How to Turn Your Antique Shop into a Profitable Business – Part 1

If you run and antiques shop, you know you can’t just put up a sign and wait for the customers to come rushing in to spend their money. To get customers, you’re going to have to work for them.

Whether you sell antiques, collectibles and memorabilia online, rent space in a mall or are the owner of a brick-and-mortar antique shop, the sputtering economy has no doubt affected you. To be successful in the current economic climate you must use every tool available and think outside the box, which is sometimes difficult for people who spend much of their time living in the past—with antiques, that is. Having spent more than 30 years in the business, I have some suggestions that have worked very well for me when selling in all of the aforementioned venues.

Antique shop owners in all venues need to look at their venture as a business instead of just a fun hobby. This is generally not an industry in which you are going to get wealthy, but if you don’t work it as a true business, the best you can do is survive—barely. Antiques and collectibles is such a fun and interesting business, I think that business owners get a little lax in following common-sense techniques for promotion, staying in contact with customers, reaching new customers and, most importantly, retaining a loyal customer base.

First and foremost, you must have a mailing list. I am continually surprised at how many live storefront antique shops and antique malls do not have a mailing list. This is the most basic of advertising tools and the easiest to implement. At the very minimum, information that you want to get is the customer’s name and e-mail address. Always ask if there is something in particular that the customer is looking for. If there is, make a note of it and get a phone number. If you have a brick-and-mortar store, keep your mailing list sign-up book near the cash register where it is visible and offer a 10-percent-off off coupon on their next purchase if they join the mailing list. If you rent booth space, you can have a customer mailing list book too, just be sure to have a small sign indicating what the book is for. For online sellers, this is a no-brainer as there are numerous free mailing list software downloads that you can use and direct customers to sign up.

NOTE: Make sure to read the Dos and Don’ts on using mailing list software so that you don’t get “banned” by Internet Service Providers.

Now that you have your mailing list, use it. Don’t bombard your customers with too many e-mails but do stay in contact. A monthly newsletter containing a calendar of events, special sales, an educational piece and other entertaining news is a great way to stay in touch with your customer base and make them look forward to hearing from you. Around the middle of the month you can send a discount announcement or other small reminder just to let your customers know that you are thinking about them.

If you have a physical storefront, contact the local newspaper and ask them to send someone out and do a story. You need a “hook” to temp an editor; something that sets your business apart from the others, such as the inventory you carry or the building you are in.

Now that you have a customer base, you need to get the word out about your business to expand your sales opportunities. Advertising through traditional channels can be very costly but there are several ways to use traditional media without it costing a penny. If you have a physical storefront, contact the local newspaper and ask them to send someone out and do a story. You need a “hook” to temp an editor; something that sets your business apart from the others. You can emphasize that buying antiques is the ultimate in “going green,” something unique about your shop—such as the inventory you carry or the building you are in. Put on your thinking cap and make a list of reasons that make your shop special. You could even suggest a series on small businesses and how they are faring during the economic downturn.

There are also a number of websites that you can use to post both a physical shop and a virtual shop. If you rent booth space, see if the owner has listed her business on these site and if not, ask if you can do it. The sites I recommend and have had the best results from are the following; LinkedIn, Manta, Yelp, the free online yellow pages or super pages listings for your town and Merchant Circle. A couple of these sites will let you post a printable coupon; face it, a 10-percent price break on an item is not going to break the bank but will attract customers.

Business cards are another essential for any business but the antiques community tends to overlook them. If you rent booth space in a mall, be sure to put your booth number on your cards so that people know how to find your items. For my online shop I purchase 8 x10 magnet sheets that will run through my printer and print my online information on these, I can get 10 business cards to the sheet. I cut them down to size and include one in each order I ship. Hopefully my magnetic business card goes on to the refrigerator or near the computer.

There are some great free magazines and websites that you can subscribe to keep the fresh ideas flowing and the customers coming through the doors. The Small Business Administration has a wealth of information on all aspects of running a business.

I do realize that to many of you, I am stating the obvious with my above suggestions. By the same token, if more shops were doing some basic marketing and customer service we would not see the closure of so many antique shops and malls including the online shops.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of this article, where I get in to the really fun and exciting events to draw customers like moths to a flame.

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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