If you've considered getting a booth at your local antique mall, odds are good that you have a houseful of things you've accumulated over time. If that's the case, you may find comfort in the fact that a “collection out of control” is the number one motivation for becoming an antiques dealer. When you started collecting those glass telephone insulators, antique cameras, or vintage first editions, you probably didn't envision a time when their presence would transform from a lovely display to a logistical nightmare, when every conceivable space has been packed with the objects of your desire.
At this point, the acquisition of a single new piece requires something akin to an environmental impact study, as you consider how you might relocate several items, like chess pieces, to accommodate just one more. Then you have an epiphany of sorts, a sudden moment of clarity: “Why am I doing this?” After all, your children have displayed a total lack of interest in your collection of mid-century TV trays. So that's it then, you've decided to liquidate for fun and profit.
What to Sell
Renting a space in an antique mall isn't something to be entered into lightly. It is a business, one that can succeed or fail, and a significant percentage fail to make the cost of their rent. Breaking even is a happy place for those whose motivation is simply to stay busy, but you're here to turn a profit.
First, you should consider whether your collection is sufficiently diverse to be the sole source of your merchandise. To make a profit, or even to make your rent, you'll need to offer a selection of items that will interest a broad spectrum of buyers, not just those seeking 1930s travel brochures, and you should offer a full spectrum of prices as well. You'll need to acquire more items to sell, if not now, then soon, and since you've already displayed a knack for amassing “stuff,” you should have no worries on this point.
Finding an Antique Mall
You've gotten an idea of what you want to sell, so now you need to decide where you want to sell. Larger communities may have several antique malls close enough to be realistic options. I've known people who have rented booths in malls two states away, but you're sure to want something closer. You'll probably visit your booth at least a couple of days a week, so do yourself a favor and go with something close. Assuming that you've more than one mall to choose from, you'll want to try to determine which one will be most conducive to making money. Which mall has the best location? Which one seems to get the most traffic? Besides a good location and lots of customers, it's a plus if the mall has been around a while and has a good reputation.
Antique malls have had a rough time of it in the past few years, and you'll want to sign up with one that's going to be around for a while. As you visit your local malls, there are some signs to look for that may indicate that all is not well. Are there a number of vacant booths? That's fine if the mall is new and still getting filled, but if it's been around a while—a mass exodus is a bad sign. Look for sales in the various booths. It's fine for a dealer to run a sale now and then, but if you see a bunch of sales, particularly 50% off sales, that suggests a mall that's on the ropes.
Renting a Booth
Once you've found one that you're comfortable with, you'll want to drop in and talk to the manager about booth availability and rates. The cost of rent will be a dollar amount per foot of space, and this rate will likely vary based on location, with prime spots costing a bit more.
You'll also find out if the mall takes a percentage of your sales or whether you are expected to put in a number of work hours each week or month. (The hours often involve walking the aisles and assisting customers.) Instead of taking a percentage, some malls charge their dealers for customer purchases completed with a credit card. But getting back to the work hours, you may find that it's optional and that working reduces the cost of renting the space. If that's the case, I would suggest that you work the hours, as it's a great opportunity to meet the other dealers, become familiar with the mall, and learn a thing or two about interacting with shoppers.
Location, Location, Location
If everything sounds good so far, and you have a choice of booths, always go with the better location. Period. Everything else is way down the list. Think about it, and you'll be able to see how the traffic flows in the mall, where they focus their attention, and which areas/aisles are sometimes skipped altogether. Depending on the layout of the mall, you may find booths in different sizes and shapes, and you should consider the sort of merchandise you'll have.
Furniture, for example, probably won't work well in a long, slender booth, while “smalls” would do nicely. In my case, I've mainly always sold smalls (vintage pottery, postcards, and the like), and at one point, I wisely moved from a square booth to a very long, shallow one that still held all my “stuff.”
My square footage dropped as I was no longer paying for the area where customers stood, and my profit almost doubled overnight. If there's only one space available, and it's in a less than optimal place or not the ideal size, think long and hard before signing a lease. You can voice your dissatisfaction regarding the location, and perhaps you'll be told that you'll be put on “the list” for a better space, but be aware that those lists can be long. Years-long.
Setting up Your Booth
You've gotten your booth, and now it's move-in day. Today, and every day after, you'll want to pack in as much merchandise as possible. You'll no doubt have walls with peg board, so be sure to fill up that space as well. Keep things clean, and while cluttered is OK, don't make shoppers afraid to enter your booth for fear of knocking something over.
If you'll be selling items that are both small and valuable, a locking display case of some sort is a must. Theft is a huge problem for antique malls because the staff tends to be small, and there are countless places where a thief can remain unseen for a period of time. Even with locked cases, it's not unheard of for a thief to break in during business hours, usually at a time when few people are shopping. These thieves typically know how many people are walking the floor and will often work in pairs, one tying up a dealer with questions away from where their partner is “shopping."
There's no surefire solution to combat theft, and you will have things stolen over time. You simply need to keep your things as secure as possible and not configure the contents of your booth in such a way that someone can be out of sight.
In It for the Long-Haul
Up to now, I've gone over the nuts and bolts of having an antique mall booth, and in closing, I should go over things less easily defined. Your success as an antiques dealer will be defined by your desire to learn. There are certain intangibles to making a go of it, a mysterious “voodoo” to the thing that defies logic.
Here's an example. You have an item that has been for sale for some time without selling, so you reduce the price. Two months later, you drop the price further to something absurdly low, and it still doesn't sell. Sometimes, if you raise the price to something even higher than it was to begin with, it will sell! This doesn't seem logical, but it absolutely happens. I suspect that it involves a perceived value that comes along with the higher price, but that's just my guess.
It's also extremely difficult to guess what sort of item will sell. One usually gravitates towards selling what they themselves like, which is only natural. But you'll see that you've got to really study what people are buying to “get into their heads." This sort of thing may seem frustrating initially, but I've come to see it as a challenge. Stick with it and pay attention. Experience is what will transform your business.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
Richard on July 07, 2018:
I've been doing this for about a year now. I make sure to keep particular items in stock, such as Hotwheels and Comic books. They help insure i make the rent monthly, and i typically sell one large piece, such as a curio cabinet or nice chest of drawers. It is soo cool buying things cheap at say a yard sale and doubling or tripling your money. I have made money every month. If you do buy something that's just not selling have a yard sale and get your money back.
wired2comment on October 20, 2016:
some unhappy campers here. Best advice is location location location- both of the mall and the booth in the mall
yes there are problem malls, and problem inventories, but careful selection and good pricing in the right location can generate some money...
Lucinda Calista on December 02, 2015:
I had a bad experience with an antique mall. Here are fifteen questions to ask before you open an antique mall booth:
I really hope this helps other potential vendors.
DebMartin on July 03, 2015:
I have been thinking about doing this for some time. Thanks for the tips and, more importantly, the insights. I think now I best stay with other methods of relieving myself of all the family antiques.