Military Trader recently had the opportunity to talk to with Troy Kinunen, the owner of MEARS Online. We talked to him about the company’s new foray into the militaria marketplace.
MT: As a newcomer to the militaria hobby, many may not know who you are, Troy. Tell us about yourself and company.
TK: My name is Troy R. Kinunen, 44 years old, raised in northern Wisconsin. I have been a collector my entire life: Bugs, rocks, stamps, baseball, cards, autographs, political memorabilia, and now, WWI uniforms, and photography.
In 2003, my passion for sport memorabilia inspired me to form a company called, MEARS (Memorabilia Evaluations and Research Company). With the help of some very talented individuals, I created a system to authenticate, document, and grade game worn jerseys (baseball, football, and basketball), and game-used bats.
Our company has authenticated some of the most valuable items of sports memorabilia in the world, including the 1920 Babe Ruth New York Yankees game-worn jersey which that for the world-record price of $4,400,000.
Shortly after, we launched the marketing arm of our company, MEARS Online Auctions, www.mearsonlineauctions.com.
Since 2008, we have conducted monthly auctions and have routinely brought authentic merchandise to the market place. We specialize in items that cater to all budgets and tastes. Collectors have come to trust the MEARS brand.
One day, a customer brought me a box of old military uniforms. I had no clue what they were. But, I knew how to research.
Within a short time, I was able to determine the uniforms were worn during the Spanish American War. The cut, fabric, color scheme, number and style of buttons, soutache, and overall style all could be examined and compared to known authentic examples. I used many of the same methods that I applied in the evaluation of uniforms, and BOOM! I was instantly hooked on military uniforms.
After spending about 12 months building a database, reference library, and attending as many shows as I could, I found that the military collecting bug was here to stay. During that time I acquired many great items that I thought others would enjoy, thus our venture into conducting military auctions.
MT: So how did you transition your model from sports memorabilia to military relics?
TK: Using the principles of business that we use for our sports auctions, MEARS Auctions launched its first military auction. Our core beliefs are simple:
1. We only deal in authentic items.
2. Absolutely no “shill bidding.” We were the only sports memorabilia auction house in our industry to voluntarily submit ourselves to an independent bidding practice audit.
3. Customer Service First. Without our loyal customers, both bidders and consignors, we are nothing. MEARS Auctions will work hard to sell your item for top dollar, and to provide quality customer service for all of those that bid.
4. State of the Art Auction Process. Our software makes bidding, registration, and tracking the auction easy. With a 15,000 square foot auction facility, our staff of professional photographers, researchers, writers, office support staff, and shipping department, we can insure that your experience with MEARS auctions will be top-notched, from start to finish.
MEARS Auctions also works very closely with consignors, and we are happy to let our customers participate in the lotting and describing of their items. Of course, we will do all of the work ourselves if asked, but we are not professional “know-it-alls” that will not accept outside influence. In fact, we encourage it. We want you to be part of the auction experience.
5. Transparency. Every item that we have ever sold is archived on the MEARS site. This creates a lifetime of accountability for what we claimed an item to be and the sales price. As long as we are in business, the condition, description,
and final price realized is posted online. If you see a price realized, it is a real price. If we state an item is in near mint condition, it is. MEARS does not practice price manipulation by advertising prices realized for items that actually did not transfer title.
6. Full disclosure of restoration or added on items. At MEARS auctions, we understand that sometimes a patch was added, a tear repaired, or a helmet matched with the same unit uniform. In those instances when MEARS has determined such, those facts will be clearly stated in our descriptions.
7. Guaranteed Payment. MEARS Auctions has conducted more than 50 auctions since 2008. Our consignors, 100% of them, have been paid in 30 days on collected funds. We are one of the quickest paying auction houses in the business.
MT: You have initiated your military auctions this past April. Are you currently accepting consignments?
TK: With a world class infrastructure in place, MEARS auctions is ready to accept consignments to allow collector the opportunity to partner with us to market their items. Selling with MEARS is simple. If you have an item that you would like to auction, please contact us at email@example.com. Please provide us with:
Brief description of item, Photo, if available.
A MEARS Auctions representative will respond back within 24 hours. At that point we will send a consignment agreement which states auction end date, item(s) description, minimum bid/reserve, and payment terms (30 day payment to consignor on collected monies). Complete the form, and send to the MEARS Auctions headquarters, we will do the rest!
While your item is in our possession, your item is fully insured with a policy from the Collectables Insurance Company. Various levels of security protect your item while in our possession. After processing your item into the MEARS Auctions, your lot will be heavily marketed via the 3,000,000 web viewers that enter our auction on a monthly basis. Emails notifying potential bidders will be sent to directly via our ever growing mailing list. Additional online advertising in the form of web banners will promote the auction, and finally, MEARS Auctions has a large presence on social media.
MT: How do your auctions work?
TK: Our auctions are all conducted online. Auctions typically run 10 days and end on a Saturday evening. We have found that Saturday yielded the most bids and guaranteed the highest price realized to our consignors. Both bidders and consignors can follow the auction process, as it is transparent to all, with final price realized posted on our website.
Once the auction ends, invoices are sent within 24 hours of auction close. MEARS accepts payment via PayPal, all major credit cards, bank transfer, personal check, and PayPal. Monies are collected and consignors are paid 30 days after auction end date.
MT: What about firearms? Does your business have an FFL for the transfer or firearms?
TK: Currently, we are not accepting firearms for sale. We feel there is a big void for a qualified auction house to offer uniforms, helmets, photographs, personal items, etc. for sale. Those are the items we are going to focus.
There are several other established and qualified auction houses that accept firearms. It is topic we are going to monitor and review the option at a future date.
MT: There have been many “military-specific” auction businesses come and go over the past decade. Why are you betting on yours staying afloat where many others have sunk?
TK: First, many auction houses that have failed were full time collectors that tried to be a part time auction house. MEARS Auctions is a full time auction house, with a 15,000 square foot dedicated building and infrastructure that employees a full time staff of consignment directors, writers/researchers, photographers, shipping / receiving personnel, and accounting/bookkeeping. By conducting monthly auctions, we have created a synergy which helps maximize the efficiency of each department.
The positive response from potential consignors and bidders has been overwhelming. After attending the recent “Show of Shows” in Louisville, the support for an auction like I envision was almost universal.
The timing of our unveiling of a new military auction was not coincidental. It has been brought to my attention that many people are stinging from the recent demise of Manion’s International Auction. Interested parties have asked, “What lessons from the rise and fall of that prominent military auction house are you paying particular attention?
Although I am not internally familiar with the workings of other auction houses, I can state, for the record, that we do not use consignor’s money—EVER.
Your money is put into an account, and a check is sent in 30 days, period. Under no circumstances do we use your money for anything. It is not our money. By charging a buyer’s premium, seller’s fee, and maximizing the staff and resources of our existing business, we remain profitable, and can continue to offer your military items for sale and guarantee a fast and accurate payment to our valued consignors.
MT: It sounds like you have carried many lessons from the sports memorabilia market into this new venture. But, militaria collectors are not the same as sports collectors. And let’s face it, it takes years to acquire the knowledge to handle and authenticate military relics. How is MEARS going to accomplish that?
TK: MEARS Auctions has a long term commitment to the military auction business. We have partnered with Wisconsin native and military historian Craig Luther to serve as the Vice President of Military Auctions. Craig brings unsurpassed levels of knowledge, passion, and integrity to the MEARS team.
Note that I have referenced, several times, “our long term commitment to military auctions.” We currently have scheduled nine military-specific auctions, spanning the next four years. That’s how we are committed!
Craig will be overseeing the military-related schedule:
July 11-19, 2014 Military Auction
October, 2014 Military Auction
February 26th – 28th, 2015 OVMS Show of Shows
April, 2015 Military Auction
July 2015 Military Auction
November 2015 Military Auction
February 2016 Military Auction
July 2016 Military Auction
November 2016 Military Auction
April 2017—100th Anniversary of WWI Extravaganza
MT: That is an impressive schedule, but collectors are more interested in the “stuff.” How are you going to deliver the quality of items serious collectors want?
TK: We know we have to crawl before we can walk. For our first few auctions, we have been very conscience to start with affordable, authentic items that appealed to a wide range of collecting interest.
The July 2014 sale will further showcase the quality of items that MEARS Auctions will offer on a continued basis. Some of the highlights include:
*Cowboy Silent Movie Star Tom Mix Spanish American War Uniform with great provenance
*Documented Rough Rider Battle of San Juan Hill Uniform
*Selection of rare WWI uniforms
*Expanded selection of WWII German and American Helmets, including a paratrooper liner.
*Expanded selection of Vietnam-era memorabilia
The MEARS staff is very excited to work with and learn from the knowledgeable individuals who form the military collecting community. For those interested, our office in South Milwaukee is always open for a tour. Questions can be directed to Troy R. Kinunen at 414.828.9990 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.