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Advice to New Antique Dealers

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While running one of the largest vintage, antique, and design websites in the world, I had the chance to work alongside more than 2,300 antique dealers and try my own hand at the profession. During those seven years deeply immersed in the industry, I learned many valuable lessons. This article shares just a few of those things I picked up over the years.

“Collecting is like Crack. You can get rich selling Crack – not taking it.”
Antique dealers are people who love to collect but can no longer support their habit. If you collect you know that “collecting is like Crack.” The thrill of the hunt, the rush of a bargain, the high of finding a rare piece, the art of the haggle – it is an adrenaline rush. But like all junkies and thrill seekers, your high can not be supported. Soon you run out of expendable income and break into money you need to survive. Antique dealers become antique dealers because they HAVE TO make money and sell off some of their prized finds. The quicker you realize that antiques are not just “fun” but a serious business the better off you will be.

“There is always more product.”
One day, a wise 30 year veteran of the business told me something that I think about everytime when I feel I “have to have that object.” He told me simply, “There is always more product.” And he is right. If you are bidding in auctions – don’t over bid. In general you must get everything for a good deal, or you can not make money reselling it. It is better to pass than to overspend.

“Buy low sell high.”
It sounds silly to say but it is so true. I NEVER buy anything anymore that I know I can not double my money on. You may not find a buyer for an item for a while so it is extremely important to buy low and sell high.

“Keep records.”
It is easy to forget what you paid for something. You MUST keep careful records in a spreadsheet or some simple database program. This is the only way you will remember what you paid and if you are making money on it or if you can discount it when people haggle with you.

“Generalist vs. Specialist.”
I have had this discussion with so many dealers. And the “right answer” is that it is a combination of both. You should have some things that you specialize in but diverse enough so as to support sales if you specialty is so niche with few serious buyers.

“Antiques have Fads Too.”
Collecting is culture based and goes in trends, fads, and waves. Be careful to have a look but be diverse. Again this is similar to the Generalist vs. Specialist argument. Please know that most major trends don’t come back for 30 years and I have seen many dealers who specialized in for example, American Folk Art Weathervanes sit on items for that long before selling again.

Selling Low vs. Selling High
There are definitely two schools of thought on selling low vs. selling high. Some dealers like to be pickers. They travel across the country and go to estate and yards sales by the hundreds and then sell their items for low amounts quickly to dealers. This is the “quick turn” method. This method is about volume. You move a lot of product fast. The other method is to have pickers sell you best product or buy at auction, repair or restore the item to “move in ready” condition and then sell it for a lux price. This method is harder to break into as you need a large marketing list and client database to sell items at top of retail. Most dealers fall somewhere in the middle – always with a mind to upscale and move upward to the top of the industry.

Hopefully some of these simple and important suggestions help you. There are many more I could share and will in future articles on marketing for antique dealers.

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