TITTLE TATTLE AND TANTRUMS IN THE TRADE MAY 2012

I know I have touched on the subject of courtesy before but it has usually been the attitude of customers to sellers that has got my goat. The ever growing number of TV game shows built around the idea that you can buy retail to sell wholesale and still make a profit have a lot to answer for there and especially some “experts” with over inflated egos and an orange hue.

However, it is sellers and auction houses which have caught my attention recently. I have long observed the apathy with which many sellers at fairs treat their customers. Some barely lift their heads from a game of Sudoku or a text message to mutter a price and then wonder why their sales don’t match their costs. Their neighbours “never stopped all day” while they sat watching in envy. Yes, that’s the problem! Sat! Get off your **** and engage your potential customers in conversation about your stock, convey your enthusiasm for it and knowledge about it ( assuming you have any of either ) and then politely try to squeeze the money from their wallets. We’ve been down that road before but it bears repeating.

What I am more amazed at, as an auctioneer working in the business for an awful long time, is the lack of courtesy afforded by many auction houses to both their sellers and buyers. Prior to every sale we have large numbers of emails and phone calls for condition reports and I assume other salerooms have the same. And yet I can guarantee that every time customers making those enquiries are amazed that we are happy to help and discuss the matter and quote, where possible, for shipping and so on. The fact that they comment about being well treated and then come back time and again says a great deal about our competitors around the country. Surely everyone should be afforded time and respect and have their questions answered as carefully and truthfully as possible.

In these days of internet bidding and customers located all over the world it is just as essential to engage them in conversation as it is a customer in the room and to give advice and encouragement. There may well be thousands more on line where they have come from but repeat customers have to be earned not taken for granted and in the long run they surely form the hard core of any business, auctions or otherwise.

By the same token, if you do encounter apathy or discourtesy then vote with your feet or your fingers on the bid button and don’t go back. Perhaps I am “old school” but I have always understood the principal that customers have a choice. I need to encourage them to spend their money with me instead of someone else and being helpful and polite is a major part of that process. If a customer finds it necessary to say “wow, that’s unusual for an auction house” in response to me or my staff simply offering to help then the Trade as a whole is losing its way.

Perhaps it is arrogance after being afforded the title “expert”. Certainly some of the TV variety exhibit those traits when they are in front of the cameras and carry on afterwards. We’ve all seen them around the fairs and some of us have the courage to ask them, politely of course, to go away. Others make fools of themselves and their fellow dealers by agreeing, on camera at least, to ridiculously big discounts which lead viewers to think we can all do it. There are also, of course, some “experts” who are polite and a pleasure to deal with but we tend to see less of them than the others because, apparently, they make less interesting viewing. Really?? Not in my book.

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