Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Been Busy Hickory Nut Pickin' -- jcarolek

It's been an interesting hickory nut season so far this year. My trees are producing abundantly (I call them "my trees" though I neither planted them, nor cultivated them -- still, they are on my property and by that virtue, I have inherited them... they are mine). All I have to do is take a walk through my woods at least once per day, a walk that generally lasts at least two hours, but on weekends can stretch into five or six hours.

OK, I over simplify my part. Yes, I have to hunt the nuts as I walk. I have to stoop and pick each one up from the ground where it has recently fallen. I have to shuck off the thick hull and toss the nut in its shell into my sack...my double WalMart bag that is ALWAYS in my hand when I am outside this time of year.

When my bag is too heavy to carry, I return to the house and either return with a fresh double bagger, or set about the next stage of hickory nut preparation. I bathe every nut and examine each to ensure I retain only those nuts that are not either undeveloped or already consumed by worms. It's a fact that "organically grown" hickory nuts will have a certain percentage that have been inhabited and consumed by the hickory nut worm. Since I sell the hickory nuts on eBay, my preference is to eliminate those less than perfect nuts from my inventory. And after their bath, the hickory nuts enjoy congregating in mesh sacks where I place them, allowing them to air dry while awaiting shipment.

I started my walks this year about a month ago. I imagine I have another month yet to go. And already I have collected at least 500 lbs of hickory nuts, 400 lbs of which were fit for sale. My eBay room is lined with mesh sacks of these large, beautiful nuts.

I have sold about 60 lbs so far this year. When I put up my first listing on eBay in September, there were only maybe three of us selling the whole nuts. Others were selling the nut meats. My first listings sold within hours of being listed, and sold for my Buy-It-Now prices. I shipped immediately, received positive feedback and listed more nuts, listing daily as I collected daily. Then, all of a sudden, there were 15 listings from multiple sellers.

This year I have observed a behavior different from my last excursion down hickory nut sales in 2007. This year I have observed a willingness of other sellers to take the "easy" way out. I was looking at another seller's listing, and all of a sudden it struck me. Her photo was MY photo. Not my entire photo, since I have my id watermarked on the photo. No, she had taken only the center of my photo and displayed it as her own. She was successful in selling her first listing of hickory nuts... the one using my photo. I did notice that she did decide against using my photo for her subsequent listings, opting, instead, to take photos of her actual product... which looked significantly different from mine and which did not sell. I decided to get more creative with MY photos....

I also noticed sellers literally copying each other's verbiage in their listings. I don't mind being a mentor for a new seller, but for goodness sake, would it be so hard to write your own story? Promote your own product? I made it harder to copy mine... I know this will come as a huge surprise to anyone who has made it this far in my tale, but, I added verbiage to my listing... making it more verbose... most of the copiers want to copy short listings... easier to disguise as one's own.

The hickory nut marketplace is getting larger on eBay, now sporting more than three dozen listings on any given day. There are those who sell the nuts in the hulls and those who sell them without the hulls.; those who wash the nuts and those who don't; those who offer free shipping and those who try to lure the buyers in with a 99 cent starting bid, and charge more than 10 times that amount in shipping.

Naturally, eBay sellers will try to entice the buyers with lowest price, best product and outstanding service. But in the past month I have watched as the hickory nut sellers have competed so intensely to hit that lowest price mark, they have literally made their product and the work involved in getting their product to market, worthless. It is sad to watch. I still have my hickory nuts listed and will continue to list them. But I refuse to engage in the "undercut the next guy" game. I have determined what my hickory nuts, in all their glory are worth, and I continue to list them at those prices. I work hard to take good photos to market my hickory nuts, and of course, I am committed to exceptional customer service. And I continue to make sales, albeit not as many as others, perhaps, but, I suppose when they have sold out of their hickory nuts, I will still have plenty to sell....

None of the concerns above will change the fact that walking through my beautiful Virginia hickory woods every day is rejuvenating to both body and mind. I enjoy the company of my three outdoor critters (two cats and a dog) who accompany me every step of the way, each and every day. And when I put my head on the pillow at night, I sleep hard, thoroughly exhausted from my favorite autumn pastime. I've been a little busy lately....walking in the woods collecting hickory nuts.

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