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How to Start and Maintain an Antiques Booth 
by L.R. Newberry August 16, 2005

This article offers tips for opening and operating a booth in an antiques mall.

You love antiques and collectibles. Perhaps the sight of a gleaming 19th century mahogany china closet makes your heart beat faster, or maybe you have an impressive collection of cookie jars from the 1950s. You’ve often daydreamed of owning a quaint little antiques shop that’s overflowing with beautiful items full of character and patina, but concerns about the time commitment, start up costs and risks involved have prevented you from pursuing that dream. Why not open a booth in an antiques mall instead?

In an antiques mall, antique dealers rent space from the mall owner in order to sell their wares. The dealers purchase inventory, create their own displays and decide upon pricing. There are much lower start up costs and risks, dealers do not need to man the shop at all hours and they can take advantage of the large number of customers attracted to the variety of antiques available from the many different booths.

Getting Started

If you are interested in opening a booth, begin by visiting the antiques malls in your area. Browse around the booths to get a feel for the place. Do you like what you see? Is it busy? Would the antiques you want to sell fit in at this mall? For example, if you plan to sell old farm tools, you probably shouldn’t start out at a mall that primarily carries antique furniture and draws customers looking for home furnishings.

Once you’ve found a few malls that you like, ask to talk to the owner or manager and inquire about the conditions for owning a booth. Be sure to ask about the amount of advance notice needed if you choose to leave the mall and carefully read over any contracts before signing. Different malls will have different requirements. Many will have a price per square foot of rented space. In addition, many require a percentage of any sales. Some will request that you work one day a month, helping customers and watching out for shoplifters. Some will require a security deposit, perhaps one month’s rent. The owner may also be able to tell you how to obtain a sales tax id number, if it is required where you live.

Finding Antiques

Before opening the booth, make sure you have enough inventory to fill it. You might want to start with a smaller space and move up to a larger one as your business grows. Don’t rely on just a few high-priced items. They could sit for months, and in the meantime you’ll have rent to pay. Make sure your antiques and collectibles span a wide range of prices.

Where should you acquire the antiques? Try the following:

  • Auctions – Remarkable antiques in beautiful condition can be found at antique auctions. If you’ve never been to an auction before, attend one or two to see how things work before you start bidding. Most auction houses will let prospective buyers inspect the antiques prior to the auction, and you should always take advantage of this opportunity. Auctioneers will not necessarily disclose the rip in an antique christening gown or the chip in the flow blue china platter. Set a maximum price you’re willing to bid for an item, and don’t go over that limit. It is easy to get caught in a bidding war and end up paying too much for an antique, leaving no room to mark up the price for a profit. Auction houses don’t usually supply boxes or packing materials, so bring your own, as well as a hand truck or an extra set of hands if you’re planning to purchase large or heavy items.
  • Estate Sales – Dealers know to arrive at the estate sales early in order to secure the best deals. Often numbers are given out in the hour or so before the sale opens to determine the order that people can enter the sale.
  • Garage and Yard Sales – Check the newspapers for sales advertising antiques and plan your route accordingly. Again, the best deals are found early. Some dealers even drive by ahead of the advertised starting time in order to get a jump on the competition.
  • Flea Markets – Visit the flea markets in your area to see what types of wares are available. Some flea markets are great sources for antiques and vintage items, while others have very little of interest to antique dealers.
  • Advertise – Place a classified ad in your local newspaper stating that you buy antiques. People often have a piece of antique furniture that they’d like to sell, but don’t know where to take it.
  • Online Auctions – A variety of great antiques are available through online auctions. Unfortunately, shipping fees often eat a large portion of potential profits, but there are still good deals to be had. Some dealers like to pick up antiques from online auctions on holidays such as Christmas or Easter, when there are fewer last minute bidders.

Setting Up and Maintaining the Antiques Booth

Once you have found a booth and have an adequate amount of stock to begin your business, you’ll need to build or purchase display shelves. Smaller items can also be displayed on larger items, such as a vase on an antique dresser. Most dealers have a lockable display case for valuable items that are small enough to be slipped into a pocket or purse.

The mall may have requirements for what the price tags must look like. Tags usually include your booth number, a brief description of the antique or vintage collectible, an inventory number that you assign and the price of the item.

After the booth is open, try to add new merchandise every week. Antique malls tend to see many repeat customers who are attracted to items they haven’t seen before. Also, be sure to rearrange the old inventory periodically. Simply moving a pretty teacup from a hidden corner of a shelf to the top of an antique nightstand where it can be easily noticed can lead to a sale.

Whether you use a computer accounting program or a spiral notebook, it is important to keep careful financial records of your transactions. The mall should provide you with an accounting of items sold, fees incurred and sales tax collected. Keep track of each item you purchase for the booth, how much it cost, how much you’re charging for it, when it was placed in the booth and when it sold. Record the amount spent on supplies for your business, such as price tags and silver tarnish remover; keep track of mileage when using your car for your antiques booth business. You will be happy you did at tax time.

Finally, review your records at regular intervals to determine where to put your money. Like anything else, the antique business experiences sales trends. Things that were so hot you couldn’t keep them in the booth one year might sit the next. If you love oil paintings and have several in your booth but never sell any of them, it’s time to stop buying them for your business. On the other hand, you might have a group of cake platters that you only bought because they were part of a larger lot won at auction and find they’re selling like crazy. Get your hands on more of them. With time you’ll develop a feel for what sells and what doesn’t.


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