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Your antique store may sell items online, in a booth at an antique mall, at craft fairs or flea markets, or in your own stand alone store front--or in a combination of all of those places. You will constantly procure new items for your store and work to resell quickly and at a profit. Most antique dealers specialize in a specific segment of antiques such as furniture, vintage jewelry, printed media, or even commercial signs.
Who is this business right for?
If you have a passion for a beautifully crafted table or marvel at the function of an old butter churn, you have the first requirement of a successful antiques dealer. You must also have a burning desire to turn a profit and be able to let go of your carefully selected inventory quickly and without any sense of loss. This is above all else a means to make money.
What happens during a typical day at an antique store?
Whether you operate a large antiques store or maintain a small booth in a mall, on a daily basis you will:
- Shop for new pieces at other antique stores, visit flea markets, estate sales, and second-hand stores
- Build an extensive knowledge of your specialty area such as toys, art, fine furniture, and curiosities
- Market your wares according to what is popular and desirable as trends change
- Price your product such that it moves quickly while turning a profit over your purchase price
- Develop your displays to attract shoppers
- Maintain ledgers/spreadsheets to track incoming and outgoing items
- Mark down inventory that has lingered on your shelves for too long
- Bargain with interested customers in order to make the sale
- Barter with other dealers to ensure you always have fresh inventory for returning shoppers
What is the target market?
Your most valued customer is the individual or designer who appreciates your eye for unique and quality items such that they return to your store for another piece to work into their home. Customers who regularly purchase from antique stores value quality construction and elegance over a fancy showroom with over solicitous sales staff. They desire to strike a bargain and feel that they own a piece of history that nobody else can have.
How does an antique store make money?
As the owner/operator you will constantly be shopping for new items for your booth or online store and will turn a profit by re-selling them at a higher price. You are more successful if you turn your inventory quickly and often. Large expensive items can linger, slowing your income stream and leaving the impression with shoppers that you never have anything new.
What is the growth potential for an antique store?
The antique boutique capable of expanding will be run by a person who has a talent for building relationships in the business. As you accumulate the names, numbers, and preferences of your clients and competitors, you can start buying items with certain customers in mind. When you become a personal shopper, you can charge a premium for your items and service. Over time, you may expand into a larger storefront as you begin to hire other dealers ready to further expand your customer base. When clients begin to call you looking for a specific item, you are on the road to expanding your business.
What are some skills and experiences that will help you build a successful antique store?
An antique store is run by an individual with a unique set of skills including:
- Encyclopedic knowledge of your specialty area including known manufacturers, dates of production, and what constitutes a rare and valuable piece
- Has a finger on the pulse of popular items in the antiques market and adjusts inventory accordingly
- Able to create stunning and attractive displays that highlight your most profitable items
- Basic accounting skills
- Friendly and approachable demeanor, ability to chat with all your customers
- Places minimal sentimental value on inventory, yet appreciates the beauty of each item
- Innate ability to create lasting relationships with other dealers to obtain the lowest price for new product
- Willing to utilize the internet to extend reach and increase sales
- Know how to pack and ship valuables to ensure they reach their new home in one piece
What are the costs involved in opening an antique store?
If you are looking at becoming a dealer on a part-time basis and enjoy trading relatively inexpensive items, this can be a low-cost business to start. You will need at the very least an online store through ebay or Etsy, some starting inventory, and an ability to receive payments. You could operate this as a weekend endeavor using only a few thousand dollars for your initial investment. Should you consider opening a large antique storefront in an old mill or warehouse, you could spend up to $500,000 buying or leasing the property, installing display areas, and purchasing enough inventory to open your doors.
What are the steps to start an antique store?
Once you're ready to start your antique store, follow these steps to ensure that your business is legally compliant and avoid wasting time and money as your business grows:
- Plan your business. A clear plan is essential for success as an entrepreneur. A few important topics to consider are your initial costs, your target market, and how long it will take you to break even.
- Form a legal entity. Establishing a legal business entity prevents you from being personally liable if your antique store is sued.
- Register for taxes. You will need to register for a variety of state and federal taxes before you can open for business.
- Open a business bank account. A dedicated checking account for your antique store keeps your finances organized and makes your business appear more professional to your customers.
- Set up business accounting. Recording your various expenses and sources of income is critical to understanding the financial performance of your business. Keeping accurate and detailed accounts also greatly simplifies your annual tax filing.
- Obtain necessary permits and licenses. Failure to acquire necessary permits and licenses can result in hefty fines, or even cause your business to be shut down.
- Get business insurance. Insurance is highly recommended for all business owners. If you hire employees, workers compensation insurance may be a legal requirement in your state.
- Define your brand. Your brand is what your company stands for, as well as how your business is perceived by the public. A strong brand will help your business stand out from competitors.
- Establish a web presence. A business website allows customers to learn more about your company and the products or services you offer. You can also use social media to attract new clients or customers. Save 15% when you create a business website with Weebly.
Select your state below for an in-depth guide on completing each of these steps in your home state.
Where can I find a business mentor?
One of the greatest resources an entrepreneur can have is quality mentorship. As you start planning your business, connect with a free business resource near you to get the help you need.
Having a support network in place to turn to during tough times is a major factor of success for new business owners.
What are some insider tips for jump starting an antique store?
Know your stuff! You will enjoy long-term success when you are able to identify a knock-off collectible from the real deal, protecting your customers from massive disappointment and even financial loss. Focus on one or two types of items you particularly enjoy as it builds a brand for you--your booth will become known as the Teddy Bear booth or the one with the really nice furniture. Always be willing to bargain and sell fast at a lower profit rather than holding out for the big sale.
How to promote & market an antique store
Choose your location wisely. Renting a cheap booth at a mall with no foot traffic will net zero sales. Learn the value of creating descriptions for your online shops using popular search words to raise your visibility. Become a regular at flea markets or craft fairs where you will build a devoted fan base.
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How to keep customers coming back
Your customers will buy and return to your shop when you have what they desire. Follow trends in the antique business and pop culture to create displays that appeal to current shoppers. Always price reasonably and be willing to bargain.
How and when to build a team
You may wish to have a partner who can help move large and heavy items, but in general your antique boutique will probably be a one-person show. If you operate a mall, you may need to hire additional clerks and staff to maintain your business hours during busy seasons.
State & Local Business Licensing Requirements
Certain state permits and licenses may be needed to operate an antique store business. Learn more about licensing requirements in your state by visiting SBA’s reference to state licenses and permits.
Most businesses are required to collect sales tax on the goods or services they provide. To learn more about how sales tax will affect your business, read our article, Sales Tax for Small Businesses.
For information about local licenses and permits:
- Check with your town, city or county clerk’s office
- Get assistance from one of the local associations listed in US Small Business Associations directory of local business resources.
Maintain Personal Asset Protection
Don’t think that just forming an LLC, or any other type of business, will save your personal assets in case of a lawsuit or other matter by itself.
When your personal and business accounts are mixed, your personal assets (your home, car, and other valuables) are at risk in the event your LLC is sued. In business law, this is referred to as piercing your corporate veil.
Two of the simplest steps that will protect your business, and yourself, are to:
Open a business bank account
- This separates your personal assets from your company's assets, which is necessary for personal asset protection.
- It also makes accounting and tax filing easier.
Get a business credit card
- This helps you separate personal and business expenses by putting your business' expenses all in one place.
- It also builds your company's credit history, which can be useful to raise money and investment later on.
Certificate of Occupancy
An antique store business is generally run out of a storefront. Businesses operating out of a physical location typically require a Certificate of Occupancy (CO). A CO confirms that all building codes, zoning laws and government regulations have been met.
- If you plan to lease a location:
- It is generally the landlord’s responsibility to obtain a CO.
- Before leasing, confirm that your landlord has or can obtain a valid CO that is applicable to an antique store business.
- After a major renovation, a new CO often needs to be issued. If your place of business will be renovated before opening, it is recommended to include language in your lease agreement stating that lease payments will not commence until a valid CO is issued.
- If you plan to purchase or build a location:
- You will be responsible for obtaining a valid CO from a local government authority.
- Review all building codes and zoning requirements for your business’ location to ensure your antique store business will be in compliance and able to obtain a CO.
How much can you charge customers?
It all depends on your products. You might sell vintage Hot Wheels for $2 each or a massive mirror designed for a courthouse for $5,000. Market trends will always determine your pricing structure.
What are the ongoing expenses for an antique store?
You are always buying and selling, so you should have a good line of credit able to withstand a spending spree. You will need reliable transportation and possibly need to maintain an online store. Your display space or store comes with some maintenance costs.
How much profit can an antique store make?
A standard profit margin for many dealers is about 30%, but keep in mind that you will be taking out listing fees, consignment fees, and other expenses. A successful antiques business owner can see an income of between $45,000 and $60,000 a year. It is not a means to become a millionaire.
How can you make your business more profitable?
Be willing to get rid of merchandise that is sitting on your shelves. If you paid for it and it just collects dust, it is not providing you any kind of income. Always keep in mind you are not the collector, your customer is!