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Why Antique Malls Are Going Out Of Business

I was a seller in antique malls for nearly ten years. I enjoyed going to the store every few days, merchandising my vintage costume jewelry and talking to customers. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that remaining in an antique mall was not a smart business decision. I moved out.

I’ve noticed that antique malls and stores all over the MidWest are dying out. Below are the reasons why I think antique malls are going out of business:

1. Competition from the Internet, especially eBay. eBay allows me to market my items worldwide. Many times I would put an excellent piece of vintage costume jewelry in my mall showcase at a competitive price, only to have it sit there for months. Eventually I would get frustrated and remove it from the store to list on eBay. Invariably a collector from New York or California would purchase the item on eBay for many times what I had it listed in the store for. I came to the conclusion that my “best” customers were collectors and dealers in large metropolitan markets with money to spend. These type people rarely walked into an antique store in southern Ohio.

2. Antique Mall Rent/High Overhead: My mall charged a hefty but competitive rent for my city. This overhead was a barrier that had to be scaled each month, regardless of the level of sales. The owner of my antique mall never varied the rent — so when things were bad, the rent was still high. eBay on the other hand is tied more to dollar sales. Some antique shows have competitive fees that can help a dealer sell with lower overhead.

3. Declining quality of merchandise sold in antique stores: My personal experience is that the level of merchandise available in antique malls can decline if a mall owner is not vigilant in policing the merchandise that dealers bring in. When a mall owner is not willing to prohibit new items or Goodwill level merchandise, this leads to a decline in quality of merchandise. Higher quality dealers get frustrated and move out looking for better selling venues.

4. Inability to control image: In a store surrounded by other dealers/merchandise, the only area I had control over was my own. If someone beside me kept a dirty booth or never changed out inventory or sold low quality items, this brought down the general atmosphere of the store. On eBay and on my website, my image is totally my own.

5. Too many people who aren’t antiques dealers are selling in malls: There are no licensing requirements or education requirements to become an antiques dealer. I’ve seen this a million times over the years — someone with an interest in antiques/collectibles decides to make a go of selling some things. These people may not have a selling or business background but they are able to pay some rent. Once these people move in to a mall, they place their items in their booth and wait for the sales to come. Often, more experienced dealers come and cherry pick the better quality items. After that, the new dealer is left to sell the remainder. The items may not be properly researched and priced. The new dealers may not ever come into the booth and move things around and re-merchandise. They may not know what customers are truly looking for. I’ve heard new dealers complain that no one is buying their merchandise, but these dealers aren’t able to analyze what THEY are doing wrong. They don’t understand that possibly they are selling inferior quality merchandise that is improperly priced or is undesirable. After a few months, these dealers are gone.

6. Dealers don’t research their items properly: It’s amazing how many dealers put a high price on every item, rather than knowing what they’ve got and price items accordingly. I call this the “throw it against the wall and see what sticks” approach.

7. Dealers who never change their merchandise: Again, it’s amazing how many dealers will leave an item sitting in its original spot, for YEARS sometimes, after placing it somewhere in a booth. Nothing turns me off more than walking through a mall and seeing the same merchandise I saw six months ago.

8. The Economy: Antiques are not a necessity. When the economy is bad, the first thing to go are the non-necessities.

9. Being in an antique store requires a dealer to sit on lots of inventory: When I was in selling in a mall, I had to keep lots and lots of inventory so that I had something for everyone. I needed high priced items, low priced items and lots of everything. The more I had and the more I kept it fresh, the higher my sales. Selling on the Internet allows me to keep a smaller inventory and sell as I aquire inventory. Thus, I don’t have as much money tied into inventory.

10. Fuel prices: Rising fuel prices affect everyone in the business. The cost to heat and light some of those old buildings where antique stores and malls are located has skyrocketed. High fuel prices has also meant a reduction in store traffic.

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The Undercover Antiques Picker

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ll see that I’ve already written about one of my pickers named Darrell. I’ve purchased from another picker named Sally over the years, but she’s what I call an “undercover picker”. This means she sells things to me but doesn’t want anyone to know, especially her HUSBAND!!!

I don’t want to give too much away but her husband sounds like a hoarder. According to Sally, the husband is manic at buying and hoarding antiques, collectibles, goodwill quality items and rancid junk. He stores his hoarded items in various jam-packed storage units all over the city and pays storage bills higher than their household rent. This storage unit rent is literally breaking their budget but the husband won’t stop. He says that his treasures are too valuable to sell. So, in order to survive and cover household bills, the wife trades secretly on the side.

I’m sure I’m not the only person Sally sells to. But dealing with her requires an entirely new language, one that won’t give her away when the husband is possibly listening. According to Sally, she’s allowed to sell linens (don’t ask me why) so the word “linens” has become code word for what I REALLY want — jewelry. Our telephone conversations go something like this…”Hey, Sally, I’m looking for some “linens”. (Wink, wink.) Do you have any new “linens” to sell me?” Sally replies, “Yes, let me call you back”.

So, later I usually will get a call from Sally with a very brief window in which she can meet and let me look at her goods. One time her husband walked in on us while she was showing me some “linens” and I had to shove the stuff in my big purse and run into the bathrooom. After waiting an inordinately long time and realizing that the husband was not going to leave, I strolled out of the bathroom and said, “Oh, hi husband! I didn’t realize you were here! I just came to visit Sally. Well, I’d better be going!”. I backed out of the place with the jewelry still in my purse.

I had to go back days later to conclude the deal with Sally.