I've been plugging away since January, moving listings off of Ebay. I started at over 4000 and as of this morning, it's down below 1000! Great day!
I'm sitting at home today blessed with a summer cold, courtesy of my young ones...this means that I've had plenty of time to review the latest offerings on various commerce websites (it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out the biggest one out there). This has gotten me thinking a lot about the state of the chainsaw parts market. I'm a Homelite enthusiast, hence most of my offerings here are Homelite, but what I'm thinking about carries across all brands. At what point will greedy sellers kill off vintage chainsaws?
Let me explain. I've viewed two offerings today that really invoked a strong reaction from me. One was a points & condenser set for a Homelite Super 2 that was priced at an incredible $30. The other was a muffler shield for an XL-925 priced at $35! The points set is not a rare item at all, in fact it was still available from Homelite in 2000 for about $15. Adjusted for inflation, that part should cost about $21 today. The heat shield in 2000 was under $10 which translates to about $13 today. So what gives?
Well there is the perceived "rarity" factor that helps drive the price of a given item. There is also past sales that can set a "floor" on an items sale price. Availability through popular or convenient means is also a major issue. Homelite chainsaws were produced in the millions, with spare parts widely available through a network of 100's of dealers up until John Deere sold the company to a Chinese firm in 2002. What happened to the parts that those 100's of dealers had at that time? Shouldn't there still be a supply available?
Well let’s start with the availability issue. From 2002 on, there wasn't a Homelite dealer to go to. Previous dealers probably still sold their stock for a while, but it was certainly low volume, as Homelite had ceased to exist as everyone knew it. I've heard stories of some dealers that were so mad, that whole shelves are parts were thrown into dumpsters. The thought of this happening makes me sick, but I can certainly understand the frustration they must have felt at the time. So if dealers weren't out there, how in the world would somebody find a Homelite part? For quite a while (at least half of a decade), the average Homelite owner was completely without ability to source parts. Then a few guys realized that Ebay was a great outlet that could reach the entire country. A simple online store could reach anyone with an internet connection and geographical location was not an issue. The early stores spurred interest and pretty soon the word got out. There was a lot of pent up demand, so auction prices pushed pretty high for many items. As Ebay evolved, the auction style format fell out of favor and was largely replaced with fixed price listings. This took the variability out of the sale price of an item and established a floor on the price. See where I'm going here?
For several years it was not at all uncommon to see just one listing for a harder to find item. As a seller, if you had one of these listings, how would you price it? If a similar item had sold recently, that would be a start. You could check the last known dealer price. You could post on one of the chainsaw forums and gauge interest. You had to decide how quickly you wanted to sell the item. I'm going to use a piston for a Homelite 650 as an example here. It was a low volume item even back in the late 70's, so it never was a common item. In 1981 it would have sold for about $22, but if a seller had one today, would he/she price it at? We've seen the collector demand for these saws push the nice ones well over $1000 on Ebay. We know that the part hasn't been available for about 30 years. So a piston must be worth $200 or more, right? And I can guarantee that a Homelite 650 piston listed in auction format on ANY site would draw around $300. So back to the floor concept. If that Homelite 650 piston sold for $300, what's the next seller going to price that piston at? You got it: no less than $300 and probably more because all of the bidders that didn't get the last one, will be even hungrier this time. So now you have a floor on the price. And as long as the supply of a given item is limited, that floor will hold or raise higher.
However not every Homelite part is rare, in fact most small parts are now very common on the carious commerce websites. This time let's look at an air filter for a Homelite 410. It was last produced in 1997 and in 2000 was priced at a little over $14. So today, it should sell for about $19 right? So how come I can buy them all day long for less than $10, in many cases about $6 SHIPPED? The simple answer is supply. With one search I found 23 available sources for this filter and they are all competing for that one buyer that needs a filter for his 410. So you have to undercut everyone else to get that sale. Realistically, how many people are cutting cord of firewood with a Homelite 410 anymore? We all know that year after year, more Stihls & Husqvarnas are sold and that means less Homelites are being used.
Now that I've painted two very different pictures of the parts market, assuming that you are still reading this way too long post, you must wondering what the in hell I'm trying to say here! I'm getting there, but I have one more topic to cover before drawing it all together. Chainsaws are 2-stroke engines and for time's sake I'm just mentioning that to point out that any engine that needs oil mixed with fuel is susceptible to human error. Whether it be an improper fuel mix, a poorly adjusted carburetor or simple overheating, 2-stroke engines have less margin for error than their 4-stroke counterparts. So while an air filter might be widely available today, a piston & cylinder or ignition coil are more likely to be the point of failure for an older saw. If those parts aren't available or are priced so high that the owner of a Homelite cannot justify the cost, it will be scrapped. So the small wearable parts like air filters go unsold. The market is over supplied and the price goes down.
I think I've laid enough groundwork enough to make my point now. I'm going to continue using Homelite as an example since that's what I deal in, but this is true for any obsolete parts. As sellers, when we price a Homelite part too high, we are limiting our customer base to who can afford the part or who is willing to pay the price for the part. If we do this, those potential customers will disappear...this means that instead of continuing to buy parts for years to come for an old Homelite saw, those customers will buy a new saw and all potential sales to support their Homelite will be gone. So by selling one piston for $300, we're making a great sale one day. But what are the consequences down the road? How many owners will look at that sale and decide "well when my saw breaks, I can buy a new one for less than repairing this one"? Anyone selling obsolete NOS or used chainsaw parts had better consider this outcome and what it does to our potential sales down the road.
The sellers that I mentioned at the beginning of this post (I called them "greedy sellers" and maybe that's a strong statement, but it's an easy trap to fall into and I myself have more than once) aren't thinking of this at all, they are thinking of only the bottom line. I'm a businessman, so I think about the bottom line too, but a good business must analyze how the bottom line today affects the future bottom lines. Since I've begun moving my listings from Ebay to this website, I've noticed prices on certain items have gone up, way up. I had running price wars for years on items with a few different sellers. It was kind of fun to see how long I could keep my price lower until the other guys noticed and dropped theirs too. We were competing for the same buyer and even with Best Offer, we didn't want to miss a potential sale.
I really do believe the used saw market has contracted considerably in the past year and a half; sales numbers and traffic statistics that I've been looking at back this up. Supply of Homelite parts isn't as tight anymore and demand isn't nearly as strong. We could debate all of the reasons for this for days, but that's not why I'm writing this. I simply want to re-iterate that I think all of sellers, yes that includes me as well as I am in no way claiming to be perfect, need to be smart about our pricing strategies or we risk driving away PERMANENTLY the very customer that we hope to attract. So as potential customer, I encourage you to do all the research you can before buying a part. Look for every available seller and make sure you are getting a good deal or at least one that is fair. Search Ebay sellers, but don't stop there. Ebay has become it's own microcosm that sometimes doesn't reflect the true market, but it's so easy that some folk stop there and are resigned to the pricing structure that they find.
Thanks for reading my first blog post and I promise to keep future ones much shorter and more relevant to why you came to this website: PARTS! I look forward to any comments or thoughts on this post and I thank you for considering Leon's Chainsaw Parts & Repair whenever you need to repair a vintage chainsaw!
I'm Leon, the owner and sole proprietor of this business. I'm a Homelite collector and love to chat about old chainsaws. This blog is a place to do just that!
Please be respectful and keep your language reasonable. I have no desire to "police" comments, but inappropriate content will be removed.