November 14, 2011

Antique dealers offer sage advice on starting a booth

How difficult is it to get your own booth business going in an antique mall? How do you become an antique mall mini-entrepreneur? Here is a brief guide.

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Stepping into an antique mall reminds me a bit of Christmas -- surprises all around, decorations adorning every surface, fragrant smells of citrus and pine and people scurrying around.

One showcase might display a treasure featured on last week's Antiques Roadshow on PBS , while the next booth has CorningWare Cornflower teapots and Dr Pepper signs from 40 years ago.

You might find furniture oil, lilac stationery or Anti Monkeybutt Powder in the next aisle. Shoppers are enticed to spend at all price levels, from a 1945 postcard of Clovis, N.M., addressed to "My Darling" for $1 to a 100-year-old $14,975 Italian walnut buffet.

Tarrant County boasts about 10 antiques malls where individuals rent space to sell merchandise that they select, display and monitor. The mall collects money from shoppers, pays sales tax and compensates the dealer for items sold from his or her booth.

Some of you, like me, can't resist the lure of antique malls, so you may be thinking of taking it to the next level.

How difficult is it to get your own booth business going? How do you become an antique mall mini-entrepreneur? Here is a brief guide.

Who are typical booth dealers?

Booth dealers are men and women of all ages. For example, Velma Metcalf, 72, started with her first booth in 1994 at the Montgomery Street Antique Mall. She sells vintage clothing, jewelry and other things that she considers quirky. Phillip and Pat McClurkin sell old knobs and hardware for antique furniture and more at Benbrook Antique Mall.

Many dealers have a full-time job and consider this a sideline. Other dealers manage their booth, or several of them, as their only job. But perhaps you should be cautious starting out. "It's a little like addiction and a lot like gambling," says Cynthia Koop, a 20-year veteran at the Montgomery Street Antique Mall.

What can you expect in terms of renting space?

Some business arrangements seem to be standard in antique malls. Usually, a new dealer has to sign a six-month lease, then the lease converts to a month-to-month arrangement and can be canceled with 30 days' notice.

A 10-by-10-foot space is the most universal size, but larger and smaller sizes may be available. The booth dealer provides display shelves, tables and signs for the goods. Showcases are also available, and they are very popular with shoppers and dealers because lights and glass shelves display the items nicely for shoppers.

Janice Holleman, at the Benbrook Antique Mall, says new vendors frequently test out a small booth or showcase to see how they like the process, then, hooked by potential sales, may trade up to a larger booth or add additional space. Most of the malls have a long waiting list for the common-size booths and showcases, suggesting that not many are giving up their spaces.

How much will the space cost you?

Generally, a booth rents for $2 to $3 per square foot per month; that would be$200 to $300 per month for a 10-by-10 booth. The price also depends on the booth's location in the building. The locked showcases vary, from $50 (at Benbrook Antique Mall) to $75 (at Montgomery Street Antique Mall) for a 2-foot-wide case that is usually 7 feet tall. Also, a fee of 2 to 8 percent is charged per sales transaction for bank fees and administration.

Dealers might be required to work a minimum number of hours a month for the mall or pay an additional fee. Other fees may be charged; each mall has its own leasing schedules and requirements.

Do you have to sell antiques?

Antique malls have a tremendous assortment of goods for sale, and not all are true antiques (more than 100 years old). The Montgomery Street Antique Mall, which at 61,000 square feet is considered huge, requires new dealers to stock mostly antiques or items that are vintage (more than 50 years old), except for one corner of the building. No firearms or fine jewelry may be sold there.

The Mercantile accepts a wide mixture of antiques, home decor, gifts and clothing but will restrict new dealers from some categories to maintain a variety of booths and to not hurt the sales of established dealers.

How do you choose a mall?

Shoppers need to be coming through the doors. A tea room is a delightful attraction to an antique mall, bringing in more shoppers who might have reason to linger. Richard Schneck of the Vineyards Antique Mall says the tearoom hosts 80 to 100 people for lunch every day.

The Camp Bowie Mercantile estimates that 4,000 people walk through every month. The Montgomery Street Antique Mall estimates that thousands a week browse its aisles.

How do you price your items?

Browsing antique malls is one of the best ways to get started pricing merchandise. Donna King, a dealer at the Benbrook mall, says to educate yourself about the items that you want to sell. Metcalf, from the Montgomery Street Antique Mall, includes her labor for sewing and other handiwork in the price. Searching eBay and Craigslist for similar items can help with pricing.

Where can you get more stuff to sell?

Most dealers really love the hunt for items to sell. Many people start with their own collections. Estate sales, flea markets, thrift stores, auctions and garage sales are popular sources for merchandise. But luck can enter the picture.

King was passing a house with furniture on the curb for trash pickup when she spotted a crystal punch bowl platter made by Heisey (circa 1896-1957) on the porch, covered with dirt and motor oil. The owners accepted her offer of a few dollars, and she found the matching punch bowl and cups in another booth at her mall. She sold the set for $300. This is the type of discovery that keeps a dealer hungry for the next find.

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