If Business Is Slow, Get Moving

A friend has an antiques shop that does not attract a lot of foot traffic. As a result of the current economic crisis, business has slowed down even more. What are your suggestions for keeping her business alive while riding out this recession?

Reaching out to regular customers is the first step. It is hoped that your friend has a mailing/e-mail list of previous customers. If she does not—a majority of dealers do not—she needs to start one immediately. Customers like to shop where they feel welcome and appreciated. Continuing contact strengthens both these concepts.

Repeat customers, especially those who are collectors, are the one certainty in these difficult economic times. These individuals are hooked—they love to buy antiques and collectibles.

Seek out customers

Your friend can no longer afford to wait for customers to come to her. A monthly newsletter should be launched. It should focus on new merchandise and include collecting, decorating, display and care tips. Every e-mail address saves 42 cents in postage and reduces printing costs.

Advertising is expensive. Yet, your friend needs to set aside money for it. The first investment should be a business sign that is easily readable from the road. Create an attractive yard sign if zoning permits.

Your friend is a merchant, identical to those selling clothing, home décor or firearms. Study other merchants’ promotion ideas and adapt them. Consider joining the local chamber of commerce. In tough times even more than in good times, local merchants support each other.

Offer creative sales and promotions

Run sales and special promotions. David Lindquist of Whitehall at the Villa in Chapel Hill, N.C., runs an annual name-your-own-price sale. There is only one rule. David has the right to say no. When he first tried this, he expected customers to ask for discounts as high as 50 percent or more. Much to his surprise, the highest request he received was one-third off his sticker price. The average discount-price request was less than 25 percent.

Dave uses a times three-plus markup. Hence, even at a 50-percent discount, he is making money. Items flew out the store. David governs his final sell or no-sell decision based on how long a piece has been in inventory—the longer the time in inventory, the higher the acceptable discount. His initial sale far exceeded his expectations. The concept is so successful that regular customers mark their calendars a year in advance. David scheduled the first sale in his worst cash-flow month. It is now one of his best.

Three steps to improve sales

Reaching out also involves getting out. Few antiques shops survive relying solely upon through-the-door buyers. First, the primary reason to own an antiques shop is not to sell but to acquire. You want locals to come to you when they plan to dispose of their antiques and collectibles.

Second, an antiques shop is only a base of operation. Economic survival requires cash flow from multiple sources. Your friends should select five to 10 antiques shows, half within a 100-mile driving radius and the other half farther. Adding new buyers to the customer base needs to be your friend’s primary goal. Sales are a bonus. A photo album of merchandise that remains behind in the shop should occupy a prominent place on one of the tables.

Finally, your friend needs to be aggressive in making herself visible in the community. Civic and other clubs always are looking for speakers, especially those who will appear for free. Develop a 30-to-40-minute talk, and put out the word. There will be plenty of takers. Join one or more civic clubs. Do volunteer work for organizations with high traffic, e.g., the public library. Volunteer at Goodwill or a charitable “white elephant” shop. Not only will you get some great buys but some leads, as well.

In conclusion, the worst thing your friend can do is sit in her store and lament. The solution is to get up and do something. Anything is better than nothing.


Rinker Enterprises and Harry L. Rinker are on the Internet. Check out his Web site.

You can listen and participate in “WHATCHA GOT?” Harry’s antiques-and-collectibles radio call-in show on Sunday mornings between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. Eastern Time. If you cannot find it on a station in your area, WHATCHA GOT?” streams live and is archived on the Internet.

“SELL, KEEP OR TOSS? HOW TO DOWNSIZE A HOME, SETTLE AN ESTATE, AND APPRAISE PERSONAL PROPERTY” (House of Collectibles, an imprint of the Random House Information Group), Harry’s latest book, is available at your favorite bookstore and via Harry’s Web Site.

Harry L. Rinker welcomes questions from readers about collectibles, those mass-produced items from the 20th century. Selected letters will be answered on this site. Harry cannot provide personal answers. Photos and other material submitted cannot be returned. Send your questions to: Rinker on Collectibles, 5093 Vera Cruz Road, Emmaus, PA 18049. You also can e-mail your questions to harrylrinker@aol.com. Only e-mails containing a full name and mailing address will be considered. Please indicate that these are questions for WorthPoint.com.

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