Hello! I’m excited to introduce SUE LALUMIA of VINTAGE RESCUE SQUAD as our expert here on the KI NASSAUER Community! Sue will answer your Qs on the topic of TIPS AND TRICKS: OPERATING YOUR BOOTH IN AN ANTIQUES MALL!
Here’s how it works:
Feel free to post your Qs for Sue NOW through Friday, March 6th, 2015. Sue will check-in and answer questions Monday, March 2nd through Friday March 6th. Let the discussion begin! Have fun and happy junking!
A note from our expert, Sue:
Selling in antiques malls seems easy. You visit a mall near you and if they have a space available, you plunk down your rent money. Boom! You’re in business! The tough part is staying in business and making a profit. You do want to earn a profit, don’t you?
Sooner or later, nearly every vintage enthusiast, garage-saler or flea-market seller feels ready to take the next big step. The reality is that beginner sellers can make a lot of mistakes- most of them very common mistakes that are easy to avoid.
How will you know that a mall or booth space is right for you? How can you make the most of your space for maximum profit? How can you make the transition and be successful from the get-go?
When I leased my first booth back in 2006, I was woefully underprepared and it bombed. One month, I made a paltry $5. Ouch! I wish I’d had someone to answer my beginner questions- or even help me along the way in the early years. There’s nothing I love talking about more than junking and selling, so I’m excited to help you with your questions and concerns!
Read about Sue:
Since 2005, Sue has been seelling as Vintage Rescue Squad at shows and in antiques malls in the greater Washington, DC area. During the week, she is an art director for a newspaper, but on weekends the fun starts; she’s out junking for vintage treasures to stock her booth at Chartreuse & Co., a monthly barn sale in Frederick, MD as well as her Etsy shop.
Thank you Sue for fantastic insight on tips and tricks: operating your booth in an antiques mall. Great advice!
Sue’s work on the Community is done- but don’t be shy! Feel free to continue the discussion with other community members right here. Also, check the sidebar for our upcoming experts!
Thanks again Sue! Happy junking.
I wish I had known you when I was getting started with my first booth in an antique mall. I had a very instructive 6 month rental, but it was not a very profitable time. I closed my booth down when my husband accepted a position in Europe and after 3 years of living in Norway and France I am getting ready to move back to the US. I have had a LOT of fun shopping here in France as you can imagine. I am in the process of filling a container of goods to ship home with us to hopefully sell back in the US.
It is a huge job, but my husband is 100% behind me making this a business. We have talked over a budget to invest in the project and we are fairly confident that we can be successful.
All that to ask, would you recommend going into just one antique mall or would you recommend spreading my goods at more than one mall? I am hoping to do shows also and I do not want to spread myself too thin. Would you recommend getting on Etsy as well? I have sold on Etsy before so I am familiar with the process, but I have a very different set of products now that I am treasure hunting in Europe. I am moving back to Texas, where I lived before. Thankfully I do know the area, but it has been 3 years since I lived there. I do know there are a lot of options.
I have downloaded your book and I am really looking forward to reading through it.
Thanks for all of the great info so far.
Amy, I’m drooling over a container of French goods! Because you have some experience already, this is going to be fun for you.
My advice would be to stick to one venue at first. Taking on 2 locations from the get-go (not to mention moving back to Texas from abroad) may be overwhelming. If your first endeavor wasn’t profitable, you still have the opportunity to “get it right” before branching out to a second location.
Take the time to figure out what mall is a good fit for you (see my response to Karla below). I suspect that once word gets out that there’s a new dealer in town with European treasures, buyers will find YOU. Remember, many buyers shop just like we do; they hit all the local shops/malls! You may not even need to branch out. You may even find that the container is depleted sooner than you imagined!
Once you’re doing well in one location, then think about expanding. IMO, your second shop shop should be far enough from the first so you are not competing with yourself.
I’m really glad you brought up etsy (I was hoping someone would!). I would DEFINITELY suggest etsy—at least for your smaller and easily-shippable items. Because you already ran an etsy shop, it should be easy for you to set up again (although etsy has changed a bit in the last 3 years). I have a friend who does exactly what you do; she makes a buying trip to Europe once or twice a year and sends back containers full of goodies. She has a great etsy shop, and lots of success. I suspect you will too.
My main advice is to take the time you need to make your move and transition back to the US a breeze, and start off with one location. You can always expand; you’ll know when it’s time to do so. Wishing you the best of luck!
Thanks for your reply. I am getting really excited about all of the possibilities with my container of treasures. I just finished reading your ebook as well and it was very inspiring. I went to a local fair yesterday and after shopping I spent some time just looking at all of the booths for display inspiration. Thanks for sharing your knowledge.
Hello Sue, thank you for all your practical advice. A year ago when I decided to rent a small booth in an antique mall I looked online for ideas and guidance. I have collected for years but this was my first time selling. Luckily, I found your blog and purchased your PDF book, Selling in an Antique Mall. It was an invaluable resource for me.
I have two questions. My first year has been a learning experience and my booth has been successful. Now that I have sold much of what I had accumulated over the years, I need inventory. That is not a problem because I love “the hunt”. My concern is regarding what I should buy. Should I stay true to what I love ( camp blankets, western, “junktiques”) or broaden my inventory? It’s tempting to purchase random vintage items when I see them for a great price but then I feel my booth lacks cohesion. Also, some of the items I favor are becoming scarce at a price point that I can afford for reselling.
Secondly, do you see any vintage trends for 2015? I love old globes and suitcases but wonder if that trend is waning. I realize popularity can vary by region. I am located in the Midwest near a large city. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
It is great to have your expertise here. My question is this: Say you have a booth and it is going great..ie..sales are good things are moving and the booth space opens up next to you. You think…hummmmm…should I expand and perhaps double what I am doing now? What are your thoughts on expanding your space? What are the advantages and hidden disadvantages? Would love your input here! Thanks so much!
Hi, Diane! I’m so pleased that you found the e-book helpful, and that your booth has been a success in your first year! You must have had a great collection.
My sister and I talk about your first question all the time: should you only buy what you love? It’s always more satisfying when you do. The exhilaration upon finding those items, loving how your booth looks (it’s so YOU!), etc. Plus, if they don’t sell, you can keep them!
But you are truly in a conundrum. If it’s becoming more difficult to find/purchase those items, the reality is that you either have to up your prices (which may alienate customers) or diversify/expand your merchandise.
Before doing so, have you exhausted all avenues of buying more of what you love? Are you shopping online, expanding your radius? A few times a year, I make a big trip out of state (about 2.5 hours away, or more) where I know I can find my merchandise in smaller towns at reasonable prices. I take a big hit to the checkbook when I do so, but the merchandise can last me months. It also helps because I don’t have the same items my fellow dealers do.
Without knowing what your booth looks like, it’s hard to say whether broadening your buying will negatively impact cohesion. Also, I know it’s not popular to say, but do buyers really care about cohesion as much as we do? It’s also instructive to realize that a narrowly defined booth can run the risk of becoming somewhat stale (because buyers may not go into it if they don’t think they like that look) or becoming dead (if that look goes out of fashion). In those instances, it may BENEFIT your booth to add more types of items. For instance, whenever I find a great deal on architectural salvage, I snap it up. It doesn’t quite “go” with my other items, but it sells very quickly, and at steep prices.
As to trends, I gravitate towards blogs, magazines, and retail (Restoration Hardware/Pottery Barn). I’ve listed those in descending order of their ability to stay on trend. Blogs are much more viral and it’s easy to see a pattern as it’s emerging. Magazines are great, too, but because of their lead times, they can be about 6 months or more behind a true trend. Specialty retail catalogs and shops have the benefit of trend watchers predicting what will be big, but beware of the big-box stores. By the time a “trend” is available at Walmart or Michael’s, it’s on its way out!
I’m a big ole sucker for typewriters, globes, suitcases, pulldown maps, etc. and buyers are too, at least in my area. Personally, I will always buy them, but that’s how I’ve been decorating for about 10 years, so can always incorporate them in my home. Suitcases are becoming a harder sell, though. Buyers are becoming pickier about what kind they want (tweed, alligator, and the unusual), so don’t spend too much on a blue Samsonite.
Where I live (near DC), galvanized items, ironstone, interesting upcycled lighting, and farm items are perennial favorites. We still sell a lot of industrial and science-type items, too. I’m still seeing a lot of it on the blogs, too. In some areas, mid-century modern is trending, but I think that may be on the wane, and just cannot sustain a broad customer base. Rather than looking for trends, sometimes it’s instructive to look at what NOT to sell. Every dealer I talk to (whether they sell online or in person) can’t move glassware, figurines, kitchenalia, and any tchotchkes that buyers can easily find in thrift stores.
Do you go to any shows in your area? Those are always good indicators to see what is moving. When you see buyers carrying off loads of similar items, or a booth that is getting cleaned out, that tells you a lot.
One other thing is to see what your mall may lack. A group of us dealers have been hearing grumblings that there’s not enough for men in our area.
I hope this helps. It’s hard to predict trends. Happy hunting!
Hey, Beth! It’s great that you’re asking this question, because I’ve been mulling it over myself.
In my experience, double isn’t double. It’s a LOT more effort to work a double space. Specifically, it’s exponential. You may require larger pieces to fill the space; some of which you may not be accustomed to purchasing/stocking/sourcing/pricing. You may end up with less wall space; you may end up with less “frontage”—even though you have more room overall. You also may find it hard to maintain a consistent look if you are unaccustomed to buying at that level. No one wants to make panic purchases just to fill a space. You may need to buy some anchor pieces that could be major investments.
However, if you are doing really well, and have the merch, go for it. First, see if you can get a deal on an expanded space, rather than just paying what a new dealer would pay. Shop owners are usually willing to work with established dealers with a track record. It happened to me in my last location. I was “tapped” to move to the main level into a space TRIPLE the size I was accustomed to!
Next to consider: do you have the time to work a booth of that size? Do you have the time to shop for all that merchandise? Can you make the time to stage it? Can you replenish it and keep it stocked? If your “look” is a jam-packed abundant look, can you maintain that in a larger booth? Will your items have the same impact when spread out over a larger space? You run the risk of losing the “charm” factor.
Ultimately, I had to make the decision that I cannot, as much as I’d love a larger space. I have a corporate job, so simply cannot source that much merchandise and maintain the caliber of items and look that I envision and that my customers expect.
The advantages, though, are also exponential. If you are doing great, and have an established customer base, chances are they want MORE. You also increase the opportunity to spread your wings and build bigger and more elaborate vignettes, increasing the likelihood that buyers may purchase more items if they love your staging. Rather than cramming everything into a small space, you can create many small spaces within the large space.
You also have the opportunity to create a WOW factor that you simply cannot do in a single space. You’ll also be able to create a traffic flow that you may not have previously been able to. It’s subtle, but you CAN determine how a typical shopper will navigate your space. It’s a lot more fun—and easier—to do in a larger space.
In summation, don’t expect to double your intake. But you could treble it, if you do it right!
Currently I have two shops on Etsy one that lists all sorts of vintage smalls and one that features the items that I sew, like shopping cart liners, aprons, purses and so on. In the back of my mind I’ve been tossing around the idea of getting a small space in one of the smaller vintage shops that we have here in our area. Designing the booth space is not a problem, it’s asking the right questions to these shop owners beforehand about, customer base, foot traffic, rules and so on.. that will educate me to make the right decision and not have any surprises later on. What sort of things do I need to know about these shops before I make a decision to rent a space in one? Karla
Karla, we’re etsy sisters! If you’re ready to take the plunge, the first thing I’d do is go in each store and observe for a bit—as a potential dealer, not as a shopper. What kind of traffic are they getting? Go on a weekend, go on a Tuesday, go towards closing time. Many shop owners may not be willing to divulge (or even know) their customer base/foot traffic, but a good one will. Definitely ask about any rules.
* Are dealers required to work the front desk? That’s a deal-breaker for me (because I have a corporate job), but many dealers like it because they can see what’s selling. It’s also a great opportunity to talk to shoppers and gauge their wants/needs/opinions. Most likely, you’ll also get reduced rent if you offer, but some shops require dealers to do so. Remember that as a new dealer, you may get the worst shift.
* Does the shop also take a “cut” or percentage? Is there a % also taken off for credit-card sales (typically 3-5%)? Both of those will need to be factored into your prices.
* Are dealers restricted to loading/stocking/rearranging during business hours or is there an opportunity to do so after hours? My current location allows 24-hour access with a passcode, which is invaluable. I can drop off items, and stage at my discretion, without distracting buyers.
* Ask what kinds of items/styles shoppers are asking for and buying the most. At one location I was considering, I noticed there weren’t many booths selling my kind of items (mantiques). When I inquired, the owner told me that their only dealer that sold those items had recently left, and customers were jonesing for those items. I just happened to come at the right time! Had I not asked, I would’ve walked right out without knowing, thinking that wasn’t the location for me!
* How often are checks cut? Once a month? Every 2 weeks? Every week?
* Is there a deposit required? Some locations operate like apartment rentals, and require an up-front deposit.
* Ask what kind of marketing/social media the shop does. If they do nothing, that’s a red flag for me. A good shop cultivates shoppers rather than relying on drop-in traffic. Do they have (at a minimum) a Facebook, Instagram, and blog account? Are they active?
* Ask whether electricity is available for your booth (and whether it costs extra), whether you can paint any walls, what kind of structures you can put up, whether there are restrictions on nails in walls. It sounds silly, but some locations have a lot of “no” rules. Also, will you be limited to vintage/antique ONLY or can you bring in some “market”/wholesale items.
* Is there a lease? Don’t be surprised if you have to sign one, but I’d be wary of anything over 6 months. It may vary where you live.
* What kind of reports do they give? You will want detailed reports. If you’re really lucky, they will also have an online inventory/report system. Don’t expect it, though.
If you get an opportunity, try to talk to a few dealers. They may be the best resource you have! If they are largely negative about management, or sales, or anything, that’s a big tip-off. Ask them how long they’ve been there.
Other things I would take into consideration:
Don’t go for that super-secret hidey hole that YOU love to shop at. If it’s a hidden gem, then that may mean there is less buying traffic. It may be known as a “dealers shop” rather than a “buyers shop”.
Don’t restrict yourself to the shops closest and most convenient to you. You want a shop that is a great fit for you and that has the clientele you want, which should be your paramount concern. I have NEVER been in a mall that is less than an hour away from me—mainly because the rents are too high where I live. Please don’t make a decision solely based on how close a shop is to where you live. Convenience does not equal sales or success.
Finally, do some comparisons. Ask what the rate/square foot is, so you can compare. Ask whether there is an opportunity to move to a different space as they open up. You may need to start in a non-main-level booth, which may be discouraging. But if you have the opportunity to upgrade as spaces become available, that’s great.
Let me know what you decide; I’d love to know what you decide and whether it works out. I’d also be happy to provide more advice before you make the decision.
Wow! Thanks Sue for all the great information. You brought up topics/questions I would never have thought to ask. I’ve “scoped” out the two shops. Now it looks like I need to talk with the owners and get some answers to all the questions you brought up for me to ask. You have been a huge help and I feel like I will not be walking in “blind” to these shops should I decide to take the plunge and make the commitment. Thank you Thank you!
Hi, Birdcolor! Thanks for your question, which I imagine many sellers have. Typically, I personally do not offer sales—because of the location I’m in. We only have a published barn-wide January blowout sale.
But, in previous locations, I would sometimes run sales. I always advise steering clear of having sales too often, as it trains buyers to wait for those sale events.
Entire-booth sales work best when you’re planning a complete overhaul, or at change of season. Themed sales also work well at change of season (if you’re talking about holiday items). One mall I was in would have mall-wide “March mirror” sales or “February frame” sales where every item in that category throughout the mall was on sale.
As to older merchandise, I’m a fan of removing the item, but bringing it back at a later date. Even just moving items around can rejuvenate interest in those items. I don’t believe buyers expect continuous markdowns; that’s what WE hope for as buyers! If your location doesn’t get a revolving clientele, it may make more sense to remove it. But, I’ve had some items sit for a year or more before selling. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the item; the right buyer just hasn’t found it yet.
For other items, though, sometimes you just have to swallow your pride and realize it was a dud purchase. In those instances, Goodwill it is. At least then you get a tax write-off.
I have a couple of questions. The first has to do with sales. Do you offer sales in your booth? How often? Do you do the entire booth or on specific “themed” items.
The second question has to do with merchandise that isn’t moving. Do you take the merchandise out of the booth altogether or mark it down? I personally have been taking it out. Some goes to Goodwill and some I will keep for a garage sale. I guess I think buyers will expect you to continuously mark down items and will wait it out rather than purchase at full price.
I am just starting my booth this month. I have always been a junker,yard seller and when retired I said I was going to open a booth. I am starting from scratch and I know nothing. But I want to learn because I love it so. But my biggest problem is finding where to buy things an the dealers there won’t give out that information. How do I find that out. 2 is pricing I am really in the dark about could you give me some onsite to that. I really don’t need a Q&A I need a sit down. I downloaded your e Book I’m hoping that will help. Thanks so much
Hi, Blubaby! Congrats on taking the plunge!
The good news is that for most of us, the hunt is the best part! As a veteran junker and yard saler, you already know some of the places to buy items. If you’re feeling stuck, expand your junking venues. Because I don’t know what kinds of items you’re selling/buying, I can’t be sure, but are you hitting all the usual sources: estate sales, thrift stores, auctions, online (Craigslist, eBay), flea markets and shows, etc.? As I mentioned in an earlier response, one of my biggest sources is going to smaller towns (for me, even out of state) and buying from other, smaller antique stores. I can still mark items up.
Because you are retired, you probably have more free time than other dealers may. I would strongly advise auctions. Those with day jobs and small children most likely can’t attend them. I’d also advise two more words: ROAD TRIP!
Don’t be frustrated that other dealers won’t give out that information. Dealers need to protect their sources! If you do find a friendly fellow dealer, ask them generic questions (do you have any experience with auctions?) rather than asking for specific sources and locations. All dealers love to talk about junking, but few will give away their secret hidey holes.
As to pricing, the best practice is to do your research. Generally, online will be your best resource. On eBay you can see what items sold for. There are other sites for higher-end or antique items that list sold prices as well.
However, you have to price for your geographic area. What can command $100 in a major metropolitan area may only sell for $65 locally. Scope out other antique malls in your area. Check out your fellow dealers in your mall and see what their price points are. It’s worth it to ask your mall manager or owner for advice as well. They will know price points customers are comfortable with. I consult with other dealers all the time.
Factor in any discounts/percentages your mall may levy when setting your price. Take into account what other dealers are charging. If everyone is selling kitchen scales for $24, you don’t want to price yours at $39.
The general rule of thumb (which I don’t follow) is that you should at least triple your money. However, that’s simply not always feasible. Set your own reality. Perhaps doubling your money is good enough. I tend to make the most profit on smaller items. Larger items have the potential for big mark-up, but having big pieces sit too long can make a booth stale.
The general adage is that you make your money when you BUY. The price YOU paid for an item can be the basis for the final price point.
If you need a sit-down, see if there’s a friendly dealer in your antique mall that may be willing to take you under their wing. Dealers love to talk!
Sue, I own a 100 plus dealer antique mall in the South. I have really enjoyed reading your replies as they are right on target. The only thing I didn’t see was to stress to the dealer the importance of cleaning and maintaining their booth. We have a three-month lease, and I tell my new dealers that if they don’t pay attention to their booths, in the first month they will make money, the second month they will break even and by the third month they will owe me money for booth rent. The important thing is to remember is that opening a booth, is like opening your own small business and you have to pay attention to it or it will not be profitable.
CHAM, great point, and oh-so-true. I’ve been charged with answering specific questions, so was hesitant to throw in all of my advice. We do, however, address this in the e-book.
Nothing will kill sales quicker than a messy, dirty, or neglected booth. Buyers notice, and may not even enter! We’ve all seen booths like that.
I’m so glad you chimed in with your perspective, so will elaborate on booth maintenance. In the early stages, every dealer is so excited, and is constantly “foofing” their booth, adding new merchandise and rearranging endlessly. As time goes on—or worse, as time goes on and sales aren’t as robust as you’d hoped—it’s easy to get disappointed and slack off.
That is the time to re-dedicate yourself to your booth. Give it a thorough cleaning, rearrange your wares (even if you don’t bring in anything new), and rethink those vignettes. Are they enticing to a buyer? I always admonish a certain dealer friend that she is “decorating” rather than “merchandising”. You can’t just present your items, you need to entice a buyer. Can they imagine it in their home?
Often, clumping similar items together just won’t do the trick. If you have 10 kitchen scales, if presented together they will indicate abundance, but if they are spread throughout a booth, they can be discovered! But, it will really depend on what you are selling, who the target buyer is, and the look you are going for.
Currently, I sell in a once-a-month 3-day barn sale. I thought it would be so much easier than a regular mall booth. Wrong! It’s more work. Each month, we need that booth to look completely different (even if we have the same items). We have a loyal return-customer base, so it’s important to look fresh and exciting.
If your booth is looking stale, it may be time to rotate some items out, too. You can always bring them back at a later date. Don’t assume it’s a dud item.
Finally, I also advise sellers to periodically check their tags. Old or faded tags (or those with multiple markdowns) can be a turnoff. It’s time to replace them. While you’re at it, make sure everything is tagged! Many buyers are loathe to search out a mall employee just to track down a price.
Thanks so much for chiming in on this important topic.
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