Friday, July 28, 2006

Ideas for New Antiques Show Dealers

One of the nifty things about being an antiques dealer is that you ARE your own business. In other words, not only do you own your antiques business, but you also decide how to operate it. In the end, you are largely responsible for your own success.

The antiques show trade needs new blood. There are many, many dealers who are in their 50s - 80s and have been in the business for 25 or more years. New dealers in their 20s are a rarity, and the business needs more of them. It can be a fun career, but it's hard work. There is no such thing as "easy" for show dealers. Long hours, bad weather, and unexpected problems are part of a dealer's destiny - to be a show dealer, you must be flexible and be able to adjust according to the needs of the moment. If you are a one-way/my-way kind of person, probably the show trade is not for you.

We all learn by trial and error. If you are lucky, your errors are small and inexpensive. If you are unlucky, you make big mistakes and it costs you plenty. The difference can be substantial. As a antiques show dealer for the past 26 years, I've learned how to minimize boo-boos and I'm going to share some of these ideas with you.

First, choose your shows wisely. Exhibiting in a show that is poorly managed can only hurt your business. Don't be afraid to interview a promoter before you decide to exhibit in his show. You need answers before you commit to a show.

Ask the promoter before you sign up for the names of the publications where they are advertising. Lack of advertising is a show's worst enemy (besides bad weather, but there isn't anything you can do about that.) As show costs rise, some promoters cut back on advertising to save money. This could easily cost YOU money, so you want to know specifically where they are advertising. Advertising in the right publications - the ones which people actually will read specifically for local antiques shows - is absolutely necessary. If you get vague answers from a promoter about where he is advertising, pass on that show.

Ask how many and which dealers by name have signed up for the show. If only 10 dealers have signed up, a red flag should go up. It's going to be a tiny show and the public won't attend because they'll feel they aren't getting value for their admission fee. Also, it would be nice if some of the dealers doing the show were recognized, established dealers who will attract their own customer base to this show. Experienced show customers recognize their favorite dealers, often through show ads that list exhibitors (that's how show promoters get people to come to their shows - they list dealers doing their show in major antiques trade publications). Customers often decide to attend because they like those dealers.

Is the show inside only, or does it have both inside and outside booths? Outside booths cost less, and dealers are usually responsible for setting up their own tent (an expense in itself). Some shows offer pre-set tents which is included in their rent. Being under cover makes set-up easier and quicker. Inside booths are usually smaller and cost more, but if the show experiences bad weather, that's where all the customers will go. If you are inside or under tent cover, it may save you from a horribly bad show in bad weather.

Early on in my career I did many outdoor booths at shows, and set up my own tent (hard work, especially in hot or rainy weather). Now I just always sign up for indoor booths, and save myself a lot of aggravation. It's usually smaller in size, and my set up goes more quickly because I can only get so much stuff in that smaller booth. I've learned that I don't really NEED 20 boxes of merchandise to have a successful show, which is what I used to have to display to fill the larger outside booths. Also, I'm not worn out by the time I have my tent set - if it takes an hour to set up a tent, and then you have another 3-4 hours until you are finished with your display, it makes for a really long day .

If you don't have your own display tables, ask how much tables cost. And don't expect them to be something you can just pick up after arriving for set-up. Always order your display tables in advance. Most show promoters order tables in advance, and since they have to pay for them, may not order any extras.

Ask to see a contract before you agree to do the show. Yes, you have to read the fine print. Do it to protect yourself. Most contracts are pretty standard, but there is the occasional quirk that can make a difference. There's an East Coast promoter known for slipping in a requirement in his contract that if you do another nearby show during the week his show is running, you will pay him $5000. He has that contract clause because he wants to make sure his dealers only do HIS show. If a dealer is doing more than one show in the same area in the same general time period, promoters know that there is a strong possibility that the dealer will show much of the same merchandise at both shows. That means that one of those shows is not getting fresh merchandise, making that show appear to be a re-hash of "old" inventory. This particular promoter is just protecting his show's reputation for having great dealers with fresh stock, but a dealer needs to know all the rules from the start. Read the fine print.

And most importantly - ask other dealers if they've done this show before, and what their opinion of it is. You'll learn a lot, both good and bad. Ask other dealers if they are still doing the show. Or, if they aren't, ask them why.

Ask a lot of questions, because you will receive many different answers. Do your homework. Then you can put all that info together and make an intelligent decision on whether you want to do a particular show. Knowing ahead of time what a show entails could save you a tremendous amount of aggravation, time and possibly some serious money.

1 comment:

Dena said...

I have been thinking about doing Allegan Flea Market Next year. Wow you sure have done a lot~Dena :-)