Mark and Andrea Hutto have a passion for precious metals and rare collectibles. As young college students on break they took to the road traveling Eastern Europe collecting and selling rare coins, gold and silver jewelry and precious stones. Eventually their passion grew into a full blown business specializing in wholesale and retail of precious items. They worked directly with buyers and sellers from all around the world and it wasn’t until last year that they opened their doors to the public with a store in Ashland. We stopped by their shop to learn more.
Mark & Andrea, thanks for being here today. You guys seem to have gone on some fascinating adventures over the years and have been involved with some very interesting items. Can you give us a little background?
We started buying and selling valuables in college when Mark was an exchange student in Hungary. It was a hobby that started with one Roman coin. The first time we laid eyes on a real ancient coin, Mark saw the opportunity to trade. It was a Sestertius from the time of Hadrian. That coin was almost 2000 years old, but besides the patina, it was practically in new condition. The dealer placed the large coin on the table and named his price. Just the fact that such an item was available opened the door in our minds to the possibilities. Mark’s father was in the business years earlier, but did not have enough time to pass all his skills to Mark before his untimely death. Mark did however inherit his father’s natural talent to find items of interest and value.
Later, just for fun, we began placing ads and buying estates around the countryside of Hungary. I remember we visited one home where the family wanted to sell an old World War II photo album along with a Biedermeier pocket watch from 1848. Mark still remembers to this day the name of the soldier who shot the photo album, in fact we still have it along with that watch. It was part of our first estate purchase.
We took the contacts we met along the way and began to create a network of buyers and sellers that we still work with to this day. We have also expanded what we trade to include coins, watches, diamonds, jewelry and other valuables. In fact today we buy more jewelry and watches than we do coins.
You also do estate appraisals – what might be involved in such an undertaking?
An estate appraisal is different from an insurance appraisal. Estate appraisals reflect the actual trading value on an item for the purpose of determining the value of an estate. Insurance appraisals are normally double the retail value as they reflect the value to create the item from scratch under unfavorable conditions. Insurance appraisal values generally can never be reached as they represent not the value of the actual item in question, but the cost to make it again. This includes designs costs, casting fees, labor and talent. Most pieces were made in a production line and thus these costs are spread out over multiple pieces. The insurance appraisal assumes all these costs will be incurred remaking this one piece. The estate appraisal is superior for determining value as it reflects the realistic price that can be obtained on the market. This would include precious metal content, the value of the stones in the current marketplace as well as any collectible premium if the item is in high demand. Generally, for newer items there is no collectible premium, where antique items in pristine condition often have a premium.
Mark, you had shared that one of the best parts about your business has been coming in contact with all the interesting stories associated with the merchandise. Can youplease tell us a little bit about this?
It’s always fun to hear about items that come in and customers who are buying pieces from us like to hear the stories behind them. Recently we had a family visit our shop from Northern California. They brought with them a gold nugget hanging on an antique chain. I estimated by the craftsmanship the piece was from the late 1800s. They flashed some paperwork that showed the nugget piece was from the Klondike gold rush and the chain and nugget were made into jewelry by Horseshoe Jewelry Store in Crescent City California in 1881. The nugget was consistent in karat quality and appearance to those from the Klondike. The story matched the goods, so we purchased it. The family came to see us because they heard we would not melt historical pieces. The chain and nugget are sitting in our shop right now, and we have no plans to melt it. We want to find a home for it. Every piece has a story, I enjoy the most the ones with a touch of local history.
After years of travel and working in the wholesale markets you have opened your shop in Ashland. Can you tell us about its focus and services you are offering?
Our focus used to be business to business. We were essentially wholesalers offering items to other businesses for retail. Much of what I learned about investing and markets was from my Grandfather Jack Austin, and the company carries his name. We took our concept of buying and selling to businesses and started buying from the public in September of 2011. We basically treat sellers from the public with the same respect as our business clients. We offer our clients a local solution to selling their better estate items.
Mark, many people have gold or silver items that they might be interested in selling. Can you talk to us about the value you give to the customer and how they can save their gas by working locally with you rather than going to Medford or worse, selling their item to a traveling vendor?
The only reason someone would drive to Medford to sell their valuables is because they believe they might get paid more by doing so. In reality this is not the case at all. When we first opened we had customers who would come in, get quotes, say they “needed to think about it” and then drive to Medford only to find our offer was higher. We would see them come in after leaving and we knew exactly what happened. We would not open a business of this nature in Ashland if we were not more competitive in our payout, than shops in Medford. We have people driving here from Medford and northern California, because we pay that much better. We see business increase when the out of town “Road Shows” visit the valley. The smart sellers price check and the ones that do get paid well. Most of the customers that come to us from the roadshows find that we pay two to three times more than they do. If you were paid $1,000 at a roadshow it is more likely than not that you lost out on $1,500 to $2,000 that you should have been paid. The roadshow staff could care less if the customer is angry, they will come back in town under another name and likely never see that person again. Ashland is a small town, we prefer to make friends and foster a business relationship that creates a good reputation.
How can you pay two to three times more?
We are here to stay in business, not to do business for a week and then leave town. The second factor is operating cost – our operating costs are much lower. A roadshow costs five to ten thousand dollars a day to run. The cost of running full page advertisements as well as TV ads, salaries, hotel conference room rentals, travel and more all take away from payouts. We as a local shop literally operate at a fraction of their costs. The only reason people drive out of town to these shows or other shops is they simply do not know about us and our philosophy.
Selling or letting go of family heirlooms can be an emotional process for many of us. What steps do you go through to insure that the customer is being adequately compensated?
When it comes to buying or selling anything there are a few logical factors that are used to determine if one should sell or not. Normally in the shop if I see a person who is very attached to an item, I will tell them not to sell it. That may seem strange, but the fact is if a person is not ready to let go of an item, they leave with a bad feeling and ultimately this reflects on our business. Reputation is everything. Logical steps a person should take when considering their option to sell is to first ask how often they use the item. When was the last time they used it? Is it a liability to keep it? Is the payout enough to make it more worthwhile to sell than to keep? Ultimately it’s the market that determines the value though, not emotional attachment. We are experts on the market for the items we trade in. We have a large network of collectors and companies that purchase our items. We can find out what it’s worth and show the customer how we came to that conclusion. I personally think we have the best buying program in the valley for higher end valuables such as Rolex and Patek Philippe watches, large diamonds and higher end coin collections as well as estate jewelry items.
As you have been buying and selling precious items for over 18 years now, what are some of the top qualities you look for when working with an item as the buyer?
Marketability is the single most important factor for any item. The current economy plays a major role in what is marketable. During times where the economy is shrinking, there are certain core items that still do well. For example US coin collections are currently moving at strong prices. We buy entire collections of coins from anywhere in the world – we can market them easily, and because of this we can pay well for coins. Precious metals are still high, so any items such as scrap gold or silver are strong. Vintage and antique jewelry can be strong if the items are made of gold and/or contain gem quality diamonds and are well preserved. For premiums on antique jewelry the piece must be in top condition. In the most recent wholesale reports, diamonds have started to fall in the global market and this trend is expected to continue, however right now, larger diamonds are still in high enough demand to be marketable. Rolex watches have fallen a bit recently as well, but like larger diamonds they still have marketability. So far people have been very happy with the prices realized on better watches and diamonds. Things that seem to always do well are sterling service sets. Service sets that are used but complete with tray and all pieces are generally worth from $2500 to $4500 or more. Sterling flatware has a general upward trend as well. More people are finding that they do not use their sterling flatware and service sets and want to part with them for the right price, but there is also a rising demand from newly affluent people who want these sets.
What do you look for in being a seller?
Selling is fun; the nice thing for us is that it’s almost a hobby because we do not rely on retail sales to run our business. Our main objective is to buy, but we love to offer items to the local public before we broker it to businesses and collectors outside the valley. Because we get so many items in, we can change what is in our cases often. This keeps things fresh and interesting. Some items that we stock regularly are the pieces Mark designed during his trips to Bali. There are some beautiful gemstones set in sterling as well as animal designs that he put together over the years. He even designed a few Tungsten wedding bands that are unique to our shop. Antique pieces that come in will get a few weeks of display time in one of our cases before they are shipped off. As sellers we want to be competitive and unique.
Best advice ever given about buying and selling precious materials?
Don’t gamble! Knowledge is important. One should always know what one is buying and never purchase something without knowing the market prices. Likewise, it is best to research your items online before going into a shop just to be sure you are being treated fairly. If you have time, shop around, but I tell people if you want to shop around, let us be your last stop. You will be much happier if you do.
What tend to be the biggest mistakes people make when setting out to sell a precious item?
Assuming that going to a larger city or to an out of town buyer will result in a higher payout is the most common mistake I see. You want to sell your item to a reputable dealer, someone who is interested in a long-term business relationship, not just a quick transaction. There is a lot of emotion in selling heirlooms or jewelry that might have feelings and memories attached to it, but be logical in how and where you sell it.
What types of items are you looking to buy currently?
A complete list would be: Coins and currency from around the world, gold & platinum jewelry, diamonds, dental gold, placer gold, sterling flatware, sterling service and tea sets, 1960s and earlier sports memorabilia, and fine watches such a Rolex and Patek Philippe.
Any interesting stories you have ran across recently?
The most interesting story I have encountered so far was a lady who brought in a large box of sterling plates and bowls. She said she needed $500 to pay some bills. I asked her if she only wanted to sell $500 worth of goods or did she want to sell it all even if the total was over $500. She said she would be ecstatic if she could get more than $500. After about 15 minutes of going through her items, I wrote a number on one of our note pads and turned it upside down. I asked her what she thought her plates and bowls were worth. She guessed, “about $600?” I guess she was feeling a little optimistic and upped her expectations a bit from the original $500. I flipped the pad over and it said $5,350.00. She almost did a backflip. People ask me why we would pay that much to a person who was only expecting $500 when they came in. I tell them that is not how a brokerage works. If you went to a stock broker to buy or sell an item and he or she decided to pay you less or more depending on how they felt or what you said, how long would that broker be in business? You pay the market value – when you do, some people might be very surprised, but most tell others of their good experience.
Finally, any last words to our readers?
We love Ashland and want to provide a great service to Ashland and the surrounding cities. We could have opened in a larger city, but we wanted to bring something new and interesting to the community we love and cherish.