Expert Advice From Top Television Antiques Expert Michael Hogben
Dealers & Dealing
So you want to become an Antique dealer? Well, what is actually involved in becoming a dealer? There are many aspects to being an antiques dealer, from the part-timer who has the occasional monthly stall at an antiques fair or dabbles on eBay to the general dealer – who has a shop open 9-5 and sells his goods occasionally at large antique fairs, then there’s the up-market specialist dealers who have grand showrooms and exhibit and sell at all the best fairs. All dealers, however, have one thing in common – PROFIT!
So let’s start with the first rung of the ladder which is the part time dealer. How do you go about starting up your own antiques business? For a start you would need to draw up a business plan and work out a profitability factor. Most dealers work on a 100% mark up, e.g. you buy something for £50 so on your stall or in your shop you would price it at £100. Sometimes you would price higher to allow for people to haggle the price down which is normal in the antique business. Most ticket prices can be negotiated by 10% – sometimes more!
To start off at the low end of the antiques market lets say by, having a table at antiques fair; you would need to have a considerable amount of stock. To make any serious money I would suggest £3,000-4,000 would be your initial outlay. You also so need to be good at book keeping, as you will need to keep a stock book, containing the detail of where you brought the item and how much you brought and sold it for. Remember it is a business so you will have to pay tax on any profit you make.
So you have the money and are ready to go out spending but what do you buy? And where do you buy it from? An auction house definitely offers all of these answers but as I will keep repeating throughout this book you must research and have a good idea of what you are going to buy, so study the catalogue and ask lots of questions. You must think of what will attract people to your stall. If there is one golden rule for this it has to be…
Display well to sell well
If your stand looks attractive and is neatly displayed it will guarantee interest from the buyers at the fair. If you are specialising in one field then the specialists will come straight to you. This is when you need to have your pricing right, and you can only price right if you buy right. Do not be tempted to buy something for £80 with 15% buyer’s premium when the highest price you could achieve for the item is £120 on your stall. I think also that on any antiques stall you should have something which stands out so as to attract the all important buyers, whether it’s a large object, brightly colored or of a unique shape.
If your stand looks attractive and is neatly displayed it will guarantee interest from the buyers at the fair. If you are specialising in one field then the specialists will come straight to you. This is when you need to have your pricing right, and you can only price right if you buy right. Do not be tempted to buy something from £80 with 15% buyer’s premium when the highest price you could achieve for this item is £120 on your stall. I also think that on any antiques stall you should have something which stands out so it attracts the all important buyers, whether it is a large object, brightly coloured or a unique shape.
So you have invested your money, rented your table at the antiques fair and it is your first show. How much are you going to make. On an average day you should expect to turnover 10 to 15% of your stock in hand, e.g. with your £3,000 worth of stock you should achieve a minimum of £300 to a maximum of £500.
Lets say you’ve had an average day and taken £400, you then need to deduct the initial cost of the items you have sold, anywhere £200-220, then you need to deduct the cost of the stall, they average out at £20-40, this would leave you a net profit of approximately £150, not bad for a days work! Of course you also have to consider your time and travel costs but once you have built up your confidence there is nothing to stop you doing three or four antiques fairs a month bearing in mind that you will have to replace any stock you have sold.
The next step up from this would be to open an antiques shop. This will allow you more space to display your items and also would and provide a base for the specialist collectors that you have got to know to come and see you at any time. The overheads for this set up would obviously be a lot more expensive and your stock outlay would have to be increased to cover the profits you would need to make to pay all your expenses. Once again your target should be a turnover of between 10-20% of the stock in hand. Although profit margins can be higher if you have a retail unit it is a very brave step to make and you seriously need to know your stuff before venturing into your own shop. I would strongly recommend if you fancy going into the antiques business that you do a years apprenticeship in and around the antiques fairs and action rooms to get a feel for antiques and prices before venturing into a shop.
General dealer comes under the category of someone who has possibly got a warehouse or a retail outlet for their antiques. They do not specialise in any particular subject and buy purely for profit. I have seen them many times in auction rooms and buy anything from furniture, silver, china, paintings, anything that is attractive to look at or which they can turn over quickly at a profit. These dealers need to be very hard working and quite successful because of the amount of hours they put in. I know some who work Seven days a week 12 hours a day. yes They do make mistakes but don’t often loose their money as once every few months they will go to a big antiques fair with a van load of stuff which they haven’t been able to sell in their warehouse, and sell it there at a small profit, sometimes even taking a small loss. They are definitely the people I most admire in the antiques world because of the hard work they put in.
Let’s not forget the new brand of dealers, the eBay dealers. eBay has been a phenomenon in the collecting world and grows daily. On eBay you can sell anything from an electric fan to a Picasso painting! You will need quite a lot of time to list all your items, photographing your items, packing them up and sending the items when they are sold. It is quite a simple process with either a 7 day or a 10 day auction and your items are listed world wide. eBay would then charge you a commission for selling the items and a listing fee whether the items sells or not. eBay is also a good reference site to find out the current prices and trends of what is selling. Most eBay dealers I known tend to specialize be it Books, Beswick, Doulton, Wade, Cigarette Cards, Postcards or Ephemera. normally Dealing in the smaller items as it makes it easier to send the goods out to the buyers and I do know a few people who actually make a living just selling antiques and collectables on eBay. A site worth a visit if you are interested in antiques.
Whichever route you decide to take in becoming a dealer I wish you luck, I guarantee you will have fun learning along the way. And meet some interesting people and characters and make some good friends along the way.
Things to remember when starting out
Not every antiques fair is going to be busy and you might not make a profit every time.
The best time to take a inside stall at an antiques fair is from September until May. People tend to visit antiques fairs more in the winter, especially the indoor events.
From May to September I recommend that you do the outside fairs this would maximise your profits throughout the year.
When you have a stall at an antiques fair you will gain early access to the fair which will give you a chance to look around and perhaps find yourself a bargain.
Many items change hands before the public have even arrived.