Tuesday, 4 June 2013

New ways to sell your vintage and antique stock.

Running a stall at a fair or market is great fun but sometimes it is hard to sell specailist items, or you need to reach a wider audience than your local customers.  There are other options for selling available, both through the Internet and also at specialist events.  Many traders who have a stall or a shop use other methods to sell their wares -often an item might not "fit" with other stock, but an online auction allows a sale at a good price.

Social media has opened up a world of possibilities.  Before Facebook, selling online involved having a website or using ebay or other auction sites.  I have noticed recently that more and more people are listing and displaying photos of items on their business Facebook page and doing a great trade.  This could be for vintage china and glass, craft and hand made items, second hand goods for the home or furniture and larger objects.  To be successful, you will need to build a following for your business Facebook account - however, there is plenty of information out there on how to do this.  The most important part of this process is to have a good, clear photo or photos of the item and to give a decent description.  If there are faults you should mention them - an unhappy customer will not be slow in making their feelings known on your page!  Some people build up some excitement by announcing a Sale or Auction of their items.  If you have a big following this can be a good way of getting people to focus on your page.  Others just list items as they come in, using a fairly simple template photo and short description to do the deed.  Don't forget to mention post and packing costs if you sell this way.  Even a small item can be costly to post and your profits will vanish if you have to cover this cost without charging for it.  If the item is very large, investigate using a courier service - these can work out cheaper.  If you do sell on Facebook, it seems to work best on a first-come first-served basis, but you will need to manage your page.  Be quick to acknowledge who makes the first offer by putting up a SOLD message with the name of the individual tagged, so there is no doubt who purchased it.  It is then up to you and the buyer to arrange for payment and ensure the item is sent promptly.  Paypal is a good method of receiving payment, but you might be also be willing to accept cash, cheque or postal order.

This rather informal method of selling has less protection for the buyer and seller than Ebay.  For example, if there is a dispute there is no mediating party to sort it out!  And if someone doesn't pay, you can't do much about it.  So, be a little cautious about selling via Facebook.

Ebay (www.ebay.co.uk) is the giant online auction service which allows you to sell pretty much anything you can imagine.  You will need to set up a personal account and agree to their terms and conditions.  As well as paying for each listing, you pay a % on every sale. Look out for free listing offers for specific categories or over weekends.  Listing is relatively simple as you are taken through the process stage by stage.  There are countless books and articles about how to sell well on ebay, so I won't go into massive detail here. It pays to be very clear in your description about the piece and to provide plenty of photos.  You should be meticulous about describing damage and flaws, otherwise your disappointed buyer is sure to give you poor feedback.  Feedback gives you credibility as a seller and buyer and if it is tarnished by a few complaints, might deter other people who were potential buyers.  You may want to start out with some small, low-value items and get familiar with the process. You have the option to set a starting price or reserve, to sell only to a domestic audience and to offer items for collection only.  Bear in mind the more conditions you add, the less bidders you will have.  A zero or low starting price auction tempts the treasure hunters and being willing to post or courier to home or abroad brings your pieces to a wider audience.  Again, do check costs and state these clearly from the start for any postage or delivery charges. 

It is worth spending time writing about your item - some ebay sellers are positively flowery, others terse to the point of almost non-existent information, which for a buyer can be frustrating. Find a happy medium and write upbeat, descriptive and factual selling copyy.  If you are selling something with any age, use the words "vintage antique old"  in the title - this picks up searches on each word.  Check your spelling! Poor spelling means your item may not be found by keen buyers who search only on correctly spelt wording. Remarkably, there are now specialist sites that search ebay for misspelt items on behalf of bidders.  These item can often be bought at bargain prices, due to lack of competition in the bidding process.  Look at how other, experienced sellers word their descriptions and use photos to best effect.  Many ebayers have shops and have nicely designed templates within which to sit their information, terms and conditions.  Do spend time on the terms and conditions of sale and returns.

Other sites that are popular for selling vintage/antique items abound.  Etsy is a great source of the quirky and unusual, with many vintage items listed.  Sellers can set up an Etsy shop with a picture of each item, price, description and postage.  Many Etsy sellers also post links to their Etsy sales page from Facebook -  a kind of social media double whammy. Writing good descriptions, photos and clear sales information including post and packing costs is important.

Another great service for selling antique and vintage items is The Hoarde (www.thehoarde.com).  Items on this site tend to be the more decorative antiques and vintage and there are plenty of different sellers on board to study.  There is a selection process, which is clearly explained and if you like using a computer, take good pictures and want to expand your audience, this could be a good option to follow up.

Another way of selling is to set up parties in people's homes, a bit like a Tupperware party!  You take your stock along, the host or hostess invites their friends and provides refreshments.  You have the chance to demonstrate and sell your stock in a mini-presentation.  This can be fun and sociable, but sales are never guaranteed.  Often the chit chat and gossip dominates the evening and the purpose of the party is somewhat lost.  Or people are not that interested in your items and have just turned up to support their friend. A more fruitful opportunity for generating business are the invitation-only private house parties, often held for charity, where a few selected traders are selected to sell.  These can be very profitable if the visitors are the yummy mummies and  well heeled ladies that lunch who like a bit of private shopping with an exclusive edge.  An extension of this are the charity gift fairs that abound in the autumn - many have stringent selection processes and are difficult to get into.  It is arguable whether antique and vintage items are popular at these fairs - not everyone wants to buy used items for gifts.  However, many charities attract a strong and loyal following of affluent supporters, who will spend generously at such events.

If you fancy being really ambitious, and specialise in an area such as dog or horse collectables or gardenalia, you could take a stand at the shopping villages of major dog, horse, country or garden shows.  The investment in these can be substantial and you will need masses of stock, as they are often several days long.  I have seen dog antique stands at Crufts, packed with china, glass, brass, silver dogs and dog-related ephemera.  Chelsea and Hampton Court flower shows often have stands with a range of vintage garden tools, furniture and statuary - often with big price tickets!  If you have a theme or passion for a niche area you will find other enthusiasts at such events.  If you like automobilia, then a stand at Goodwood Revival could be the perfect outlet for your vintage oil cans, road maps and picnic sets.  The same theory could apply for sporting events with vintage equipment and ephemera available at golf tournaments, tennis matches, cricket games etc.  There are also many auction houses who hold specialist sales once or twice a year and if you do find something unusual, consignment to a specialist sale could bring you a great price.

Developing your business takes a bit of thinking and effort, but it can yield great results.  You may find less competition for business and a more knowledgeable and enthusiastic audience by investigating specialised and niche events and selling opportunities.  Be bold and try something different!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Repair, upcycle and restore those vintage finds

The beauty of vintage and antique pieces is that they have been used and loved by other people - and the patina of age and wear enhances many items.  This is a very different way of thinking to those who collect specific pieces where condition has to be perfect such as ceramics,  figurines, glass and high value antique furniture.  But, for those who embrace the shabby chic, distressed vibe, a chip here and a crack there is not a deterrent to loving a piece.  However, there are times when a bit of care and attention will improve a piece or even turn an ugly duckling into a swan.  There are a lot of people upcycling and refreshing furniture that would otherwise end up in landfill - a great way to reuse an unloved and unlovely piece.  You don't have to be daunted if furniture painting sounds a bit hardcore - there are lots of simple and quick ways to improve your finds.  Here are a few tips and tricks that will help you to refresh and restore your finds and add a few £s to the selling price.  You may even find it so enjoyable that you want to try out more crafting and restoration and learn skills such as upholstery, furniture restoration or ceramic repairs and painting.

Cleaning a grubby item is often the first step to making your vintage finds look less shabby and more chic! But beware, dirt and grime on some items adds to rather than detracts from their value.  Please do not pressure wash old garden ornaments with a lovely speckling of moss and lichen!  However, most china and glass benefits from a good wash by hand; but never put old or fragile pieces into a dishwasher as it can damage the decoration and glaze. And some glass goes cloudy if it goes through the dish washer. Just a gentle wash or soak in warm soapy water removes the dust and grime.  A soft wash cloth is ideal for tackling the nooks and crannies, unless the item is grease covered.  Caked on kitchen grease, or even nicotine, is often found on items that have been displayed in a kitchen or near an open fire and may require a soak in something stronger.  Clothes washing tablets dissolved in water soak off all kinds of muck and grime and are best used dissolved into a bowl of warm water.  Put the item to soak for an hour or so, but be aware that if the glaze is crackled water can seep into the pottery or china.  Old cheese and butter dishes often have a greasy base where over the years the natural grease has seeped into the glaze.  If a cup, bowl or jug is stained inside with old tea or coffee stains, a dilution of Steradent or Milton's Fluid left in overnight lifts off those stains.  Unfortunately, chips and cracks often come to light after a good wash - not much you can do about that.  If glass is cloudy or stained inside, try filling with water and rice and give a good shake.  This helps to remove residue. Vinegar is a good cleaning agent - a drop of vinegar in water  often lifts dirt and grease efficiently.  Old housekeeping manuals, such as Enquire Within Upon Everything http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/10766 , are full of old tips and hints on cleaning household goods with natural cleaners such as bicarbonate of soda, lemon juice, vinegar and salt.

Textiles need to be handled carefully and if they are old and fragile, I would leave their cleaning to an expert.  Stain removal from fine pieces can sometimes cause discolouration if chemically based products are used.  Gentle handwashing using a non-bio product or if a woollen item, old fashioned soapflakes, can remove a lot of spots and stains.  Again, a soak overnight in soapy water can work wonders but beware of hot water which can shrink fragile items and fix stains.  Anything of great monetary or sentimental value I would take to a specialist restorer.  Modern dry cleaning can work on some textiles, but many old fabrics are not suited to the chemical processes involved.

Old woollen blankets can be put on a wool wash on most modern machines and come out fresh and fluffy.  Try to dry on the washing line or on an airer as tumble drying is not great for woollen items - if you do tumble, try to use a cool setting unless you want felted wool.  Even old feather eiderdowns can go on a gentle wash - I tumble dry with a tennis ball to help to fluff up the stuffing after washing.  Old rag rugs and cotton mats can be soaked in the bath to remove the grime and dust build up.  Vintage clothing such as suits, skirts and dresses are sometimes lined and the lining can shrink when washed so hand washing is better.  But if the textile has a treated surface, such as glazed chintz, then washing can remove the finish.  There are a lot of specialist vintage clothes traders who might be willing to share their secrets on how to remove an annoying stain or patch.

If you buy dull looking old plastic or tortoiseshell items, a gentle buff with a soft cloth dipped in olive oil can bring up the lustre and clean off any film of dust or dirt.  Tortoiseshell benefits from the light oiling as it is a natural material that can dry out and crack.  I sometimes use olive oil on old bread boards or chopping boards, once I have given them a good scrub. Salt makes a good natural scrub to clean wood, rubbed on with half a lemon - this is a natural way of lightening wood as well.  If the stains on a bread board are very bad, try a very gentle sanding with a fine grade paper then a good oiling afterwards.  Natural materials often need replenishment with oil or beeswax.

Cleaning leather items such as bags, boxes and suitcases is easy.  Leather is best cleaned using a damp cloth to wipe away any grime.  Saddle soap can then be used to bring up the sheen on natural leather. http://www.robinsonsequestrian.com/saddle-soap.html Rub the saddle soap with a damp cloth and then rub into the leather.  The smell is gorgeous and the soap feeds the leather.  Once dry, the leather then can be buffed with a soft, dry cloth to bring up the shine.  It is a very relaxing and rewarding process.  If you can't find saddle soap, colourless shoe cream is good as it nourishes the leather.  Shoe polish is not a good idea in general apart from on shoes.  Shoe cream is a softer and more gentle way of cleaning up leather.  Very dry or cracked leather can be fed with linseed oil, but this could damage any linings of bags or cases so be very cautious as it will stain and mark fabric.  Use by rubbing on and letting it soak into the leather.  Old saddlery and harness often needs a serious dose of linseed oil before being cleaned up with saddle soap.  I used to soak it in a bucket of oil for a day or so to give it a good chance to absorb.  If the leather of a bag or case is coloured, look online for coloured shoe creams to polish out the scratches and marks - a huge range of colours are available. Rub in well, otherwise the colour will come off on clothing if carried against an arm or the body.  Test on a small area that is not obvious before applying to the more noticeable parts. Sturdy leather shoes and boots benefit from good old fashioned spit and polish.  The dirt is removed with a damp cloth; then a layer of shoe polish is rubbed in.  Then, the old method is to spit on the shoe and rub this in, repeating the process several times, hence "spit and polish".  This creates a glossy, perfect finish as would be sought after by servicemen cleaning their boots!  I was taught this method as a child for cleaning my riding boots and they used to gleam - it creates a hard, protective surface.  This might be too much for delicate ladies' shoes - shoe cream is the safer option.  Silk or satin shoes obviously cannot be cleaned in this way - a gentle sponging might remove marks, but it is easy to damage such fine materials.

Jewellery needs delicate handling and I would never attempt to clean anything precious.  I do drop my engagement ring into gin now and then to bring a sparkle back to the gems.  Costume jewellery made of paste and plastics should not be subjected to a gin bath!  A gentle brushing with a dry fine artist's paint brush will remove dirt and dust from crevices.  Silver, copper and brass can be cleaned with propietary products such as Silvo or Brasso -  a rewarding task if you don't mind blackened hands. http://www.ehow.com/about_6365683_silvo-silver-polish-information.html A great job for a rainy evening in front of the TV.  Silver cutlery can be dipped or left to stand in a liquid silver cleaner - then gently buffed and polished for a high shine.  Beware of over polishing silver plated items - this can remove the plate and damage the piece.   Views are divided on pewter - I love it looking old and tarnished whilst others prefer a shine.  If the piece is very old, the "dirty" appearance is part of the patina and value of the piece so get advice before you set to with the polish. Similarly, with copper, the green verdigris adds a lot to a piece and removal can affect value.

Wood items can be cleaned and restored in various ways.  Small items can easily be polished up.  Scratches and dents can be filled with either a wax pencil filler product or a liquid that is rubbed into the scratched areas of wood.  These can be found in a range of wood tones to match pine, oak, mahogany and other woods. http://www.liberon.co.uk/  All come with instructions and are simple to use.  Once the wood has had its marks and scratches filled in or covered, a polish with a clear beeswax brings it to a shine.  If an item is French polished, you may need to find a professional to restore the piece as this is a more specialist process applied to items such as dining tables, chairs and bureaus.

If you are restoring a larger item, you may want to strip the wood back before polishing.  When stripped pine was in fashion, wood was either dipped into a caustic tank or hand-stripped with products such as Nitromorse.  If you use these paint stripper, you must be very careful not to inhale, to let it go onto your skin or near your eyes or mouth.  It should be used outside in fresh air and away from children or pets.  The stripping process dries the wood and affects the wood glue, so once dried out you must replenish the oils in the wood and reglue loose joints.  Beeswax is the best polish - Briwax is a well known make; do not use the spray-on wax polishes used for housework.  For information about how to use polishes visit http://www.briwax-trg.com/products/briwax/briwaxhints/briwaxhints.html Spray can polishes create a silicon layer and do not feed the wood as well as natural beeswax.  On stripped wood, polish can be rubbed into the grain with fine grade wire wool, left to harden and then buffed.  You may need to apply several coats to give the wood a good colour.  Again, polishes can be found in many shades as well as clear wax.  At the moment, painted furniture is popular, so stripping is less in favour. However, if an item is covered in gloss paint, stripping may be necessary to prepare the piece for painting.

If your piece of furniture is already painted and the paint is old and original, perhaps distressed or chipped, then it may well be best to leave it as it is.  People pay good money for this shabby chic look - and there is a great charm in these old, chipped and faded pieces.   If the painting is not attractive - for example a bright gloss paint in a horrible colour - then sripping or sanding down and painting over is a good way of improving something.  There are a number of options.  If you like a traditional finish, Farrow & Ball http://www.farrow-ball.com/  Dulux http://dulux.trade-decorating.co.uk/colours/ranges/heritage/index.jsp and Crown http://www.crownpaint.co.uk/all have heritage paint ranges.  For a successful finish, it is important to have a clean, well prepared surface.  So, cleaning with sugar soap to remove grease and dirt, light sanding and making any repairs are important steps prior to painting.  Removing old nails or tacks, gluing back together loose joints, sanding down rough splintered panels will help to create a good finish.  If repairs are beyond your skills, then try to find a local handyman or joiner who can do them for you but remember this will add cost to your item.  If using traditional emulusion or eggshell paint, you will need to prime, undercoat and then topcoat your item.  For a good finish, you may need two coats of your paint.  Remove handles so that you can paint underneath rather than painting over the handle and then having to clean it off.  This is a time-consuming process but worth the effort.  You may decide to give your finished item a coat of clear wax to protect the paint - a good way of protecting the paint from chips and scratches.  An old, tired piece can be totally transformed by a stylish paint job.

If all this sounds too labour intensive, the new chalk paints popularised by Annie Sloan http://www.anniesloan.com/ are your answer.  Very little preparation is needed, just a clean surface is fine.  Chalk paint goes on easily and dries quickly, with a slightly streaky finish.  Depending on your desired effect, you may add another coat or even a different top coat.  You can then either wax for a good finish, or do a bit of clever distressing with sand paper to get the aged look.  There are several books on paint techniques, many workshops and classes and numerous tutorials online to follow.   This is the easy way of upgrading furniture if you like a quick result. Other chalk based paint ranges include Autentico http://www.autentico-chalk-paint.co.uk/ with a superb range of colours.

A word of caution about painting furniture.  If you have a really good piece of antique furniture, or something with inlay, marquetry or decoration do get expert advice before painting.  You could be destroying the value of the item - personally, I would only paint items that were mass produced or modern pieces from high street or chain stores.

I have discovered a fantastic new product which can be used for updating items with very little effort.  The product is called Plasti-kote and comes in many colours, finishes and suitable for indoor or outside furniture and garden ornaments etc.  I have sprayed a wicker chair, a small shelf, a cupboard with great results - a much faster way of covering a fiddly item.  The products come in a lot of bright colours and can be bought on Amazon or via a DIY store.  Fun to use and a funky result. http://www.plasti-kote.co.uk/Inspire

Books and paper items are often marked - pencil marks, crayons or the dreaded felt pen often mar the illustrations or pages in old books.  Felt pen is pretty much irreversible, but pencil marks can be removed gently.  Using an artist's soft rubber or even a piece of white doughy bread kneaded into a ball, you can gently rub the marks away.  Be very careful - if you rub too hard you will take off the paper's surface or even rub through.  Go gently.  There are products available for removing biro and ink marks from paper; I have not used these and would not suggest using them on old books or papers.  Old inscriptions and personalised dedications can often add value.  Consult a specialist book seller or conservationist if you are unsure about how to treat damage. A hardback book with a broken spine can be rebound, but this can be costly but worth considering if the book is very valuable.  If the book is too far gone, but has pretty prints or plates, it is known as a "breaker".  Whilst I would not advocate breaking a book up for its plates if in good condition, if the book is in poor shape and beyond repair, using the plates is a good idea.  These can be removed carefully, mounted and even framed for attractive prints.  Nowadays, the unused pages are used by crafters for decoupage projects or for making paper roses or ornaments.  Bookish http://www.bookishengland.co.uk/ have turned books into all kinds of items from bunting to brooches.

With the vogue for craft and upcycling, even broken items can be re-purposed.  Broken china pieces can be used for mosaics on small items of furniture or walls.  Textile scraps can be used for decoupage, patchwork, lavender bags, make up purses, laptop covers and many more items.  Bunting is often made from old textiles and looks very effective.  Old maps, prints, magazines and printed ephemera can used for decoupage and lining old suitcases, crates or shelves.  Individual cups and saucers can be re-purposed as holders for candles - candle making equipment is available on line. The list of projects is endless and craft courses abound to teach basic and advanced crafting skills.

If you fancy something more ambitious, upholstery classes can teach you how to renovate chairs and sofas with your own choice of fabric and trimmings.  Start off with a small project, as it can take a long time to upholster an armchair.  China restoration courses teach the art of repairing chips, cracks or even gluing together broken items - a very handy skill to have if you love buying up lots of china at auctions or boot sales.

It can be very satisfying bringing back to life an old and neglected treasure.  However, if in doubt about the value of the piece, please check it out before you start any work.  I have often seen lovely things ruined by amateur restoration.  

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

Finishing touches - what the well dressed stall is wearing this year

I have been going to a lot of fairs in the last 12 months - there seems to have been an explosion of vintage fairs in the south east of England and beyond.  What I find most impressive, and to be truthful just a little daunting, is the level of detail and attention many traders expend on making their stalls fantastic showcases.  It's not just about selling a few bits and pieces, it's about luring people into the vintage lifestyle and creating aspirations to re-create a certain "look". That feeling of wanting to recreate something beautiful or unusual within your own home with that "must have" item.  I must admit to frequent stall envy when I am at fairs - I am never happy with my own stall layout when I compare it to some incredibly well-styled stalls.  Of course, everyone's stock varies and some things are easier to show off than others, but  it is the finishing touches on each stall that make them special and unique. 

It is often the smallest details that make the difference.  For example price labels can be madea lot less humdrum and a bit of care and attention makes quite a difference.  Currently, I am using colourful old luggage tags stamped with a wonderful greyhound stamp bought on Etsy.  You can buy readymade stamps very easily and cheaply, or have a stamp customised with your name and logo. Wooden stamps with a special little picture can be a simple way of customising standard tie-tags or labels and craft printing ink pads give you the option to print in a pretty colour.  Black and white is always crisp and smart, but ring the changes with a bold colour choice to make your tags eye-catching.  Some people even use craft stamping kits to print all the information including price on their tags- rather labour intensive, but very stylish.   Brown tie on tags, easily obtained from stationers or online, are great for labelling rustic pieces or country-style displays.  Pretty coloured tags in pastel shades look effective on dainty china and sparkling glass or on vintage textiles.  I use a calligraphy pen to write labels - even the most unspectacular writing looks better written with such a pen.  You can make your labels as plain or pretty as you like with a bit of thought and effort.  Labels can be tied on with string, colourful ribbon or even raffia - each conveys a different image from rustic to romantic.  Stick on labels are not exciting, but for some items they work better than a tie-on.  Be careful not to use a sticky label on anything where the residue will damage the item such as a book, paper item or fragile textile.  Books can be priced in pencil on the inside or use a plain bookmark inside with the relevant details inscribed.

Your table can set the tone for your display.  Most fair organisers provide a standard trestle table, these days usually plastic or formica topped.  I know some traders who take their own tables and these can create part of the overall look.  Lovely old rustic wooden trestles, some with flaky old paint and some au naturel, look beautiful stacked with vintage treasures.  If taking your own table is not possible, due to space restrictions, then using pretty table coverings is a must.  I use plain linen cloths which make a neutral backdrop for my collections.  But, a lovely velvet curtain or bed spread can be used for a sumptuous look, or a colourful cotton bed sheet for a crisp and colourful background.  Floral, striped, plain cloths - all can look great but should not overwhelm your display.

Display shelves, crates, boxes and plinths help to add height and visual impact, and create a more professional look to a stall.  One trader who I see at many events uses a range of wooden crates, painted in white, to stack as shelves.  The crates are versatile and make a great backdrop for their colourful stock.  And it maximises space on a trestle table as well.  Old apple crates are relatively easy to come by and can often be bought at larger outdoor antique markets or even via ebay. Cath Kidston used them to great effect in summer 2011 in her store windows.  Each crate had a painted interior in primary shades and they were packed with pretty goods.  Proof that a great display does not have to be expensive.  It's easy enough to paint or decorate a crate - even just Blu-Tacking some pretty wrapping or wallpaper inside can add a decorative note if painting is too long-winded.

Cath Kidston's window in Cambridge

A simple display case can be made out of an old drawer - this could be lined with paper or fabric and then covered with a sheet of clear plastic or glass.  An old fashioned printer's tray is ideal for showing off lots of small items.  The tray could be painted in a neutral shade or left in its original state.  Perfect if you sell little items such as buttons, beads, jewellery etc that fit neatly into the compartments.

If you can find vintage display items to use on your stand, this can be very effective.  Old fashioned tailors' dummies or vintage dress makers' models are ideal for displaying all kinds of things.  Clothing can look better displayed in this way, or jewellery draped or pinned onto the model even old badges and brooches.   Vintage shop display cases and shelves are very attractive and often feature glass doors, sides and tops, to make it easy to view displayed items.  These display cases are collectable in their own right, so don't come very cheap but you might be lucky enough to find one on ebay.

If money is tight, IKEA have some great display items such as mini-easels which can be painted and used to display prints, pictures and cards.  Old wine boxes often given away at specialist wine shops can also be used as shelves, painted or unpainted.  Mug trees painted a pretty shade are good for hanging up jewellery.  Look around your home and utilise your existing storage and display accessories.  A small bookshelf painted in a natural shade can be used to show small items; an old fashioned clothes airer is ideal for textiles and a plate rack great for stacking delicate bone china plates.

Colour themeing can be a great way to style your stall - having uniform colours for display shelves and stands can help pull a stall together.  A subtle grey is very fashionable at the moment and is a good  counterpoint to bright colours or subtle shades alike.  Taking one step further, some stalls even stick to a certain palette of colours preferring to buy their stock in a limited colour range.  Hard work but with a fantastic result.

Little touches of humour are a great finishing touch on a stall.  A cheese dish with a toy mouse under the dome or a child's chair dressed with an old doll or teddy adds a light-hearted note.  The quirky and unusual will catch the eyes of your potential customers as they walk by. Don't be afraid to let your personality shine through your stall - it is easy to copy the crowd but developing your own style "signature" is more original.

Using flowers and plants can really dress up a stall, especially in the spring when there are so many lovely and inexpensive potted bulbs available. Hyacinth, narcissi, daffodils and primroses look charming in old pots deftly placed on top of cupboards or in a teacup or bowl to bring natural beauty to the picture.  Cut flowers displayed in old glass jugs, single stems in pretty vintage bottles or natural twigs and leaves all have their merits.  I have even seen bowls of conkers used to dress a stall selling simple French rustic items.   In the summer, flowers and herbs are plentiful and a wildflower bouquet easily assembled to dress a stand.  Geraniums in weathered terracotta pots look fantastic, especially at open air events.  Lavender plants are cheap to buy and when in flower smell delicious.  Winter displays look festive with pine cones, greenery such as ivy and holly.

pretty spring flowers in a garden display

If you want to splash out, providing your customers with a good quality carrier bag for their purchase does lend a touch of class.  Handsome white or brown heavy duty paper carriers with string handles look smart and they can also be printed with your logo or you can add a sticker with your name and logo, to make them your own.  These types of bags are not a low cost investment, so you might prefer to recycle carrier bags.  Many carrier bag manufacturers can be found online.  For smaller items, traditional candy-striped paper bags are fun and come in a range of hues.  Normally, you have to buy a few hundred at a time.

Wrapping customers' purchases in tissue paper will create a professional feel at events.  Plus it protects the item/s and avoids the messy ink of newspaper rubbing off on delicate pieces.  Blocks of tissue can be bought from florist suppliers or online and comes in all shades and patterns. You can pick a colour to fit in with your brand colour/s - pastel shades are particularly pretty or floral patterened tissue.  Each purchase feels like a gift when beautifully wrapped up and adds to the feelgood factor.  So much nicer for your customer unwrapping some pretty colourful tissue, than some old, scrumpled newspaper.

If you are selling at a Christmas fair, you could take this to another level.  For example, putting some loose lavender heads inside the tissue package or some scented pot pourri.  Using decorative string or gift labels could be a further twist or you could offer a gift wrapping service, if you have the necessary skill and patience.

Your business card is a very important touch - people love to pick these up and keep them.  Make sure your card is on your stall and put one into each carrier bag with a sold item.  Many cards are now postcard sized, making use of great photos or illustrations for maximum impact.  You may have to invest in a graphic designer to produce something but some of the budget online printers do have templates available.  Bulk digital printing is now relatively inexpensive and companies such as Vistaprint provide a quick, accessible service.  Your card is your showcase so make sure it looks the part.  Don't forget to put on your Facebook and Twitter tags, website details and contact information.

the back of a fun business card

Other little touches that are worth considering include having wrapped sweets in pretty foil to offer - in a glass jar or little bowl, this can look quite charming.  One stallholder I know often has a plate of beautiful shortbread hearts on her stand - very popular with the visitors.  Offering a giveaway is a nice gesture and does help to bring people to your stall. Someone else I know has had some very smart pencils emblazoned with her logo and has these in a china pot on her stall. 

These small details may need a little time and effort, but if they bring more people to your stall or unit more sales should follow.  Plus, you will get the reputation of having the best dressed stall at the fair or market and this may secure you an invite to exhibit at one of the top-end fairs or shows.  Having the right look is very important to these fair organisers.

Enjoy styling your stall and finding those little extra flourishes that can make such a difference.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The young ones - vintage can be fun for children, too!

As many of you are probably parents with young or teenage children, this chapter is about how to get your children interested and involved with your vintage business. Also, if you particularly like children, you may want a business that sells vintage things specially for babies and children.

My daughter, Emilia, was only 3 when I started going to boot sales and markets regularly and being a single mum at the time, she had to come along with me.  She became quite well known at the various places and enjoyed the attention and fuss she received.  Now as a twentysomething, she shares a love of the old and quirky, so something rubbed off along the way.  We used to have fun together and keeping her interested allowed me to enjoy my passion, too!  It wore off a bit when she was a teenager - the early starts did not appeal.  But by then, she could be left for a couple of hours without worrying.

sweet old music score for a lullaby

Making things fun and enjoyable is the best way of keeping your children engaged and lets you have time to browse when you are out buying.  And if they come to events where you are selling, they can become great little helpers and develop confidence at the same time.

The boot sale conundrum.  When our children are little, most of us have enough plastic toys to build a replica of the Great Wall of China.  So, avoiding acquiring more plastic is a big issue at boot sales - inevitably your child will fixate on some ghastly lump of plastic that you loathe.  Of course, there are always loads of sellers getting rid of their own plastic toy mountains!  But, even little ones can enjoy the fun of having a small sum of money to invest in a collectable. If you find something your children love - it might be My Little Pony (collectable plastic!), china animal ornaments like Wade Whimsies, old school or picture books, metal or wooden toys - the boot sale becomes a treasure hunt and enormous fun.  I always like to encourage children when I am a seller - I let them handle things under supervision and enjoy their interest and questions.  And most people appreciate someone showing an interest in their child's enthusiasm.

When the children get a bit older, around 6 or 7, you might even introduce them to the idea of buying things to sell.  I used to give my daughter a couple of £s to buy items and then sell them on her behalf, giving her the profits.  She loved finding her bargains and making a bit of pocket money.  And it does teach children about money, negotiation and other valuable life skills.  At our local fair, Village Vintage, a really fantastic young man called Henry aged about 13, has a regular stall.  He brings along all his finds and makes some decent returns - his dad helps him, but he is a real entrepreneur in the making. 

old ted in his vintage bed with little bedclothes fasioned from an old sheet and blanket...ssshhh!

Children develop their eye for good objects if they visit antique shops, vintage markets, old houses and places of interest.  If you enjoy lovely things and can show them how to appreciate things, it will be a lifelong habit and pleasure.  Of course, they may reject "old stuff" totally for a while and only like modern, new things, but come back to it later.  From what I see at every fair, there are plenty of  girls and guys in their 20s running vintage businesses - and loads more out there buying all sorts of funky, fun and inexpensive stuff.  I love it!

How about getting your child involved in your stall if they have to come with you? Helping you carry in a few items is the obvious starting point, although you might think twice if your stock is heavy or breakable.  But they can carry the cloths, your stationery kit, picnic and props - all very useful. Maybe they have a few things to sell and you can give them a little space on your table.  If not, how about getting them involved in selling for you on a commission basis.  I used to leave my daughter in charge of my stall and she would do a grand sales job for me.  I used to pay her a percent on sales, to incentivize her.  Asking your child to wrap up sold items and take the money and give change to customers, will help to build their confidence and makes them feel they are important.  Most children seem to respond well to responsibility and enjoy being treated as an adult.  Learning how to have conversations with adults who are not friends or family is another bonus.  And if they sell their own treasures, being able to research and give the history of the item is another great learning point.  Most buyers are friendly and encouraging of young ones who are helping on a stall.

Scripture Cubes - a very old fashioned toy!

inside the box! for Sunday Best only.

Another fun job that can be given to a child with neat writing is to produce your price labels - an artistic child might be encouraged to design something for you.  Or you could use rubber stamps to make attractive labels.  This can be done at home whilst you are cleaning, refurbishing and packing your stock.

If your child really takes to selling, when they get a bit older they might even want to start up their own stall.  Lots of girls in the vintage world sell clothes, jewellery, hair ornaments, children's books and toys - and there is no reason why your son or daughter can't do the same.  Boys might be interested in vintage memorabilia, games, sporting items or classic collectables like toy cars and planes.  Having their own stall and making their own decisions about stock and pricing is a great way to create an independent and confident teenager.  Many schools now encourage this spirit through the Young Enterprise scheme.  And earning money is always an attractive option for teenagers.
lovely old Triang caterer's truck....

As a trader, I also try to make my stall attractive to children.  Many mums come along with toddlers and school children and it can be very boring for them.  Being small, in a hot busy hall, with people's bags and packages bashing into you isn't a lot of fun!  I always have sweets or chocolates to offer - mini Easter eggs or wrapped sweets (hygiene being a concern).  I always check with the parent or carer before offering the sweets, in case the child is not allowed them.  At Christmas, I have a 50p lucky dip which is always popular and again provides a child-focussed activity to make the day enjoyable for smaller visitors.  Having attractive vintage toys, games and children's books will of course be a draw.  Just make sure that the items at child height are robust enough to stand a bit of handling - something wooden that cannot be broken is ideal.  If your stock is too precious or valuable to be handled by children then do keep an eye and gently remind the child or parent that the item is very precious.  Most parents will get the hint!

A lot of mums and teenage girls seem to enjoy a day together at a vintage fair - what a lovely way to spend time and build closeness.  Fairs where there are vintage stylists and make up artistes are particularly popular with the girls - if you are offering this kind of service at your stall, then maybe a "mum and daughter" offer would work well.  Prettily displayed clothes and accessories will be a magnet to today's fashion loving teens.  If you sell fashion, make sure you have a good mirror available or are close to a changing area for trying on.  Some fairs even have prizes for best dressed buyers and if you sell fashion items, perhaps you could sponsor the prize and have pictures of the winner taken at your stall?

I also try to have things of interest to small (and grown up) boys!  Pictures and books on cars, planes, trains are always a hit; old metal farm animals and cars, wooden tractors and train sets are bound to appeal.  One word of warning though; many old toys were painted with lead paint, now not in use as it is toxic.  If you are buying or selling toys that would appeal or be played with by small children, please make sure that the parents or guardians are aware of this.  I would always stress that old toys are collectables and not necessarily for everyday play.  This would also apply to the eyes and clothes on old teddies and dolls - not necessarily safe by today's standards.  Some grannies have old toys that the children can only play with under supervision which sounds like a good compromise.  I still have my Great Aunt Amy's doggie nightdress case, Rover, which I played with everytime I visited her - probably not up to safety standards of today, but it gave me hours of fun.
Christmas fairy and golden coins

If you want to appeal to young parents and have a stall that attracts their custom, I can guarantee that small chairs are extremely sought after.  No-one, especially grand-parents, can resist a cute tiny school chair, deckchair, rocker or armchair.  Small tables, old fashioned school desks, old third pint milk bottles, blackboards on stands, vintage metal and wire school lockers, pre-1960s school and youth group uniforms and kit, garden benches, tiny deckchairs, children's gardening items like tools, wheelbarrows and watering cans all sell very well.  In fact, you could dedicate a whole stall just to vintage things for kids!  I know of one trader, Dinky Vintage, who sells lovely vintage children's clothing.  Photographs of babies and children taken pre 1960 are also adorable - small serious boys clutching teddies; round faced girls with bobbed hair in their Sunday dresses - lovely examples of what is out there.  And don't forget vintage tricycles, scooters, rocking horses and pedal cars - lovely for a child but also great display objects for grown-uips, too.

I hope these ideas and reflections on involving your children are helpful.  A shared passion with a child, whether for vintage, sports, music or any other activity is a wonderful bond.
Happy face!

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Diversification....more vintage business opportunities

You've probably noticed on your vintage journey, that there are many other businesses built on a love of vintage style.  Many of these have a good synergy with vintage trading and some can even work well if you find it hard to part with your treasured items.  Diversification can bring in extra income and a new direction for your vintage business.  Serial start-ups are common to many entrepreneurs who like having the stimulus of new ideas and different challenges.  If you are content with what you have achieved and want to stay focused on that, then there are always ways of improving on an existing business model.

But, if you are now thinking about what you could do to expand, then this chapter will introduce some possible avenues to explore.

Vintage events
If you go to many markets and fairs, you may have considered setting up your own vintage-themed event.   Setting up a vintage fair requires a relatively small investment, but a lot of time and good planning;  no specialist equipment is necessary and therefore putting on a fair is open to anyone who wants to have a go.  However, as you will have noticed on your research and buying trips, there is a wealth of difference between a really well-organised and actively supported event and a chaotic, poorly attended one.  Of course, an element of luck is involved but successful fair organisers put a lot of work into bringing together the best traders and plenty of buyers.  Running a fair can be fun and does not require masses of experience or training, but it does involve a lot of legwork and meticulous planning.  If the idea of staging your own fair is a serious consideration,  I will be going into greater detail about the process of setting up a fair in a separate chapter. Here are a few questions to think about when you are making your first plans.

Will your fair fill a gap in the market - if you are in an area where there are already many fairs, will your's stand out or just got lost in the crowd?  If the local market is saturated, you may need to look further afield to find an area where there will be demand for a new event.  There are various websites and magazines listing vintage events to check out what's on. 

Think about how your fair/event be made different or special and thus make it stand out from the competition?  Can you introduce some USPs (unique selling points) to make it more interesting?  Do some market research amongst your friends and customers - what attracts them to an vintage event?  Many fairs offer "pop up tearooms" and "vintage makeovers" so your challenge will be to think of something new or introduce another fun element. 

What are the estimated costs and how will you cover these and make a profit?  Fixed and upfront costs will include venue hire, advertising and publicity, printing of marketing materials, transport/fuel costs if you are driving around to leaflet or put up posters.  Will the projected stall holder fees cover all the upfront costs? Will you charge an entry fee to the public and how many people need to come through the door to cover any costs or get into profit? 

Catering and good quality refreshments can bring in substantial profits, but there is a great deal of work involved in preparing and serving food.   Will you need to find a partner to run this part of the event?  If you plan to do the catering yourself, don't forget to cost in all the ingredients and production.  Also, are you certificated to cook and serve food - many halls demand that caterers have the basic Food handling and hygiene qualification.

Do you have enough contacts with other stallholders to fill up your venue and have some back-up stallholders when people drop out?  If your venue can comfortably accommodate 20 stalls, you may need to approach 40-50 to fill a hall or marquee.

Are you physically able to move trestle tables and chairs to set up your venue or can you get help?  Will you have people on the day to run admissions, help with set up and catering and help clear up at the end?

Remember, with events most of your costs are upfront and un-refundable so you have no way of clawing back your initial investment.  Most people start off low-key in a village hall or other local amenity, so costs do not have to be over the top for your first venture.  Advertising can be surprisingly expensive and if the event is cancelled, you will not get a refund on ads that have already run.  Try to be creative about how you advertise making the most of low cost options such as local free papers, online newsboards and diary listings and by putting posters in as many locations as possible.

If running an event is not your cup of tea, another popular vintage themed business is wedding styling.   You may have styled your own wedding or a friend's using vintage china and props and then found others wanting to hire your items.  If you are willing to invest in and keep a lot of stock for styling, this might be a great way of making it earn its keep.  You will need a great deal of vintage china tea and dinner ware and cutlery in order to supply groups of all sizes.  Most stylists mix and match patterns and this creates an eclectic look, popular with brides. As well as china, you wil need many other props for styling - bunting, old luggage, vintage cycles, old toys, dressing up clothes, pretty garden furniture, old tennis rackets all seem to be popular but there is no limit to your imagination and creativity.  You will be making a substantial investment and stock will get damaged, broken or even stolen.  Ideally, you will have a good storage facility where items can be shown off to potential customers.  If you enjoy buying but hate selling items, this is a way of building up a lot of lovely pieces for your collection.

Hiring out china, glass and props and styling weddings and other events can be very satisfying - but there is a lot of work involved.  Firstly, you will have to spend some time with the client (bride to be, mother of the bride etc) to establish their requirements.  And some brides are notoriously difficult to please, so a lot of tact and diplomacy will be required.   You will need to have a tariff of charges for hire, either by item or as a package eg enough china and props for a wedding involving 100 guests.  Bear in mind the wear and tear on items and ensure that you are upfront about what you charge for breakages or damage to items.    Weddings can get quite high-spirited and your precious vintage props may get handled roughly.  Don't forget, as well as the fun part of styling the wedding venue and dressing the tables, all the china and glass will have to be cleared, washed up and repacked.  This can be hard work at the end of a busy day, and sometimes with fairly basic facilities available.  You will need a reliable vehicle to transport the boxes and props and probably someone to help you at the other end with unloading and laying out the items.  It is a labour-intensive business and one where you cannot afford to make mistakes.

A further option might be to offer catering alongside styling - this takes the business into a whole new level.  I know of one very successful business that offers a complete service and has expanded their offering to corporate clients for product launches, fashion shows and private views.  There is a lot of scope for a vintage themed catering business but a lot of hard work, too.

These are just a couple of ideas for diversification and I hope may be inspiring.  There are so many spin-offs and business opportunities and some more unusual business opportunities will be described in future chapters.

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Setting up shop.

I have always had a desire to have my own beautiful shop.  This started when I was at primary school and a friend and I used to make little things and bring them to school to "sell" (actually, give away).  My "shop" was a cardboard toy suitcase and I used to make tiny gonks out of sponge with drawn-on felt pen faces  (I was a child of the 60s) and other funny homemade things.  My friend's shop was better stocked, as her dad owned a toy store and got proper toys to stock her shop-in-a-suitcase.  And for a while, I have considered having my own shop, but not yet been brave enough to take the leap.

I am sure that many of you trading successfully at fairs have a dream of opening a shop as the next step in your business.  The happy medium is to find an antiques/vintage centre or arcade where you can rent a space or unit.  A shop within a shop.  This is a much less risky way of trying your hand at shop-keeping and can be a great way of selling to a wide customer base.  Sadly,  the number of antique and vintage centres is falling - the recession has taken its toll. Towns like Dorking and Petworth once noted for their plethora of antiques shops, have seen many of these close down in the past few years.  As business rents have increased, traders have been priced out of the market; footfall in many places has declined and online selling has changed the face of retailing.  However, many people who buy vintage and antique goods still like to examine and handle items before buying. 

With the explosion of interest in the vintage lifestyle and interiors, some new centres have opened for business moving away from the traditional antiques centre model to offer a brighter and more attractive alternative.  If you are a collector or love decorating your home with old bits and pieces, you probably already know the best local centres and even thought about taking space.  BBC Home and Antiques magazine and other interiors/design/collectors magazines, publish features on "vintiquing" in particular towns or regions, including information on the best centres and shops to visit.  If you already frequent centres you will have a good idea about where your merchandise might fit in best.  I love places where I may unearth a bargain - a bit chaotic, lots of stalls and a regular turnover of stock and these rummage-y places seem to be popular with buyers, too.

gorgeous display at Country Artisan market

I used to sell at a monthly market and many of my regulars were traders in a particular antiques centre.  It soon occurred to me that I could cut out the middleman, get a unit in the same centre and sell my stock direct to their customers at a better price.  Like many popular centres, this particular place had a waiting list so I called in or phoned each week until I secured a space.  A very small space, but it got me started and established.  Since then, I have tried several different centres, even having two on the go at once for a few weeks.  It sounds strange, but not every centre will work for you.  You may have to try a couple before finding the one that's best for you. I have no explanation for why this might be - just personal experience.  I prefer to be in a dedicated antiques/vintage centre and not one where there is a mixture of craft and antiques.  A cafe on site can be a bonus, although some people will only visit the cafe and spend little or no time exploring the stalls. 

Selling from a centre might involve having to staff the shop for a day or half-day on a regular basis.  Many centres are operated by traders taking turns to run front of house. Whilst this can be enjoyable it can be an unwelcome constraint if you have to juggle family life or other work to accommodate it.   I used to work full-time and had to do my day on a Sunday, often with my small daughter in tow.  Some centres are owner-operated or have a full-time manager to take care of things.  In this case, you can just price and display your stock and they do the work of selling, keeping records and accounts and paying out.  This can be a real bonus as it frees up your time to go out buying and to work on displaying your space to a high standard.  Every centre will vary so if you are planning to take up space, find out what is expected of you in terms of time commitment within the shop.

Rent is the biggest overhead and you need to evaluate what you can realistically afford.  If the rent is too high, all your profits will just be sucked back into rent and you will have no money to reinvest in the business.   Some centres allow you to rent a few shelves or a cabinet and this can be a gentle way in if you are cautious. A few centres will sell on a commission basis and take a % of the sale price;  some may also take a percentage if the customer makes a credit or debit card payment.  If get the chance, talk to other traders in the centre to find out if it is well organised and has a steady flow of customers.  A centre that is visited by the trade and the public is ideal - the trade will buy regularly from you if they like what they see.  Easy access for unloading and delivering stock is desirable, particularly if you are selling large or heavy  items.   Also check out how the centre advertises and markets itself either in print, through social media and via a website.  Ideally, a good centre will advertise widely and regularly to draw in new customers.

Having a unit in a centre is like having a full-time stall at a fair. And it saves you the effort of a lot of lifting and transporting stock to and fro; plus your stock is on show all the time, not just one or two days a month.  Statistically, this gives it a better chance of being sold. Once in a centre, it is really important to keep your unit or space looking fresh, tidy and well stocked.  Even if you just move things around and re-display a few bits it gives the impression that new stock has arrived.  I often find that "old friends" sell when I re-arrange my stall - things come to light and are snapped up.  If you leave your stall untended for several weeks, its appearance will suffer and so will your sales. Left alone, stock gets damaged and dirty and often moved from your space to another.   If you can't visit the centre regularly, at least leave stock priced up and ready to go out so that the staff or manager can replenish any gaps.

Styling your unit with attractive fixtures and fittings, good lighting, seasonal displays, clear and informative price labels on a  range of interesting stock all helps to generate interest and sales.  The same tricks for styling your stall at a fair apply to a unit - vary the height and layout of items; group colours together or go for a packed, busy and interesting display that hints at undiscovered treasure.   Be original about your displays - take a theme or colour and build your display around that.  In the past, I have themed my unit in
keeping with events such as the Jubilee; Trafalgar Day; Easter and of course, Christmas.  If you are creative, this is an excuse to go over the top and make your space stand out from the crowd.  You can create quite a following by having an interesting stall and attract regular buyers who appreciate your unique and eye-catching stock display.

Jubilee styled shop window for an opticians in Kent

You should gradually start to see a pattern in your weekly turnover figures and get a feel for how much you might sell in a week or month. Sales may not be consistent at first, as it takes time to find out what sells well and what is less popular.  Some weeks will be slow and then it will suddenly pick up.  Like most retailers, your sales will be affected by all kinds of external factors such as the weather, the time of year, the school holidays, the economy....I could go on!    Customers often have other pressures on their purses and vintage items are in the "nice to have" not "need to have" category.   You may be lucky enough to be trading in an affluent area or one where tourists visit and the recession has less of an impact.

Your centre will provide you with a sales record and you can marry this up with your stock book and track your profitability.  Some centres pay out "on demand" so you can go in any time and collect your takings.  Others pay out on a set day of the week or month.  It is up to you how detailed your accounts are and if you track profitablity on every sale. I will cover keeping accounts in a later chapter.

Having a unit is a relatively low-risk entry point into running a shop.  Most centres require either a weekly or monthly payment of rent and a month's notice, so you are rarely committed for a long period.  Allow two or three months to "bed-in" and to assess your sales and profits.  The manager or other traders may be able to advise you on how to improve sales if you are not doing so well.  Be open to advice from those with more experience.  You may have to experiment a little with stock and try out different items and displays to get sales.  There is often a first flurry of sales when you first open your unit as your stock will attract interest from the regular customers. Your best pieces will probably go very quickly - you may want to review pricing in line with other traders if your prices tend to be lower or higher than others.  If after 4-6 weeks things are very slow, you may need to re-think your strategy.  If you are still doing fairs as well, perhaps you are holding back your best stock for fairs?  In which case, the sales in your unit may be slow because you are not updating stock with your prime pieces.  In the past I have been tempted to change direction on my stock, thinking it would improve sales in a particular centre.  However,  it didn't work for me and meant I ended up with stock I found hard to shift elsewhere.  Mostly, trial and error will determine what works best for you - there is no magic formula.

Networking and making friends with other traders and customers is an added bonus.  Having a good network can be useful if you need information about a specific fair, auction or a second opinion on an item or price.  There is a camaraderie in the trade and you will meet many fascinating and friendly people.

If you do a rip-roaring trade in your unit and have masses of stock stashed away, you may be tempted to open a shop of your own.  This can be a highly costly and risky exercise and there are many pitfalls.  But retailers such as Cath Kidston and Cabbages and Roses started with one outlet and a lot of passion and commitment. 

Renting a shop is not a cheap option.  A well located shop in a busy high street might command an annual rent between £10,000-£25,000 plus.  Most commercial tenancy agreements tie the tenant in for at least a year, often longer, although you may find a landlord willing to offer a short lease or a sub-let.  The high streets are full of empty shops, which tells its own story about how difficult retail is at the moment.  Large retailers undertake incredibly careful analysis and market research before renting or building retail space.  If you are going to have a shop, do your homework very carefully.  Is the shop in a busy area with good pedestrian footfall; being close to cash machines, supermarkets or other well-established independent stores is also a bonus.  If your budget precludes being in the main shopping streets, are you in an area that is easy to find, close to cafes and car parks or amongst similar retailers.  It can be an advantage to be near other similar shops, as this creates a destination for customers who enjoy exploring several places in one trip.  Talk to other small shopkeepers about how they find local trade, when they find it quiet or busy etc.  If other independent shops, even vintage and antique shops have opened and then closed, try to find out the reasons.  If they found trade tough, you might too.  The local Chamber of Commerce is a good source of business information and will be able to give you insights into local conditions. 

Bear in mind the outgoings on a shop not only include the rental, often payable in quarterly instalments in advance.  On top of that you will have to pay business rates, unless you are in an enterprise zone where the council waives rates as an incentive to new retailers.  Don't forget the utilities, light, heat and water are also a cost.  And you will need public liability insurance, and also if you employ help, employer's insurance.  All these essential but boring expenses have to be covered each month before you sell one item and in a slow month, this can be a big cost and worry.  Shop overheads (ie all the costs just described) are constant, unlike fairs and markets which can be turned on and off to suit.  A shop can be the death of your dream if you are not prepared for this financial and time commitment.

You may think about sharing the shop with a friend or acquaintance.  My advice is to think very carefully about going into business with a friend -often friendships don't survive.  Even if you think it will work, do have a simple a contract between all parties agreeing setting out roles and responsibilities including financial liabilities.  For example, if you have a lease only in your name you will be liable for the rent, so if you are sharing a shop, make sure both of you are named and sign the rental agreement.  On a long lease, even if your business folds you will still have to pay rent unless the shop can be re-let.

Consider carefully what you and a partner want from setting up a shop - if one of you is more business like and profit focussed than the other, that could lead to conflicts.  Do you have compatible or complementary stock and similar ideas about display and layout.  If you have complementary skills this could be useful - one of you is great on accounts, the other on marketing for example.  Like any partnership, there will be areas of compromise.  If you know you don't work well with other people or have a very strong style that might not fit with someone else, then sharing may not be an option.

You could offer space to invited stall holders - if your potential shop is large enough to split into sections, this could enable you to have a steady cash flow from rent.  Of course, you will need to be sure that your stallholders will pay on time and will run their stalls in accordance with the standards you wish to set.  Ideally, draw up terms and conditions that form a contract stating rent, notice period, requirements for manning, stock management and so on.  Do not be tempted to be casual about arrangements as this leads to confusion and ill-feeling.  Taking on a shop and setting it up as a centre with several traders is quite an ambitious step.  Your work behind the scenes will involve accounts, advertising and marketing and sorting out manning.

If you have a shop, consider how you will staff it day by day.  Ideally, you will want to open 6-7 days a week, but doing this on your own will wipe out family life and the chance of getting out to buy.  If you are sharing manning, then you can work out a rota.  If you chose only to open on specific days, that can work well - I know one trader who runs her shop from home and opens on two weekdays and Saturday.  Her signage is clear about her hours of business and the rest of the time customers can visit her online.  But if you are paying high street rents, you need to maximise your opening hours.

If you take someone on, you need to think carefully about the implications of having an employee. Paying a wage or salary, plus sorting out tax and National Insurance contributions is where it starts.  You are also obliged to meet the requirements of employment legislation covering things like health and safety; maternity or parental leave; sick pay; working hours; holiday pay.  Many councils run services for small and medium sized enterprises to brief them on law, accounting and general business practice.  Most people starting up a business shy away from taking staff on, because it is not a straightforward process.  If you can hire someone who is willing to work on a freelance basis and invoice for their services, this may be a way to go.

Running a shop requires a lot of careful planning, good budgeting and accounting, accurate record keeping for tax purposes as well as the more creative side of buying and displaying stock.

In my next chapter, I will talk about other routes for diversification in your business.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Bigger and better...next steps

Once you start selling at fairs and markets in your local area, it is quite natural to think about where you can go next with your business.  There is no pressure to expand, if what you are doing suits your lifestyle.  That's the benefit of working for yourself - no targets to meet and no managers breathing down your neck.  Over the years, I have found I have peaks and troughs in my activity levels - sometimes, it suits me to do very little; other times, I am fired up and out and about at lots of events. 

So, what are the next steps you can take, the pros and cons and the costs involved.

Firstly, and very simply, you could just increase the number of local fairs that you do.  Your early research will have given you some ideas about the best local fairs and markets.  Perhaps you are doing one monthly event and could manage another, without it being a massive workload.  Ideally, try out a fair with a different audience to your regular spot.  Otherwise, you are not widening your potential customer base and will be showing the same stock, at twice the costs, to the same people.  This might involve going out of your home county, to another big town or signing up for an annual event that attracts a big following.  This shouldn't involve a huge amount of extra work although you will need to buy in more stock.  The benefits of trading at two fairs is that you can rotate the stock between them; what doesn't sell at one might be the item that sells quickest at the other.   And you will expand your customer base and contacts by going to a new fair.  The costs of a stall might be more expensive for a one-off fair and the travel costs higher, but by now you should be making some profit.  Some of this can be invested in buying into a new fair and increasing your stock levels.  Many traders make a good living by trading at local fairs within a small area - this can be a stable and satisfying way of doing business.  Or you can be more ambitious and think about travelling further afield.

If you love the vintage scene, the specialist vintage festival might appeal to you. In recent years, a variety of Vintage Festivals have sprung up, bringing together music, dance, food and stalls selling all kinds of vintage homeware, clothes even bicycles!  These are great events to go to, usually over a weekend in a pleasant setting such as a racecourse or a country house estate.  People often attend impeccably dressed in their vintage gear, looking for all kinds of items to add to their homes and wardrobes.  Some people style their homes entirely in keeping with a period such as the 40s or 50s  even TVs, fridges and cookers.  These festivals can be great places to sell, if you are willing to put in the work required.

One successful organiser is Discover Vintage http://www.discovervintage.co.uk/  - they hold big festivals at York and Sandown racecourses.  The benefits of selling at festivals is that everyone there is committed to the vintage way of life and the footfall can be in the thousands, putting you in front of a massive potential customer base.  Festival goers will be having a good time and in the mood to buy wonderful vintage goods.  There are a few things that could work against selling at these events, though.  Firstly, they are a big investment both in terms of cost, but also of time and preparation. The commitment to be there for a weekend, and sometimes the day before to set up, is much greater than a local one-day fair.  Plus, you will need plenty of stock to ensure you have sufficient available for the whole event.  You may also need to stay on site or close by the event, if it is too far to travel to and from each day. And trading for two days can be pretty gruelling - so try to enlist help, if you can.  As you can see, the costs are beginning to stack up but the returns can be high.  Other organisers of big vintage festivals and fairs include www.judysvintagefair.co.uk - they run fashion, furniture and kilo sales - the last is ideal for buyers of fashion items if you trade in this.

The other big factor is weather - summer 2012 showed us that we cannot rely on sunshine and dry conditions at outdoor events.  Even if you are in a marquee or have your own gazebo, if the weather is poor, people don't always turn up or stay around and sales will be affected.  However, there is the peculiar British thing of being out in all weathers, which can work in your favour.  Last year I did a particularly wet fair in July - our gazebo was crammed all day with people sheltering from the rain and spending their money.  The mud was on knee high but somehow we all had a great day!  Very much a case of keeping calm and carrying on.

If you are at a large event, the design and layout of the site will have an impact on footfall.  Make sure that your stall or site will be located near to other attractions or where plenty of people will pass by.  Not much good to be tucked away at the bottom end of a field, if nothing else is there to draw people over.    With other events and attractions laid on, the stalls are in competition to grab attention.  Also, you will be in competition with many other stalls, so you will need to think about how to make your's stand out.  Having a stall at a festival can be a lot of fun and financially rewarding, but be prepared to work hard for your dollars!

If festivals aren't your bag, you might be tempted to sell at one of the large antiques fairs such as Ardingly, Newark and Swinderby organised by IACF www.iacf.co.uk .  If you have visited these to buy, you will know how busy and exciting they are and how varied the stalls can be.  Again, this involves a higher stall cost than you might usually pay for a local fair.  You can keep costs lower by trading outside, rather than in the more expensive indoor spots or tented areas.  Actually, it's great fun outside, but do bring a gazebo, waterproofs and suncream!  You will probably plan well in advance to take a stall, to give yourself time to acquire plenty of fresh and exciting stock.  This will be on top of the stock you take to your regular markets.  Price and pack as you go, so you don't have a massive task just before the fair.  These fairs can be quite frantic at first - driving around to find your spot, unloading and setting up usually as quickly as you can go.  If you can, take a friend to help, it's advisable to do so - you will need breaks and loo trips and time to look around.  Be well prepared with food, drinks and anything else you need.  These fairs are advertised internationally and attract masses of buyers - the trade days are usually the best for sales.  Only committed buyers will pay the high admission charges and are definitely there to find the bargains.  Many traders I know who do these big fairs do so well on the first day, that they don't always go back on the second day.   But, this does mean missing out on potential sales, unless you have sold out of stock!

If these big scale fairs sound a bit daunting, then there are many really good one-day fairs to try out.  These might be purely antique or vintage fairs, or part of another event such as an agricultural or country show, a homes and gardens show or even a wedding fair.  Depending on what you sell, you might want to explore these avenues for something different.

A great one-day trade fair to sell at is Sunbury Antiques at Kempton racecourse.  Held twice monthly, this fair attracts buyers from all over the world, and is fantastically cosmpolitan and exciting.  You can buy a ticket to sell outside in advance from the organisers - this means you are financially committed whatever the weather.  Tickets sell out quickly so book well ahead for the fair date you want.  Or you can take the more spontaneous approach of being a "casual" - just turning up on the night and queueing to get a spot.  If you do this, find out from the organisers what time to get there to queue.  Many people arrive in the very early hours and sleep in their cars and vans, as the fair opens at 6.30 am.  There are also indoor spaces, but many are occupied by regulars and you may have to wait a while for a space to come up.  Outside is fun - you unload straight from your car onto your table and start selling straight away.  The trade buyers are quick and focussed, so it can feel quite rushed.  The public arrive later, when things are less frantic.  If you have unusual stock or a lot of things to sell, this fair is the place to be.  Give it a go if you can. www.sunburyantiques.com

In some areas of the country, some more exclusive fairs have sprung up in recent years.  Often stallholders are invited to exhibit by the organiser, rather than just applying and being accepted.  These are often held in private country houses and attract a very affluent group of customers.  As these fairs are curated, rather than open to all-comers,  the quality of stalls and stock tends to be very high.  If this type of event interests you, it is worth visiting a few to see the high standards and gorgeous pieces avaiable.  One such fair is the wonderful Decorative Living fair on the Eridge estate in Kent.  This is held in May and brings together superb purveyors of textiles, painted furniture, gardening antiques, beautiful clothing, French antiques and much more.  It is a feast for the eyes, as every stallholder competes to win the Best Dressed Stall crown.   The organisers may invite you to exhibit, but you can also put yourself forward with photographs of your stock.  Many of these fairs change their stall holders each year to provide variety, so don't be too deflated if you don't get invited.  The work involved in producing a stall for these exclusive fairs is considerable and investment in good stock quite substantial.  You can follow Decorative Living Fair on Facebook; other events of this type include the Avington Brocante, also in May and a wonderful Christmas fair organised by Betty and Violet at Woburn www.bettyandviolet.com.

Having to apply with photos of stock to exhibit at fairs is not uncommon, as organisers want to ensure quality and provide a good range of items to attract customers.  There are some outstanding fairs such as the Country Living Fair www.countrylivingfair.com and The Wealden Times Midsummer and Midwinter Fairs www.wealdentimes.co.uk, that have a strict application and acceptance policy.  Even many one-day fairs are taking this approach, with the vast number of people wanting to sell their wares.

If you have ever been to one of these fairs, it is tempting to think about applying for a stall. To be selected, you have to provide photographs of your stock and convince the organisers that you have something different and special. If you do apply,  it may take a few attempts before you are accepted.  The organisers can afford to be very choosy. The costs of a stall can run into hundreds, so it is a big financial commitment.  Plus the fairs run over three or four days, and a set up day and some even open in the evening.  Your stamina will be tested by the long hours, the pace and pressure of such a large event.  Again, you may have to stay near the fair venue if you cannot travel to and fro each day; plus you may have to hire help to cover some of the sessions.  These types of fair are the ultimate shopping experience - with the right stock and a fantastically styled stand, you could do very well.

If this sounds a bit overwhelming, you may want to investigate the Charity Gift Fair circuit.  These tend to run through spring/summer and then another season in the autumn for Xmas gift shopping.  You will have to apply and may be vetted for most of these fairs.  Many work on the basis of charging a stall fee plus a commission on sales and often a donation of an item to the charity raffle.  These fairs are held in country houses, beautiful barns, hotels and private homes and can attract large numbers.  However, they are usually open to sellers of all kinds of items, so you may be next to a stall selling cheese, wellingtons or children's toys.  Small items, such as jewellery, silver, cutlery, pretty glassware, serving dishes can be popular buys.  They can be a little hit and miss though, as many visitors will not be interested in vintage or antique items.  If this is something you wish to pursue, there is a Charity Fairs Association to help sellers and organisers www.charityfairsassociation.co.uk

In the summer outdoor events often invite traders to take pitches - some are themed such as Garden and Produce shows, Steam Fairs, Agricultural Shows and Car Rallies.  If you have items that will interest people who go to such events, you could find them a very good outlet.  A trader friend of mine exhibits at a Rare Breeds show and over the year collects up all kinds of agriculturally-themed items - these go down a storm at this specialist event.  If you have a particular interest such as gardening or cooking, taking along your vintage gardenalia or kitchenalia to a gardening show or a Food Festival could work really well.  If you trade in a niche area such as dog or horse-related items, then taking a stand at Crufts or Olympia horse show could work well.  But this requires very diligent and exhaustive buying to build up a mountain of stock to take to these busy, national events.

There is a fair or market out there for everyone - you may prefer to be inside at a high-end fair or outside in a gazebo at a big summer show.  Until you try, you won't know what works best for you, but there is an abundant choice.  In my next chapter I will talk about the pros and cons of being in or running a shop.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Secrets of successful selling....

Selling at antiques and vintage markets is great fun, sharing your passion and enthusiasm with other people and making money, too.  There is an art to successful selling and it takes time to find your feet and gain confidence.  A hard sell approach rarely works as most people avoid overtly "salesy" traders and a hard sell does not sit well in the environment of a vintage market.  There are some really simple things that I find make it easier to communicate with customers which is the key to good selling.

Firstly, I find that standing up behind or beside your stall rather than sitting down and tucked away, gives you a much better contact with the public. It's much easier to start a conversation and to see what people are looking at or picking up if you are at the same level and thus more engaged with them.  If you do prefer to sit down, do stop reading or chatting on your phone when you have people at your stall. Be attentive without being over-pushy, but don't hover over people as this can be very off-putting.  If you are selling with a friend, moderate the chit-chatty conversation you might be having - sometimes people feel awkward about interrupting to ask a question or price.  It's easy to start the ball rolling with a cheerful hello or good morning to people stopping by your stall.  If they move on, nothing is lost and if they do stay to browse, the conversational ice is broken.  A friend who sells very successfully at a big trade fair told me that her tip is to make someone smile or laugh, which breaks the ice.  She also advised not to talk too much; offer help and a bit of information, but don't overwhelm with conversation. 

Everyone is different and you will learn by experience how much interaction somebody wants to have with you. Some people are uncomfortable with any conversation other than a quick hello.  Body language is the key to understanding how to handle a customer. If they avoid eye contact, glance at items without picking them up or are deep in conversation with a companion whilst walking by, they are unlikely to be serious buyers.  You will find that the dealers who are out to buy new stock are business-like and generally quick to assess what they wantat your stall, before moving to the next. That's not to say that they won't give something a careful examination if interested, but they won't dally and dither for fear of missing other great buys.

If people linger and seem to be undecided about something, it might be timely to give a bit more information about the item of interest.  Its age, history, rarity and purpose are all good talking points, which is where your background research comes in useful.  Sometimes, buyers just need reassurance that the item is the right buy for them.  It could be a gift for someone else, something for their collection or just a whimsical purchase.   By listening to their requirements, you might be able to suggest other suitable pieces, even things that you could bring along next time.  This helps to build a rapport with customers, particularly if they attend the fair regularly.  

Browsers, picker-uppers and reminiscencers are drawn to vintage fairs like iron filings to magnets.  A lot of people who enjoy going to fairs have no intention of buying anything.  I hear all the time  "Oh, I'm downsizing, I don't need any more stuff!".  Then, there are the people who will pick up all your fragile pieces, peer into every book, open and close drawers and doors on furniture, fiddle with jewellery and not buy a thing. Well-worn phrases include "we had one of those" "I gave it to the jumble" "my granny had that jug/vase/picture".  It's all pretty harmless although it can be a bit  irritating if you are having a slow day and just want to make a sale!  Being more positive, you will also hear wonderful stories and learn all sorts of useful information.  You can get caught up in long conversations with time-wasters when you have other potential buyers at your stall; find a graceful way to extricate yourself so you can serve someone else.  Treat everyone with courtesy and with a smile.  Don't judge people by appearance - someone shabbily dressed could be your best customer of the day.  Not everyone chooses to wear their wealth outwardly.
You will also get the "know-all" who will give a lecture about something on your stall but not always with the right information.  A dealer friend of mine had an old boot scraper for sale - a relatively common item.  A "know-all" came to their stall and insisted that the boot scraper was in fact an Aztec dagger of great rarity.  This was most amusing and we often chuckle about the Aztec dagger.  Of course, you may also learn something new and interesting about what you are selling from a bona fide expert.  It can be quite fun to have a "mystery" object on your stall just to hear people's suggestions about what it is.

A lot of people say,  "I'll think about it and come back" - and you may be really excited thinking you are going to make a sale later in the day.  What that usually means is they are too polite or embarrassed to say they are not interested in buying, even though they may quite like the piece.  On the rare occasion the come back, they usually want to buy it at a knockdown price. The theory being that as you still have the item it can't be worth the selling price. It's up to you if you want to drop your price and make the sale or if you think they are just trying it on having watched too many TV shows!

In my experience if someone really loves a piece, they won't risk it being sold whilst they browse around the other stalls.  If people are wavering after a few minutes of indecision, I usually offer a slight reduction on price if I want the sale.  Just offering a few pounds off the price can often be the tipping point.  A lot of people feel guilty about buying something they don't need, so if they think they have got a bargain, it makes all the difference.

Sometimes, people will ask you to reserve an item if they need to ask someone else about buying it - particularly big items like furniture.  Or they might even need to go and get some cash.  You can get caught out if you end up holding back an item for the phantom buyer who then vanishes into thin air. And a missed opportunity to sell to other buyers.  To avoid this, agree a time with them by which they need to return  - perhaps within 30 minutes.  If they need to get cash to buy it,  I try to get a deposit as security whilst they find a cash machine. If someone leaves a deposit, do make a note of the amount and the price agreed - if you are busy it's easy to forget and you could make a costly mistake. And give them a receipt for their deposit.  Some buyers like to have a receipt, particularly props buyers and international buyers - it is sensible to keep a receipt book for this purpose.  You can buy these from stationery shops - the customer gets a receipt and you keep a copy. It is also a good way of keeping tabs on what you have sold.

Buyers often ask to leave fragile, heavy or bulky paid-for items with you as they continue to shop. This also gives you time to package the item properly for them to transport.  Do make sure to tell them when you plan to leave by and take their mobile number as a back-up if they don't come back.  You may have to call them to remind them to pick up items.  On more than one occasion, I have had buyers who have forgotten to collect things or have not been able to find my stall again.  It's a pain if you have sold something, have to take it home and then cart it back the next time in the hope the buyer will turn up. Keep these items securely under your table, in your car/van or where you can see them - it has been known for items to be stolen at fairs.

Haggling over price is part and parcel of the antiques and vintage business.  Other traders who buy from you will always want a better price to cut their costs and increase their margins.  "What's your best on this" "What's the death on this" or "Will £x amount buy it" all being ways to ask for a discount.  Members of the public are quite likely to haggle, having seen popular TV shows where prices seem to drop by 75% on occasion. In reality, most traders can't afford to discount that much - 10% on an item is the norm.    I price to allow for a 10-20% reduction, with a trade and public price in mind.  You can even code your labels with the retail price and your trade price - you can use a code letter to make it less obvious.

You can handle negotiations in a variety of ways.  If someone is dithering about a purchase, a small reduction may close the sale.  It can be a straightforward to and fro process swiftly concluded, but do keep the bottom line price in mind and don't start your opening offer too low.  Make sure you leave room in your pricing to get a profit.  Some buyers can be very persistent, even rude.  You are under no obligation to sell - if it gets difficult, just say politely that you are selling it for someone else and that you cannot agree a lower price.  Even if this isn't true, it provides you with a get out clause. I rarely discount on small value items of under £10 unless someone is buying several items or I want to move items on.

I find that selling to couples can be quite a challenge.  Quite frequently a woman may have fallen in love with something on your stall and you think the sale is in the bag  But then the man arrives and pours cold water on the situation. "What do you want it for", "Where will you put it" or "Do we really need it?" - are lines I have heard from the menfolk!  By contrast, women shopping together will often egg each other on to buy things "oh, that's so lovely, you should treat yourself".  Men who come to fairs tend to be avid collectors and will usually spare no expense in securing something they want. You can't always generalise, but the male/female attitude to buying does seem to differ.

Helping people to visualise how they use an item is another great way to sell  - this is where your creative "out of the box" thinking comes into play.  For example, a lovely old trunk or suitcase makes great storage in a bedroom for winter clothes or bedding; a fun place to store toys and games; a coffee table; somewhere to put DVDs.  It could be painted, decoupaged or just left as it is. By offering these options, you create a picture in the buyer's mind of a use and place for an object that they like.  Multi-purpose and functional objects are popular at the moment.  Old crates that can be used for shelving and storage; pieces of furniture that are adaptable - an old tea trolley that can be painted and used as a TV stand; a pretty washstand that could be used as a desk or dressing table; vintage suitcases stacked up for storing clothes.  Interior magazines are styled with lots of great ideas for using vintage and antique items.  You can even use these articles as part of your display - people like to recreate looks they have seen.  Versatility and practicality particularly for those on limited budgets are great selling points.  Recessions force people to think more carefully about spending money so items that are useful and beautiful, score highly.

Payment at fairs is usually in cash and cash is still King in the antiques and vintage business, unlike many others.  You will be amazed at the rolls of £50 notes that appear from pockets and wallets!  Sometimes people will offer you a cheque, but these are no longer guaranteed with a cheque card. So, it is purely down to your judgement and trust in a buyer, if you decide to accept this form of payment.   Most people do not carry large wads of cash around to pay for big items.  When I take a cheque, I ask for their address and telephone number on the back of the cheque in case there is a problem.  You should look at the cheque carefully, particularly check the signature against another form of ID.

There are now free apps available for I-pads and I-phones and possibly other smartphones, that facilitate credit/debit card payments.  If you sell expensive items, or don't like handling large amounts of cash, it might be worth investigating this as an alternative.  Bear in mind you will probably pay a commission of a few % on each transaction.  But it does look professional at the bigger fairs and festivals to be able to take a card payment.  You can hire chip and pin terminals, usually on a contract basis but it might be costly to do so.  It would be unusual at a local fair for anyone to expect to pay by card.  Make sure you have plenty of change available - it looks very amateurish if you cannot change notes or offer change.

One final thing, occasionally someone will come back and want to return an item.  If the item is not as described, then you are obliged to refund their money.  This is why it is important to point out any damage on labels (A/F is the trade term for items that are As Found ie have a fault). Trade markets tend to work a bit differently - very much the buyer beware!  If someone is just not happy with an item or has had a change of heart, it is tricky.  For the sake of goodwill, I would refund them and take the item back, however annoying that might be, unless the item has been damaged or spoilt by them.

I hope that these tips and techniques will help you to build up a confident sales style and approach.  In my next chapter, I will talk about how you might expand and upscale your business.