This is the third interview in this series. You can see the other two interviews here. Today we are exploring the selling adventure of Bryan and Linda from the fabulous mid century shop, A La Modern. You may be surprised to also know that they are the geniuses behind the often referenced Pyrex collecting site, Pyrex Love.
One of the things that keeps me going in my vintage and Etsy selling venture is seeking (and receiving!) inspiration from other successful vintage sellers. I devour their shops and stalk their sales. Not to copy. No. That would never work. Vintage selling is often a OOAK business…what I find and what you find will be completely different. Niches may be the same but the whole experience is unique.
I will say that Bryan and Linda’s offerings on their website A La Modern as well their Etsy and Ebay shops are ones that I stalked big time, especially early on in my own vintage selling adventure. I learned a TON, especially about mid century design and pottery.
How long have you been selling online? How did you get into the biz?
We’ve been selling vintage on different online platforms for about 8 years now. A lot of people start out the same way we did, more as collectors. In our case it was originally with Pyrex, and then California pottery and mid century modern housewares. Eventually, you get to the point where you just have wayyy too much stuff – and then you decide to give selling a shot!
What venues do you sell on? What made you choose them?
In the beginning, we focused on our standalone e-commerce shop that Linda and I designed and coded from scratch. Shortly after, we also decided to try selling on Etsy. Over time it became clear that while it was nice to have our own online shop space, we struggled with drawing in viewers and customers. On selling platforms like Etsy and Ebay, there’s a built in base of potential customers. While you need to deal with competition from many other shops that may be selling the same items, the convenience and amount of people who visit more than makes up for it. So now we’ve scaled back the listings on our main shop, and are using it more as a gateway to Etsy and Ebay for higher ticket items.
We also tried our hand at an antique booth for about a year, but in the end we weren’t able to sell enough to justify the rental fee. That was a fun experience, but definitely an eye-opener in terms of the challenges and overhead that a physical shop has to deal with. It’d make me think twice before trying a physical shop again.
Is this your full-time job? If so, did it start out that way?
Selling vintage is full-time for me, although it didn’t start that way. Linda has always had a full-time day job, so she helps out whenever time allows. My background is as a website programmer, and Linda is a graphic designer. Because of this, we’d already built informational websites for fun that had to do with collectibles, like Pyrex Love and Potteries of California. So when we decided to try and sell vintage items, we already had the skills between us to build our own online store. Since contract work for web design has really dried up over the past 5 years for me, I’ve just focused more time on selling vintage – it’s more enjoyable anyhow, so that’s worked out!
Tell us a little bit about your process. For example, do you shop weekly and list daily? Do you have a backlog of inventory or are you good about keeping up with the finds?
We visit a bunch of different thrift stores at least twice a week to look for inventory, and then estate sales and flea markets on the weekends. I used to go thrifting more often, like nearly every day – but realized that I wasn’t spending enough time on the other parts of the biz. The research, cleaning, preparation, photography, editing, listing, inventory control, packing, shipping – it all takes SO much time. People who haven’t sold vintage before might not realize how much work goes into it – they think it’s a fun job where you just go look for stuff and then sell it for a lot of money.
Yes, there’s a huge backlog of unlisted items! Usually, there are piles of stuff in the “office” on tables and the floor – I try and keep the other rooms clear of to-list stuff but sometimes it creeps out. Actually, inventory storage is almost a bigger problem because things can take awhile to sell. I’ve got an entire row of inventory shelves that take up one wall of the garage, and then boxes of items here and there. If you sell vintage, forget about storing a car in the garage!
Well, that makes me feel better about my backlog, lol. Now, one of my favorite questions. What are your top 2 favorite sales of all time from an online shop?
(photo from Worthpoint)
Definitely one of my favorites was a Camark art pottery vase from the 1920s. I came across it at a Goodwill while thrifting with our friends from Bit of Butter back in 2013. Thought it might do well on Ebay, but was shocked when it went for $1300!
We also really like sales that have some story behind it. We sold a lithograph of horses done by Millard Sheets – you might know him as the designer of all of those murals from the old Home Savings of America banks. By a coincidence, they had just done an exhibition in Claremont of his horse paintings and prints around the time I listed it. The lady who bought it had visited the exhibit and then went online to see if there were any of his prints available – and she found ours! It also turns out she was buying it as a gift for her daughter who was sick and loved horses, so that was a touching story.
Awesome stories. And the vase is gorgeous! It’s amazing what you can find at a thrift store sometimes! So what are your two favorite items listed right now?
Ok, that’s tough to pick only two – I should be saying the two most expensive items in the shop, haha! But some of my favorites are the pieces that have a local connection to Southern California. I’ve always liked Annemarie Davidson’s enamels, especially the Grooveline pieces like this blue one we have up right now. She was an enamelist working out of Sierra Madre, CA which is fairly close by – so I end up finding a lot of her pieces because they were often sold through gift shops to locals in the area.
We also have a number of Howard Pierce items up in the shop, like this brown pelican figurine. Howard Pierce focused on modern porcelain pieces, and produced out of Claremont and then later Joshua Tree. He was well known in the Joshua Tree area, and there are quite a few larger statues that he donated that you can see there and in the surrounding areas. We took a trip to Joshua tree about 10 years ago just to try and find them.
I love Howard Pierce! Where would you say you source most of your items?
At the start, it was almost entirely from thrift stores with the occasional flea market or garage sale thrown in. Later on, we started attending more estates sales and some auction houses. The availability of the really good vintage stuff at thrifts and estates has changed – there’s so much competition (at least in our area) that nowadays it’s common to come home empty handed from a 3 estate, 10 thrift store day.
It can take real dedication to keep finding the good stuff! You’re doing well! What goals do you have for your shop(s) in the future?
Investigating other online places to sell on is always in the back of our minds. Or better yet – just selling more things quicker! I think moving inventory more quickly is a constant concern for vintage sellers, if only because as mentioned the items take up a lot of space. I also want to work the social media angle more – instagram, twitter, facebook, etc. I know a lot of people have had more success selling directly on those channels.
Things are always changing in the online world, that’s for sure. Okay, last question…If you could travel back in time to when you started selling…what advice would you give your newbie self??
Oh yeah, the vintage time traveller question! This gets talked about among friends who sell vintage, but it’s usually you want to go back far enough in time and buy tons of vintage items that nobody thought would be valuable some day.
As for advice, I would tell my newbie self to be more aggresive in buying inventory, but also to be more selective in which items. Focus on spending a little more to make more, on fewer items. This balance is still something we’re working on, but I wish I’d started thinking about it more back then!
Thank you so much Bryan and Linda for sharing your experiences with us! Some good lessons in selling what you love and items that are native to your own area!
You can also keep up with A La Modern’s finds via social media.
Inspired to start your own vintage selling adventure on Etsy?
Click the link here to get to all our posts about selling on Etsy, how to open shop, how to get your items found and more!!