How to avoid 7 common mistakes when you have a booth selling antique and vintage items. I share my experiences over the last 20 years.
Oh my goodness y’all. Let me start off by first saying, I have made SO many mistakes over the years selling antique and vintage items through my booths. In my last post on running a creative business which was entitled 10 Tips for a Successful Vintage Booth, I shared with you some tips on things you SHOULD do. The purpose of this post is to share with you some things you should try to avoid.
Hopefully, my mistakes can be a lesson for all of us. So, let me get started.
7 Mistakes to Avoid for your Vintage Booth
1. Being Afraid of Making Mistakes
I know. Right? My first words of advice are don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Who gives this kind of advice? Well, hear me out. Being afraid of making mistakes can paralyze you. It can keep you awake at night. It can prevent you from making important decisions that need to be made RIGHT NOW.
So, don’t feel like every decision you make has to be “right”. You are going to make mistakes. It’s okay. It happens to all of us. You can still have a very successful booth even if you make mistakes. Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Having said that, make sure you learn from the mistakes you make that way, you won’t make them again.
2. Bring a Tape Measure
This is perhaps the most VALUABLE piece of advice I can give you. I have a measuring tape in every single room in my house. I have one that I keep in my car. I have one in my booth box. I have a measuring tape in my purse. Are you getting the idea? Can I tell you how many mistakes I have made because I did not have a tape measure with me? It numbers in the 100s. Here are some examples –
- Buying furniture that is too large that won’t fit into the bed of the truck. (You can rent a Uhaul but it will definitely cost you)
- Buying furniture that is the wrong size and won’t fit into a very specific space. For example a 43 inch space between the glass slider and living room windows.
- Going to the lumber yard and paying for items that are the wrong size because I “eyeballed the measurements”
- Buying the wrong size hardware (knobs, pulls) because I didn’t measure them in advance
- Renting a storage space that “Whoops, doesn’t actually have room for the giant step back cupboard”
- Hanging pictures at the wrong height.
- Having a gallery wall that looks wonky because the spacing between pictures is off.
- Not buying enough paint to truly cover that giant cabinet. If I had measured the piece and done some basic math, the problem would have been avoided.
I shudder to think of the thousands of dollars I could have saved myself over the years if I had only had a tape measure in my possession at a specific point in time. Please learn from my mistakes.
3. Paying More than you Should
I am definitely guilty of this mistake. You know how this happens, right? You walk into an Antique store/ Flea Market/ Thrift Store and you see the most GORGEOUS ____fill in the blank____ you have ever come across. You look at the price tag and think “Hmm a fair price. Perhaps a little high for re-sale but then I could just re-sell it for more”.
When you buy inventory, you have to use your heart and your mind. Both of them – but your mind has to have the deciding vote. We can not buy stuff we like because it is a “reasonable price”. No. We can not. We have to buy stuff that we can re-sell at a competitive price. Which means that many of the things we fall in love with – will not meet that standard.
I know. I feel like that grouchy old chemistry teacher with the slouchy stockings. I just sucked all the joy out of antiquing for you.
Please remember that the numbers have to work. We are in the business of making a profit – although at times it is small. We are not in the business of losing money or breaking even. We are not nonprofits.
When you buy something you have to be able to sell it (hopefully quickly) for 2-3 times the price you paid.
There have been many times where I purchased items that I LOVED at a very reasonable price. Only to have them sit in my booth taking up precious floor space because I could not re-sell them at a competitive market price. Eventually they did sell but it was at a loss.
4. Keep up your Accounting
Oh my goodness. I absolutely hate doing accounting. It is the worst task possible. All those receipts and entries and classification of expenses and having to match what the bank has and making sure you don’t miss an entry. Talk about a joy kill. Not to mention the overload of stress.
Still, I have learned the hard way – this is a task that you should not put off. Don’t wait until 6 months has gone by and then try to catch up. Please don’t. Take it from someone who has experience in this area.
Make sure you have a system for keeping all your receipts. This includes paper receipts AND digital receipts. Subscription expenses are particularly tricky – for example I pay for CANVA every month. I have to remember to snap a photo of my digital receipt and file it in my Receipts 2022 folder in my iPhotos.
Try to know every month what your expenses will be. Track those expenses and keep a watchful eye on them. Don’t forget those pesky annual expenses or quarterly expenses. For example, I renew the fee for my website once a year.
I set aside an hour every month just to go over my expenses. It’s a set time slot on my calendar and I promise myself a reward when I am done. I also try – although I am not always successful – to enter my expenses as soon as they are incurred. I find that taking a photo of all the receipts is exceptionally helpful. Finally, because I know this is a task that I am not good at, I hire an accountant to keep my Quickbooks current every month.
If you are able to keep your accounting current, tax season will be so much easier. You will thank me in April next year.
5. Help Your Fellow Dealers
When you rent space for your booth, chances are the other dealers in the shop will be the ones who ring up your sales. These dealers will help customers who shop in your booth. These dealers will share with customers if you are having a sale. They will also call you if a customer is “interested in a piece of furniture and wants to know your best price”.
In short, other dealers are the reason you make a sale in your booth or not.
So, help out your fellow dealers. Help them move furniture. Volunteer to cover a work shift for them. Offer to work extra hours during the holiday season. If you like an item they are selling in their booth, buy it! In short, do everything you can to make their lives a little easier. You can help them and they help you.
While I have always had positive relationship with other dealers, it took me a few years to truly understand and appreciate the role they played in my day to day business. After more than 20 years selling vintage and antique items, I can honestly say that I would not have a business if it weren’t for fellow dealers.
6. Refresh Your Booth Regularly
When I had my first booth in Maine, I was so excited! I filled it to the brim with everything I had. When something sold, I immediately put something out to replace the hole. I was like a kid in a candy shop. Then after about 1 year, my sales started to drop. They sort of flat lined and I was perplexed.
Then one day when I was out shopping for some clothing – I had a realization. Clothing stores and big box stores rotate their inventory based on seasons and holidays.
When customers come to your booth, they like to see new inventory. They want to be inspired for the season or the holiday. They want to see new displays and new ways of integrating vintage and antique items into their home. As a dealer, you can do this for them.
Now, I generally refresh my booth every 3 months. There are some items that I only sell at certain times of year. For example, my Collection of Vintage Flags is only available late May through mid August. Then I put away those items that have not sold for next year. Another example, is the collection of Vintage Santa Mugs or Vintage Easter Candy Containers. Similarly, there are certain piece of furniture that I will refurbish and only set out when I feel the season is appropriate.
7. Have a Brand
When I first started selling antiques and vintage items, I went to Office Max and I got a box full of white tags with string. Then I went home and wrote prices on the tags to attach to my inventory. Then I brought my inventory to my booth. As I mentioned earlier, when I first stated selling inventory my sales after the first year dropped. They flatlined. What the heck? Why aren’t customers buying my inventory?
Then in 2010, I started following Marian Parsons from Miss Mustard Seed. At the time, she was painting furniture and selling antiques. I noticed that she created her own tags with her own logo! Her inventory had a cohesive look, was displayed in a pleasing manner and she shared stories about where the pieces were from. In short, Marian taught me the importance of branding.
When I first started, I had no brand. While my booth was orderly and arranged – it definitely did NOT have the cohesive look of a brand. In fact, I didn’t even have my own business cards.
Here are some indications that you have a brand:
- A formal business name – something other than your own name
- Business cards
- A website
- A logo
- A presence on social media
- A selection of colors that your repeatedly use on your website/business card/social media accounts
Here are some other dealers who have done a great job at branding.
Amanda specializes in selling vintage items and furniture. She her inventory consists of neutrals with brass accents warm wood tones.
Emily the owner of Penny and Ivy specializes in using old textiles, including grain sacks, to create beautiful reupholstered furniture and pillows.
I hope you found this information useful AND inspiring. The truth of the matter is, we can’t avoid mistakes. It’s how we learn and how we grow. Still, it’s helpful if someone is there to point out potential pitfalls. Regardless, I know some of you have expressed an interest in having your own booth and wanted more information on starting your own business. If I could only convey one piece of advice, it would be this – if this is something you love and it makes you happy – then GO FOR IT! At the end of the day that’s what matters most – doing something that brings you joy.