The Art Of Auctioning Trains On-Line

Did you ever wonder what the big deal is about on-line auctions? Why in the world do they work? How is it possible to take two people who don't know each other from Adam, get them together and make a transaction actually work?

Nonsense! That is absolute nonsense I laughed to myself when I first heard the concept. There are way to many problems that would make it impossible for this new site called ebay to ever work.

And I totally forgot about it until maybe a year or two later when I noticed my sales were slipping. I couldn't put my finger on what was wrong until my friend Bob Zimmer came in the store one day and told me about his successes at selling trains on ebay.

I couldn't believe it as I sat there growling at my computer looking through the ebay pages that were full of trains for sale. Some of the prices were absolutely nuts. I laughed as I knew I had to get the word out to these people that they could buy trains from me at my site much cheaper than they were paying at this business destroying site.

At that moment I realized why my sales were down. It was this monster that had been created that was eating up sales. Not only were people buying and selling from each other, but it seemed like it might be a fun way to buy and sell. The thing that I liked most about this on-line auction concept was that once you placed an item, you were guaranteed a sale. No ifs-ands-or buts. As long as you didn't place your starting point or reserve to high, you would get a sale. It finally came to me. This was a smart way to sell trains.

So after hem hawing and analyzing and pouting for a while, I finally decided that maybe I might have to try some auctions on this business destroying monster called ebay, instead of fighting it.

And so I did. And I couldn't believe what happened from there. With a small commitment of auctions after a month or so, my sales started to rise drastically. In addition I started to pull in new customers to my on-line train store and then things just started to take off from there just like watching a rocket take off from the Cocoa Beach Pier.

Now I have been doing on-line auctions for quite a while, and I think it is probably one of the most important economic boosts of our time for small retailers.

Of course after auctioning with ebay for a while and finding that my monthly bills instead of being just a little piece of change as they had been at first were starting to look more like mortgage payments, I decided to try developing a new trains only auction site.

Bob Zimmer and myself did just that in creating From the very first day it opened, I was totally amazed at the results I was getting. My biggest fear was that no one would bid, and I would be giving things away. But that hasn't been the case at all. Well there have been some things that went for less than I expected, but there have been just as many that went for more than I expected.

Over the past two years or so that I have been doing on-line auctions, I have learned some secrets to placing successful auctions. Hey, I'm just the sort of guy to tell you those secrets for no fee at all, unlike those guys who might email you something like ‘send me 9.99, and I will tell you the secrets of life!' Ever receive one of those? So who says nothing's free!

First of all, find a site that doesn't charge a penny to auction your trains. (Here we go again, something for free.) I don't think there are any, except for maybe, ah yes, Yes, by George that is a free site! And I believe the only free train auction site in existence. Let me define free for you. That means, you pay nothing to auction an item whether it sells or not. I think that is a good thing, don't you? [Free auctions are guaranteed at least through the year 2000.]

OK, now that you know where to auction your trains, let me go over some other things that I have learned over the years.

First, don't worry about your lack of knowledge or experience. The process of placing a single item on an auction is pretty simple. Much easier than this article will make it sound. Auction houses such as have made it as simple as possible for you to work through the process of placing an item in an on-line auction. The biggest obstacle that will hold you back from auctioning items, having fun, and making some extra money is procrastination. If you would seriously like to try placing an auction, simply register, then tell yourself you are going to go through the process of auctioning that first item. It won't take much more than 5 or 10 minutes unless you use a picture. And once you get the first on-line it is a snap from there.

Make sure that you are aware of the rules for the auction house you are using. Most have similar rules that use common sense. But it is best to know what they are so that you don't get yelled at. And that has happened to me!! You can find all the rules and frequently asked questions at by clicking on 'help' and 'auction info'.

Once you have decided to auction an item look it over carefully for any flaws or problems. Grade it as fairly as possible. Under grading is very much preferred to over grading if you plan on placing repeat auctions. Since your item will be received by someone site unseen, you really want them to be pleased. So be very careful about grading and the description. Don't be afraid to mention that little chip on the catwalk or the missing rod. You are not doing anyone any favors including yourself by not grading correctly. This only creates hassles later on and depletes your credibility which is everything when it comes to on-line auctions.

Pictures are very desirable. However don't use a picture in your first auction. This makes the process much slower and more difficult. Just try something very simple to auction that you really don't care what you realize for as a starter.

Auctions with pictures however will receive much more attention. Many people won't even look at an auction that doesn't show the picture indicator. But pictures slow down the process drastically. I have a digital camera which is very handy. But once you take the picture you have to download it to the computer, edit it, save it, then upload it to the server. It actually isn't that bad once you get the hang of it, but it does take a while. In addition to a digital camera you can take Polaroid's or developed pictures and scan them, and there are programs that allow you to use a video camera to produce a picture that can be uploaded. I am not very familiar with this process.

In the description make sure you state payment terms, shipping and handling costs and vehicles, sales tax , and any other transaction information so that the buyer will have a clear idea of what to expect after the auctions is over.

I recommend that reserves and minimum bids be kept as low as possible. I don't know that I have placed an auction that the minimum bid was more than $2.00. If you start an auction at to high a minimum bid it is possible you won't receive any bids at all. Most bidders don't like reserves. Some totally avoid any auction with a reserve. So the higher your minimum bid or reserve the fewer people are going to actually participate in your auction. When an auction starts ridiculously low the natural process of bidding automatically starts and sometimes competition can actually push the price higher than market. The more people you get involved in your auction the better off you are as the competition factor becomes more apparent. Competitive people probably shouldn't bid in auctions, but they do, and that is your secret weapon! uses the 15 minute rule which may be fairer in that the auction is extended 15 minutes for any last minute bid. Thus giving everyone a chance to put in their last say. As a seller, this is a very good thing, as you will realize more since the auction does not end due to a time period, but when everyone is actually done bidding.

I recommend strongly if you have an item that you paid to much for, either you be able to accept the fact that you will loose money, or don't place the item for auction. Personally I feel that if I made a mistake by paying to much for an item and find it difficult to sell, that is money just sitting there. And if it just sits there it does me absolutely no good. I can't tell you how many times in my life that I have sold train items at a loss. Obviously I have sold many, many more at a profit or I would be out of business. But if you are in business and make a mistake as I have, I feel it is much better to sell that $100.00 item for $70.00, then buy something else for $70.00 that you can sell for $120.00, and then you are ahead of the game.

I don't use reserves and as I said my minimums are always $2.00. Generally in my auctions it doesn't take very long for interest to be generated just by the fact that it starts out at such a ridiculous bargain.

If you have never run an auction before I recommend you go through the whole process with just one item the first time. And realize that the process of entering the item is only the first step. The fun part is monitoring the auction and watching it go up in value.

When the auction ends make sure you notify the buyer as soon as possible or he could loose interest and forget about it. I use a standard form letter to notify successful bidders. It gives my contact information, describes the item they have won, and I always include the auction number. I specify that payment needs to be received within a certain time. And if I don't hear from them within a reasonable amount of time I send a second notice which does warn that I will give negative feedback if they don't respond within a reasonable time.

Feedback is like gold in the on-line auction business. Just one negative feedback can put question in future bidder's minds, so be very careful. Bend over backwards to make the bidder happy. A while back I placed a Lionel set on ebay. I had three different sets of the same item, two were new and unused, one was like new with some use. When I placed the auction I accidentally called the set new. But the set that I was placing was actually Like New. Of course when the successful bidder received the set he was upset and emailed me to that affect!! That was an error on my part, but it was simply an error I made, so I made it right with him by exchanging it with a set that was not only new, but sealed in the box. I also refunded his postage. I could have reacted in a much different way, but you are always better off to take a little financial hit when you make mistakes rather than go the other way. Not only didn't I receive negative feedback, but hopefully I gained a customer who will do business with me again.

Once you receive payment don't wait to ship the item unless it is a personal check and you told the person you would have to hold it in that case. Always ship as soon as you have secure payment.

It is very important to pack the item as carefully as possible. I won't go into detail of how to pack, but make sure it is packed well. People like it when they receive a well packed package. Always insure the package, and state that in your winning bid letter. When I first started auctioning I didn't mention this and it turned out to be my most frequently asked question.

Selling a full collection of trains using an on-line auction will bring you more money than selling to an individual or probably piece by piece at a train show. The only problem with selling a large train collection using on-line auction is the time involved. For a 500 piece collection you would have hundreds of hours into the process. If you have that much time on your hands that's the way to go. If not consider selling to a professional train dealer like myself. You probably won't realize as much money, but you will save yourself a lot of time and headaches.

Buying and selling using an on-line auction house can be a lot of fun if you use your head, organize, and work at it. Many people have actually established businesses by working with on-line auctions.

The biggest thing is have fun, be fair and honest, and focused in what you want to do. Keep at it and you will reap the profits, or at the very least clean out that pile of junk that sits in your back room!!!

If you have comments or feedback regarding this article or any subject having to do with electric trains, please feel free to visit our message boards, where you can discuss topics related to trains with other train enthusiasts.

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