Thursday, September 29, 2011


National Geographic Ad
May 1928
(These and subsequent images are Hawaiian Odysseus photos.)


I'll be honest.  I am definitely not one of these eBay gurus making a million dollars or more each year on eBay.  I'm thankful for what I still consider to be the world's greatest auction site, but, frankly, I struggle to make a living.

If I might allude to my blog site's namesake, there is a scene in the Homeric epic where our protagonist encounters the challenge of maneuvering between two sea monsters--Scylla and Charybdis.  To avoid one meant encountering the other.  

Later Greek tradition cited these metaphorical sea hazards as treacherous realities existing on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and the Italian mainland.  Scylla--Homer's six-headed monster--was the personification of a rock shoal on the Italian side of the strait.  Charybdis was actually a whirlpool off the coast of Sicily.  These sea hazards were located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to passing sailors.

In colloquial terms, Homer found himself between a rock and a hard place.  

That's me...and that's where I'm at.  My proverbial dilemma--I'm unemployed because I left my job as a baker in Redmond, Washington, to return home to my loved ones in Walla Walla County.  

To be employed would mean grueling midnight shift hours that ravage my body, not to mention the psychological strain of being separated from my family and working for an unappreciative boss.

No, in the 60th year of my life, I want to be employed by someone who truly appreciates, respects, and holds me in high regard--ME!

There's no better high than the freedom of working for oneself.

And so it behooves me to continually stretch my creative, resourceful, and entrepreneurial reach. 

For the past eleven years, I've supplemented my income by running a fly tying store on eBay...nothing elaborate, but a help in meeting some of the financial obligations.  Just as valuable as the humble income earned on this global venue was the 100% positive feedback rating that I happily received from over 5,000 unique customers.

One's reputation is golden...a lesson I had forsaken as a youth growing up in Hawaii but one I hold dear to my heart today.  So the eBay feedback, by proxy, gives me a unique opportunity to be an outstanding global citizen.  At my age, that counts for a lot. 

Today, I am at a point in my life---and my eBay sojourn--where I need to amp things up a bit.  

My goal is to expand my eBay business.  That expansion requires the notion of sailing out into new, completely unrelated to fly tying and fly fishing, and heretofore uncharted eBay waters, as it were.


A new venture can be daunting and fraught with unexpected stressors, so in order to keep it lighthearted and easy on the blood pressure, I am going to have some fun by sharing my experiences with you.  Success or failure, it doesn't matter.  I'll learn valuable lessons either way. What truly counts is that I try my very best to  create new streams of income in this Walla Walla desert.

Being unemployed, in the traditional sense, affords me the freedom to try new things.  And it's the bold, raw, and scary energy of risk-taking that propels me out of bed each morning.


Okay, so let's get started.  

A few days ago, I caught the Valley Transit bus to the east side of Walla Walla and browsed through the renovated and greatly improved Country Store.  

The current owners have reorganized the store into a flea market emporium.  Aspiring entrepreneurs rent out small sections in the store.  When something sells, the store receives a small commission.  For those sellers who don't carry enough inventory to warrant a full space, the store has a special room where individual items are neatly arranged for potential customers to view.

My personal mission was to find old magazines.  Not long ago, I  had received in my email an affiliate marketer's ad that promoted the concept of a lucrative eBay income from cutting up and selling pages from old magazines and newspapers.  While I didn't buy the product, the idea forged a path deep into my subconscious, nestling into the recesses of my gray matter, liberally hatching all of its little baby ideas while I slept.   

On several occasions, I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and run--okay, slowly shuffle--to my laptop.  For the next two or three hours, I would do a lot of research on how other sellers were promoting old magazine ads on eBay.

Research is key.  I can't stress that enough.  Long before I make my first listing, I want to know average prices, best forms of listing (fixed price or auction), how to promote the product, what shipping details make the best sense, overhead costs, where to find the items to sell, and how the general market is behaving.

The biggest surprise for me was discovering how well some of these vintage ad entrepreneurs were doing.  It blew me away to learn that in  several cases, eBay store owners were selling ONE ad (that's one magazine page, folks!) for FIVE to TEN DOLLARS or more!

Needless to say, I was excited!  I definitely wanted IN on this action!

But where do I start?

Well, one of the sole proprietor shops at the Country Store had these two boxes of old National Geographic issues from the 1920s and 1950s.  When I attempted to purchase just one of the magazines, the female clerk graciously informed me that I would have to buy the entire 2-box set.

The original price tag read $65.00, and I simply couldn't afford to invest that much on a whim.  The clerk proceeded to tell me, however, that the owner of that specific booth was closing shop at the end of the month, and so everything in that section was discounted 50%.  

If my brain could salivate, my head would've been soaking wet!

With Walla Walla's 8.6% tax, I'd be paying a little over $35 for the two boxes of vintage magazines. Instantly assessing what I could resourcefully do with several dozen old periodicals, I was confident that I could come up with a good return on my investment.

Still, caution reared its pretty head.  Caution is like this bittersweet cousin to Impulsivity.  Each is a pain in the rump to the other, but you need to consider both in order to be a successful entrepreneur.

I needed time to let these cousins wrestle it out.  Somewhat reluctantly, I left the Country Store and headed on back home.

That night, I had a good discussion with my wife.  She is Caution personified whereas I am Impulsivity on wheels.  Trust me, it makes for a great marriage.  I once told someone--it might've been a judge, come to think of it (LOL!)--that my success in life was directly proportional to how much I listened to my wife.

Anyway, I got the green light from my better half.  With our lovely daughter entering her freshman year in college, my wife and I see eye-to-eye when it comes to the family scholarship fund.

So I went back to the Country Store and gave the surprised clerk a check.  I mean, those boxes must have sat around for months.

That night, I was like a schoolkid during recess.  I quickly and carefully removed the staples from one of the 1927 NG issues, separated the ads from the prints and narrative pages, trimmed away the rough, staple-torn margins as best I could, and took photos of each ad.

Next, I began grouping each ad with two magazine pages.  In my auctions, I provide the customer with a bonus of 2 pages from the same issue.  These extras are lesser ads, prints, articles, or a combination thereof.  As a newbie in this interesting eBay niche, I believe that having a special touch goes a long way.  With several formidable competitors, this new kid on the vintage ad block needed to have a special gimmick.

Later in the week, I found a specialty shop on eBay that sold acid-free plastic sleeves and backing boards (cardboard mounts).  These items are important shipping and preservation supplies that maintain the integrity of the vintage ads.

And then I started listing.  

In drafting the actual wording, I imagine that I am a buyer.  I ask myself, What questions would I have when shopping for vintage ads?  I write with the same voice that I use in writing this blog.  It's the real life voice I would use if you were sitting across from me this very moment, enjoying a nice cup of brew at the Starbucks on Main Street in Walla Walla.  It's a good voice because I feel comfortable being who I am and secure in doing what I do.


So, you're on the ground floor of this new entrepreneurial venture.  You're going to receive updates via this blog as to how things pan out.  

Right now, I am experimenting with both auction style and fixed price listings.  At this stage, everything is trial and error.  I have to be extremely patient, carefully studying the demographic patterns in the market, and tweaking whenever necessary in order to optimize my listings.

Peppered throughout this particular blog post are photographs I took of six different automobile ads from the May, 1928 issue of National Geographic.  This is one of my strategies--to build a thematic set of ads and list it in an auction starting at 99 cents.  It may or may not sell, but that's the fun and adventure of doing this.  It's like being a parent of a newborn baby and watching with a mixed bag of emotions--joy, amazement, frustration, extreme fatigue, exhilaration, amusement--as it grows.  (I mean, I'm hoping it grows!)

Oh, the 99 cents factor?  It's a twofold strategy.  It keeps things cheap as I engage in trial and error mode, and it's hopefully a great way to attract potential buyers.  I keep in mind that I am a newbie, and I need to tread lightly and deliberately as I trek through what is for me a brand new and unfamiliar niche. 

I invite you to click on the link below to see the Vintage Ads category of my eBay store, Lords of the Fly.  (It's right below the final picture.) 

If and while you do drop in--and I sincerely hope you do!--please check out my other eBay listings.  Feel free to drop me a line via either eBay or this blog.  For those of you who have done or are doing something similar, I would surely appreciate your advice and even mentoring.  For those who are inclined, like me, to dabble in the freedom of working for yourself, I definitely invite you to contact me and tap my brain.  Not much there to tap--but I'll definitely help you as much as I possibly can.

In closing this post, it's my earnest prayer that the good Lord bless my new project.  My odyssey continues to be an interesting and challenging journey.  Now that I'm home, I've set my mariner charts on shoring up a scholarship fund. 

Focusing on helping my daughter, you see, puts blinders on me as I strategize my way through the treacherous passage of Scylla and Charybdis.

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