So, You Want to be a Dealer

Two of my greatest joys in this life are shopping for antiques and working with the public. It therefore came as no surprise to my friends and family when I decided to become an antique dealer.
People get into my line of work for many reasons. For some it is a way to supplement their income, for other if is a way to liquidate a family member’s estate and for many it is a chance to own their own small business. Whatever the reason. thousands of people in the U.S. this year will become dealers. But sadly, over half of them will drop out of the business within the first two years.
Why? There are many who will never realize a profit. On the surface it may appear that you simply rent a space and bring in a truck load of merchandise. But there is much more involved with turning this venture into a profitable business. Realizing a profit requires product knowledge, buying and merchandising skills and a commitment to hard work. Still thinking of giving it a try? Then here are some tips to get you started.
1. Choose your venue carefully. Antique malls and resale shops each have their own distinct personality. Some cater to serious collectors of high end antiques, while others draw a crowd looking to furnish their homes with trendy vintage and retro items. It is important to rent a space that suits your merchandise.
2. Rent is not cheap. Currently the malls in Central Indiana run $1.50-$2.00 per square foot. A common mistake made by many first time dealers is renting too much space. While large booths are impressive, they are not always profitable. Start with a small, highly visible booth. If that goes well, you can always expand.
3. “Smalls” make all the difference. Dealers refer to anything that is not furniture or a large piece as a “small.” Make it easy for your customers to buy. Not everyone has $400 to purchase your beautiful custom painted desk, but most of them will have $5-$50 in their pocket. I see it this way — they came into the mall to shop, they want to take something home, so stock your booth with interesting, affordable smalls. I like to offer baskets full of individually priced old books, framed art, fabric, and vintage kitchen gadgets in the $5-$20 range. It is nice to sell a $100 center table, but 20 $5 books nets the same profit!
4. Be prepared for the cost of selling. You will have the cost of your item, the time it took to make it shop-ready, refinishing/reourposing supplies and the gas required for transport. Also factor in mall charges. In addition to rent, many charge a commission of 5-10 percent for selling your merchandise and some levy a 5 percent fee if a charge card is used. There will also be income tax due on the profit from your sales. While it is not always possible, you want to try to triple your investment. This breaks down into thirds — 1/3 for the mall coasts, gas and transport, shop-prep and taxes, 1/3 for replacing the piece in stock and 1/3 for your profit.
5. Restock and refresh regularly. While I visit my booth each week to add a few items and clean, every two weeks I rearrange the merchandise. Some natural rotation of stock occurs when items sell and are replaced. But even if you are not selling, move your merchandise around every 14 days. I recently sold a mantel at one of my malls which prompted one of the employees to say “that sold fast, you just brought that in”. Actually the piece had been there for 3 months — I had simply moved it from one side of the booth to the other.
Success in dealing comes with time and careful observation. Walk the malls in your area regularly. In doing this you will start to understand what sells and what sits. Study the trends in collecting and home decor through online sources such as HGTV and Pinterest. And, most importantly, remember the power is in the “buying.” If you acquire the knack for spotting a bargain, you are well on your way to becoming a successful dealer. Until next time…Linda

Linda Kennett is a professional liquidation consultant specializing in down-sizing for seniors and the liquidation of estates and may be reached at 317-258-7835 or