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So ya wanna be a mineral dealer, eh? - Part 2 - "How hard can it be?"

Authored: 2/20/2009

OK, as promised, now we get to the heart of the matter, what it takes to actually make a specimen available for sale.

I've never actually analyzed this before broken down into it's components, so this will be an interesting exercise for me too.

We have 1 preliminary step (prepping the flat) then 2 different paths - for sale at a show and for sale on my web site.

Getting the flat ready

1) Buy the inventory. One needs to search the show venues to find what you want, get to know who is best to buy what from, etc. Then go to the different vendors and do the buying. Obviously, I can't break this down into a per specimen time figure, but just remember it is part of the work involved. For dealers other than me, there is also a significant cost for travel, meals, and lodging to get to their buying venue of choice, and possible shipping to get their goods home. I buy almost everything in Tucson, as I live here, either through wholesalers who are open here year round, my local dealer/digger connections, or each February at the "shows before the show".

2) Determine the price. Look at the flat, decide if I want to price all the specimens the same or actually price some of them higher or lower if there is an appreciable difference in quality, size, or other factors between the individuals in the flat. Verify that the total of the retail pricing of the pieces is consistent with my margin requirements based on what the flat cost me. If the flat is homogeneous (all same species and locality) and I opt to price everything the same, doing this might take 5 minutes for a 12 item flat. If I price them different, it might take 10-15 minutes. If it is a heterogeneous flat (say different species, same locality), it might take me 2 minutes a piece. Add another 5 minutes a flat to write the prices on small sticky labels and affix them to the specimens.

3) Enter the flat into my system. I enter species, locality, cost, price, quantity, and write a narrative description (most of the work is here). I also enter a simple lot code which lets me track my sales by the source that I bought the pieces from. For example, if I bought the flat from XYZ Minerals yesterday, the code will be XYZ090217. I also double check the locality as I've discovered that the supplier sometimes has it wrong, misspelled, or incomplete. This takes about 10-15 minutes per flat, almost all of which is to write the description and check the locality.

4) Make the labels. All my specimens are sold with labels. Labeling a flat of 12 probably takes about 10-15 minutes by the time I enter the info into Publisher (which is what I use), print a sheet of labels, cut them, and place the labels in the flat.

5) Pack the flat. Unless the pieces are very fragile I just place several wads or layers of thin plastic wrap (like you get from the dry cleaners) around and over the pieces and close the lid. Fragile pieces require more time.

OK, this get us to where the flat of specimens the ready for the next phase, which varies depending on whether they are going online or not. At this point, based on what I described above, we are at 35-50 minutes per flat, or about 3-4 minutes per specimen.

Sell it Online

Here's where the real work begins!

1) Take 3-5 good pictures. The pictures have to be good or the piece won't sell. They have to accurately depict the specimen or the customer will be displeased. I shoot with a Canon Powershot A630, in macro mode, no flash, on a tripod, typically through a 4x diopter. The specimens are shot against a white background and are lit with Solux halogen lamps. I shoot as many angles of the specimen as are necessary to show the customer what it looks like. For each shot, I have to re-position the specimen and usually adjust the positioning of the lights some. I do not color enhance or do any touch up using Photoshop to artificially enhance the photo of the specimen in any way. The only thing I do is adjust the white balance. This step takes about 2 minutes a shot, so call it 6-10 minutes a specimen.

2) Process the pictures. I shoot at full resolution (8 megapixels). The ultimate image that goes on my web site will be 640x480 with an accompanying 160x120 thumbnail image. So, for each 8 MP image, I look at it using Zoom Browser, determine if there are any areas of the shot I want to show a close up of (neat crystals, etc), crop the working copy of that area, save that (the close up), then save the full size image (uncropped). Essentially what I am doing is using the 8MP image and the crop as a microscope for the close-ups. I then use Fast Stone to take the resulting 6-10 images down to 640x480 and to create the 160x120 thumbnail image of each and copy them all to the "magic place" on my web server. This process takes about 2 minutes per image, or 12-20 minutes per specimen.

3) Weigh it and measure it. Each piece is weighed and measured. Where appropriate, I don my Optivisor, and also measure the dimensions of the largest crystal of each significant species on the piece and note any damage present. Time: 2-3 minutes per piece.

4) Write a narrative description. I start with the generic description I wrote for the whole flat (in step 3 in the first section above). I add anything special about the specimen, including describing damage, if any, and add the size of largest crystal info, where appropriate. Time: about 2 minutes per specimen.

5) Tell my system to show it online. I double check what I've just written and entered above, check that I've entered the price right, press a couple of buttons in my software system and the piece is now "automagically" available online. The software does all the HTML, dynamically creating the web pages, provides all the shopping cart functionality, calculates all the shipping costs, and seamlessly integrates with PayPal for payment.

So, for an online specimen, we have 22-35 minutes per piece plus the 3-4 minutes described in the first section above, so call it 25-40 minutes per specimen from start to finish. Had you just asked me, before I did this analysis, to make a rough guess of what it took for me to do this work, I would have said 20-30 minutes per piece, so I think what I gave above is valid. Let's just call it 30 minutes each. I have about 3000 specimens in inventory so that makes 1500 hours of labor to put them all online!

Also note that my labor to put a specimen online is the same for a $20 rock as a $200 or $2000 rock.

For your typical dealer, without the software I have, there would still be a very labor intensive next step - crafting the web pages to show the specimens. This is a lot of work when done by hand. I would guess you could easily add another 10-20 minutes per specimen depending on the person's ability at doing web pages. More if they're not so good at it.

Sell it at a show

1) Prep the specimens. Usually not needed for a club show, as just about everything necessary was done as described above in the first section. However, this year for the TGMS show, I needed to do a huge amount of prep work. My Charlie Key Collection pieces (about 700+) had to be mounted on acrylic bases, repriced (I lowered the price significantly, which may come as a surprise to those of you who view all or most dealers as only looking to raise prices), and restickered with the new prices. I did the mounting myself. It took me 3 or 4 days (I didn't count the hours - I'd sooner forget) to do them all. Each square acrylic base comes with a paper backing on each side which has to be hand-peeled off. The backing is difficult to get off, requiring repeated "picking" at the corners with one's fingernail - 1400+ times in this case! I hired a U of A geology undergrad student to help me. She did the repricing and restickering. It took her 13 hours.

2) Pack the specimens. My club show inventory lives in flats permanently, so for a club show, no additional work here. My higher end pieces (including all of the Key specimens) live in two large retail type display cases here in my home. So it all had to be packed carefully into flats. Time: about 3 hours.

3) Load the specimens. Loading the flats (usually 40 - 50, sometimes as many as 70) and associated stuff (lights, sometimes tables, etc) takes about 2 hours.

4) Transport. Anywhere from 1 hour (Tucson) to 20 hours (Denver).

5) Unload and setup. For a club show, where I am usually just putting out flats on tables, this takes about 2 hours. For the TGMS show this year, all of the pieces packed in step 2 above now have to be unpacked, and aesthetically arranged in display cases along with the specimen labels. It took 2 of us 7.5 hours to do this this year for a 10 foot booth (15 man hours)! The process is slowed by the fact that until all the flats are in the booth, I have to have someone on each end of the unloading process to keep the specimens from being stolen! For those of you who may be unaware, theft is a huge problem at shows, even (and sometimes especially) at the TGMS show.

6) Repack and reload. Same as 5 above. Pretty easy (1-2 hours) for a club show. For the TGMS show this year it took two of us about 3 hours - 6 man hours.

7) Transport back. See 4 above.

8) Unload. Clubs show - flats just go back into storage (1.5 - 2 hours). TGMS show - flats have to be unpacked and put back into display cases - 6 to 8 hours.

So, there you have it.

This is still a labor of love, but a lot of labor it is.



Thomas W. Corson OBG International
corson@infodyn.com Green Valley, AZ 85614

World-Class Minerals For World-Class Collectors

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