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So You Want To Sell Your Built Models?

When I first returned to the hobby in 2006, after a 20+ year break, the thought of what was before me never crossed my mind. I just wanted to build a model. The idea that in a few short years I’d be building dozens of models a year did not seem to be even a possible reality. And certainly the notion of where I’d put all those models never even turned up as a blip on the radar.

However, it wasn’t long before I was drowning in models. With no real thought to intentionally trying to build in large quantities, I somehow ended up averaging about 25-30 built models per year, most all being 1/48 scale World War II aircraft. Spitfires, Hurricanes, P-40s, Airacobras, Thunderbolts and Lightnings, and other very, very frightening things emerged from my model desk.

By mid-2011, I was facing a conundrum. What could I possibly do with all of the models? My shelves were full, and I’d actually begun stacking newer models on older ones. There was not enough room in my ManCave to add more shelving either. It began to dawn on me that I’d likely have to start throwing away older builds to make room for newer ones. (The thought of slowing down never crossed my mind! 😉 )

Then my wife asked a question that at first I scoffed at.

Why not sell your built models?

The idea made me laugh a bit. Who in the world would want to buy a built model? The fun was in building and painting them, not buying them, right? I shook my head and thought “silly non-modeling human… how precious a thought.” But knowing that my wife is most often right, and I am not, I thought I’d check the Interwebs and see if possibly, perhaps, she may be on to something.

A quick visit to Ebay stunned me. There were LOADS of models for sale. The quality ranged from “drop dead gorgeous” to “did you actually look at what you were building?” Which told me I at least had a fighting chance…

So I jumped in. I started selling my built models on Ebay. And for some reason, people purchased them. And purchased them. And purchased them. 

Now, I had some things to learn. Shipping, packing, international orders, figuring out pricing… all were new ground to me. I had some bumps and scrapes along the way, but I quickly got into a rhythm.

I’ve now sold about 200 models, to customers all over the world. (Sound of kazoos as I toot my horn… 😀 ) And occasionally, friends will ask me “what do I need to know to sell my models online?” And while I’m sure there are many good methods, I outline for them the method that has worked well for me.

Pick A Place To Sell

There are many places to sell your models online. You can do it on a website you build yourself. You can pick some shopping cart software and start a store. There are groups on Facebook, and sites like Etsy. However, my choice was Ebay.

Now I know many people despise Ebay. I get that. However, I found it worked for me. For one, the amount of traffic that goes through the site daily is massive. I never have to think about “will someone see my model?” I know they will. I see it in the numbers. Not only people viewing the model, but also watching it. 

Additionally, Ebay makes it rather easy to do if you pay attention and read their documentation. Figuring shipping is not difficult at all. (More on that.) Collecting payments is easy. Uploading photos, and setting up your product is not a problem either. And it provides good protections for both buyers and sellers. Is it perfect? No, of course not. But the reality is no software platform for selling online is. You will pay fees (more on that too…), and at times you will be frustrated. But in all those sales, I’ve had one issue… and it was something Ebay pointed at the buyer, not me.

Still, I’m not advocating for Ebay. What I am saying is:

  • Choose a sales platform that has good traffic
  • Look for ease of use
  • Make note of fees
  • Insist on good protections for you AND the buyer

If you get those things sorted out, you are on your way. Of course, once you’ve picked a platform, you have to list your model.

Some Basics Of Listing

While not all customers give me feedback, many of the ones who do – often in personal messages – let me know they appreciate truthful listings first and foremost. I try to describe a model in realistic terms. If it has a smudge on the canopy, I point that out, and usually include a photo. I provide multiple, clear photos against a neutral background to show the model from every angle. 

Additionally, I always try to make information such as what kit was used, the scale of the model, and any particular features it may have very clear. Long time customers would recognize my consistent use of terms like “medium weathering” versus “heavy weathering”. Or saying I was “extremely happy” with a result versus “very happy”. Other information that helps sell the model might be particular aftermarket items used, or if the markings have some historical significance.

The key to the listing description is to sell the features of the product. But don’t oversell it. My preference is to avoid the use of “pro built” or “museum quality”, because I see so many (frankly) awful models that use those terms. The few times that people contact me and ask “are you a pro builder?”, I let them know that if they use “professional” to mean I derive part of my income from building and selling models, then yes, I suppose that term fits. But if they mean do I think I have some particular skill, or have awards, or wear my knit cap low over one eye as I sip my espresso… no, not at all. At best, I am a reasonably experienced modeler who does a pretty good job.

In other words, focus on selling the model in your listing. Consistent sales and good feedback over time will sell you.

The takeaways:

  • Write good, objective, truthful descriptions
  • Focus on the features and interesting points of the model
  • Use good, well lit photos against a neutral background, showing every angle, feature, and even flaw

Shipping The Model

Most of the folks that ask me about my experience selling are OK with all of the previous points. But when I get to the point of describing shipping, that is where they get scared and say “never mind”. 

And I’ll admit – when I first began selling my models, I lost my lunch on shipping for the first few. But I stuck with it, and over time, I learned some things that made the process much smoother.

First, and I can’t stress this enough, it really made my life easier to enter the box’s size and weight into Ebay and let them calculate shipping. This does several things. It eliminates people feeling you are gouging them for fixed rate shipping. They can go to the postal service’s website, and see that a box of the size and weight you list is the price they are being charged. Simple. (And for those of you thinking “but what about box costs, etc.”, read on…)

Second, packing the model to survive transport is key. At first, I would build a fairly complicated internal structure of cardboard to reinforce the inside of the box, and then used foam peanuts to stabilize the model. That worked good, but I did see occassional breakage. And it took about 45 minutes to pack up a model.

A few years ago, a client asked if I could ship his model in fiber fill, with no rigid framework. I was hesitant at first, but as he insisted. I went ahead and obliged. I first put a small amount of the fiber fill in a plastic grocery bag, put the model in, and added more fiber fill. This would contain any broken parts within the bag. I then added more fiber fill in the box, placed the bagged model inside, and finished filling it up.

I was pleasantly surprised with the results. My breakage rate went down from 5% to less than 1%. And clients loved the method. To top it off, I could pack a model in about 10 minutes.

Another key to packing is to use new boxes. I can’t stress this enough. A new box has a rigidity and structural soundness that a used one does not. Almost any used box already has a crease or weak point somewhere, and that is almost a guaranteed point of failure. Now you may be thinking “but new boxes cost money!” They can – but they don’t have to. While I do buy large quantities of boxes in certain sizes from time to time, most of what I use are Priority Mail boxes from the US Postal Service. They are free. (Just make sure you do NOT get the flat rate boxes.) As most of my sales are in the US, it works perfectly. New boxes also do another thing for me – they convey a sense of caring that the model gets to the customer in one piece. Almost half my buyers are repeat customers, and several have told me that they appreciate something as simple as new boxes. Any cost is worth it.

Third point- I always use tracking. Period. No exceptions. This protects the me, the seller, against charges of “it never arrived”, and it also lets the buyer know when the model will arrive, and at what point it is at any given time in the process. And it doesn’t have to be the “sign for” type of tracking. Just simply seeing that the package was delivered at the front door is good for most buyers.

Of course, the biggest thing people want to know is…

How Do You Price The Model?

I’m not sure why this seems to trip folks up so often. I think, at the root of it, is a misconception about how things are assigned value. In a strict business sense, value is generally labor+material+ancillary costs = price. (I know that’s not an MBA proof equation, but it works for these purposes.) Modelers that I talk to tend to overvalue the labor part. “Surely my hours and hours and hours spent at the workbench are worth at least $20 per hour!” That may be, BUT… if you spent 50 hours on that model, and you price it at $1000, and you’re trying to sell a 1/48 scale WWII fighter, guess what your effective hourly rate will be?

Zero. Zilch. Nada. Because no one will buy it. (Unless you are a well known name, and at that point they’re not buying the model, but YOU.)

Plus, I always thought about the fact that I would build models anyway. It’s not as if I decided “well, if no one buys my models, I’ll quit the hobby and take up bird watching.” I’m going to build anyway. And for years, my rate was zero dollars an hour anyway because the models sat on my shelf. 

To nail down a price, here’s what has helped me.

First, I factor in the cost of the kit. That is the baseline. If I can’t get at least that back, it may not be a model I want to sell. Next, I add in aftermarket costs – resin, photoetch, decals, and anything else. And I limit my buying to items that will only help the sale of the model. A model that could have a good chance of getting 2 or 3 times the kit cost may run into issues if you buy so much aftermarket that it exceeds the cost of the kit itself.

Second, I have been able to figure out an average cost of supplies per model. I’ve tracked this for years, factoring in how much I spend on paint, glue, brushes, washes, shipping material, etc. each year, versus how many models I build. The number has hovered around an average of $8 per model for the last 5 years. So I factor that into the price. (Please feel free to use that number too, as a starting point!)

Third, I make sure I have a good understanding of the fees whatever services I use to sell will charge me. I know Ebay will take a slice, and Paypal will to. So I factor that in. I’ve never understood when folks complain about fees like that, when it is simply just another line items cost to be factored in.

(Shipping is not factored in to the cost. Because I enter that into my selling site (Ebay, in this case), I always know shipping will be accounted for. And “handling and packing” is factored into the second point above.)

With those three things factored in, I know the minimum cost I can charge for the model to break even.

At that point, the rest is simply me determining how much profit I want to make. On most models, I try to target about 50% profit as my starting bid. So if a model’s overall cost – factoring in the items above – is $50, then I set the starting bid at $75. From that point on, the market will tell me the value of the model.

I’ve had some models I thought were my very best work go for minimum bid. And others that I thought were simply so-so go for 3-4 times the opening bid. 

You may assign a different value, of course. You may choose a 100% profit, and sell at a fixed cost. You may want to simply get back the money you spent, and go for a lower number. It’s entirely up to you. Just do keep in mind that the value is set by you AND the eventual buyer. If no one buys it, you know your value was set too high.

Wrapping Up

Of course, there are a lot of other factors that go into the process, but most are simply subsets for one of the above points. And different people sell for different reasons. I sell to stay in the hobby, and to provide additional income for my family. Model building for me is a part time job, really. (One that I do love though!) For some folks, it may simply be a way to get a little extra cash, and keep the shelves cleared off.

Also, it’s not for everyone. It can be frustrating. While 99% of my client interactions are all positive, the 1% that remains can make me question why I decided to do this in the first place. And I can testify to the fact that if you really go down the rabbit hole of selling too deep, it can rob the hobby of any fun. Working out of that can be difficult. It was only about a year ago I was considering giving up the hobby altogether because I’d gotten so engrossed in selling. (Happily, I did not do so… 🙂 ) So be aware there is a “dark side” to it that can sneak up on you.

I do hope you will view the ideas I’ve outlined  as a starting point. It is certainly not the only method, but simply an method. What works well for me may seem to be the worst thing ever for someone else. (Which is OK!) And I always want to refine my methods and thinking, so please do leave comments if you have ideas, or things that have worked for you.

Finally, you may wonder why I did not address commission builds. I have done those too – about 1 in 4 models I’ve sold has been a commission build. And that process does have its own nuances.

But that is best saved for another blog entry… 😉

Image is from the collections of the State Library of New South Wales.

2 comments

  1. Excellent article. I am in same boat as writer. I had no room, the models I kept no-one but me appreciated, the hobby got to expensive, and I needed some cash to survive. So I started to sell on Ebay. I also build for others per request. I made the same exact mistakes, ran into the same barriers, ended at the same place. Something the author did not touch on is the sense of satisfaction you get from someone else appreciating your work. The customer satisfaction factor is very very rewarding. Knowing my model is sitting on someone’s display case in some part of the world you have never been is awesome. Its great when repeat customers look for your work and follow your work. That is what really drives me. I have even developed good long distance friendships with customers around the world who then work with me on a project providing research, tips, suggestions, and requests as the build progresses. It is so cool! This was such a “lone” hobby for most of my life, but now it is not. It also pushed me to make better models, and to take more challenges in order to meet demanding needs of customer base and the market. Great article.

    1. Thanks Paul! Glad you liked it.

      I can relate to what you describe – I’ve had the same feeling. Knowing someone else enjoys the models really means a lot. And I’ve made some good friends along the way too. A few have even sent me photos of the model sitting on their shelf, which is really cool to see.

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