How to have a successful Antique Booth Space
Today I want to touch on a subject I get asked all the time about. How do I have a successful antique booth? The question is multi layered but I’ll do my best to touch on some major points. I would start by saying it’s really hard and takes time and dedication to make any real money at it. You get out what you put in. It is really that simple. If you tend to your space and curate it well it will be successful. This job is a hard one. Don’t let anybody tell you differently. While it is tremendous fun and you will meet some of the best people you’ll know in your lifetime, it is hard work. You will have to go to estate sales and flea markets, and get up early in the morning to do so. You will spend a lot of time online looking for items and shopping as well as on social media. You will have to clean and haul and hang And prop and stage your space. Having a full day off when first starting in this business is a tough one but eventually you’ll get to the point where you have a nice rhythm in your work, and the days off will come.
This is an image of my booth in Hunt And Gather Vintage Market in Princeton, Massachusetts from probably about a year or so ago.
The first thing I’d like to talk about is choosing an aesthetic.. Most sellers don’t realize that if you take a bunch of stuff and just throw it in a space, it may sell, but you have a much better chance of selling, even an 80% chance of selling an item if your booth is staged very well. If you have a good eye, and to be successful in this business, you have to have an eye, it will all look intentional even if it wasn’t.
Think about what you plan to sell. Are you selling Victorian furniture and antiques/ Arts & Crafts Mission era? Mid Century? Primitive or a little bit of everything? Your space should reflect what you’re selling. Try to make your space look like a room in a home. Create an environment in which you envision that piece of furniture or that object living in. It helps to show the customer how they can use that in their own home.
For instance, say you really want to sell primitive antiques, these are items that were made prior to probably the 1850s earliest primitives are usually mid 1700 through the 1820s. A lot of times in primitive decor. There are certain types of mustard yellow, paints and hand painted rug mats or braided rugs, hand stenciling on walls and so on, You could go all out, do some research on the style and create a fabulous primitive environment in your booth, one that would surely make your beautiful pieces stand out to customers while simultaneously showing them how fabulous those same pieces would look in their home.
It’s a good idea to stick with selling what you love because your shoppers will familiarize themselves with your style and will instantly know you when they see your space. If you look at a booth that has bare floor, no wall color and no good lighting it will look stale and cold. But if you take that same space, add a warm rug to the floor, maybe some color on the wall in the form of paint or even a removable wallpaper ( Most group shops and antique malls will allow temporary items such as removable wallpaper and floating floors to help you create the environment you wish to sell in), you have now elevated your space.
Key things to remember when setting up your booth space.:
Good lighting both table and overhead
Absolutely no fluorescent bulbs ever!
Bring warmth into the space by using an area rug or floating floor
Make your art and mirrors pop with a wall color or wallpaper.
Floor Pops makes great non permanent peel and stick tiles.
Get Creative with your displays
(This picture from 8 months ago is of my booth space at District V House in Sutton, Massachusetts)
As you can see in the above photo instead of doing a wallpaper, I chose to do a wall treatment to the wall space in that booth. Of course I requested the shop owners permission before I did so. I went to Home Depot and I bought some inexpensive pine molding. It did not matter the type of finish it had because I was painting it anyway. I picked up a nice quality paint in a rich green. My husband framed it all out and then we painted the trim on the walls one solid color. This added some warmth and character to the space and immediately elevated everything around it. Whenever I decorate my space I go for a theme. This one was an English manor. I generally go in that direction Anyhow, My style is a lot more traditional, more manor house, more old money aesthetic, because that’s what I love. This is just a great example of how you can make a uniform space which really helps your customers see how they could use those items in their home, which will most likely lead to more sales because sometimes people have a hard time visualizing what it could look like in their environment.
A lot of people will ask me what do I do if I don’t have any walls in my space? That’s actually a pretty easy solution. We’ve done something like below where we have taken pretty standard shiplap style paneling from Home Depot and used it to create a wall divider. Now you can use anything you want you can use doors that have been hinged together. You can frame and build an actual wall which is secured to the floor and then apply whatever finish you want to it be drywall, or even a painted plywood. There are many different options for dividers for your space but make sure you check with your Mall to ensure the owner does not mind you adding these dividers. Also, on a sidenote, all doors make a wonderful space divider. 😉
Some of the wall styles we use at Hunt & Gather Vintage Market Princeton MA
Once you have your space base created now it’s time to move onto tagging the pieces you’re going to sell. If you are very serious about this business and it’s something you’re looking to do for a long time getting custom designed price tags are helpful. You can easily get these on Vistaprint or even Etsy. They tell the shopper that you are not a hobby, that this is your business and you are very serious about it. It also gives the customer a way to contact you if you add your social media information or website details to the tag that way when they get home, that information will be attached to the item that they purchased. Also, it elevates your items even further by giving your pieces a retail boutique feeling instead of the Yard Sale feeling that a lot of basic tags will give. Make sure you write clearly on the tag in a legible form what the item is, an inventory number should you have one, your booth number if you have one, or your dealer code and the price. The shop you set up in should have parameters on how they would like the tags to appear. This is only to help the shop Efficiently and effectively check out the customers when they’re purchasing your item. If everything is uniform it makes the process a lot smoother. Also, it’s really bad form to cross things out on your tags. If you need to change something write a new tag it just looks so much better. Also if you’re marking something down, I recommend you use Individual sale tags to attach to each Regular price tag.
Buying Pieces to sell in your Space..
When it comes to the pieces you’ll be selling in your space this is super important, so I am BOLDING this entire paragraph! It is so important to make sure all of your items are clean, repaired if needed, and properly Described/ Identified. There’s nothing worse than a customer bringing an item up to me that they took from one of my dealers booths and said item is in terrible condition. Because if that happens, guess what happens next? That’s right the customer will ask for a discount further dwindling your profits. If a table is shaky or rickety, or the furniture has a rip or a tear or some kind of damage that was not clarified by the dealer It is stressful and aggravating to the shop owner. It also does not put your space and your shops name in a good light. Customers will think nothing but junk comes from that store or comes from you the vendor all in all it’s just not a good look. Make sure you describe any potential damage to your piece and if something is shaky or rickety, or the drawers don’t work right don’t sell it! Customers are coming to buy items that they can use in their home not take home and have to repair.
Remember, you do not want to create a bad name for your business and you certainly don’t want to hurt the shop you’re set up in. Not only does it affect The sale when something isn’t perfect, but it also affects the store as a whole. Your Fellow vendors are also trying to make a living and trying to gain a following. You don’t want your bad decisions to start affecting everyone else in the store. QUALITY Should matter to you. I’ll say it again, QUALITY should matter to you!
Be sure to clean all of your items before you bring them in or before you leave your space. Clean mirrors, frames, glassware, anything and everything. Also, be sure you come in weekly to clean up your space if possible, but no less than two times a month. Stores get dusty with all of the traffic that comes in and out and it’s important to keep your space clean. You cannot expect a customer to pay top dollar for an item that is caked on with Dust and dirt and looks like it hasn’t been touched in months. Also, be sure to clean your booth on a regular basis with a super deep cleaning at least two or three times a year.
You always want to purchase items at the best possible price for you to be able to resale them at. Things you need to consider when purchasing are the following.:
Is the item a popular one?
Does it have a good look or something that makes it stand out?
Is the item in good shape? will you have to do any repairs?
How much will those repairs cost?
How much time have you spent cleaning, prepping and readying that piece for your booth?
Now I’ve heard people say well my “drive time” and so on but the truth is our business involves a lot of driving. It really does and it’s all relative so Don't include that in the price of your items. You’ll drive yourself nuts. Just don’t overpay for items and you’ll be ok.
If your spending time painting or repurposing something then of course try to figure out a cost for your time.
These things will affect your bottom line. Make sure you don’t spend too much on pieces that need work. If possible spend a little more to get something that needs minor repairs or better yet no repairs. When purchasing items keep in mind that you may not sell it right away and it may sit. If you price it right right out of the gate you have a 75% chance it will sell fast. If you over price an item it may sit. DO NOT GET YOUR PRICING FROM 1st DIBS or CHAIRISH these are not Accurate prices. Prices change by demographics. It’s sad but true and most of those sellers are in California or NYC where pieces are usually more. I am not discounting those sites for knowledge or identification purposes, but keep in mind that Antique, unless special, it’s only worth with someone’s willing to pay. The average dresser as long as it’s nothing spectacular, ranges from $150-$500 and that’s a fair estimate. If you’re getting more than that for your dressers kudos but the in average shop the average customer is not gonna spend $800 or $900 on a dresser.
Be fair about pricing. Are you a museum? NO…. so SELL IT!…If you purchased it correctly you can price it right and it will sell. We have a saying in our business and that is you make your money when you buy it not when you sell it. That simply means that you know right when you’re about to purchase an item that the price you’re going to pay will Garner you a profit in the future.
Do not be one of those people who prices your items super high because you saw some influencer or some person do it. Remember everything is not apples to apples. You have no idea the parameters around why that piece of furniture was priced the way it was. I will tell you the 100% truth in today’s age of social media, Facebook marketplace, and the countless vintage shops that pop up every day your customers have other avenues available to them to purchase, they don’t have to buy your thing so if you price your items fairly while still providing a profit for yourself, you will make more sales. Also don’t stick to only large pieces. Have something for everyone if possible, in all different price points. We have a vendor in our store who sells a lot of small to mini items and her profit margin is amazing! She Consistently Makes over $2,000 a month just off her small items….
You can find amazing pieces on facebook Marketplace, Shops, flea markets and yard/estate sales & Auctions. Remember when buying at auctions, there will be a buyers premium that will add to the cost of the item. Also keep in mind your customers shop facebook too and can likely be after the same piece you are.
Look for quality pieces and items that need little to no repairs.
I have found that some items like dish sets, glassware and beds are hard sells. As are Cradles, Spinning wheels and High chairs. There is always a certain style or styles that will do well in certain areas so do your research before you buy.
When buying from wholesale companies such as Faire, keep in mind that you can mark the item up to the suggested retail price or slightly higher but don’t price gouge and don’t take advantage of customers. When something is popular that doesn’t mean you automatically can add a huge premium to it. Get it for a good price sell it for a fair and profitable price and make your customers happy and repeat customers.
oh, and one last thing on buying items for your booth. Try to stay up on what is popular and what is trending in the design world. I’m not much for following decorating style "trends”, But I am very much into knowing what colors are trending. What types of wallpapers and fabrics are trending, that sort of thing because that gives you an idea of colors and patterns that people are interested in or will be. Keep in mind it takes a while for design to shift. While every year New thoughts and ideas and products come out it takes a good 10 to 12 years for a design style to kind of filter out and a totally new one to emerge.
It’s always a good idea to check to see what the latest design forecast is. creating a home that fits your lifestyle. Of course, that makes me happy because I’ve always been an advocate of decorating for yourself, and not for others. 😉
Your Sales Will Fluctuate….
Keep in mind that it will take a solid year to a year and a half to decide if your booth space is working for you. Sales change throughout the year and there are some months where you’re going to do great and other months where you’re not going to do well. It’s very important to remember that on the months you stop doing well That You be honest with yourself and look at what you’ve changed if anything. Have you yourself stopped doing something? Are you no longer coming in and refreshing your space or moving your items around? Have you stopped cleaning your space? Are other vendors in the shop not caring about their spaces? How is the economy? sometimes the changing economy can at times,… No actually, all the time, the changing economy will affect store sales greatly. It will be in your best interest to pay attention to the larger retail stores and when they do sales. The reason they do sales in January and July is because people are not traditionally shopping in those months so they do sales to try to garner some traffic. For the LOVE OF GOD…..Do not blame the shop you set up in! I know this sounds self serving because we own a group shop but the truth is the shop owner is probably just as worried about sales as you are. They have lots of expenses when running a shop too most vendors aren’t even aware of…
Returns (even if a shop has a no refund policy) sometimes customers are so unhappy that they want to push a return or even do a chargeback which effects the shop owner, you the vendor are already paid so you have nothing to worry about, but you know who does? The shop owner. They are the one who will eat the return cost. In addition if the shop takes checks, which most don’t any longer, there can be a bounced check from a customer. Which would also effect the shop if the customer never pays it back, the shop owner would then unfairly have to pay out of their pocket for that check loss.
Chargebacks from Possible fraud sales
Snowplowing If applicable
Employees if applicable
Employee/Owner Health care which can run $800 a month
all the supplies to run the shop such as cleaning supplies, paper towels, toilet paper, general cleaning products and so on.
Pens and on and on…
These all go into the costs of running a store which is why you may pay rent plus commission. Keep in mind the shop owner would like to eat too😂
Being in a group shop is fun and if both shop owners and vendors are working together it will be amazing. Just remember a few things: Be yourself, Don’t Bad mouth each other, If you have any concerns or issues go to your shop owner or manager and talk it out with them. Don’t play the he said she said game. Don’t get involved in any shop chatter! More than likely the information you garner from these chat sessions will not be accurate as most people operate under assumptions and the only way to get the truth is to ask the source. There is always three sides to any story, yours, mine and the truth…Chattering about your fellow vendors or the shop itself is not professional. Do not discuss your monthly sales or what you’re selling with other vendors. Do NOT share where you get your items from, Do Not start selling the same items as other vendors just because you see the items are selling.. Do your own research and find your own path. It’s ok to be inspired by others but it’s not ok to outright steal ideas. Imitation does not flatter in the business world, no matter what anyone says. Do not buy the same items as the other vendors in the store you set up in and then undercut them by selling it at a lower price. Nothing will piss off your fellow vendors, and the shop owners more than that.
Try to be helpful to customers if you encounter one even if they are not shopping your booth. They may one day find something in your space and they will remember your kindness. If your working in your space and a customer strolls in, say hi and if your in the way simply step out of your space so the customer may shop. Always Encourage and foster kindness to everyone.
Now I personally am an old-school vendor. I had been vending in shops for the last 20 years.. I have done all the things by the way, I’ve just told you not to do.. I know.. irony… so I know the lessons to learn are hard and it’s better to be forewarned than forearmed. Just be a good person its really that simple..
Sometimes there’s a lot of animosity in our business. I have never really understood why. There are plenty of customers to go around and as a customer myself, I love going to multiple shops to find curated pieces for my home.
Remember Your business is your business and if you want it to be successful be an adult and adult like never before. Group shops are supposed to be an exciting shopping experience for customers where they can come to find a multitude of items. If they wanted to go to Walmart or Target and find the exact same item multiplied by 50 they would do so.
Oh and Keep that old saying by Elenor Roosevelt in mind. Great minds discuss ideas, small minds discuss people.
Social Media ….
Yes, that’s right social media is important! Remember the part where I said that the relationship between a shop owner and a vendor is a symbiotic one? This goes to social media as well. You cannot expect your shop to carry the social media for your space, and give it the special attention that you would give it. The shop owners, or whoever is in charge of the social media for the shop, is going to focus on promoting everybody and not just one singular person. Sure most shops will post new items when they come in or different individual pieces from vendors booth, but if you’re not bringing in new items or refreshing your space why would the shop want to post the same old stuff?
It is your job to get your business name out there, it is your job to promote your booth and the shop you’re in, it is your job to have a social media presence. You should tell your customers when you’re bringing in something new or that you have brought something new in. You need to have a social presence to get new customers. Get excited about your business! Connect With your customers on social media it’s the best way to get new customers.
Trust me, I remember that there was a time social media did not matter because it didn’t exist. I know there was a time where I could just go into my store bringing my stuff and customers were coming regardless, because they knew about the shop and they loved it and Weekend “Antiquing” was a thing. Can you imagine it? People would actually get out of the house and drive around to go shopping not knowing what was in the shops!! 😱 I know right? Like there was no pictures online to look at what was there. It was a total surprise when you got to the shop and that was half the fun!
Now, unfortunately, there are so many businesses popping up that customers have a vast choice of where they could go so you wanna make sure they’re going to where your booth is, to where you are set up. So be sure to do social media daily if possible but at least once a week and always, ALWAYS mention where customers can find your stuff. Mention the shops you are in and even your fellow vendors! Camaraderie my comrades!
Don’t get wrapped up in the social media game. What I mean by that is everything on social media looks golden and perfect but the reality of the situation is probably vastly different than what you’re seeing. Don’t compare yourself to other people and don’t judge your own success on someone else’s. Work hard do the job and you will succeed. Somehow everything has become a contest and a popularity contest at that. Me I just want to sell antiques thats all…..
So, to sum up, remember the following:
Keep your booth, clean and neat & stocked
Restock your booth as often as you can especially after the weekends.
Remove or move items that do not sell. We do not have crystal balls so not everything will sell so be ready to mark something down if its sat longer then 60 days. It is always a good idea every few weeks to move your space around. It sounds crazy, but sometimes moving a piece from one wall to another will sell it. In shops where there are multiple vendors sometimes customers miss items because there’s just so much to see so by making sure your best pieces are out front And staged beautifully. Your customers will not miss anything in your space.
Remember to decorate seasonally, especially at Christmas Like make your space so festive it can be seen from space! Ok maybe not that but you get the idea. It’s the one Holiday almost everyone loves.
Christmas starts in October. Yes you heard that right, it starts in October customers will start looking for Christmas decor as early as September sometimes so keep that in mind be shopping all year long at flea markets and yard sales for Christmas decor. Christmas is the busiest time of year. Your sales could possibly triple or quadruple during this time so make sure you capitalize on it by having the most unique available inventory for your customers.
Research your wholesale companies before you make orders with them make sure other vendors in your store are not buying from those same wholesale companies after all you don’t wanna look like a Walmart where everyone has the same exact thing.
Don’t forget to check all items are tagged when your at your booth, tags do fall off as customers handle things and unfortunately there are those customers who are willing to change tags or take the tags off in order to Garner a better price so it’s always best that you ensure all items are properly tagged.
Keep in mind that some customers do like to bargain. Whether or not to have a discount on your item is completely up to you. Some shops do not allow discounts while others go by a standard 10% rule. Some shops will even allow customers to leave an offer with the vendor which, of course you would be able to accept, decline or counter. The question whether to discount or not usually comes up in antique mall/group shop settings due to the nature of the business. On pricing your items you may want to consider allowing for this discount if you are inclined to give a discount. It is certainly not mandatory.
Remember, there will be downtimes in sales try to offset that by having a sale of your own or by maybe doing a major booth refresh. Sales fluctuating because of the time of year or what’s going on in the economy is completely normal and part of being in retail.
Be creative make your booth stand out!
Be respectful of the shop you’re in and the vendors within that shop. DO what is expected of you which is most likely pointed out in your lease agreement with the shop. Make sure you read your lease agreement with the shop! A lot of questions can be answered by reading the lease agreement. It’s like your iTunes agreement. Don’t just click agree… read through the thing.
So Now that you have your space all set up, your items tagged and your on your way to success let’s talk about how things could go… having an antique booth can definitely be a lucrative adventure if you are smart about it. But as I said before, it’s very hard work. It does not always go to plan, you will make great purchases and you will make bad ones. Some months you’re going to sell almost everything in your space and other months you’re only going to sell a few items. If you set up in a new store that’s just opening give it some time, it may require more than a year. Any good business takes at least five years to really start going. If you’re not willing to put in at least a year or more of your time and stick with it through the ups and downs then being a shop vendor is not for you. There are many things to consider when starting your own business, make sure you do your due diligence before you start yours.