Tuesday, June 28, 2016

The Little Cup That Couldn't

There was a little cup sitting on a little saucer on a crowded shelf in an antique mall of dubious quality. The antique mall, not the cup. No, the cup was fine. Demitasse. Gold rim. Tiny saucer beneath it. I picked them up. 

There was the C word. No, not that C word. Don't be gross. This C word was like a tattoo, like a mark of the devil. It said Cuba. There was El Malecon in Havana Harbor. Souvenirs of Havana, Cuba. Pre-revolution. Before 1959. Some little cup and saucer some poor American tourist dragged home as a memento of his visit. All these years later...sitting on a crowded shelf. Sadly, I was soon to learn, the Cold War continues for the little cup.

I bought it. A $1.25 investment. I took it home. I shined it up. Perfection. No chips, no cracks. No scratches, images are clear and easily identifiable. No doubt about it. No doubt about what is was or what it said. No matter. I described it thoroughly. How tall. How wide. Where did it come from? When was it made? Posted it.  Things were fine for a while.

Had a customer in England. Bought the little cup with its little saucer. O, joy! The little cup had found a new home, rescued cup. No longer dusty, surrounded by half-broken, misbegotten tokens and trinkets of yesterday. The little cup had a future in England. The customer paid with PayPal.

Can you say, uh-oh? 

Nasty message from PayPal. "We will suspend your account immediately, as you are in violation of national trade laws." Ok, it didn't say exactly that but you get the drift. My account was suspended. At the time, PayPal was the only method of payment accepted. I was in limbo. Cancelled the customer's order. Could not deliver.

I wrote PayPal. I called PayPal. Again and again and again. No change. Ever read Catch-22? There is a character in Joseph Heller's book, Major Major. Major can only be seen when he is not there. My experience with PayPal reminded me a little of the Major. The friendly customer service folks. Their job was to resolve customer problems. Great! Resolve mine!

No can do. We can't help you. "But you're customer service! If not you, who? If not now, when?" Well, they patiently explained, you aren't allowed to talk to the only people who can help you. Enter Major Major. 

Ever throw logic in the face of the illogical? It bounces off. Finally, after several communications, I was sent--what else?--a form. On this form, in addition to all my personal information, the name and nature of my online shop, what I typically sold, how long have I been selling it, etc. etc. I was asked to give a detailed account of how I came by the little cup.

I left out nothing. The antique mall of dubious quality, the dusty misbegotten tokens of yesterday...yada, yada, yada. I was as thorough as humanly possible.

Days later, my account was open. The suspension was over! I only had to agree to never, ever list the little Cuban cup in my online shop again. I promised. Of course, I lied, but that sort of goes without saying.

I re-wrote my description of the little cup without mentioning by name the largest Caribbean island or its capitol. The cup languished. But it was a small victory. For despite my devious ways, my conscience said,"TAKE THE LITTLE CUP OUT!!" (I have a loud conscience.) So, I did. I took it out of my shop. Put it on the sidelines. There it stayed for a while.

Time passed. The Pope went to Cuba. President Obama went to Cuba. The U.S. Embassy, after a long, long time opened again in Havana. Some travel and trade restrictions were lifted. You could go to Cuba. You could work in Cuba. 

And so, I began to reconsider. Things were looking up for the long lost little cup. Maybe it could come out of hiding? Maybe. And it did. I boldly put it back in the shop. I didn't mince words. There was the C word for everyone to see. Just like its original posting. In every way. Deja vous cup.

Not so nasty message from Etsy. Explaining politely how there is a government agency that watches out for such violations as mine. We have to be careful. 

"We have removed your posting." It was back to the penalty timeout box for the little cup. Though the Cold War has long since ended, though business and travel between our countries is now possible, the little cup, which never saw even one day of Communist rule in Cuba, could not be sold in my shop.

And there it sits to this day. All by its lonesome. Other cups and saucers, other porcelain pieces, come and go. The cup remains. No longer a $1.25 investment. It's now a permanent asset, but no longer a liability.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Unexpected Perks of Back to Front Shopping

When out looking for "treasures", especially in a new shop, I can be blown away when I step in the door. It's not by accident. 

In customer service, as in life, everyone wants to make that good first impression. Shop owners are no different. They put their best foot forward by placing many of their most impressive pieces just inside the front door. 

Traffic patterns are key to a shop owner. As a customer, you might think you're wandering around the shop at random, maybe drawn by this item or that piece, evaluating, judging, imagining that new piece in your home. The smart shop owner knows he or she can guide your steps, creating a path for you that has been predetermined. It's all about the flow. 

If you are into the resale of items, as I am, then you might be thinking, "Wow, this stuff is expensive. How can I ever make a profit on these things?" Don't despair. Instead, make a bee line for the back of the shop. This is where you can save or make money. The back of the shop isn't where the most impressive pieces are kept. However, it's the place where items are kept that most shoppers can afford: the ever-elusive bargain. Items that have been hanging around the shop, on sale, marked down, ready to move. Don't believe it? Make an offer.

Go home happy and with money in your pocket. Sometimes getting to the back of the shop might make you feel like a salmon trying to swim upstream, but the extra effort is worth it.

Please visit my Etsy shop:  Randy's Gallery

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Joy of the Hunt

Walking into a shop, a consignment shop, an antiques shop, a second-hand shop, even somebody's garage sale is a sensory experience.  Look at all this stuff!

My eyes take it in and feed to my brain, rapid calculations begin.  What is this item made of?  Is it heavy? Is it really old or just meant to look old? Everything I see is processed, weighed, and evaluated.  Here are the two questions I most want an item to raise in my mind: 1) what is this wonderful piece doing among all this junk?, and 2) what possesses someone to even make something like this?

The first question is the eureka moment.  It means I have found something that doesn't belong. It's too good to be here.  The second question is the awestruck moment, seeing an item you have never seen before, not even dreaming such a thing existed.  Struck by rarity or novelty or whimsy, stare at it like one would a purple cow.

That's the joy of the hunt.  That's what makes it fun.

Please visit my Etsy shop:  Randy's Gallery
Randy's Gallery on Etsy