Thirty Years Self Employed….

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January 22, 2014
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a few thoughts.

This year (2014), marks my 30th year in the antiques and auction business….wow, give me a moment to let that sink in! I was working as a radio announcer in Newmarket Ont, and then decided to try my hand at selling radio advertising. 3 months later I decided I would quit BEFORE they fired me…and I made the right call. Now that I was unemployed, I had to decide how I was going to make a living.  I made a meagre living as a radio announcer, so I thought to myself, why not try and make a meagre living in the antique business? A friend of mine approached my with the idea of opening an antique and craft shop just outside of Bradford at the entrance to the Husky truck stop. Good location, very cheap rent, and I went into it thinking it may only last a few months, but I had nothing to lose. My friend and business partner decided she would have to pack it in after about six months. (she looked after the crafts and I did the antiques).  I changed the store over to just antiques and some giftware, and stayed there for 10 years.  It was a pretty decent business from 1984-1994…before antique malls and the internet…back in the days when people went out “antiquing”. Driving around to the small towns looking for shops like mine. It was a good time to be in the antique business. However, all things come to an end, and in 1994 my landlord sold the property, so I had to close the store.  It wasn’t a bad thing. 10 years working weekends and holidays, so I was ready for a change. For many years I thought about going into the auction business.On slow days in the store, I would practice doing an auction chant.  Once again I had nothing to lose, so I started working with local auctioneers, setting up the auctions and holding up merchandise during the sales. One day an auctioneer asked if I wanted to try selling some job lot items.  I remember very nervously selling my first item….a set of small deer antlers.  A friend of mine bought them, and as far as I know, still has them. I continued to practise, practise, practise during my spare time, and gradually sold for longer periods of time during the auctions, and even worked myself up to selling some of the better pieces. Within three years I decided to try an auction on my own.  17 years later, I am still doing it. So now I am one of the “old timers” in the antique/auction business.  I sold thousands of pieces when I had the antique shop, and have now sold over 100,000 pieces through my auctions. If you total all the auctions I have attended over the last 30 years,  I have seen over 1 million items sell through auction! So looking back over the  last 30 years what have I learned? Well I realize there is an awful lot about antiques that I still don’t know. I think I have a pretty good working knowledge. I can look at most pieces and get a feeling if they are good or not. However, I am not an expert in any one category.  There is a lot to learn about everything that has ever been made in the last 200 years. Recently I was dealing with one particular consignor, who admitted knowing nothing about antiques a couple of years ago, but decided he was going to start buying and selling. Suddenly he seemed to know everything, and took great delight in sharing his “knowledge” with everyone he came in contact with. One day I sarcastically told him, “If you want to know everything there is to know about the antique business, just ask someone who has been doing it for two years or less”. I think he got the point. So other than knowing what I don’t know, I have managed to learn a thing or two about the antique auction business.  Main thing is, the market is always changing, and it has changed dramatically in the last few years.  If I still had an antique shop and was trying to sell the same type of items I was selling  20 and 30 years ago…I would be out of business. If I was doing the same type of antique auctions, and in the same way that I was doing  them 17 years ago, I would likely be out of business as well. I have seen some items now sell for less than they did 20 years ago, but I also now seek out items that a few years ago would have been almost give-aways at the auction.  It’s all a matter of what’s hot and what’s not, and that will always keep changing. Technology has changed the auction business. Websites, and social media, have changed the way I promote my business.  I spend as much time now doing photos and working on-line, as I used to spend picking up items and setting up a sale.  I still have to pick up the items and set up the sale, but now I do the photos and on-line work as well.  However, the end results make it well worth the extra effort. I have dealt with a lot of interesting people over the years, a lot of good people, and I consider myself fortunate to now consider many of those people as friends.  Sadly I have seen a lot of people come and go, but that comes with spending 30 years in business. Looking back I don’t have any serious regrets about my 30 years of self employment.  I know I could have made more money if I had done some things a little differently, but I am still doing ok.  There is not much I would change, and at this point in my life, there is nothing else I would rather be doing. My advice to anyone going into business?  Do something you love.  It can take many years before the financial rewards come your way, and there is always the possibility that there may never be any substantial financial rewards.  You may spend the rest of your life just barely making a living, never having any “benefits”, and never receiving a pension.  However, if you spend your working life building a business that you love doing, than there is something to be said for that.  There may not be the financial rewards, but if you wake up most days looking forward to the day ahead, well I think that is a pretty good benefit. As I write this blog I am certainly looking back, but I also continue to look ahead.  There is much I want to do with my business, and I am excited about the upcoming years.  There are going to be changes, and some of them will not be easy for me.  I know there could be a time when I view this current period of my business, as the “glory” years, but I still look forward to, and plan for the future. So now I would like to thank you. Thank you for your support over the many years. Thank you for the good times you have brought to my business.  Thank you for being the most important part of my business.  Looking forward to many more years! Rob
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