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Take Advantage of Slow Winter Months to Reconsider how to Run Your Antique Shop

by Michelle Staley (02/06/12).

If you run an antique shop or antique mall, the winter months are the perfect time to reassess your business plan, make changes to the shop’s look and layout and offer deep discounts to clear out merchandise for an influx of new items.

If you have read my previous articles on running your antique shop or antique mall as a business instead of treating it as a hobby (here and here), you are light years ahead of your competition. If you read those articles, I hope to goodness that you have implemented a few of the tactics I set before you. If you have put into practice some of those tactics, then I feel pretty certain that your 2011 holiday season was not too shabby.

January, February and early March are generally pretty slow months for the business, which makes it a perfect time to put pen to paper and come up with promotions and special events for the year ahead of you. It is also a good time to:

• Do some pre-spring cleaning and offer discounts on inventory that has been sitting around for awhile;
• Attend local auctions and get new inventory;
• Take a day trip to a town you have not visited before, check out the antique shops and become inspired;
• If you cannot take a short trip, purchase a few magazines such as “Country Living,” “Martha Stewart” or “Victoria” to get inspiration and see upcoming and new trends in decorating.

If you have any employees, you need to make sure that they know the inventory, dealers and consignors. They need to have some authority to make decisions on prices or, at the very least, know how to contact dealers. In my shop, we had an automatic 10-percent off if someone asked about a discount. It was written into the dealer and consignment contracts. Ten percent is not going to break the bank, but it does show that you care about your customers and value their business. If your employees don’t know prices or how to reach dealers, this makes you look bad. I recently took a shopping trip across Kansas and, while I was looking forward to this trip, I was left with bad first impressions of a number of antique shops and it is all because of the people working the counter.

SOMETHING TO CONSIDER: If you don’t have it in your budget to hire an employee or two, see if any of your dealers would consider working every now and then for a reduction in booth rental fees. You “pay” them as you would any hourly employee, except you deduct their “earnings” from their booth rental. How many hours they work is up to you; just make sure it is someone dependable.

Hold quarterly meetings with your dealers. It does not need to be a long meeting but you want to get feedback from the dealers. Ask for input and pay attention to what they have to say. Make sure that everyone is happy with the way the shop is running and, if you see areas where the dealers can make improvements to improve sales, be sure to offer up those suggestions. These meetings give your dealers a sense of ownership in your business and you never know what amazing ideas will come out of them. You have to remember that you would not have a business if it weren’t for your dealers and good, quality dealers are hard to find. We all adore our customers and cater to them, but you need to do the same with your dealers.

AUTHOR’S NOTE: Make sure that all of your dealers have business cards. You can really make it interesting and tell everyone to put their dealer number on the cards as they hand them out, keep track of how many cards are brought in and which dealer handed them out. Offer a discount on the monthly rent or a small gift for the dealer who has the highest return on business cards. Also, be sure to give the card back to the customer!

The winter months are a perfect time to hold meetings with your dealers. It does not need to be a long meeting but you want to get feedback from the dealers. Ask for input and pay attention to what they have to say.

I have quite a few friends who rent space in antique shops and I have also visited with dealers on my shopping forays and travels, so I hear lot of antiques business talk. Some of that talk is about a trend that I find rather troubling. There is an inherent cost to doing business and I see more and more of these costs being passed on to the dealers who rent space. Your dealers might have a booth that is 8 by 10 feet, but more shops are cutting the size down to 5 by 7 and even 3 by 7. There is only so much stuff you can get into an area of this size. Yet shop owners are charging rent, a commission on sales, a fee for credit or debit card use and some shops even charge a fee for shopping bags and wrapping material. If your dealer makes a $20-sale, once all these fees are deducted, she’s not making a profit!

First off, I cannot imagine the accounting nightmare these extra charges create and second, if you are charging a commission and rent, the commission should cover all the extras. I hear shop owners complaining about the high dealer turnover and this little paragraph should explain that turnover. It does not matter that you can pull from your extensive waiting list to fill that spot, dealers talk to dealers and you will find that your waiting list has no more names on it and you have empty booths.

A few months ago I made the decision to rent a small booth to liquidate some inventory, but after checking around a few of the local shops and did the math, I found that I would be better off selling through online auctions and to other dealers. I was truly shocked and amazed at some of the fees being passed on to the dealer, and most of these shops had an abundance of empty booths. Everyone is struggling to make a buck right now and shop owners do not need to add to that problem. We all need to work together in this economy.

I have quite a few friends who rent space in antique shops and I have also visited with dealers on my shopping forays and travels, so I hear lot of antiques business talk. Some of that talk is about a trend that I find rather troubling.

To improve your sales, you need to frequently wander around your shop and make sure that the customers are finding what they need. One area where antique shops differ from traditional businesses is that while you are circulating, you need to also empty the customer’s hands of inventory and place it at the front counter. This serves two purposes; 1) the customer has both hands free to shop and 2) it reduces the theft risk. I recently read an article where the author was bemoaning this task but it is a necessary evil this also hinders customers putting items down in the booth of another dealer (something else this particular article was ranting about).

I recently visited a relatively large antique shop that had shopping carts available for customer use. My first reaction was “wow, this is what I have always said antique shops needed,” but upon further reflection—and in visiting with dealers in the mall—there is a high rate of breakage and theft. Think about it, a customer puts several glassware items in a shopping cart with no support or packing. They start rolling around and banging in to each other, which leads to chips, cracks and breakage. Even if the store has video cameras, when there is only one person working the counter, he is unable to keep a watchful eye on the monitors. When a customer gets to the back of the store, it offers ample opportunity to put things in her purse, coat or pants pockets. Even offering a small, hand-carried basket can have the same end result. It is easier to put the cash register key in your pocket and hit the aisles than deal with breakage and theft.

On previous articles you have left me some wonderful comments and questions especially on matters concerning your business. I hear that you want to do things in a different way but just don’t know what more to do. I hope to offer up a few more suggestions in this article and look forward to future comments, questions and helpful articles.

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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5 Responses to “Take Advantage of Slow Winter Months to Reconsider how to Run Your Antique Shop”

  1. Bill Castle says:

    Around here (Northeast Tennessee), there is a lot of variation in stores. Near Gatlinburg, about everyone charges a pretty high rent, and 10% or more commission. However, that is an expensive town to do business in.

    In Kingsport, there are several malls, and the booths are $50-90 with no commission. They’ve been very stable over many years.

    In Jonesborough, they charge high rent, and commission, and there’s only one store in town. It’s on a downhill trend. They have a lot of empty booths. They also have a lot of dealers with “crafts” and reproduction items.

    This a trend I worry about in antique malls. A lot of them are going this way. I don’t know if it’s a lack of dealers or what the cause is. I can pretty much smell it when I walk in the door. If there’s too much spice in the air, I won’t find anything “real” to purchase.

  2. If your winter months are slow consider bringing or shipping items to us in Florida. our slower months are in the summer so there is the potential for a reciprocal venture. Been thinking about this lot lately.

    • Francine, this is an excellent idea!! It would be great to cultivate business relationships with antique dealers in other parts of the country. Let me put on my thinking cap and see if I can create something where interested parties can sign-up for such an arrangement.

    • Janet ~ JCR Antiques says:

      I’ve thought about this too, as I visit my Mother as she spends the winters in Florida… But, when I shop at the local antique stores and malls (and estate sales), it seems to me that a good amount of what they have on the shelves in Florida would not sell well to my clients in the Pacific Northwest.
      My best way to fight the winter blues is to make sure my space is CLEAN and well stocked with what sold during those months last year. I pull items that don’t usually sell during the winter as well as pieces that have been there far too long. As noted in the article, the “real estate” of my booth is expensive and I have to make the most of it by displaying items that will sell during the winter vs. using the space for storing tired, dusty, out-of-season inventory.

      • vincej says:

        I too think of the “slow” season.
        But I’m always surprised by my clients.

        Case in point.
        I’m in Canada, near Toronto, it’s dead of winter here now in December, snow, ice, etc….

        A year ago, I made a deal with a local salvager to buy a lot of park bench ends… cast iron, victorian, the kind that have wood slats seating. Minus the wood. just the ends.
        Deal made in May.
        She is an ornery gal, and decided she did not want to deliver them to my store…. and I didn’t have time to go get them.. so deal was dead.

        In October she shows up with them.
        Normally I’d consider these spring items to sell throughout the summer, (park benches, not for winter, right?)

        So I place them in a bike rack in front of store, and chain lock them up. Off to a slow start I figure.

        A year passes, I sell some during spring, a couple in summer. Now I figure the season’s over.

        To my surprise in November and December of this year, 9 pairs flew off the chains. Totally unexpected.

        next year, what am I to do? buy garden furniture in October for sale in january February? (maybe people are buying them as winter projects in preperation for spring? )

        I’ve learnt from this, and many other occurances, to not assume much in this business, anymore.

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