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CALIFORNIA | LEARNING CURVE / KAREN E. KLEIN

Regal Tender

Coin Collecting Couple Find a Fair(e) Market

June 03, 1997|KAREN E. KLEIN

Greg Thompson and his wife, Carolyn, had been avid coin collectors for years when they sat down for dinner one night and puzzled over how they could combine their love for ancient coins and their interest in starting a business. They scribbled some figures on a napkin, but it wasn't until they attended the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in Devore, Calif., several months later that they realized they could make their dream a reality. Greg Thompson was interviewed by freelance writer Karen E. Klein.

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We got interested in coin collecting as kids and then returned to it when we became fascinated by history in college. We had been attendees at coin shows for years and knew they typically occur in hushed, air-conditioned rooms where your average young professional would never venture.

But I knew that there were college-educated people walking around with a high degree of interest in history and in their own family backgrounds. The question was how to reach those people and interest them in antique coins.

When we went to the Renaissance fair, we looked at each other and said, "Here's where we can find those people." So we set up a Money-Changers booth at the fair in Devore for eight weekends every spring and at a similar event in Northern California for seven weekends in the fall. Between 10,000 and 25,000 people walk by our booth each weekend.

I am so enthusiastic about ancient coins and where they come from that I use my own interest to get other people interested. People may tell me they were always fascinated by the Vikings or that they had ancestors in China or Ireland. Then I can offer them a unique coin with a great story behind it.

The challenge was to identify repeat customers, stay in touch with them and encourage them to become serious collectors.

The first year we set up the booth, we found that less than 100 people actually left their names with us. That Christmas, we had mugs made up with our logo on them and we stuffed them with chocolate coins and sent them out to every single one of those customers, thanking them for supporting us.

After that first year, we started recording the names of everyone who bought something. If you purchased an ancient coin, even once, that shows you are one of my people. I want to keep talking to you. Now we have about 500 active names.

We began sending out catalogs with a newsletter that talks about our business and our personal lives, so we could stay in touch with our customers. Before the fair begins, we mail out coupons and reminders to visit our booth.

When people are thinking, "What should I get Dad for Father's Day?" we want them to think about a really old coin from Money-Changers. We also want to go with them from the purchase of a $5 coin to a $50 coin to a $500 coin. Over the years we have had a lot of customers do that.

For the more serious collectors, I need them to see that our prices are the same as those at the coin shows and our stock is high-quality and legitimate. When a person who has a serious interest in collecting comes back to me, it's because a rapport has been established and they want me to be their coin dealer.

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AT A GLANCE

* Company: Money-Changers

* Owners: Greg and Carolyn Thompson

* Nature of business: Retail sale of ancient and medieval coins

* Location: Los Angeles

* Founded: 1991

* Employees: 2

* Annual revenue: $50,000

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MORE SMALL-BUSINESS NEWS: D10

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