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How to become an Antiques Dealer.

Marcus Austin and Ingrid Nilson – ‘Start and Run Your Business’ Start-Up, 2002

Starting with Passion:

‘A love of all things old and beautiful might seem enough to start a business in antiques but there is a lot more to it’

‘Antiques are becoming increasingly hard to find and prices are rising, so setting up is an expensive and time consuming affair’

‘Being in the antique trade involves a lot of detective work, an incredible amount of knowledge and an awful lot of waiting around’

‘People go into antique dealing because they love it and have an irrepressible passion for the pieces and their history rather than because they can make millions. Antiques seem to get in your blood and can become an enjoyable seven day a week business. Finding stock is the biggest work load’

Surviving the Market:

‘One quarter of the population collects something. As people become more educated and experience a greater expendable income, they look at the purchase of antiques for investment, security and aesthetic appeal … The sale of antique objects will continue to be strong over the long term, although the taste for more recent periods as datelines at centres and fairs have largely been abolished. This has lead to a rise in good 20th century antiques, with pieces from the 50’s and 60’s set to become more of a focus as the more traditional periods become increasingly hard to source’

‘Knowledge and an understanding of the commercial market are vital to ensure you are able to buy well and make a profit on pieces. The margins on resale of antiques are normally narrow, so you need to avoid buying stock that will sit on the shelves for months, if not years. You must become an expert in your field as quickly as possible, even though antiques is one of those professions that even if you are 95, you are still learning’

‘One of the hardest stumbling blocks is the set up period, as overheads on shop spaces are often so high – which leaves little left for the purchase of stock, therefore consider Antique Centres which have inclusive monthly fees as this makes it much easier to manage your finances, allow you to trade from a central postcode and pick up tips from other dealers in the safe community of the centre. Look carefully at the economics; you could pay as much for a small table stall at a one day market as a whole week at a centre’

‘Finding a centre which already has a reputation and footfall for certain specialities such as jewellery or furniture for example, or finding an exploitable niche such as world war memorabilia will give you the edge.. But remember, what you make up for in lack of competition you lose in possible buyers. The smaller the specialist niche, the smaller the clientele, the more established the speciality, the larger the market’

‘Antique shops and dealers tend to cluster and together become a focal point or destination. Upmarket Mayfair, Marylebone, Kensington Church St and Portobello Road are still strong areas in London. Bath and Bradford-on–Avon in the South West and Stockport Road in Manchester. So if you want to be guaranteed passing trade who have antiques on their mind then these are the areas to look when it comes to premises’

‘Don’t let the stock stand still, rearrange as often as possible, particularly if you have a window space to make it look fresh’

‘It is a good idea to insure your goods against fire or theft. If you are dealing within a centre costs can be lower due to inbuilt security measures such as CCTV, Police Response and Alarm Systems. It is sensible to go with a specialist insurance company that knows the business’

‘Antiques, unlike shops, do not tend to congregate in particular geographical areas, so you may find yourself criss-crossing the country looking for your next piece.’

Running Costs:

‘Typical running costs for an antique dealer will be rental – be it a shop, stand or stall, insurance, car upkeep and petrol, phone and mailing costs. Fair costs can vary dramatically from a small table at a church hall being £60, a bigger country fair can be up to £5000 and national events such as Grosvenor House can be £20,000’

‘For most antique dealers, the process of advertising can be a hit and miss affair. You could put an expensive advert in Country Life and get nothing, or an important phone call from America. Most costs are on regular mailings to established clientele and sending out tickets to fairs and shows you are exhibiting at. If you want to advertise, then specialist magazines and directory listings are some of the most effective places. But do not expect miracles over night. It takes several years of sending out flyers and newsletters to build up a clientele, even if they don’t buy something every year it is still worth it’

‘You will need investment to purchase the initial stock, which normally represents around 65% of your start up costs. Additional investment factors include: how much money you’ll need to operate the business until the break point is reached – which can be as much as 3 years. How much will be needed for wages, six months of working capital, stand fees, unforeseen expenses and equipment such as a computer, fax and phone. A website presence, leaflets and business cards are also useful ways to promote your business and are all extra costs.’

‘One way to keep start up costs to a minimum is to resell another dealers stock on a commission basis, although the margins will be narrower on these pieces’

‘Joining an association such as BADA or LAPADA can be money well spent and give your customers piece of mind as they guarantee that the customer is protected if the article is not as invoiced. They also have helpful codes of practice that you must follow and criteria you must pass before you can join. It is best to be clearly open and unambiguous in your dealings from the outset’

The Price is Right:

‘When it comes to pricing you have numerous factors: the economic climate, the location, the objects condition and its rarity. The first tip is not to count solely on the many guide books available. Most price guides are at best a starting point, as they are often based on anecdotal evidence and can reflect the highest retail price possible, so do not use as a guide to buy’

‘Some price guides use auction records which only tell you what two people were willing to pay on a particular day. Guides do not distinguish between the going price in different cities and country markets. The ideal is to buy using experience and knowledge, but even so, dealers who have been in the trade for years still have the occasional mistake’

‘What sells for £15 in Blackpool may fetch £50 in London, but also keep your eye on trends in the market as prices on certain speculative pieces will rise and fall like to stock market. A good example of this is Victorian and Edwardian ‘brown furniture’ which has lost its appeal over the last few years. This would be a good time to pick up pieces for investment in the future, but will not give you a quick return right now. There are also thousands of decorative pieces which have no real monetary value’

The most important aspect of successful dealing is to start with the passion and love of the genre, a sensible and realistic business mind and a lot of energy!

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