The customers that I have for my US stamp business are very different than the set of customers I have for my US and worldwide approval business.

One customer kept just over $1 in stamps that I sent to him. But I spent 93¢ in postage sending that selection with about $35 in material in it. With the cost of the mailing envelope and my time involved, I lost money on him. He’s not getting any more approvals.

Another customer purchased 20¢ of used stamps in a mixture and returned everything else. He put two dimes in a small glassine holder that was from another stamp company. That is how he paid me. This other company charges far greater prices for their material than I do. I know because I studied them. Maybe he was hinting that he was buying from this other dealer instead of me and he wanted to rub it in? More likely, he was just being frugal on how he paid his bill. I don’t think he saw the irony in using a glassine holder from another company to pay his bill to me. At 20¢, he’s not getting any more approvals either.

Honestly, I would feel better if customers like this would just return the whole selection with a note, “Sorry, I just cannot use material like this. Thanks anyway.” I can’t please everyone. Nor do I expect to.

Do customers really think that any business can be sustained by buying $1 or $2 worth of stamps at a time? No dealer can survive on purchases like that. It’s a recipe on how to go broke as a stamp dealer.

I had a few people write to me that they wanted my approvals. In exchange they would send me some of their duplicate stamps and we would just exchange stamps: ten of my stamps for ten of theirs. Sorry, any business is built on generating capital, not exchanging stamp for stamp. Collectors can engage in trading stamps where profit isn’t an issue. But a dealer needs to generate sales, not trades.

Yes, I already had my first thief. One person never returned them or paid for them. You get a few like that. Thankfully, most of the people you meet in the approval business are honest. All of the thieves though are reported to the APS (if they are a member, many times they are not). I also submit their name to the ASDA which maintains a list of people whom dealer members have had bad transactions with these folks. Maybe other dealers won’t be taken like I was.

I bought a book, “How It Was Accomplished” by Andrew Fahsing. Published in 1971, his 64 page book talked about his experiences in the stamp approval business from 1949 to 1969. While some of the information is out of date (like using index cards to track customer purchases – I use my computer), much of it was still relevant.

What I found especially interesting is that he talked about the types of customers he had. Some customers are very good and should be nurtured. Other customers were impossible to deal with. Some were rude. Several were very demanding. And so forth.

It’s been 45 years since his book was published and I can tell you that my experiences very closely parallel his. I’ve had some good approval customers. I’ve had a few that are impossible to please. It’s as if the customers I have today are the same customers he was servicing over 50 years ago. Of course, these are not the same customers. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

What I did find useful in his book (which I leveraged for my own business) is that he talked about how he handled the different kinds of problem customers that he had to deal with. He talked about what worked and what didn’t work. I found his advice to still be pertinent today and I followed his advice. It has helped me.