Excited and proud to present my good friend Ross Barr onto the blog, this time not as an interviewee but as an author of a great article on the ethics of flipping. While the blog was not responsible for the article, I have to say that I 100 percent agree with it and the ‘flipping’ guidelines it proposes. I came up through the forums with Ross and have had the pleasure of seeing him put together a full Kenner run of MOCs and a great Han Solo focus. Not only does he have a great collection but he is also someone who is keen to stand up to practices he believes are harming the hobby (i.e. repros and u-grading). It’s not always easy being so outspoken about these issues in our hobby as you’re sure to cop criticism and abuse. So I for one, appreciate Ross’ drive and engagement. If you’d like to read more about Ross and his collecting habits, check out his previous interview with us:
Please note that Ross is merely suggesting guidelines by which the re-sale of collectibles can occur without us gouging our fellow collector and that the article is not actually intended to undermine flipping. Further, no-one is being forced to adhere to the guildelines he suggests. Whether you are a flipper or against the practice, I’m sure we mostly agree that poor flipping practices can really leave a bad taste in our mouths.
Here is Ross’ article below. Take it away Roscoe!
Have Some Flippin’ Etiquette; It’s Good for Your Soul (and the Hobby)
Flipping – buying an item and selling it thereafter (typically soon thereafter) – is as much a part of the vintage Star Wars collectible hobby as are trading items, selling a piece following an upgrade of that item, or any other buying and selling activity. In fact, flipping is a major part of other industries and economic markets, most notably the real estate and stock markets. Nevertheless, for whatever reason, labelling someone a “flipper” in our hobby tends to carry a negative connotation, whether fair or unfair. More likely than not, folks that have habitually flipped collectibles with no etiquette or little concern for their fellow collector have unfairly given a bad name to flipping, which, if done in a responsible and honest manner, may actually bring positive benefits to our hobby.
Did I say positive benefits from flipping? You’re damn right I did. The collectors that dumpster dove near Kenner’s facilities in the 1980s and/or have bought items directly from former Kenner employees and contractors from that period to the present have sourced collectibles that otherwise likely never would have made it into collector hands. These pioneers of our hobby provided some of these items to their fellow collectors by flipping them in the truest sense of the word. Had these early collectors not pounded the pavement, many rare prototypes and other items that we enjoy today may never have been known to our community. Similarly, folks that spend hours and hours of their time scouring flea markets, garage sales, antique malls, and similarly obscure locations to source vintage Star Wars action figure goodness are benefiting the hobby by getting those items into collector hands. And they’re flipping toys more often than McDonald’s flips burgers.
The profits made from flipping allow many collectors to subsidize their personal collections and obtain items that might have otherwise been out of their reach given their own personal financial limitations. If done in the right manner, most people view flipping as an acceptable way to help build a collection.
Flipping on eBay and other impersonal, fee-based marketplaces carries with it less expectation that the seller will flip in a manner that is respectful to others and responsible from the standpoint of the overall hobby. However, flipping within online vintage Star Wars collector forums and Facebook groups – each of which operates to many degrees like a community of friends that look out for one another – should be viewed more like a privilege that is provided to the flipper in exchange for a tacit agreement to act respectfully towards other collectors in the process.
In that regard, this article provides a non-exhaustive list of certain actions one should avoid if he or she wants to flip in a courteous and conscientious manner within our community. That is, below is a list of flipping “no nos.” Please keep in mind that this article is written from the perspective of collector flipping; those collectors that are in these markets as a hobby. The calculus is understandably different when a dealer – someone who buys and sells to make a living – is flipping. Dealers often times have overhead and other expenses that collectors don’t have, and the need to maximize their financial return on an item is greater for those reasons and also because that money provides for their livelihood and that of their family. With that said, many of the principles below apply equally to dealers and hobby participants alike. I will let you decide which ones do.
Without further ado, if you want to flip, then go ahead and flip, but in doing so you would be wise to heed the following advice:
Be honest about your intentions in sourcing an item you intend to flip.
If you are purchasing an item intending to flip it for a profit, don’t tell your seller that it’s for your “personal collection” or something similar. Many collectors will give a reasonable discount to their asking price if they believe that the item they are selling will be loved by the purchaser, fits that person’s collection, and will be retained in that person’s collection. Stating that you intend to keep a piece (when you really intend to flip it) in order to get a good deal on it and obtain as much room as possible for profit on the flip is dishonest and unfair.
If you can’t get the item you intend to flip at below market value, even if just slightly below market, then it’s probably not flip-worthy.
Whether due to increased transparency in the vintage Star Wars collectible markets on eBay and elsewhere, increased competition from newer collectors, or otherwise, it is more difficult than in the past for collectors to obtain below market deals on items. As a result, too many collectors are charging obscenely above market prices on items they are flipping because they are forced to pay market, or even worse above market, prices to source the items and need to overcharge on the back end in order to make a profit. Sometimes the best deal is the deal that isn’t done. Artificial market value increases brought about by serial flipping do no one any good.
Be mindful of reasonable market values in determining your asking price while also leaving room for some profit for yourself.
Consistent with the ideal of flipping only items that are sourced at below market prices, if you are going to flip consistently, you should strive to price items as reasonably as possible as often as possible. It is entirely feasible to harmonize the interest of making money on a flip with the ideal of not gouging your fellow collector. Our community is a small one, and one of its greatest attributes is the volume of folks that go above and beyond to help other collectors out. Those people rightfully are respected in the community and well liked. On the other hand, collectors that sell regularly for obscene prices aren’t view favorably; the logical implication of these selling practices is that those people don’t care if they gouge their fellow collectors solely to line their own pockets.
Many of the collectors that end up being harmed by these exorbitant prices are newbies that aren’t familiar with fair market values or don’t know how to research them (and these high, above market values eventually become their skewed reality) or longer term collectors that can’t be bothered to do price research. Of course, the former deserves more sympathy than the latter.
Similarly, many flippers source mint or near mint ungraded items, submit them for third party grading, and then charge very high mark ups as compared to what they paid to source the item. Of course, the market is responsible for dictating whether an AFA 85 piece is worth, for example, double an AFA 80 example of the same piece, and these flippers are simply operating within the confines of those markets. Still, if more folks asked themselves whether they really should be entitled to charge a 50%, 100%, or higher mark up on a graded piece versus that same piece ungraded simply because they paid $40 to get the item graded (when they really did nothing to add value to the item or otherwise increase its displayability), our hobby would be a much better place and collectors would likely be less resistant to third party grading services.
Wait until you get the item in hand before you flip it.
Too many collectors are, for reasons unbeknownst to me, so eager to flip an item that they will list the item for sale before they receive it from their source. In some extreme cases, I have seen flippers list an item the same day that they found it. People have a right to sell anything once it is their property, but it is frankly distasteful to sell a piece promptly after someone else sells it to you. If the flipper advertises his or her sale of the item on the same forum from which it was sourced, that’s obviously even poorer etiquette. Perhaps most importantly, one should wait until they have received an item before flipping it since a lot can happen to that item in transit on its way to the flipper.
Take your own pictures of the item when it is in hand to use to advertise your sale.
As discussed above, a lot can happen in transit. On that basis, if a flipper uses its seller’s pictures to flip the item before the item is in hand and the item ends up being damaged in transit on the way to the flipper – which happens more than it should – the second purchaser has now paid for an item in lesser condition than the flipper advertised it to be. That likely will create an awkward situation among the flipper and his buyer as they will be left to negotiate a discount to the sale price to account for the non-disclosed damage or will be forced to cancel the transaction. Frankly, given that just about everyone has a digital camera on their mobile phone, using the original seller’s pictures to sell the item is about as lazy as it gets. And certainly don’t use those pictures to flip unless you have the seller’s permission to do so!
Pack the items cycling in and out of your hands as well as humanly possible to protect them in transit.
Vintage collectibles, most notably mint on card figures, were not intended to be shipped numerous times over a 35-year period. We all have seen too many vintage items damaged in transit – bubbles torn off the card, figures popping through bubbles, vintage boxed items crushed, etc. With more buying and selling comes more shipments of those items, which correspondingly brings more risk of damage. If you are going to be a flipper, that’s fine. Just please make sure you take extra special care to properly pack all the items cycling in and out of your hands.
Be aware of the forum you use to sell the item.
If you purchase an item on a particular web-based forum, Facebook collecting group, etc., it is generally poor form to list the same item immediately for sale at the same forum at a higher price. At the end of the day, it’s most certainly optics to say that if, for example, you buy something on SWFUK it’s better to then to flip the same item on eBay or elsewhere rather than on SWFUK, but really it does just look better. There is an element of optics to all of this. With that said, the number of forums on which collectors sell items is very limited, so more likely than not your seller is going to see that you are flipping the item he or she sold you regardless whether you sell it on a different forum from which you purchased it or not. But if you weren’t dishonest about your intentions in your original purchase, your seller will have less reason to squawk.
Hopefully I have covered most of it, but if I have inadvertently omitted some additional tips people should heed in order to flip in a well-mannered and responsible fashion, please let me or others know. This article was intended to start a dialogue, and encourage people to think a bit more about how they buy and sell in our hobby, how those practices may affect others, and how ultimately the competing interests of profit making and being respectful to others in the hobby may easily be harmonized.