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For Antiques Businesses to Survive, We Must Cultivate a Younger Consumer Base

by Michelle Staley (04/17/12).

Old jars and containers can be repurposed for other uses, which is what “Going Green” is all about.

As an antique dealer and collector, as well as a business owner, I am always looking for new ways to reinvent my business, my brand and my product line. Right now, I see the need to make my inventory attractive to the Twentysomething consumer. Many baby boomers are downsizing and, while they are still spending money on antiques and collectibles, we need to cultivate a younger generation of shoppers.

So, how do you go about making your antique store front or website attractive to the young consumer? First, you must have an online presence. Young people have grown-up with computers and the Internet and now, with smart phone technology, iPads, etc., they are accessing the Internet from places other than they home computer and they are using it to shop!

Author’s Note: You must have a web presence, even if it is nothing more than two pages. The first page outlines your products, philosophy and why people need to shop at your location. Page two, at the bare minimum, should have your contact information, address and shop hours. Photos of your inventory really make your website appealing.

Education is Key

It is up to you as the professional to educate the consumer on the items you are selling. You must know your inventory and something interesting about it and pass this information on to the consumer. If you have an online shop this, is very easy to do by writing a detailed description including the history of the manufacturer of the piece and the period in which the item was created. In your storefront, you can do the very same thing by writing the information on the price tags. I love the large manila shipping tags for this and, if you are so inclined, you can even dress the tag up. Some dealers are of the mindset that they are not going to give anything away for free and this includes their knowledge. That is a damaging attitude.

If you have a storefront, offer free appraisal clinics every couple of months. You can offer educational classes on glassware, the difference in the types of china and porcelain, and my personal favorite is furniture education. This can be as simple as bringing in a contemporary fiberboard bookcase (the ones you can purchase for $15 at any Big Box store) and compare it to a piece of real vintage or antique wood furniture.

This counter top guest towel holder makes a great bulletin-board-like note holder for a desk.

Young people want to get the best value for their money and pointing out to them that they can furnish their first home or apartment with toxic, flimsy fiberboard furniture or, for the same amount of money or less, they can purchase heavy duty furniture made from real wood that has already stood the test of time. You want to emphasis that by purchasing vintage or antique pieces they will have unique items that will really let their personal style shine.

You can do the above, even if you have an Internet only shop. You can set up a webinar using a free service, such as Anymeeting. If you have never participated in a webinar, they are fabulous. You can create a PowerPoint presentation or just use your webcam and make your presentation. Participants can ask questions and can interact with each other and the presenter.

Most community centers are always looking for people to conduct classes on a variety of topics. Most will allow you to charge a fee, but I recommend offering your class free of charge, at least until word gets out about how amazing your classes are. Then, a small fee is appropriate; especially if you offer any type of informational material, other than your business card.

Author’s Note: If you sell vintage clothing and jewelry, a fashion show is a great way to show your inventory and bring potential new customers to you. Wedding season is just around the corner, use it. “Something old, something new…” You get the idea.

An Underwood manual typewriter. Can you believe that today’s youth have most likely never seen one of these in action or have never heard a telephone dial tone?

My daughters and grandchild have grown-up in the antiques and collectibles industry. They have been dragged to thrift stores, garage sales, estate sales and auctions. My youngest daughter still has not cultivated her love of all things vintage and, believe it or not, she doesn’t have any collections in the works. But both of my girls appreciate the value and quality of vintage or antique furniture over the new stuff.

Emphasize Going Green
You want to emphasis that buying antiques, collectibles and vintage items is the ultimate in recycling. In your advertising, use “Go Green” freely, as this has great appeal to the young adult consumer. On your price tags or item description, offer an alternate use for items such as, a counter top guest towel holder makes a great bulletin-board-like note holder for a desk. Old canning jars can hold anything from dried beans in the kitchen to sewing buttons. A toast rack can be the keeper of napkins or bills and letters. Vintage suitcases can be stacked and turned into a side table. I am actually working on “upcycling” an old suitcase into a small seat.

Reach out to the local Girls Scout and Cub and Boy Scout units by offering an educational time travel program.. Many kids have never seen a manual typewriter or have heard a dial telephone and they are truly fascinated by them. Show the kids how moms used to have to do laundry by having a laundry plunger, washboard and heavy Sad Iron. Introduce them to marbles, the beauty of stamps and postcards, as well as other small inexpensive items. Get them excited about collecting, I always bring some little item as a starter for their new collection. You can purchase bulk coins, reproduce some old postcards or buy marbles in bulk. Educate the children and cultivate future customers. Each of these organization have collecting badges or requirements to be earned, so learning about inexpensive collectibles is an easy way to get them interested. Who knows, they might just go home and tell their parent(s) about the wonderful presentation they saw and show them the flyer you handed out.

A Cub Scout belt loop for collecting.

Some of the Girl Scout badges for collecting.

The Boy Scouts merit badge for Collections.

A certain Big Box store reminds the consumer constantly that they can make your life better if you shop in their facility. You need to find a way to convince the younger generation that your business can vastly improve their lives and well-being and will also provide a product that will last for many generations.

Be creative, think outside the big box and cultivate a younger customer base.

Michelle Staley, who insists that collectors are the happiest people, is an antique collector and dealer. Her shop, My Granny’s Attic Antiques, Collectibles and Memorabilia, is in Lenexa, Kansas.

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14 Responses to “For Antiques Businesses to Survive, We Must Cultivate a Younger Consumer Base”

  1. We’re not normally one to reply negatively about an article, as we figure everyone does things their own way and we all get along nicely, but this article really raised my hackles.

    The first thing is, as a Gen Y post Baby Boomer shopper and seller myself, it reeks of insincerity – something the media and the internet has taught us to look out for. Simply dressing up an item to appeal to younger crowds by attaching a cute price tag with a boutique feel to it (the manila tags)won’t do anything unless that item already appeals to them enough to make them stop and read the tag.

    Whilst we haven’t been as long at this business as yourself, and don’t have the wealth of knowledge to pass on that you would, I can honestly say I believe that the way to draw in the younger crowd is to stock items relevant to them.

    Obviously antiques are always going to be the big money items, esp. furniture, but to bring the new generation of buyers in you have to look at their childhoods and what they had. The early 80s kids are the new 30 year olds with disposable income and an itch for nostalgia, so things like Atari gaming machines, early Nintendo and nice kitsch homewares are the way to go – it’s what we grew up with and it’s what we want to pass onto our own kids. A good quality Victorian side board has as much relevance to us as a nice suit of armour would to you – it looks great and is cool but it’s a huge luxury buy none of us could afford.

    To attract the new generation of collectors into your store you have to cater for their changing tastes. Vintage is the new antique, and before long vintage will be antique.

    If you must stick to your antique ways I’d suggest a manila price tag on a nice vintage decanter set saying it’s the antique of tomorrow, just like you grew up with…

  2. I certainly did not mean to offend anyone with the use of a large manila tag. I use them because they are heavy duty, you can tie them on an item and with the reinforced hole they don’t fall off as easily.

    As I mentioned, I like to put a detailed description on the tag, I want to pass along as much information as I can on the piece. I use the same tags on books, decanters, dinnerware, dolls, games, etc. no matter the age or price. I want an informed consumer. By me freely putting this information out to the customer it instills in them some faith that I know what I am doing and they are more apt to return to my shop because they trust me to be knowledgeable, fair and honest.

    Comments from my customer’s have all been very positive and I have been told by many that they retain the tags for the information they contain.

  3. I disagree with somewhat with Adam. Education is key, and in my experience, when younger people learn about actual aniques (not “vintage items” which they relate to more easily), they become interested and intrigued. I especially like the ideas of connecting antiques to history and to an environmental ethos. School age kids are fascinated with antiques (judging from a dealer who does presentations), flint boxes, ear spoons, oil lamps–older than 20th century object can be just as fascinating as “vintage” with educational outreach. Yes, you must pay attention to what younger buyers want, but the buying public certainly can be swayed and educated to foster an interest, as advertising has shown us for a century or more. I think this is a positive article with useful ideas.

  4. Dave Malys says:

    I am 65 years old and have collected early (pre-1840)antiques for decades, and for the past decade+ I sell as a dealer as well.

    But I agree with Adam. We all worry about “cultivating” a younger consumer base in antiques, and we usually mention our need to educate these new antique consumers.

    We are missing the boat here, because we are trying to get the younger person interested in what “we” liked for all those decades. The younger collector/designer/decorator knows what they like already, they don’t have to be “educated”. “We” need to adapt to what they “want” to purchase and collect, if we want to sell to this group in the future.

    But you are totally correct Michelle in that as dealers we should provide as much information on an item as we have on it and/or as we know about it.

  5. Debra says:

    I have a vintage shop on Etsy and give detailed history and information about my listings. As much as I’d like to say that positively influences my sales, the sad fact is that id doesn’t. Many shop owners complain no one actually reads the listings. While in theory I believe in giving back to the community and education; the impact of education as it directly affects sales is nonexistent.

    “Get the look” is a far more powerful driver than history for the 35 and under crowd.

  6. Hi again Michelle,

    Sorry, we didn’t mean to offend either, and rereading our posting it does come across as quite narky! Apologies to yourself and any readers we may have got offside.

    Education is certainly a great aim and for young people who already have an interest tags with a good description & information about an item would be very appealing and is a great service to offer.

    And of course once you get people learning about antiques those with a latent interest will be into it for life, like both yourself and Maureen pointed out.

    However to actually attract the younger generation we need to cater towards their interests and the love of real antiques may or may not follow. It’s not that big a stretch for someone who has a value in objects from the 70s or 80s to gain an appreciation of those from the 60s and 50s, then all the way back, esp. with shows such as Mad Men at such a level of popularity.

    I feel though that in an article about attracting the next generation you missed out on the whole ‘altering your own shop aspect’ to appeal to them, and instead presented the concept from the angle that the reason they aren’t interested is because they don’t know enough and instead stick to what they grew up with and identify with, or to generalise even further and take it to extremes, their way of collecting is wrong and instead they should collect real antiques…

    Obviously that wouldn’t have been your intention, but as you are publishing an educational article people will take to heart and believe in, it seems like a bit of an issue to me personally.

    Hopefully that has cleared up any misunderstandings from our end and sorry again for any offence.

  7. Dave Malys says:

    I don’t wish to be a negative blogger either but Adam made another very worthwhile statement for all of us that deal in early antiques versus vintage items. He said “the reason they aren’t interested is because they don’t know enough and instead stick to what they grew up with and identify with, or to generalise even further and take it to extremes, their way of collecting is wrong and instead they should collect real antiques…”.

    Whenever we as dealers start this discussion, and it happens at every show, this discussion somehow always gets to the “education required to get them to our side and our views” type of statement. While we don’t say it that way, and some don’t intend it to mean that while others do, the younger generation hears it exactly that way.

    We blame it on the education system, the widespread use of electronics, and whatever. What we need to understand is that history has proved that over time human beings change what they like and believe and desire, otherwise none of us would have IRA’s in financial stocks, all of us would have warehouses full of tulip bulbs for our retirement.

    We will continue to sell early antiques to the older collectors, and to that portion of the younger collectors as well who come to appreciate and value them over time. But tomorrow’s collector of even real antiques will be very different to what that this collector type was even 10-15 years ago. Anybody still find any non-retired collector of early antiques who still wishes to put together a collection of early pewter for an open 18th century cupboard in their home?

  8. quik1 says:

    nice article

    Education is Key

  9. Robbie Timms says:

    Hi

    Never posted before but am intrigued by this topic as I can see it from various viewpoints as a 30 yr old dealer in traditional english furniture, running a fourth generation family business in England..

    I read all you comments and the original article with interest and whilst I agree with many points raised ans disagree with others, i cant help but feel you are all missing a very key point! Business is only as much of a struggle as it has been these last few years due to the world as a whole tightening its financial belt, combined with the fact that we now, as purveyors of luxury items, face such stiff competition from other industrys and sectors…(by this i mean luxury cars, holidays etc) We as an industry need to remember that however much it narks us, people dont have to buy our goods or need them, they are a luxury! Therefore we must compete with all the other luxury goods for a slice of that cake!

    That was a very long winded way of getting on to my main point, which is simply that, no matter what dealers will have you believe, there is plenty of people out there who want to buy and understand what we have to offer them, and actually its sinpky about how we reach out to them and how we market ourselves to them. A simple walk round the shops of Bond Street, Oxford Street, Regent Street, Kinghtsbride and The Kings Road in London to look at the window displays of all the various shops from various sectors is a perfect demonstration of just how far behind we lag as an industry in so many ways.. Some of these shops are selling itens for £20 and some for £20,000 yet nearly everyone of them has crisp bold and enticing displays… Barely a single Antiques shop i know of does this!

    The window thing is just one example of far too many to mention, but in summary, I guess what I have been trying to put across is that this is not a dying trade and people do want to buy our goods(one sunday spent watching the hoarded of private customers viewing Christies SK’s Interiors sale is evidence enough of this!!!) but its all dowm to how we reach out to them and how we put our goods in front of them.. Most of all its aboutvenjoying what we do and trying not to spend each and every day moaning because even something like this can just have such a hugely negative impact on our lives and therfore our businesses!

    I could go on and on but think ive perhaps written enough for now!

  10. Hi.
    I’m a 56 year old dealer.
    I’ve been “green” for many years. Hence my biz name was Green Spot Antiques well before antiques and green were being tied together.

    I like salvage, industrial items, old typewriters, printing letters, funky retro articles, movie posters etc. Not necessarily in my home.. but as articles for sale, i’ve been heavily selling these for years.

    I run an under-30 club discount program, have for years.

    That’s how I market to the younger crowd. No affected airs, education, or special plans.. Just straightforwardly selling the items they have an interest in. Just today, sold old Sony turntable to older couple (in 50′s) who were purchasing it for their son. Can’t beat that :-)
    cheers.
    Vince.

  11. BOB BROWN says:

    I HAVE BEEN A DEALER SINCE 1974 . FOR THE LAST 30 YEARS I NEVER DID LESS THAN 10 MILLION A YEAR /3 STORES. I KNOW ZERO ABOUT ANTIQUES AN I AM NOT A COLLECTOR . YOU CANNOT COLLECT AN DEAL .. BECAUSE YOU WILL NEVER SELL YOUR BABYS? THE COLLECTOR GETS YOUNGER EVERY DAY, I SUGGEST READING DU VEEN ON DU VEEN ///TRUE TODAY, BY THE WAY I HAVE USED IT AS A BIBLE FOR YEARS. THINK DEPT STORE… OLD DOESNT ALWAYS MEAN GOOD . LIKE A SALE… A CLOSE OUT . EVERYONE OVER PAYS OCCASIONALLY AN /OR MAKES A BAD BUY . DUMP IT TAKE A LOSS THEN BUY SOMETHING DIFFERENT AN BETTER . THINK BANNANAS IF YOU HAVE TOO LONG THEY SPOIL.DO LIKE A DEPT STORE ADVERTISE/PROMOTE/ ALL RICH PEOPLE HAVE ANTIQUES WETHER THEY LIKE THEM OR COLLECT THEM OR NOT .. BUT SO WHEN PEOPLE COME INTO THEIR HOME/OFFICE THEY FEEL THAT EVERYONE WILL KNOW HOW SOPHISTICATED THEY ARE . EVEN IF THEY HATE THEM . PEOPLE IN THE U.S CANT BE ROYALTY . SO BY OWNING A BIT OF ROYALTY THEY BECOME PART OF ,REMEMBER YOU CANT SELL EMPTY CART SO YOU MUST ALWAYS BE READY TO SELL A BIG ITEM AT ANY TIME . THATS WHERE THE MONEY IS . PEOPLE WHO HAVE BOOTHS AN SMALL SHOPS MUST EVALUATE YOUR INVENTORY AN SAY IF YOU ACTUALLY SOLD HALF WOULD THAT COVER YOUR RENT . IN OTHER WORDS TO DO 1000 IN SALES YOU NEED A MINIMIM OF 10 THOU IN INVENTORY THAT IF YOU TURN THE INVENTORY TEN TIMES A YEAR YOU WOULD MAKE A GREAT RETURN ON YOUR INVESTMENT , AN THEN TEN PER CENT FOR RENT/5 PERCENT ADVERTISING . IF YOU ONLY HAVE 500 IN COST YOU CANNOT EXPECT A VERY BIG RETURN. EVEN IF YOU ARE GREAT AT THE BUSINESS. THERE IS A LOT MORE BUT THIS IS A VERY OLD BUS AN WILL BE AROUND FOR EVER . WHEN I STARTED EVERY ANT DEALER TOLD ME it was over, never be good again . etc etc . bull i have done quite well an still more can be done .

  12. I have a vague feeling the reply thread to this post has drifted somewhat away from the original article and taken on a life of it’s own, but as most Gen Y’s would say…whatever!

    I definitely agree with Robbie here – we’re in a business that is appealing much more to the disposable income side of the buyers wallet than the bread and butter half.

    No one needs antique and vintage collectibles and most people, so the media would have you believe, are struggling to meet the basic costs of living now days so we’ve definitely got our work cut out for us.

    Perhaps the lack of a strong window display in many antique shops rests somewhere in the middle of keeping items from being exposed to direct sunlight and possible fading to maintaining the air of mystery that antiques themselves have. I think we’d all like to believe we are each selling something much more unique and precious than what the department stores are offering, even if 100 or 50 years ago our now cherished items were in the same windows we now despise!

    I run an online antique and vintage collectibles store through etsy (like Debra) and find most of the items we sell go to buyers of the target generation this blog was originally talking about appealing to.

    We’re certainly not rolling in money, and to be honest there is no way our sales to date (we’ve been opened about a year and a half) would cover costs for a ‘bricks and mortar’ store, but at this stage we’re happy with an online presence only.

    We run our business from a spare room in our home, which means rather than having to pay shop rent, electric bills, telephone, internet etc. we can instead claim a certain amount back on what we’d be paying anyway come tax time. And guess what that means? Lower prices to our customers. Sure they have to pay postage on top of what they buy, and to the true financial savvy investor that might be a drawback, but to your everyday Gen Y’er that just has to have that special item from their childhood we’ve already won them over before postage costs come into play.

    We actually consider postage costs when pricing our items to ensure we appeal to the ‘real’ collectors as well as the one off buyers, but we still make a healthy profit from each sale either way. Looking at it from a profit margin point of view, if we buy a little egg cup for 50 cents and sell it for $5 with a listing fee of 20 cents and 3.5% commission to etsy we’ve still done pretty well for ourselves. Multiply that into even 100 sales a month and the books are balancing well into our side.

    Like Vince said, you can’t argue with sales! And actually I remember being so impressed with the Green Spot Antiques site a few months ago I sent them a message asking if we could work together somehow. It’s a global market and those tied in by a main street address only are always going to be left wondering how they can attract the next generation of buyer.

  13. I myself am a dealer brought up in the business and only 25 years of age. I am a second generation dealer and trying to move our business more in to the online market rather than fairs and shows where we traditionally sell our items.

    I am another one who must agree with Robbie here in that antiques and collectables are traditionally a luxury item although I do believe that there is plenty of buyers out there with the money and desire to buy them and it is just how we as dealers adapt our own businesses to entice them to buy from us.

    For my business personally speaking it is the move online that is helping us to branch out and appeal to new buyers and collectors and I think the online market is as strong as ever.

    Adapting to customers needs is paramount in this business and I can say from first hand experience there is definitely not a shortage of them, this business is all about doing what we enjoy and doing it well.

  14. Larry Quirk says:

    Great discussion. While I have sold items [mostly my own] at flea markets and garage sales over the years, I am mostly a buyer and in my 60′s.

    The white heat years of my collecting are over and now I only buy in one or two limited catagories and only to refine my collections to add better pieces. I have downsized considerably in the last 5 years but the bug to look around is still there. Unfortunately, I find most shops especially in the Antique Malls to be a mess. I dont understand how a seller thinks by piling items up on top of one another and blocking the aisle or walk space makes their goods attractive. I am often afraid to touch something I might like for fear of causing a landslide and items piled in cases make it very diffuclt to see anything. I find it burdensome to constantily ask the attendant to open a case just to see what something is so I ususally move on and out the door.

    You can attract younger buyers with clean, well organized and stocked booths with items grouped by use or theme or even color. The theory that folks want the “rummaging through a junk shop experience” is wrong. Tags need to be big and FACING THE CONSUMER so the price and info can be read easily. And the most attractive things are items that are INTERESTING! HIghly polished thread spindles or colorful Santa cards incite interest more than a stack of 50′s dishes. This way you get folks [young folks especially] to linger and become interested and thus buyers.

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