Wendi Miller and Jim Wharton have always been into collecting things. Instead of only exploring this passion as a hobby, they decided to join forces and start up their own small business in which they sell collectibles.
Since February 2013, Miller and Wharton have been proud partners in a company called Dept 56 Depot, LLC. The online business is based out of Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania where the two reside.
Whether you are looking for holiday villages, trucks, trains, Snowbabies, or other accessories made of porcelain and ceramic, Dept 56 Depot has you covered. The start-up company stocks a wide selection of new and previously displayed items with many from the Department 56 line of collectibles.
Years ago, Miller spotted a mouse scurrying around her apartment on a cold December night and went into a tizzy, trying to catch it and get it out. After finally getting it and burying it in the snow outside, she opened a Christmas present from her parents – a porcelain mouse making a snow angel. How fitting, she thought, that she’d be selling items just like this years later.
Miller describes how the company essentially operates as a dealer for other manufacturers.
“The items we sell are produced by other companies,” Miller says. “We have licenses to sell them, so we can distribute them through our online stores.”
In addition to selling items through the company’s website – www.dept56depot.com – the business operates accounts to sell collectibles on eBay and Amazon.
Miller reassures any potential customer that even though many of the items Dept 56 Depot sells are second-hand, they are all in good shape.
“Everything gets checked for chips or cracks before we sell it,” she says. “We make sure all of the items are in the best shape possible before we even get them.”
Marketing to Small Business Customers
According to Miller, most of the company’s customers are individuals and could range in age from 8 to 80.
“People buy things for newborns and infants,” she says. “On the other hand, seniors are reliving their childhoods through these items since they remind them of the holiday season. It’s really a wide audience we are trying to target.”
Although the customers are primarily from the Internet, Miller says she actually enjoys the interactions she has with them and the interest they show in what the company sells.
“Seeing the people ask the questions about the products is interesting,” she says. “People are looking for more specific answers to questions you’d never even think of, like how large the shoe is on a figurine.”
Much like other small business owners out there, Miller and Wharton face competition by having to give their business an edge in order to pick up customers who’d shop elsewhere. To do so, they stock unique items from reputable brands, unlike other warehouses that buy estates and select various items from them to sell.
The most significant hurdle Miller had to overcome in the initial stages of the company was deciphering the new language she had to learn about running a business.
“It was a challenge trying to figure out all the laws, rules, and regulations of starting up and running a small business,” she says. “Figuring out who to retain as an accountant and a lawyer was a big decision, and I’m glad I found some reputable people for that. There were lots of questions that, as everyday people, we didn’t know how to answer.”
Miller, who spent 20 years in the hotel industry, says it was important for her to have a business partner because of the demands of operating a company. She’s glad she teamed up with someone who complements her skills well.
“It really takes several people to run a business properly,” she says. “When we’re doing buyouts of inventory, Jim is better at negotiating and dealing with people face-to-face. I’m stronger with computer skills and selling items over the Internet.”
As for advice for aspiring small business owners, Miller believes the financial side of starting a business is such a vital aspect to understand before actually doing it.
“Make sure you have a lot of money in your bank account,” she says. “You’re going to need it for the tremendous amount of business expenses you’ll owe.”
Working more than ever is also part of the experience, she says.
“As a business owner, you are going 7 days a week with practically no days or evenings off. You’re constantly on the move. You have to keep your eye on competitors and their pricing. If you don’t, others will.”
Miller and Wharton are clients of 1-800Accountant. In Miller’s words, she’s been very pleased with the accounting assistance she has received.
“We’ve just had a lot of basic accounting questions, especially relating to business taxes. 1-800Accountant has been helpful at answering them. I would definitely recommend 1-800Accountant to friends and colleagues.”
Photo credit: The photograph of the items included in this blog post was provided by Dept 56 Depot, LLC and is used with permission.