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About Alan Miller Stamps

A Place of His Own...

Brooklyn Dealer Alan Miller Cherishes the Independence His Business Brings

Stamp dealer Alan Miller works in his office at the $5,000 roll-top desk he aquired along with a stamp collections. He specializes in retail and wholesale U.S. stamps, plus mail-bid sales and shows.

At 50, Alan Miller is as typical a stamp dealer as you'll ever find. He could be the model for every person who dreams of building a life around an independent job out of his or her home. On one hand, Alan works seven days a week to make it possible. On the other, he takes off a half day or a day as he wants and only spends an hour or two a day filling orders in the summer.
He was born in Brooklyn; he buys and sells U.S. stamps as he has since he was in junior high school. Alan says his annual sales run in the mid-six figures.
His business is a one-man operation. Alan does everything connected with it, except for hiring some friends to help him send out mail-bid sale catalogs twice a year.
The twice-yearly sale produces 40 percent of Alan Miller Stamps' total annual sales. Wholesaling to dealers and selling through auctions accounts for another 30 to 35 percent, and 20 percent comes from filling mail order want lists. The remaining 5 to 10 percent is earned selling at stamp shows.

Waiting for Dad

Alan's father, who was a naval architect, started giving stamps from around the world to his son when Alan was about 5. "It seemed like everyone in his office collected stamps," Alan recalls. "I'd wait for him every night at 5 o'clock to see what he brought me."
Another interest of Alan's from as early as he remembers is making money. As a schoolboy, he would write to large companies and ask for stickers showing the companies' logotypes. Then Alan sold the stickers to classmates for 250 each.
By the time he was in junior high school, he had started buying small stamp collections at auctions, breaking them up and reselling them through auctions for a profit. "In my first three years of business, from 1972 to 1975, I made $1,200 profit total," Alan says.
In 1977, while he was still in college, he met a doctor at a J.&H. Stolow sale who was a collector and who encouraged Alan to begin his own mail-bid sales. The doctor paid all of Alan's expenses for the first sale and contributed half the lots. The other lots were Alan's.
Alan realized about $2,000 from the sale and has done two to three sales of his own each year since. He says his mail sales have only one stamp or set of stamps available for each lot described.
Alan attended college full time and graduated as an industrial arts teacher from City College of New York in 1979 after 3-1/2 years. Between then and 1981, he was a junior-high shop teacher, sold stamps and earned a master's degree in special education.
He arranged his college schedule so that he usually was at school from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m., three days a week. That left four days a week to do his stamp business.
Alan started selling at stamp shows through American Stamp Dealers Association member Gary Gross, whom he met as he was waiting in line to pay a bill at a Scott auction in 1980. In 1981, Alan began helping Gary at shows and was able to sell some of his own material at the table. At the end of each show, Alan paid Gary some if Alan had a good show. If he didn't, he paid nothing; and Gary got free labor.
As Alan began selling more, he moved to splitting costs 50-50 with Gary. Alan joined the American Stamp Dealers Association himself in 1985 and still shares booths with Gary at shows.

Hobby changing

By the time Alan became a teacher, the stamp hobby also was changing from the days of Alan's childhood when many children collected stamps.
In 1981, the principal of his school asked Alan to sponsor a stamp club. Alan sent notices to all of the teachers, and not one of the 1,300 pupils in the school was interested in joining.
"I didn't like teaching particularly," Alan says. "I found it to be more of a baby-sitting job. And teaching began getting in the way of my stamp dealing." Among other things, he couldn't attend stamp auctions as he wanted when he was locked into a teaching schedule.
Although his mother didn't understand why he would want to become a stamp dealer and his future parents-in-law didn't think highly of it, Alan decided being a full-time dealer was the right path for him.
"At the beginning, one of my greatest fears was that I wouldn't be busy," he remembers.
In his first week as a full-timer, Alan went to a Robert A. Siegel auction, where he inspected an old foreign accumulation in a huge box that had an estimated selling price of $300 to $400 in the auction catalog.
Alan found a few pages in one album contained complete U.S. Colombians, Trans-Mississippi's and Offices in China.
Alan recalls that bidding opened at $250. At $800, the rest of the room dropped out, and only Alan and a telephone bidder were left.
At $8,000, Alan and the person on the phone bid simultaneously, and the auctioneer got confused.
Gary Gross, who also was attending the auction, yelled out that Alan had bid first, and the auctioneer knocked the lot down to Alan.
Alan spent his first month as a full-timer breaking down the lot. He found the U.S. stamps were worth the $8,000 he had paid for the lot and that the foreign stamps cataloged another $100,000. When he eventually had sold the entire lot, he had taken in $16,000 for it.
"I've never been idle since then," Alan says.
When he first became a stamp dealer, he purchased 95 percent of his stock at auction. Now, he obtains about 30 percent from auctions and 70 percent privately and from other dealers.
"Dealers like to sell to me because I know what I want, I pay fair prices and I pay quickly," says Alan.

Shows and sales

Selling stamps never is a problem. He attends six New York area shows, plus some internationals, and conducts two mail-bid sales a year.
The shows he does routinely are the two New York ASDA Postage Stamp Mega Events and four of promoter Earl Peltin's White Plains shows.
To be successful at shows, Alan believes, it is important to do the same ones repeatedly to build a clientele.
Alan conducts his first mail sale in May, a month after most collectors have paid their income taxes and are beginning to have discretionary income again.
The second sale is in November, before collectors have begun to spend for the holiday season.
Alan mails about 250 of the catalogs first class and the remainder by third-class bulk.
He has a list of 500 regular mail-sale customers. About half of them bid in any sale.
Perhaps 50 to 100 bids come in from the 2,000 collectors who are not regular customers and who receive catalogs.
"It's really pretty cost effective to mail out additional catalogs, though," Alan points out.
He says the best list he's ever bought was the customers of the John Kaufman auction company after Kaufman died.
Alan says he put in about $2,000 to buy the list along with some other dealers. He acquired approximately 200 customers by mailing to it.
"I find mailing to auction buyers much more efficient than advertising and getting people who don't want to buy that I have to weed out," Alan explains.

Limited advertising

He did recently take an advertisement in the Brookman price guide and has received 40 to 50 responses so far.
It's too early to tell whether the total responses will be worthwhile, he says.
Acquiring one or two good customers can pay for the whole ad, he points out.
Alan will consider buying any collection or collectible that comes his way.
If he doesn't know about the particular area, he finds an expert in the field to help him.
Whether he's buying, selling at shows, through his mail-bid sale or to customers who have submitted want lists, the cornerstone of his business is service. "I give the same service for a $5 order as for a $200 order," he says.
"One of my mottoes is to treat every customer like my only customer. A lot of my customers have been with me for years."

Roll-top bargain

On a typical day, Alan arises about 8 a.m. and goes to his spacious basement office about 9.
He does much of his work at a beautiful roll-top desk.
"It was part of a stamp collection," Alan says.
"They wanted to get rid of everything in the room. I drove up with my friend Gary Gross in his van to get it.
"I wasn't interested in the collection, but I wanted the desk."
Alan sold the collection for what he paid for it and ended up with the desk for free.
He says he's been told it's about 40 years old and worth approximately $5,000.
After going to his office at 9, Alan usually works until 10:30 or 11, when he goes to the post office for the day's mail. He returns and works until 1 p.m. or so, and then lunches.
His goal is to fill as many orders as possible the same day and all of them within 24 hours.
"I think that's why customers stick with meóbecause of the service I give," he says.
In the afternoon, he mails the orders he's filled and picks up stragglers from the morning while he's at the post office.
He usually also takes an hour or two to go to the gym for exercise five or six days a week.
Through the evening, he works on stamps during activities like watching television. He goes to bed about midnight.
"I may work all day and all night, but I don't work straight," Alan adds.
"I can't stare at stamps for more than two hours at a time."
He also takes time for activities with his family. He has been happily married for 25 years to Jacqueline and has two daughters, Heather who is 22 and Ilyssa who is 18.
In previous years, he went to school with his youngest daughter to talk to her class about stamp collecting.
He gave each child an American Stamp Dealers Association album, worldwide and Disney stamps and hinges.
"They were fascinated by it," he says. "The kids paid attention for 45 minutes, and later they asked for more stamps."

Parts Reprinted with permission of SW The Stamp Wholesaler ó December 1995

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