Manion’s consignors ask ‘Where’s the money?’

Jody Tucker, CEO of Manion

Manion’s Auction has been a permanent fixture of the military collecting hobby for more than 30 years. In that time, it has experienced extensive growth, economic highs and lows, a tornado, the demise of the “mail-order auction” business and the emergence of internet buying.
   
The Internet also provided buyers with an avenue to communicate with each other. And communicate they have! The last couple of months have seen countless Internet forum threads discussing Manions, from consignment and pay-off to wondering about the health of the business and asking how long it will last.
   
Military Trader has had a long history with Manion’s. In fact, it was on Ron Manion’s suggestion that Antique Trader took the gamble to produce a magazine that would be dedicated to the military collecting hobby. That was more than 17 years ago!
   

During the past couple of months, Military Trader has had several discussions with various Manion’s customers who have asked many questions that the magazine was unable to answer. So, Military Trader created a list of questions and presented them to current Manion’s CEO, Jody Tucker. Below are the questions editor John Adams-Graf posed and Jody Tucker’s responses.

MT:  There seems to be a lot of confusion as to how a “consignment with Manions” works. Can you explain the process and the time involved from the point when a new consignor agrees to send you items until he is paid for the consignment?

Jody Tucker: The process is:

1)    Consignors send product
2)    We try to sell
3)    Timetable dependent on other goods, etc.
4)    Target is to send payment to consignor within 90 days
   
Despite our best efforts, in some instances this 90-day reimbursement window has been exceeded and we recognize that this is unacceptable. I initiated this 90-day payoff window target after taking over as president of Manion’s in 2005 when, at that time, reimbursement windows ranged from between three to 9 months. Since then, we’ve worked hard to meet both old and new obligations, with the intent of shortening pay-off periods from where they were.
   
Recognizing that we still need process improvements in this area, Manion’s has been working with consignors to develop a new reimbursement strategy. As of Sept. 1, 2010, all new consignor monies will be compartmentalized immediately upon receipt to ensure that they are available to pay in an agreed upon timeframe. And as before, the window from once consignment is received until it is sold is solely dependant on the amount of product we have to process and could take anywhere from a few days to get in an auction to a month.

MT: Does the consignor receive a written contract that indicates a time frame in which he can expect pay-off?  If items are unsold at the end of the contract, are they returned to the consignor? Is the shipping the consignor’s responsibility?

Jody Tucker: Yes, we have a contract that explains our payoff and other terms and conditions. Many of our legacy customers have never had a contract.
   
Our contract specifically asks the consignor if they want items back and if so, they are responsible for any fees to get them back, or they can elect to pick them up.

MT: Obviously, not everything sells when first offered. What happens then? 

Jody Tucker: Preferably, we like to reduce price until it sells, but it depends on the particular agreement.

MT: If items are unsold at the end of the contract, are they returned to the consignor?

Jody Tucker: Yes, again it is based on each contract, but the consignor is responsible for either picking up the items or paying to have them returned.

MT: The July 5, 2010, issue of  AntiqueWeek reported that the Kansas Attorney General’s Office has received 25 complaints “mainly from consignors who have not received revenue from sales.” This sentiment has been echoed on very long threads on the Wehrmacht-Awards Forum and U.S. Militaria Forum. How extensive is the backlog on payments?

Jody Tucker: Manion’s is committed to quality customer service and being responsive to our customers needs. In the last 12 months alone, we’ve successfully shipped more than 25,000 items to more than 10,000 satisfied customers around the world.
   
Unfortunately, as with any business, some customers have expressed dissatisfaction on occasion, and at times, the responsibility has been ours. This could be due to authenticity issues, lost or damaged items during shipping, and at times, payments or the payoff period. Unfortunately, we’re restricted from commenting on any individual legal matters. Be assured, however, Manion’s is committed to addressing any outstanding customer service issues and will work to ensure that each individual issue is addressed fairly and equitably.
   
As previously noted, Manion’s strives for a 90-day payoff period. Unfortunately, at times this target period hasn’t been met. In these instances, every effort is made to successfully achieve closure with these customers as quickly as possible. Moreover, Manion’s will be undertaking efforts to better communicate with its customers in the event this occurs in the future to ensure they understand the processes being worked and so that they feel their needs or issues are being adequately addressed.

MT: Having grown up in the hobby, I have been familiar with Manion’s for many, many years. Though many good items have been sold by Manion’s, it has, in my experience, had a reputation as a “dumping ground” for questionable or fake militaria. Do you list everything that is sent to you or is there a process through which items are vetted prior to being offered for sale?

Jody Tucker: One of the first things I did after acquiring the company is to give all employees the authority to reject an item for any reason.
   
Our customer return rate when I came on board was slightly over 10%. It is now 1.5%. Given the amount of material that Manion’s sells annually, I am pleased with this marked improvement and know that our customers appreciate this commitment to quality. Moreover, I might point out that very few if any auction houses have a return policy of any kind and that we are not like many other auction houses in that we process and sell entire collections that are comprised of many different kinds of material. Something for everyone at all price ranges. If we believe an item to be a reproduction, we either reject it or list it in the reproduction category.

MT: What recourse does a buyer have if he wins an item that can be demonstrated to have been misrepresented genuine?

Jody Tucker: We have a “no questions asked” return policy. If the buyer follows our terms and conditions, the buyer can get his/her money back (minus shipping and handling) with no questions asked.

MT: The AntiqueWeek report quoted you as saying the company was “behind several million dollars.” That is a staggering amount for most collectors to comprehend. Readers want to know if you have a new strategy to employ in order to claw back from this?

Jody Tucker: Recently, a letter was sent to all of our current consignors detailing our current situation and our plan for paying on past and future sales.
   
First, an outside firm has agreed to oversee this new plan. The plan proposes to pay all consignors 100% of what they are owed. In some cases, this will take some time—maybe as long as two or three years.
   
Manion’s will continue to accept consignments as before. Proceeds from the sale of consigned goods will be placed directly in a segregated and controlled bank account (the “Account”).  As of this September, a consignor’s share of the proceeds from the sale of consigned goods will be paid to the consignor, per Manion’s normal consignment agreement terms—that is, within 30 days of sale. 
   
The remaining consignment sale proceeds, together with any buyer’s fee (usually 15% of the sale price), will first be used to pay Manion’s lenders and the expenses of operation. The remainder will be paid, pro rata, to each consignor until all consignors are paid in full.
   
Each quarter, beginning no later than Dec. 31, 2010, (or sooner if consignments continue to increase), consignors awaiting payment will receive a pro rata payment for that quarter. Manion’s will provide a progress report to its consignors showing consignment sale receipts, disbursements to current consignors, operating expenses and debt payments, the amount paid to the consignor and other consignors and the overall status of the plan.
   
Manion’s has cut overhead by reducing staff from 26 last year to 16 currently. Other than modest salaries, no other distributions or dividends will be paid to Manion’s ownership, and operating expenses will be strictly monitored.
   
Larry Pistole, one of Manion’s largest customers for years, has agreed to join Manion’s team as of Sept. 1. He will act as Director of Consignment and will monitor and approve disbursements from the account to ensure that costs are controlled and that receipts are properly distributed. 

MT: Does Manion’s own its own inventory that it also runs through the auction?

Jody Tucker: Previous ownership had a large inventory that it sold through the auction. Currently, we have very little—if any—that belongs to the company.
   
We do occasionally purchase items directly, but they are normally from someone local who walks in and just wants to sell vs. waiting for the auction process.

MT: As a result of the bad press British Petroleum has received in the last few months, it is reportedly considering scrapping their “BP” brand. Is there a point when you would consider eliminating the Manion’s banner and reinventing the business?

Jody Tucker: No. Manion’s has built a strong brand and reputation over the last 40 years. We are recognized as one of the best online auction houses in the country and seen as leaders in the industry. Our customers recognize our commitment to quality and service and we’ll continue to meet their needs for the foreseeable future.

MT: Because a person is free to list pretty much whatever he wants on the “List It Now” feature, would you say this has helped or hindered the Manion’s brand?

Jody Tucker: The List It Yourself service is for those that have the time and energy to do all the work themselves and access our customer base. While the service has had some limited success, I don’t think it has had any negative impact on our primary auction.

MT: One of the frequent comments posted on forums has been about a perceived inability for consignors to communicate with Manions, citing failure to answer the phone, return calls or reply to emails. How accurate is this?

Jody Tucker: With more than 80,000 customers around the world, and more being added every day, communicating with customers is critical to our overall success. While incoming e-mail or telephone call volume may result in delayed response at certain times, we are working to put in place new processes that will address these overload periods. Thank you for your understanding and patience as we work to address this. 

MT: And finally, the toughest question that readers ask, will there be a Manion’s International at the end of 2011?

Jody Tucker:
Absolutely. We look forward to serving the needs of the collecting community just as we have for the past 40 years.

For more information on Manion’s International, visit manions.com.

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