Guaranteed to Fail: Running an Antique Shop without Common Sense, Basic Business Skills

If you don’t run your business like a business, you won’t be making many sales.

Last week I was asked to “check up on” a building owned by some friends of mine who are in South Africa. Interestingly, the building is occupied by an antique shop. I was not given any details, so I assumed that I was stopping in to check on the structure to ensure that there was no damage to the place and that the exterior was in decent condition. Nothing could have prepared for the hornets’ nest of total and absolute drama, business incompetence and utter chaos that I was walking in to.

First, the shop owner was nowhere to be found, one of the dealers was running the shop and she was ready to tell all she knew. It is not uncommon for dealers in a multi-seller antique shop or mall to trade time working in the store for rent due, but I had come to find out the owner “had a quick errand to run” and had been gone for several hours. I was also informed that no one had received a check for goods sold and there was some apparent concern over this matter, especially since it was already the 5th of the month.

It also came to light that no one had a written contract with the shop owner, there was no sales book (manual or computerized) in which to record sales and give customer receipts. There was not even a cash register; only a metal cash box. As I wandered around the shop, I noticed that a large number of items did not have price tags and when I asked about it I was told that the owner took in consignments and that those did not always get priced. FYI, if inventory does not have a price tag, there is also no way to tell which item belongs to whom also and people are less likely to purchase items that are not priced.

When another dealer came in and began moving her booth space, the drama was off and running. She carried on about not having enough time to do all of the work, she had her child with her and she was none too happy about the entire ordeal. She voiced her disdain loudly and bluntly with customers in the store.

Even if you recognize some of these business no-no’s, don’t panic; you can turn it around with a little common sense and some basic business skill.

When I returned home, I called the landlords and asked for specifics on what information they wanted. Come to find out, the tenant had not paid rent since the lease was signed back in April and had been told to vacate the premises by the 15th of this month. They wanted to know if I saw any effort underway as far as removing inventory. I had to tell them no, I did not see anything that looked like anyone was moving anywhere and that none of the dealers in the shop had a clue that they had to be out by the 15th. They were actually making plans for future sales and events.

The next day I took it upon myself to return to the building and inform the dealers of the turn of events and asked if anyone had an interest in taking over the business by signing a new lease in their name. The two dealers who were present for my little disclosure then proceeded to get in to a power struggle over who would sign the lease. My observation of this interaction was that one of the dealers was truly vested in the business and wants to see it thrive and survive, while the other dealer simply wants to be in charge without the burden of the day-to-day operation of the business. My opinion is that neither person has the business acumen to run an operation of any kind, but passion does override simply wanting to bark orders.

I gave the landlords my recommendation, with reservations, on who I thought should be the new official tenant and also expressed my concern about the sustainability of the business with the current power struggle and lack of business sense.

So why am I even writing about this? Shock Therapy. I hope that shop owners who read this will learn a lesson or two from the dysfunction of the situation and to offer some suggestions and the same advice that I give to small business owners who come to me for consultations. To wit:

Always have a written contract with anyone you rent dealer space to or consign items with, even friends and family. This way everyone knows what is expected of whom by when.

• Always have a written contract with anyone you rent dealer space to or consign items with, even friends and family;
• Keep an inventory list of consignment items and mark items sold as they sell;
• Have a sales receipt method in place, even if it is a simple carbon copy sales book;
• Pull the price tag with owner identification code off of the item when it sells and have a notebook in which to place the tags;
• Every single item that is for sale must have a price tag and some sort of code to identify who the item belongs to. If an item is for display and not for sale, please mark it as such. (NOTE: By having a receipt book or program and a separate system for storing and managing sales tags, you have a fairly failsafe method of keeping track of what sold, who it belonged to and when the item sold).
• If you notice that there is conflict among dealers in your shop, it is time for a meeting. You do not want drama in your shop in the presence of customers. If you allow that type of behavior you will lose customers. New dealers are a dime a dozen but good customers are hard to find.
• Communicate with your dealers and consignors; it may not always be easy and pleasant but if something is going on, such as if you have a tenant who hasn’t paid rent in six months, they need to know what will happen going forward so that they don’t show up only to find a padlock placed on the door and their entire inventory gone.

Running a business is not easy but, then again, it isn’t rocket science. A few simple techniques, a bit of professionalism and common courtesy go along way. If you need help, ask or hire a small business consultant to come in and help get things in order.

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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