By Mark Brown
I've been asked many times, "What prompted you to sell antiques?"
Besides the obvious answer my wife June came up with, "Why not antiques?" (hence our business name), it was because we both enjoyed antiques and had built up a large, diverse mixture of items ranging from a Minoan oil lamp (1500 BC) to mid-1950s British Royal Commemoratives.
The china cabinet was full, table surfaces covered - the bottom line, we simply ran out of room and needed to make space for other purchases!
If you've collected antiques for any extended period of time, you've probably reached a point where you also wanted to "scale down" or narrow your interests, leaving you with pieces that just didn't fit. The choices for converting those treasures back into cash are limited: yard sales, online auctions, or direct sales through the Internet or print media. But there is another choice, although not for everyone, that may have crossed your mind and that is to start your own antiques business.
Where to begin? By starting small! Probably the simplest way is to rent a space (often referred to as a booth) at a local flea or antique market. The expenses, besides purchasing stock, are mainly limited to booth rental, which in our area averages from 90¢ to $2 per square foot per month.
Always check the terms of your rental contract as some markets will require a percentage of your sales as well as an assessment for advertising. Additionally, there may be a requirement to authorize the market to accept a 10 percent to 15 percent discount if asked for by the purchaser.
The average booth is generally 10 foot by 10 foot (100 square feet). Since you're paying by the square foot, you need to offer as many items as you can reasonably fit into your space. As time and funds allow, this means adding vertical displays for your stock. A 2 foot by 3 foot glass case with five shelves only takes up 6 square feet but gives you 30 square feet of display space. As I mentioned in an earlier article, price and identify your items appropriately and keep your stock and display area clean, neat and uncluttered.
Keep an accurate accounting of your expenses. A simple spread sheet will work well for your inventory with item description, stock number, and date of purchase. The same sheet can also be used to keep track of other expenses (business cards, price tags, reference books, and booth rental).
One expense that many beginners neglect to track is mileage. Travel to and from yard sales, auctions, flea markets etc. can really add up. No, one more thing. Since you have a business, do you need a business license? Generally, the answer is yes. Check with your town/city/county government offices to make sure you comply with their licensing requirements. And if you are purchasing items from other businesses, you should also apply to the Commonwealth of Virginia for a tax number to allow you to make tax free purchases of items intended for resale.
Once you've been in the business for a while, a very small percentage of dealers often get the urge to expand and open their own store front. The best starting point is to speak with other, successful antiques business owners. Just keep in mind the impact on your life style that having a business will make. This is not simply a one-person enterprise. Besides your normal home jobs, now there's the requirement to run the shop during posted opening hours, attend auctions and sales to acquire stock, cleaning/repairs/refinishing of stock, bookkeeping, etc. Dividing the requirements with a willing spouse or partner will keep you from going into "meltdown."
The expression "location, location, location" can't be overemphasized. Shoppers are always attracted to districts with multiple shops. When finding that "right" place, consider signage, parking, traffic (both vehicle and pedestrian), handicap access, rental costs and utility expenses, adjacent businesses, storage and loading (are the doors wide enough to bring furniture in the back?), and lighting and electrical outlets, among others. Another expense once you open the doors is that you need to let people know you're there through advertising.
Having your own store front vs. renting space in someone else's business also brings additional requirements. A cash register, telephone, merchant card capabilities, receipt books, liability insurance and a system of collecting state and local sales taxes are just a few that come to mind.
Suffice it to say, with a few exceptions, the antiques business involves a lot of work that will not provide you with a living. But, it can supplement your income and provide you a sense of satisfaction and enjoyment that only a true "antique freak" can appreciate.
Mark Brown and his wife June Lingwood-Brown own Why Not Antiques located at 7994 Main St., Middletown, Va. For more information or to contact him, visit whynotantiques.com or call 540-868-1141.