If you are a small business owner of a antique business, you have probably heard the "death knoll claims", been deluged with discouragement from the "gloom and doom" crowd and look frequently out your window to see if "the funeral procession" is passing by … I am here to tell you that while antiques as well as all discretionary retail businesses are challenged … they are not dead and will not be any time soon!
Almost every day I hear the constant comment from some customers and a lot of discouraged dealers saying that the antique is industry is dead, dying or disappearing. There rationale is:
1. The existing customer is not buying.
2. The existing customer has bought all they intend to.
3. The younger customer is not interested.
4. Everyone that might be buying is buying online.
I would like to give you "tough and committed" antique dealers who have store fronts some counter intuitive insight and contrarian opinion about the "state of things in the antique industry".
For years the antique industry (like many other industries in America) became over populated with part time, marginally committed participants who saw there opportunity to turn a "passion for garage sales" into "off or on the books" profits with little day to day efforts through the proliferation of antique malls everywhere! These dealers would "plop down" a security deposit, load up the SUV, get a few tables and cloths together and open up a Antique Mall Space. The large size of this group proliferated a huge amount of antique malls popping up on many main streets and malls throughout the United States.
The fallacy of this concept was the space was expensive, add on percentages pretty high, and marginally committed staff not having the same "vested interest" as a owner of a mall space would have. The dealers in the malls were not "retailing veterans" and in many cases found out at the end of the month that instead of the "slush funds" that they thought they had created, a bill for the short fall between space rent and sales was waiting for them on the first of the month instead of the hoped for check. A new "harsh reality" sunk in to the mall space tenants and they soon said this is not a good idea and "bailed" in record numbers. The "bailing process" of mall space tenants created huge empty gaps in antique malls and led to a new reality for the antique mall owner "they are upside down on their rent due to the vacancies". This has led to record Antique Malls closing their doors and hanging the "for rent" signs on the front of the buildings.
What is the post mortem of this process? "Bigger opportunities" for the surviving retail outlets for the sale of antiques by getting a bigger slice of a (economically caused) smaller pie. This is a moment to not lament the advent of online antique sales but take advantage of it. The internet gives a dealer a chance to reach millions of new customers and "start slicing up" their share of the smaller pie. The reduction in shopping malls makes your "brick and mortar" shop more appealing to the customer who enjoys a new adventure in a antique store (as long as he or she is welcomed with enthusiasm) and well priced and unique items to be tempted by.
Willl the antique industry and store survive and return back to life? I think so. The antique customer is first and foremost a "collector" not unlike a museum. They collect things that interest them, have intrinsic value to them and that they think will in time appreciate in value. The number and longevity of museums throughout the world is testimony that there is still interest in viewing and owning things of historical significance on the part of many individuals. A private collection of a "item of passion" for a collector is their private museum to be enjoyed by themselves and shared with friends … and perhaps ultimately sold for profit!
The traits that will determine the "winners and losers" in this antique industry "shakeout" are:
1. Perserverence coupled with tight expense control.
2. Exciting and unique merchandise flowed regularly to ensure newness to your repeat customers.
3. Good value. The days of "obscene profit" are over. $ 10 profit to $ 1 investment may happen occasionally but a more modest $ 3 to $ 1 sales price to cost ratio probably will give better value and motivate the thinning "customer count" to purchase.
4. A good attitude. The last thing anyone needs (or wants to hear) when they visit a store or business for some quality shopping time is "gloom and doom". Motivation and enthusiasm are contagious … so is wining and growsing. If you want more positive customers … be a more positive shop owner!
5. Look for new ways to reach new customers. Pack up the car or truck and hit the high, low, or medium end flea market, antique show or swap meet with a load of business cards and great merchandise. Give the people who stop by a "preview" of your taste and selection and invite them to stop by for a visit of the larger assortment in your shop. Give them a discount coupon, if you want to fuel urgency, to be used on their next visit.
6. Finally keep you store fresh. If new merchandise flow is not possible with current cash flow challenges … Rearrange your stocks so that the same items are presented in new locations, with new adjacencies and with new ways to visualize their use. You will find a old item becomes a new sale by simply moving it to a new location.
In summary when the going gets tough … The committed antique shop owner should look at the situation as a opportunity to grow market share … Not toss in the towel!
The world is littered with businesses that would have been successful with a little more perseverance and patience! Quitting is easy … Winning is commitment!