25 June 2013

Is Malcolm Smith A Spineless, Blithering Liar? You Decide.

This is Malcolm John Smith.
He might look like a man,
but he is somewhat less than that.
You will never guess what’s happened.  It’s all bad.
With less than a week to go until the handover of the shop, Malcolm Smith has reneged on his agreement, betrayed his word and the sale is off.  What a dishonourable toad! 
We had a signed contract, it was totally proceeding.  However, it was contingent on a lease being signed and acceptable.  And Anton the Landlord, who is a real estate agent, apparently doesn’t know how to enter into legally binding leases.  So he neglected to include a Disclosure Statement in the documentation.  All the information in the Disclosure Statement had already been provided to Malcolm by me and Doug some months ago, and it was provided again in the lease.  But because it wasn’t provided by Anton the Landlord on the appropriate form, the lease was able to be voided on a technicality.  We knew nothing of what was going on with the lease between Malcolm and Anton, because it was between them and we had no right to know what their business agreement was.  So this all came as somewhat of a surprise.  Good one, Anton the Landlord. 

But this wasn’t about Malcolm not getting information about the rates and body corporate expenses, etc.  He came to see me just before we closed on Friday afternoon.  He said he was feeling fearful about taking over the business, and people he knows in Sydney had told him how brave he was, but he was able to read between the lines and know they were actually telling him that he shouldn’t go ahead with the purchase.  Like a good gel, I resisted my immediate urge to grasp him around the neck and give him a good shaking, and instead I was nice to him.  How I regret that now. 

So I reassured him that running the shop is one of the cushiest jobs you could find – it’s certainly the easiest job I’ve ever had, the business is a nice little earner (as his accountant had already assured him) and you couldn’t step into a much easier small business.  Doug then arrived at the shop, and was equally encouraging and supportive.  And by the end of our conversation Malcolm said we were quite right, it was all good and that he knew he was being irrational.  He said he would come by the shop on Monday to look at the carpet that we were having cleaned especially for his takeover.  He was lying through his teeth, of course.

For some light relief, here is Caleb playing
with some big old French cast iron
weights.  They were going to be cleaned
up and come into the shop, but will
now be sold at an antiques fair.
Even though the conversation apparently ended on a positive note, it was alarming that he told us that he had been sacked from every job he had ever held, dumped from every relationship he had ever been in, that his family in Sydney wants nothing to do with him, and that until taking on this business his greatest achievement in life had been to paint his house, so as the time approached for him to step into the role of business owner he was feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope.  Thanks for waiting until the last minute to tell us all this, Malcolm! 

Mind you, it is a well-known fact that being an antiques dealer is fraught with intense danger, with high levels of stress, nonstop peril and menace lurking at every turn.  It’s a wonder that we make it through the day, dealing with the amount of extreme jeopardy we face.

Or was that another life?  That’s right, being an antiques dealer in a successful small business is actually a pretty cruisey existence, where you get to buy and sell lovely items, meet nice people who appreciate what you’re offering (and the occasional nutter, it must be said), if you want you can skip off to Europe to shop and play, and the hardest decision on most days is what to have for lunch.  So you can see why Malcolm felt so daunted. 

Everyone who had met Malcolm, which was many of our regular customers, had mentioned in sometimes polite terms and sometimes considerably less than polite terms that there seemed to be something odd about him and that he came across as very strange.  And yes, we all thought that.  But I was not going to tell someone they couldn’t buy my business on the basis of being too strange.  Being strange doesn’t stop me doing business with you – just ask many of our regular customers.  Yes, just joking, regular customers!  You’re all lovely, well-adjusted people.  But apart from his generalized strangeness, the true extent of Malcolm's spinelessness and inability to keep his word became apparent with only days to go before the handover.

Mischka comes to join in, but Caleb is
intent on keeping his new toys to himself. 
But there’s no point telling someone to man up when they have no concept of what it is to be a man.   Even if you enjoy wallowing in your own inadequacies, even if you have done nothing in your life, achieved nothing, have nothing of worth or meaning, you can at least have your personal honour.  Even if you are unable to do much beyond blither about your own shortcomings and how meagre your life is, you can at least decide how you will treat the people around you.  You can have some dignity in how you approach life, however fearful you are on the inside.  At least, that’s what I thought.  How wrong I was. 

So what do we do now?  Anton the Landlord immediately offered us another lease, but hey Anton you just cost us the sale of the business, so we are not inclined to take up that offer.  He wants us to act as if nothing has happened, that his incompetence and laziness hasn’t resulted in the loss of the sale, and that for him it should be business as usual with us as his reliable tenants.  In fact, when he came and showed us the email from Malcolm’s solicitor and said that now he wouldn’t have a tenant from next Monday, I said that this appeared to indicate that the sale of our business also wasn’t proceeding, and he said What about me? Thanks for the sympathy!  His actions had just cost us the sale of the business, and that’s all he had to say – What about me  

After bracing himself Caleb gave an all-mighty
pull on this weight and moved it.  It's a 5kg  
weight, so that's some impressive jaw power.
We saw Anton again today and he again pressed us for an answer on whether we’ll renew our lease on the shop.  We told him that we weren’t happy with him over his negligence with the lease, and he scoffed and said surely we couldn’t be serious that it had anything to do with him.  Yep, that’s what we’re dealing with – lying and dishonourable behaviour to the left of us, laziness and utter incompetence to the right of us.  The Retail Shop Leases Act has existed since 1994, and landlords of retail premises must enter into retail leases in accordance with the Act.  So do you think by 2013 Anton might have read it, seeing how it pertains to his own property that he is leasing?  Too many big words, apparently.

So well, what about Anton?  He doesn’t have us as tenants any more, that’s what.  The rent for our shop is higher than any other in the complex, the body corporate fees just rose 60% in the last period with no explanation, and the water bill for us is the same as the cafes in the same complex because of the shared water meter.  We'd have to drink Olympian amounts of tea and coffee to equal the water usage of the neighbouring cafes, but we still have to pay the same.  And for that we get an incompetent landlord who can’t take care of his own interests, let alone anyone else’s.
In keeping with the
spotted cat pictures in
this blog: a French goldtone
& black enamel climbing
leopard brooch, 8cm long,
c1960. It will be on the 
website soon, and is $42.


So it’s over to Plan B.  In Plan B we still own all the stock and shop fittings that Malcolm was supposed to buy, so we can still sell the stock and use the shelving to present it at antiques fairs.  We shall still undertake buying trips each year, because we’ll still need stock to sell at Fairs and elsewhere, and it’s always good to have things that other dealers don’t have.

So that’s the latest news.  It’s disappointing and we’re angry at both Malcolm who behaved in such a spineless, dishonorable manner, and Anton the lazy and incompetent landlord who allowed it to happen.  Plan B will work for us, but it’s a real pity that the shop will be closing after all our work to build it up.  But we’ll still be going on antiques buying trips, selling the goodies at antiques fairs, building the house, and having circles run around us by a herd of wild moggies.  So I’ll still be blogging, just about Plan B.  Plan B starts on Monday, with breakfast at a nice cafĂ© we know overlooking the Noosa River, followed by the movies.  I've wanted to see the new Star Trek movies for weeks, and now we'll have the time.
If you're able to visit the shop before we close for the last time on Saturday, to offer sympathy and cake, you will be welcome.  Otherwise, emails or comments on the Blog to keep in touch would be great.


06 June 2013

Lies, Damn Lies & Antiques Dealers

Some dealers display their uranium glass under
ultraviolet light, which makes the pieces glow
beautifully.  Beginner buyers are sometimes
surprised to get their item home and find
that uranium glass doesn't glow
under natural light.
In the last week we visited the Nambour Antiques Fair and this time – Hooray! – I remembered my camera.  You know I get grumpy every time we visit this Fair – grumpy as a potential buyer, but entirely encouraged as a potential seller.  So I shan’t complain about it again.  I shan’t. 
Okay maybe I will a little bit.

We found only two things worth buying that were affordable – an Egyptian Revival car radiator cap for ourselves and Yay! a glass battery case for stock.  The radiator cap has a small amount of damage, but we didn’t care and it shall join our small collection of cool vintage radiator caps and car mascots (when we finally find them, buried somewhere in the depths of the garage).  As for the glass battery case, I promised last time I bought one of these that the next one would become stock, so we have to decide which cases we’re keeping and which one is becoming the stock.  They are so hard to find, so getting two within two months is unprecedented.  You never know what you’ll find next when you’re antiques hunting, and that’s one of the things I like best about this job.

Vita often visits our
shop and is always
beautifully dressed.
Others at the Fair were less
stylish, but still memorable.
So that was the good stuff.  On the other hand, there were entire stands at the Fair – the Antiques Fair, where almost everything was reproduction. Undeclared reproduction what’s more, and that’s just wrong.  It’s totally Buyer Beware with some dealers.  I found one woman selling what her sign said was Old Movie Posters and Vintage Advertising.  There was a very famous picture of Le Chat Noir, an advertising poster for a Parisian nightclub from the late 1800s.  This is an extremely famous image, and an original poster would be worth a gobsmacking amount.  So I was pretty sure I had not stumbled across an original in the middle of the Nambour Fair.  I mean, all things are possible in the antiques industry, and never say never, and yet I was pretty sure it wasn’t real.  So I looked again at the sign, which clearly said Old Movie Posters and Vintage Advertising.  But there, right at the bottom of the page - in 2 font – was the word “reproduction”.  So my position of having the only shop (or website) in Australia that sells genuine, original, vintage French advertising remains unassailed. 

Almost everything in this photo is reproduction.  Can you spot the real things?
Then I had one guy try to tell me that some of his plates were Art Deco.  No they’re not, I said, they date from the mid-1950s.  Yeah, that’s what they call Art Deco, he said.  No it’s not, I said, the Art Deco period officially ended in 1939.  Did it really? he said.  Yeah it really did, I said.  Then he wanted me to tell him all I knew about his plates (which wasn’t much) before I moved on ….

An "antique" Bat'leth.  Who knew
that Klingons shopped at the
Nambour Antiques Fair?
…. to a woman selling some quite nice Romanian ceramic eggcups.  I knew they were Romanian because they have a very distinctive look, and I’ve had them myself in the shop.  The big give-away, though, is the “Made in Romania” stamp on the bottom.  They had no price on them, and although my usual policy is that if you can’t be bothered putting on the price I can’t be bothered asking, I know they are usually reasonably priced and they are attractive so they were potential stock.  So I asked the price. 

I don't know, said the woman.  So, free to a good home? I asked, hopefully, which was pointedly ignored.  You know, they are very, very good, she said while she looked me up and down, openly sizing me up to see what she could get out of me.  But puhlease, I’ve dealt with Irish gypsies at some of the big European antiques fairs, and no-one can size up your value to within two cents like an Irish gypsy, and yet I have emerged from negotiations with them a little battered but happy.  So some little Nambour Chit wasn’t going to faze me and I let her give her spiel. 

Yes, it's meant to say "Versace Medusa". 
Totally brand new, and a ridiculous price.
They’re English you know, she informed me. Really? I said, because I would have sworn they are Romanian.  Romanian?? she snorted and tut-tutted at me for being an antiques numpty.  No, no they’re English.  Hmmm, I said, they really do look Romanian to me.  She gave me a insultingly obvious How-dumb-are-you? look and sighed heavily at her misfortune at having to deal with someone so ignorant.  Look, you can tell they’re English by looking at the bottom, she said.  Where is says ‘Made in Romania’, I asked sweetly?  She didn’t miss a beat – oh yes, they’re Romanian, she said.  Very rare, very, very hard to find.  By then she had decided on a price she thought I was likely to cough up, but by then I was pretty well over her so I felt free to tell her that her price was four times what you would pay for the same thing in England.  But you’re not in England now, are you? she said, snarkily.  That’s clear, I said, and how amazing that Nambour is more expensive than London.  And off I flounced.
These vintage toasters are just the ticket for
the proper toasting of crumpets.  But they were
$165! Each!  And that was without their cords. 
Never ever believe a dealer who tells you
that you can easily pick up the old cords at
charity shops, because those days are long
gone and now the cords are like hens'
teeth.  If they were that easy to get, why
hasn't the dealer got them?  And guess what?
 The toaster is useless without its original cord -
a modern cord won't fit at all - so
no crumpets for you.
I know I shouldn’t be precious about people lying to me and trying to fleece me, because it comes with the territory.  And as I said, the Nambour Chit had nothing on the Irish gypsies we regularly encounter on our travels.  But at least with the gypsies it’s done with a smile and a wink and you know they’re trying to scam you, and they know you know, and it’s all very good natured.  And at the end of the day they’re wanting to sell their goods and you’re wanting to buy them, so often some accommodation can be reached if you enter into the spirit and match wits with them and give as good as you get.  They like a bit of banter, and so do I.  But meeting someone who was just plain trying to fleece me, with no sense of humour or even a sense of “the game” was no fun at all.

Calypso loves to help unpack bags of stock
we've brought up from the garage. 
Yep, she's a big help.
So roll on September, which is when our next European buying trip is scheduled.  I have commenced basic planning, and reckon we can get it done in about four weeks.  We don’t like to go for much longer than four weeks, because despite overwhelming public opinion we are not “going on another holiday”.  Yes it’s fun.  Yes we have a great time.  But by golly we also work hard and we’re pretty tired by the time it’s all over.  And don’t get me started on travelling in Economy class – my least favourite bit of every single trip is plane there and back.  And then, as soon as we arrive the pressure is on to make hundreds and hundreds of commercial decisions very quickly – often at stupidly early hours of the morning when any normal person would be snug in bed, and get those decisions right because if you get them wrong it can cost you dearly. 

Anyway, it’s not so massively dramatic because we’ve done this many times, but it is still nice that I feel that frisson of anticipation – the challenge is on and I’d better be good enough to deliver.  We’ll soon see.
Everyone got their vaccinations this week, and then felt off-color the next day. 
The boys appeared to feel it the most - the cat equivalent of man flu - so they both snuggled up and refused to come near me for 24 hours. I was the guilty one because I held them in place while they got their shots.  Two days later and Caleb is still squeaking over his sore back and growling at anyone who touches him.  I'd never heard him growl before and it's a really deep-throated, guttural sound that would be quite impressive if you didn't know that he's a sweet little pussycat who isn't really going to rip your throat out.  Probably not.