items and odds and ends that are harder to display prominently in a physical setting.

They're even considering opening a second Auctiva Commerce Store to sell specific categories of items, such as their "vast collection" of early 20th century postcards, he notes.

There are pluses and minuses to both selling venues, Dave muses. While the mall shop rings up higher sales, it's more time consuming to maintain. Online, it's much easier to add and remove inventory, but it takes time to grow a customer base.

"Online commerce is still in its infancy," he says. "I've been involved in it for 15 years, in one way or another. I see what we're doing today, and I know it will be changing in the future. Overall, I have no doubt that online sales are going to keep growing.

"Of course, we'd like to become fabulously wealthy," he laughs. "But as long as we can turn a profit, we'll be happy."

Visit Maimeo's Memories.

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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