If you are a small business owner of an antiques business, you have probably heard the “death mound claims”, been overwhelmed by the discouragement of the “sadness and doom” crowd, and often look out the window to see if “the funeral procession” is happening… I’m here to tell you that while antiques as well as all discretionary retail businesses are challenged… they’re not dead and they won’t be any time soon!
Almost every day I hear the constant comment from some customers and many discouraged dealers that the antiques industry is dead, dying or disappearing. There is reason is:
1. The existing customer is not buying.
2. The existing customer has bought everything he intended.
3. The youngest customer is not interested.
4. Everyone who could be shopping is shopping online.
I’d like to provide “tough and committed” antique dealers who window shop with a counterintuitive view and contrarian view of the “state of affairs in the antiques industry.”
For years, the antiques industry (like many other industries in the United States) was filled with part-time, marginally engaged participants who saw an opportunity to turn a “passion for yard sales” into “unrecorded” profits with little day to day. efforts through the proliferation of antique malls everywhere! These merchants would “ditch” a security deposit, load up the SUV, gather up some tables and tablecloths, and open an Antique Mall Space. The sheer size of this group proliferated into a large number of old fashioned malls that appeared on many high streets and shopping malls across the United States.
The fallacy of this concept was that the space was expensive, the additional percentages were quite high, and the staff was marginally engaged and did not have the same “vested interest” that a retail space owner would. Mall merchants were not “retail veterans” and in many cases discovered at the end of the month that instead of the “kickback funds” they thought they had created, they were being billed for the difference between the rent of space and sales. expecting them on the first of the month instead of the expected check. A new “harsh reality” sunk in and tenants of the mall space soon said this was not a good idea and “bailed out” in record numbers. The “rescue process” of mall space tenants created huge vacant spaces in old malls and led to a new reality for the old mall owner: “they are upside down on their rent due to vacancies.” This has led to records of old malls closing their doors and hanging “for rent” signs on the front of buildings.
What is the post mortem of this process? “Increased opportunities” for surviving retail stores for antique sales by getting a larger slice of a smaller (economically caused) pie. This is a time not to lament the advent of online antique sales, but to take advantage of it. The Internet gives the distributor the opportunity to reach millions of new customers and “start slicing” their piece of the smaller pie. Shrinking malls makes your brick-and-mortar store more appealing to the customer who enjoys a new adventure in an antique store (provided it’s enthusiastically received) and unique, well-priced items to be tempted.
Will the industry and the antique shop survive and come back to life? I think so. The antiques customer is first and foremost a “collector” not unlike a museum. They collect things that interest them, that have intrinsic value to them, and that they believe will appreciate in value over time. The number and longevity of museums around the world is testimony that there is still an interest in seeing and owning things of historical importance on the part of many people. A private collection of a “passion item” for a collector is their private museum for them to enjoy themselves and share with friends…and perhaps eventually sell for profit!
The traits that will determine the “winners and losers” in this age-old industry “shake-up” are:
1. Perseverance coupled with strict cost control.
2. Exciting and unique merchandise flowed regularly to ensure novelty for your regular customers.
3. Good value. The days of “obscene profits” are over. A $10 profit on a $1 investment may occasionally occur, but a more modest selling price to cost ratio of $3 to $1 will likely give better value and encourage declining “customer count” to buy.
4. A good attitude. The last thing anyone needs (or wants to hear) when visiting a store or business for quality purchases is “sadness and doom.” Motivation and enthusiasm are contagious…so is winning and growing. If you want more positive customers… be a more positive store owner!
5. Find new ways to reach new customers. Pack up the car or truck and head to the high-, low-, or mid-end flea market, antique show, or swap meet with loads of business cards and great merchandise. Give visitors a “preview” of your taste and selection and invite them to visit your store’s largest assortment. Give them a discount coupon, if you want to feed the urgency, to use on their next visit.
6. Finally keep your store fresh. If the new flow of goods is not possible with the current cash flow challenges… Reorganize your inventory so that the same items are presented in new locations, with new adjacencies and with new ways of viewing their use. You’ll find that an old item becomes a new sale simply by moving it to a new location.
In short, when the going gets tough… The committed antique store owner should see the situation as an opportunity to increase market share… Don’t throw in the towel!
The world is literate with businesses that would have been successful with a little more perseverance and patience! Giving up is easy… Winning is commitment!