My husband Fred's latest foray into computer-based entrepreneurship was such a losing effort I think it should be his last.
Online auctions generally have been profitable for other family members. My older son, for example, has bought, sold and swapped baseball trading cards by way of the Internet. It's allowed him to enhance his own collection and make modest sums he reinvests in fantasy sports league play.
My older brother, Bud, has devoted several hours each day to his electronic-marketing enterprise. Every morning he ferrets out finds at flea markets, yard sales and charity shops, where he flirts with a cadre of 70-something female clerks.
Between shopping stops, he swings by the post office to mail his customers' purchases. Then, he spends all afternoon monitoring activity on his Web pages.
Dealing mostly in silver, copper, brass and aluminum kitsch, he stores his goods in the garage that used to hold two family cars. Among his recent coups was a $40 tray that he cleaned up and sold for $1,000.
Fred's first attempt at online marketing was successful. He made $500 selling some planing tools that had been gathering dust in the basement for a decade.
At that time, I'd mentally filed away the idea of online commerce as a possible way to boost our future retirement income. But when we incurred some unexpected household expenses earlier this year, I raided our safe- deposit box and unloaded some gold and silver heirlooms for cash and bonus books of free matches. Last month, I held a tag sale that netted nearly $200 for such surprising items as old Riverbend pins.
It was when I gathered sale merchandise that Fred resurrected his get-rich-quick online scheme. He spied a box of 78 rpm records that belonged to my late aunt -- platters made of the shellac-resin material that predated vinyl -- and called my asking price too low. He said, "Collectors would eat up all that Bing Crosby, Jimmy Dorsey, big-band stuff. I can sell it on eBay for way more than $1 a pop."
He picked 10 titles out of the five-dozen-piece array, posted them for sale on the Web page he'd set up 10 years ago and watched for a week as buyers didn't bite on such fetching standards as Teresa Brewer's "Music, Music, Music" and Dinah Shore's "Shoo-Fly Pie." Only the Ink Spots' "Hey Doc" drew bids, but when the auction ended the would-be buyer couldn't close the deal because Fred had listed his old and no-longer-active email account number.
It took significant hassle and hoop-jumping to resolve the problem. We thought the time lapse had spooked the buyer because he delayed payment for several days. When the fee finally was deposited, Fred made haste to mail the purchased record.
Despite swathing it in several sheets of bubble wrap, the record arrived, shattered into five pieces. Weighing our next step, we went back to the online auction site, where we read unfavorable comments disgruntled buyers had posted about prior transactions -- criticism such as "Merchandise arrived with a moldy, musty odor" and "Goods had signs of wear, no, make that unusable as is."
I said, "You'll have to refund the money, Fred; you can't risk being dissed like the poor seller who got trashed just because he couldn't communicate in the buyer's foreign language."
So, Fred's little electronic-commerce experiment ended up being costly and stressful. Still, he's already eying yet another listing, a weird wooden gadget that looks like an eggbeater. He assures me that hand-tool enthusiasts will snap it up and he'll earn easy bucks. Call me a cynic, but that boast sounds like a broken record to me.
Email Jan Galletta at email@example.com.