Selling antiques in your own antique store is a dream of many antique dealers. My wife and I owned our own antique store for over twenty years. Our goal is to provide you with information that will help you make a decision on whether owning an antique store is right for you. If it is, then we will try to give you tips, based on our experiences, that will help make your antique store successful. I will cover as much as I can and some of it will be obvious to many of you, but what is obvious to many is overlooked by others.
Is an Antique Store Right For You
First, ask yourself why you want to own an antique store. I would never suggest this to be the first thing you do in the antique business. Before I would take on the responsibility of an antique store, I would rent a booth or booths in one or more antique malls. There are another two whole articles on selling antiques in an antique mall on this site, so I will not repeat myself here. But this will allow you to build up your inventory and find sources to replenish your inventory. There are several articles on where to buy antiques and you might find some of them interesting, if for no other reason, than to give you ideas. The photo to the right is the front of our store in Dallas.
Are you prepared to spend the time to run an antique store as a legitimate business. If you are not prepared to spend 40+ hours a week running the store, then can the business afford to hire help. Besides the time running your antique store, you have to allocate time to buy inventory, which nearly everyone thinks is the fun part of the business. Most antique dealers would love to just be able to shop for antiques and not have to worry about the selling part. Today, in this economy (early 2011), I think you need to also have an internet presence where you sell antiques online (see the article, selling antiques online successfully). I also suggest you do at least a couple of shows a year to promote your store to a different audience. We generated a lot of new customers by doing Round Top twice a year. But all of this takes time, and again, who runs the store when you are away or sick, etc.
How to Make Your Antique Store Successful
Where are you going to open a store? You all know the most important thing in real estate, location, location, location. The larger the town or city where you want to open a store, the more important finding the proper location becomes. When we could see the declining business in our store in Forney, Texas,(just outside Dallas) known as the “Antique Capitol of Texas”, we knew we were going to have to move in order to survive. We saw the writing on the wall before many of the other stores. There were over twenty stores in one long strip. Most of the decline in business resulted from the decline in the quality of the antiques and collectibles being offered, but that is a whole different story.
But we wanted to carry fine English antiques and collectibles. To make a long story short, we spent over three years searching for a location for our new antique store. We thought it would be charming to find a building in a small town and live upstairs and have the store below. But we found that the antique stores in the small towns had as many gifts, fudge, candles, etc as they did antiques. This is not what we wanted, but it is an option when you are deciding what kind of antique store you want.
We finally found what we considered an ideal option in an upscale part of Dallas. The building was run down, but there were four other antique stores in the same block and one had been there for fourteen years. It can definitely help to have other antique stores close by to help draw customers.
Before I continue with more about the importance of location, I need to talk about an exit strategy for your antique business. No one likes to think about it not working out, but everyone knows the odds of small businesses succeeding, 90% fail within the first five years. So you want to “ know when to hold em and know when to fold em.” You don’t want to lose everything because you keep losing money in your antique business. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try to make it work, it just doesn’t. If you start going into debt, it will make it impossible to be successful. So please have an exit strategy.
When choosing a location, realize that antique stores generally don’t produce the income per square foot that other retail businesses do. So negotiating a lease is very important. If your rent is too high, you will not have a chance to succeed. Also be careful about the length of the lease. This is especially true if you have to spend a good deal to fix the building up the way you want. We had to leave our last store earlier than we wanted because our landlord kept raising the rent when others were lowering the rent. It just no longer made financial sense. Of course if you are able to buy the building, that is the ideal situation. You can then sell the building for a profit if taxes and other overhead no longer make it feasible to run an antiques store there.
Another consideration is to lease space to other antique dealers, even making it into an antique mall. This can allow you to cover all of your overhead, and sometimes even make a profit. You can also require the antique dealers to work a certain number of days, depending on the number of booths they have. This will take care of some of your time requirements. It can also make your store more interesting to customers by offering a wider variety antiques than if everything was yours. Just make sure you maintain the quality you want by choosing the dealers carefully. But with the benefits of having other antique dealers come the complaints that will invariably come when they are not happy. Some will move out and you need to consider that with your budget.
Trying to advertise an antique store is very difficult because it is so specialized. After spending literally thousands of dollars on advertising in newspapers and magazines that didn’t work, I found only two things that worked. One and I can’t stress the importance, is develop a mailing list of your customers. Try to get the address of every customer that makes a purchase. It is easier to get this information if you have a computerized checkout system. There is less customer reluctance to give this information when you ask while entering the invoice on the computer. Then once you develop your mailing list, use it for announcing a sale at least twice a year. We found it helped to have an open house to kick off the sale and offer food and drinks. If you have other dealers, you require them to bring food also.
We also sent out a newsletter every time we received a new shipment and had about a 10% response of people coming in to shop. We took buying trips to England three to four times a year and others in our store went with us. So when we received a new shipment, there were lots of new things in the store. My wife made the newsletter a fun read by adding some funny things that always happened on the trip. We got lots of comments about how much they enjoyed reading them and looked forward to receiving them. Use this mailing list to its fullest advantage and it can be a goldmine.
The other way to advertise is to have your own website. I also covered that extensively in another article on Selling Antiques on Your Own Website. Many customers, especially visitors from out of town discovered us on the internet. Also remember that doing shows can bring new customers. But resist the temptation to advertise in the Yellow Pages (even the online version), newspapers and magazines. You will probably also be asked to donate to may different things saying you will be listed as the donor. I will leave the decision to donate up to you, and we did many times, but we didn’t get new customers from this.
In conclusion, selling antiques in your own store can be a very rewarding experience. We made life long friends and met many exciting people. We are proud to say we had two former First Ladies, Rosalynn Carter, and Laura Bush as customers as well as other celebrities. The other dealers became part of our antique family, even some in other stores nearby. There were the highs of having a $32,000 sale and the lows when you didn’t write a ticket for a couple of days in a row. I hope I have given you some information that will help you sell antiques successfully in your own antique store.