Tips for eBay Sellers from a Hollywood Prop Master
By Greg Holden
Ever wonder where the producers of AMC's Mad Men get the vintage period pieces for the 1960's set? AuctionBytes Contributing Editor Greg Holden went right to the source and spoke to Hollywood Property Master Scott Buckwald, who's worked on the sets of hit TV shows and the big screen. In part one, Scott shared some behind-the-scenes stories (did you know an eBay seller played a part in creating Mad Men character Betty Draper's wardrobe?). In today's installment, Scott shares some tips on what eBay and online sellers can do to attract professional buyers.
Last week, I wrote about Scott Buckwald, who works as a Property Master for movies and TV shows such as AMC's series Mad Men. Scott has been buying online for years, both for his own collecting and for objects that eventually appear on the big and small screens. People turn to him all the time for advice. "When anyone among my friends or family needs to find anything, I'm always the first one they call," he laughs. "I've bought everything."
With that in mind, it was only natural to ask Buckwald for advice for online sellers. What are some things sellers can do to make their sales easier to find, and to make it more likely that buyers will check out their listings and eventually buy them? Scott shares some tips along with some things that turn off buyers. He also weighs in on whether he thinks searching for props on the Internet has become easier over time, and talks about the most interesting thing he's hunted for as a Hollywood prop master!
Mint condition means mint!
"When I am doing props for a period show such as The Prestige (which was set in 1890s London, England) I have to find a lot of things online," Scott says. "The thing that turns me off the most is when an ad says something is in "mint condition" and then the seller goes on to describe problems with it. If it has two buttons missing or there's a scratch on it, it's not in mint condition."
Being honest and straightforward with product descriptions is always a good policy: "It's to the seller's advantage to be blatantly honest about an object. Sell it as though you were going to be buying it yourself. Be picky." If an item has flaws, point it out: only call something "mint condition" if it is truly off the shelves and has never been used. "When people say, "This old Beatles record player shows normal age for something that is 40 years old; it has a scratch, but is otherwise a sound structural piece," I feel good about buying it."
Missing photos can be a red flag.
When taking photos of an item for sale, make sure you photograph it from all possible angles, Scott says. "If someone gives me three photos and there are four sides to an item, I get suspicious."
Don't plead ignorance.
Don't apologize if you're not an expert on a product. Simply be straightforward in your description of the item and its condition. "When a seller starts a description with something like, "I'm not a Beatles expert, but...," it makes me very leery," says Buckwald. "It makes me feel like they are covering something up, and there could be things wrong with the item that they're not disclosing. Pleading ignorance is a good reason for buyers to stay away."
Buckwald also values sellers who are responsive - the price of an object is not always the main consideration. The sale sometimes goes to the seller who responds immediately and who is receptive to shipping the same day if Buckwald pays extra for the service. As mentioned in last week's column, one eBay seller ended up with $150 in his PayPal account for a $20 item - all because he was responsive to Scott's request for fast service.
Don't overlook Amazon.com.
If you have books for sale, consider advertising them on Amazon.com's marketplace rather than an auction site. Buckwald says he frequently shops there and is eager to buy at a good price from individual sellers who offer their own merchandise in addition to items already advertised by the giant e-tailer.
Consider traditional auction houses.
When it comes to selling his own sizeable collection of Beatles memorabilia and other items - something he plans to do when it comes time to pay for his son's college education - Buckwald isn't thinking about eBay, or about selling online at all. He prefers the traditional auction houses for sales of high-end antiques.
"We have some really high end Beatles items, and I might go to an auction house and a rock-and-roll auction for those," he admits. "Selling a few items for $25 each is good for eBay, but a big collection of vintage items will (attract) a more select crowd if you do it the old-fashioned way."
Play up your expertise.
If you have plenty of experience in your field and knowledge about what you're selling, play it up. Buckwald, like many buyers, feels confident about buying from professionals who have been in their field for a considerable length of time and who know their merchandise. He often turns to the websites of specialty booksellers who are "very good at writing the descriptions, who say if a book has a dust jacket, is a first edition, and so on."
A final suggestion: think about giving back. Buckwald, who ends up with lots of extra props at the end of a year, often donates them. "Over the course of many years, you will do a lot of scenes that involve kids opening up presents for their birthday," he says. "I will amass a pile of toys, so we keep them on the shelf and at the end of the year donate them to a firehouse so they'll be given away for Christmas."
So has searching for props on the Internet become easier over time? Scott said without question, the Internet has become much easier as a tool to search for props. Search engines such as Google are very sophisticated, almost intuitive, in filtering a search - certainly the more specific the inquiry, the more "on the money" your search results will be.
With regards to eBay, Scot said there is more to be found than ever. "Certainly the sheer volume of items have gone up. But, eBay also provides a very good search engine that allows me to narrow my search." However, he said what you get at a prop house that you do not get online is direct human service. "I tend to use ISS in Los Angeles as my main source. The advantage of using a prop house such as ISS is they are at the ready to duplicate any item I bring in, rebuild it, repaint it or build another one 4.3% bigger."
Whenever there is a key prop used by an actor, it is always a very good idea to have more than one, Scott explained. "Sometimes it is hard just to find one. ISS has a full manufacturing facility any mad scientist would kill for, and it really is as easy as handing a prop over to them and coming back a week later and having them hand over the molded duplicate or rewired now-working version back to me."
I asked Scott what was the most interesting thing he hunted for, and he said it was like asking a parent which child is their favorite - each job brings about its challenges, frustrations and rewards. "A knee jerk reaction to the question would be collectively, the props I arranged for the Christopher Nolan film, "The Prestige." The film was a period film which took place in the early 1900's. On top of that, it was highly stylized and centered around magicians. Nothing from that film came out of a box ready to use. We had vintage ropes and chains, handcuffs, firearms, event tickets. It was both a real challenge and an absolute joy."
Read part one of Greg's interview with Scott Buckwald, "eBay and Marketplaces Are Goldmines for Hollywood Prop Master," published in AuctionBytes Newsflash.
About the author:
Greg Holden is EcommerceBytes Contributing Editor. He is a journalist and the author of many books, including "Starting an Online Business For Dummies," "Go Google: 20 Ways to Reach More Customers and Build Revenue with Google Business Tools," and several books about eBay, including "How to Do Everything with Your eBay Business," second edition, and "Secrets of the eBay Millionaires," both published by Osborne-McGraw Hill. Find out more on Greg's website, which includes his blog, a list of his books, and his fiction and biographical writing.
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