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Monday, August 23, 2010

Unsolicited Advice to Antique and Collectible Sellers and Exhibitors


The other day, I visited an antique mall, to look for mineral specimens (which I collect), and other targets of opportunity.

I'm no expert on product placement of inventory, but, as a buyer, I do pick and choose where I will spend my time looking, especially in large antique malls with hundreds of booths vying for my attention; my time and energy are limited.

As I browsed, I noted some general observations about what sellers can do to make their spaces more appealing to buyers:
Make sure that you tag everything with readable prices (large numbers in black ink) and correct descriptions. Don't misrepresent your items; if you don't know, please don't guess. Either do your research or price accordingly.

Price your items right; many buyers are savvy about value, and if they see that your prices tend to be higher than reasonable wholesale, they will walk and go to the next booth. These days, you have plenty of competition, including bricks and mortar thrift shops, where prices are dirt cheap and astounding treasures can be found, and online stores, such as eBay and Craig's List.

Old, faded tags tell me that your item is priced way too high. If you really want to sell it, mark it down.

Be willing to dicker (leave your mobile number on file with the mall proprietor who can then call you when a customer wants to make a deal) and be willing to keep an open mind.

If your items are kept in locked display cases, make sure that your price tags are turned upward and clearly visible. There is nothing more irritating than not being able to see a price. Unless I'm seriously drooling over an item, I am not likely to ask the clerk, who is often alone at the front counter, to open the case.

Place themed items together. For example, while you may not be offering just Disneyana, you may want to dedicate one or more shelves to just your Disney items. Many potential buyers collect specific kinds of items (Teddy bears) or collectible labels (Beanie Babies), so make their browsing experience easier.

It's okay to dedicate your entire space to one kind of item, such as Coca Cola collectibles or rock specimens. While you will enjoy fewer casual browsers, theme collectors are serious buyers and will spend more time in your space. On the other hand, don't expect every shopper to stop by your booth. No way will I waste my time looking at shelf after shelf of old dishes, but others will, so it's a trade off.

Keep small, expensive items, such as jewelry, in a locked display case. If larger items are valuable, consider placing them under lock and key as well, but you probably don't need to worry about a chest of drawers being pilfered.

Keep your space tidy and clean, and don't overload it with inventory. If I want to comb through junk, I can do that in the bargain bin at the thrift store. When I go to an antique mall, I want to look through organized inventory and easily accessible items. In this case, less is better; create a sense of space--your items should be displayed in a manner that makes them look special and worth the price you are asking.

Dress up your space, perhaps according to theme or season. However, label your "not-for-sale" display items accordingly. A buyer might make an offer anyway, so be open minded and friendly. Recently, at a mineral show, I made an offer on a wood-carved hand/forearm; the seller was displaying necklaces on it. I thought it would be useful for storing and showing off my own necklaces and bracelets. The seller accepted my offer, and I ended up with a useful item and an unusual piece of art from Africa.
Some additional thoughts about about antique shows, where you and your employees will be working directly with customers:
Keep in mind that your customers have paid an admission fee; therefore, treat them with respect. If you ignore me or are surly, I am not likely to visit your shop, and I will be sure to tell others about your snooty and rude behavior.

Don't judge customers by the way they dress. Some attendees like to dress comfortably, especially when they decide to spend an entire day at an antique show, often held in large convention centers with concrete floors. That bearded blue-jeaned hippie in sneakers might be sitting on a 200-million-dollar trust fund. In short, treat a customer as if she or he is about drop a thousand bucks.

If someone asks a question about something related to your field, be friendly and helpful. If you don't know the answer to the question, just be polite and say you don't know and offer a good source or two that might hold some answers.
True story: I stopped going to a very popular antique show that occurs twice a year in my area because most of the sellers were surly and rude to customers. I overheard two of them lamenting the lack of business; I wanted to pipe up and tell them my take on their slow sales, but why bother? Potential attendees won't tell a seller or show promoter, "You're being rude, so I'm not coming back." Instead, they will vote with their feet and dollars.
There may be other considerations that I may have missed, but my suggestions are based on the "do unto others" rule. As a customer, I am polite and respectful to sellers, and I hope for the same from my sellers.

On my recent foray, I didn't find any mineral specimens, but I did buy a $3.00 cerrobend hexagon paperweight. I passed on a pretty stone necklace that was, quite frankly, way overpriced and not that special.

On the other hand, the cerrobend paperweight passed my three-pronged serendipity test:
1. I like it; it is different from anything I have ever seen.

2. It has a mark ("Cerro Bend"), which makes it easier to research, and

3. It was cheap, so it was worth the risk.
Happy selling!

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