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Mall Dealers:  Comments for Success


Unsolicited Comments for Dealer Success

What is your reason or purpose to be in business?

A simple question, but many times never fully developed.  Are you in business for ---

a. fun and something to do?

b. making a wee bit of profit?

c. weeding out stuff from your house?

d. letting family and friends know you are a "business person"?

e. having a reason to feed your garage sale and estate sale addiction(s)?

f. needing a losing business for tax reasons?

Whatever the reason, it is a viable and important one for you.  Hopefully, the following comments will give you something to think about.

Most people want to make money! 

Why else do all the work of hunting, cleaning, identifying, pricing, hauling, displaying, and hopefully hooking a buyer!  The chore can become tedious and disappointing especially if the buyer never swims by your tasty temptation. There has to be a reason because EVERYTHING will sell.

Is it over-priced?

Is it a "thrift store" item?

Is it damaged?

Is it poorly displayed?

Is it marked improperly and dirty?

The list is endless, but the bottom line is priceRemember it is NOT what you sell it for, but what it costs you that makes up your margin of profit!

The buying public is looking for a bargain, a discount, a buy that they can say, "wow!  I got a deal."  Ask yourself, "would I buy it for what I priced it?"  If the answer is "no", then you are over-priced.  If you say, "it cost me too much", then you over-paid for the item?  If you say, "it is rare", go on line and/or look around the various shops and you will most likely learn if it is a rare find for just you.

Profit ---

A little over fifteen years ago, the advice many dealers would hear is "mark it up five times for what you paid for it", or "you have to make five times your rent".  It is rare if any of those dealers are still in business today.  WalMart, K-Mart and other big box stores along with the economy, the public, and changing styles changed the profit margin.  Besides furniture stores and at one time the automobile industry, the majority of items sold have less than a 10% profit margin, many hover under 5%!  How do such stores stay in business?  VOLUME!

It is necessary to rethink the idea of profit.  Volume, low prices and traffic make for a thriving business.  If you are missing any one of those three key ingredients, your business is in trouble.  The general rule today:  "if you are doing a minimum of double your rent, then you are barely "holding on"; If you are "making rent", then there is no profit for buying and replenishing merchandiseThe larger your space the greater chance for you to make a profit is the rule in today's volume selling.  If you can't afford the space, rethink your business plan.

Volume results with a greater variety of merchandise resulting in more traffic; furniture, collectibles, designer objects, bric-a-brac, utilitarian items, books, decorative art and items, cups and saucers, crystal and silver plate, year-around holiday decorations (Christmas sells better in the summer than during the "season"), unusual and interesting items all should be part of the make-up of your booth.  Just as a department store, thrift shop, and grocery store displays their wares logically and orderly, so should you.

Buying and Selling ---

When buying merchandise always think "what can it sell for"?  and "how long might it take to sell"?

The ruleas long as you can make a profit and turn the item quickly it was a good buy.  Even if the profit is 5% and the item sold within in 30 days, it was a good buy.  The longer you have the merchandise, the more rent you are paying on the space it takes, the less your profit.  The faster you sell, the greater the profit.

Pricing: It is not what you price it, it is what it costs (sells) to the buyer!  The major reason why dealers go out of business is pricing based on inflated values. A customer spots the merchandise, looks at the price, and if it is inflated the customer walks out.

If you paid $10.00 add $5.50 for you and $1.65 for the mall   and price the object at $17.15.  If it does not sell, it might be that other dealers within the mall have the same item they purchased at $5.00 and have it marked at $8.50. It is important for a dealer to study what other dealers are pricing and selling. Marketing is an art, and you must be knowledgeable in the practice. 

Buying merchandise: 

Shop everywhere! Thrift stores, yard sales, estate sales, auctions, want ads, and neighbors all should be a source.  Being first at an estate sale normally does not mean you are going to get a good buy.  First day sale prices are usually at fair market value, and you want to buy at liquidation value.  Go the second day and make offers.  Thrift stores are also considered fair market value....only buy when there is a major mark down. Buy SMART.  Rule:  have enough merchandise to replenish what is sold so that you are not out buying foolishly to fill a space. 

Buying is an art.

Some major DO NOTS that destroy business and profit ---

DON'T cover furniture with smalls!  Reason: burying furniture with lots of merchandise does not highlight it, and IF the item sells, the smalls that covered the piece of furniture become clutter in the booth.

DON'T tie ropes or ribbons across chairs discouraging people from trying out the comfort of the chair.  It says, "don't buy me"!

DON'T have your own "SALE".  If you are NOT going out of business, the only "sale days" you should have are those scheduled by the mall.  The constant 20% to 40% off sales say to the public, "I have inflated values and am trying to sell items that are still over-priced!"  You defeat your purpose and tarnish your image.

DON'T clutter!  Too much stuff stacked and strewn in your space is a "visual assault" causing people to "glance and run". Stacking furniture is also a no-no.

DON'T lock up cheap merchandise.  If you need a locked case, rent one and use your space for easy to "reach and buy merchandise".  Why?  Most shoppers will not look for a sales person to unlock a case.

DON'T try to sell broken or chipped items. It takes up necessary and expensive space and the public will NOT buy it.  If it is a "rare" item and has some merit, mark the tag, "as-is".

DON'T buy what everyone else has, but if you do, price it CHEAP.  Not long ago, there were over 200 lamp bases in the mall.  Lamp bases are cheap, plentiful, and dealers think they can still sell; however, most bases will just sit on the shelf.


DON'T HIDE price tags especially in locked cases.  The public is in a hurry and won't wait for a salesperson to open a case to turn a price tag. Prices should always be seen ...QUICKLY....both in locked cases and on open shelves.

DON'T have Goodwill merchandise priced higher than the thrift store.  If your booth looks like Goodwill, then that's what you are ---- a thrift store.

DON'T use price guides to mark your merchandise.  Such guides were written by the collector who sets the values based on their perceptions.  The local market, trends, changing styles and demographics set the cost that a buyer pays. 

DON'T mark "firm" or N.D. on your tags.  Price it to sell or keep it at home. Good, quality antique items will eventually sell, but not as fast in today's market and not with an inflated value.  Antiques give your booth the look it should have and helps highlight the decorative items that compliment a home.

Trends for 2009...  

Consumers feel pressure by cutting back on much of their spending which has directly affected the market.  People DO NOT want to buy items in a falling market especially high end antiques, collectibles, and fine art.  Those who are interested will wait because it might be cheaper tomorrow!

Young collectors are not replacing collectors from previous generations.  Parents are aghast when they are told by their children that they have no interest in the "old stuff".  Today's younger market is decorating with more modern items from the late 1940's through the 1970's and not with pre-1930's and earlier furnishings.  So, what is not popular, but will still sell if it is REALLY priced cheap. 

•a.       Average European and American furniture from 1870 through 1930.

•b.      Heavy dining room and bedroom sets in dark hardwoods such as walnut.  "Brown furniture" has fallen in value by as much as 60% in the last three years.

•c.       Silver plate, crystal, figurines, sets of dishes, glass items, liquor decanters, traditional wine stems, cordials, highball glasses, double beds, baker's racks, entertainment centers, some china cabinets, and recently -- cups and saucers all have hit the slow-sell list.

•d.      The art market has "contracted" (fallen) for the first time since 1990.  The average price on publicly sold art works during October contracted by 18% and a number of well-known artists have gone unsold.  Local artist resales are equally as poor.

The Advantages of being in a Mall....

A mall is a place to be!  Where else can a dealer not have to worry about

(a) hiring, paying, scheduling and supervising a sales force;

(b)  not worrying about utility bills, maintenance, cleaning, and other building    


(c)  collecting, reporting, and paying sales and other taxes; 

(d) having to daily open and close a store; 

(e)  having to handle advertising and marketing the business; 

(f)  having to deal with ordinance, city, fire, state and national (OSHA) requirements and             


(g) handling insurance and legal issues; 

(h) handling the public on an everyday basis; and,

(i)  collecting and paying credit and debit card fees. (Other malls pass this on to the      


You get all this for renting a booth and paying a 10% sales commission.  That's cheap to be free from the headaches and problems of running your own Antique/collectible Shop!  Treat the landlord/sales staff with respect as they handle all those problems you don't.


Some suggestions for success ....and a review


•a.       have several pieces of furniture in your booth

•b.      rent at least a combined double booth or larger

•c.       stay in one mall and give it all your attention.

•d.      rotate, re-arrange, and manage your booth at least once a week.

•e.       identify by date on each tag 012209 (Jan. 22, 2009); indicates length of time item is in booth

•f.        dispose of "low-end" merchandise; mark it down with a red tag, or hauling it to a thrift store.  The longer you keep it, the less value it has.

•g.       have a variety of items.

•h.       booth should be inviting, clutter-free, homey, and accessible.

•i.         price it to sell!  What sells somewhere else, might not sell here.

•j.        don't get upset about shoplifting; it is a fact of life!  Blame no one but the public.

•k.      attitude, adapting to change, and continuing education are musts!



We have been in business for over twenty years and are still going strong.  It is certain that you have your own philosophy about business that has kept you going and the comments, suggestions, and tips are not meant to trample on your beliefs, but only to act as a guide post for you.  Use the information as you see fit.

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