What's the best way to advertise an ecommerce Web site? Know your customers; find them where they do their shopping; tell them about your services where they get their information. Follow that line of reasoning, and you might assume the best place to advertise a Web site is on the Web. But Mike Kranz Sr. advertises his SeeAuctions.com marketplace the old-fashioned way - in print publications.
"A lot of people collecting antiques are still old school," Kranz explains, pointing to coin collectors and antiques enthusiasts as examples. Kranz knows his customers well - he's old school himself. He's been buying and selling antiques for 35 years. For the past 17 years, Kranz has run Midtown Antique Mall, a 30,000-sq. ft. facility in Stillwater, Minnesota.
Of course, he also uses the Internet for marketing efforts and sends out email blasts from time to time. But he began holding phone auctions before the Web was created. If no bids came in for 15 minutes, the sale would end.
In 1997, Kranz started selling antiques on eBay (User ID: Midtown-Antiques). Like many eBay sellers who have created their own online marketplaces, Kranz is unhappy with eBay's fees. But he has another problem that pertains to what he sells.
"It's not just the fees," he says. "Half of the problem is that there are so many reproductions and newer things being sold on eBay. The challenge on eBay is simply searching for and finding good, older merchandise."
The younger generation is also an important part of SeeAuctions. Mike Jr. works with his Dad on a daily basis, and Kranz credits his son with giving him the encouragement to start SeeAuctions three years ago. But the site was used primarily for fixed-price sales until 2007, when father and son started the process of revamping. Two months ago, with the help of a programmer, they thoroughly reworked the site to include auctions and many other features.
Today, SeeAuctions has more than a thousand members. To attract more, Kranz is running a promotion: no listing fees for one year for members who sign up by March 31. In 2010, there will be a flat monthly fee to sell, but no listing or final value fees:
- $29.95/month for 50 listings or $289/yr ($0.50 per listing if over 50)
- $44.95/month for 100 listings or $395/yr ($0.25 per listing if over 100)
- $59.95/month for 200 listings or $495/yr ($0.10 per listing if over 200)
The monthly payment arrangement may appeal to antique sellers who are used to renting space in a mall. There is no contract, and sellers can leave any time they wish.
Everything listed on SeeAuctions is required to be an antique or a desirable collectible like a Hummel figurine. Reproductions are prohibited, and buyers and sellers are asked to notify management if they spot something suspicious. No item is offered for less than $5. SeeAuctions distinguishes itself from the competition in other ways:
- Google Checkout and PayPal are accepted as payment options.
- Software is available to "grab" a seller's active, fixed priced listings from eBay and list them on SeeAuctions.
- If bidding is active near the end of an auction, a seller can provide extensions of 1, 3, or 5 minutes. This prevents buyers from winning with last-second snipe bids and results in higher sale prices.
- The insurance price is automatically calculated for different shoppers and provided in the description.
"I want to make sure people who are listing get value for their money," says Kranz. "You don't always get a second chance to do that."
The range of items available on SeeAuctions is exciting to both buyers and sellers. A Mason jar went for $600, and a duck decoy attracted bids of more than $26,000 (it didn't sell; the reserve price was higher than the bids). Furniture sells surprisingly well - a china cabinet sold for $7,500, for instance. With the slowdown in the economy, many sellers are offering coins and precious metals.
What Mike Kranz enjoys most is helping sellers achieve success. "I have always been an antique dealer, and when someone is really successful, I am happy for them," he says. "It's fun for me to watch dealers have control over their own destiny. We're not people who work for large corporations. People in the antiques world have always been fun to talk to. We're just trying to put the fun back in selling antiques again."