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.

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Pricing your treasures....

Pricing new stock is something of a dark art - there are no strict rules or easy formulas to share.  Some popular collectables, such as Beswick or Royal Doulton figurines can be priced in line with the relevant price guides. But putting a price on something unusual, a one-off or something that is showing a bit of wear and tear but retains a faded beauty and charm is far harder, as it is often down to the arbitrary matter of taste.  As you become more experienced, you will automatically start to think about what you can sell items for as you buy them.  There is no point paying too much and then being stuck with an expensive white elephant. And once the trading bug bites, you will never want to pay the asking price for anything again - bargaining will become second nature.  I even negotiate when I buy things like TVs or white goods - I haven't tried haggling in supermarkets yet though, but give it time!

If you are going to trade on a regular basis, I am assuming that you are doing it as a money-making venture.  Ideally, you will be recouping your outlay on each stock item and making a profit margin on top.  Your return can then be reinvested in new stock and possibly provide a small income.  Everyone has different reasons for trading but in this current recession, many people need extra ways to generate money.

To clarify, the profit margin is the difference beween what you pay for and then sell an item.  Don't forget though, that your total sales at any event is not your profit, but your turnover.  Your net profit is the turnover,  minus the purchase price of sold stock and any expenses incurred ie stall fee, travel costs, refreshments, materials for repairs and car parking.  Most people don't cost in their time - I suspect if we did, most of us would be working at a loss. 

Pricing is often subjective and based on what you think someone might be willing to pay for an piece that is stylish, unusual or or has the "look".  You might be able to gauge a sale price by comparing similar items on other stalls, magazines or on-line.    "On trend" items at will achieve higher prices - interior and fashion design has a big influence on what is desirable.     A few years ago, French enamel ware was popular and sets of kitchen canisters sold for very high prices to fans of shabby French chic - then enamel fell out of favour partly because the prices soared. Mid-century (C20) furniture is now in vogue with buyers in their 20s to 30s, and there are even specialist fairs that just focus on this period.  Yet 25 years ago, most people turned their noses up at 60s style preferring the chintzy, faux-Victorian style popularised by Laura Ashley.  You might find you hit the trends on the button and get great prices for your things for a while; then the fashion changes and you may be stuck with things or have to reduce prices.

Pricing based on fashion and trends is quite tricky, because it is not based on a definitive price guide.  You can take a bit of a chance and price boldy if you feel you have a special piece.  After all, it takes time to source these show-stoppers, so don't let these go for a song. 

Pricing can be flexible, and you can always start high and then reduce your asking price, if you want to do a deal and move something on.  Stock does become stale and ties up your cash, so it is good to shift those items that are sticking and sometimes a price drop is the answer. That's why many dealers at trade fairs don't label their stock, preferring to offer a price verbally and then negotiate. All traders end up with "old friends" - those pieces that hang around and come out at every fair.  Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and just let them go at little more than you paid.  But at least you have released the cash to invest more wisely in other stock.

Whatever you buy, do some basic research on your items or by mistake you might sell something good at a giveaway price.  After a while, pricing becomes easier as you learn more about what you are selling and about your customers interests and requirements. Research has become incredibly easy with access to millions of references on the Internet.  Before the Internet was widely available, most traders gleaned their knowledge from books, particularly annual price guides such as Millers and also collectors' clubs and specialist magazines like Collect it!.  There are also collectors' clubs for pretty much everything from egg cups to cruet sets, Sylvac to Moorcroft pottery.  Collectors' clubs can be a great source of information particularly on rare or unusual pieces and be a ready market for buying such items. 

Nowadays, the Internet is an incredible resource to research the background and history of items, as well as their value.  Hard copy annual price guides usually take/highest a high price achieved at auction in the preceding year or two on each illustrated item.  So, it is not real time information and from my experience, the given price is rarely achieved at fairs and markets. But it is a starting point and an upper guideline on price.

Online auctions give you real time information on recently traded items, giving you a really good insight into potential price.  If something interests you but you don't want to buy it, you can "watch" the item and see its selling price.  Of course, selling in your local vintage market does not give you access to a global audience,  so the online price might be a lot higher than you can achieve at your stall.  Do consider when using the internet auction sites or price guides that the item's condition, backstamp or maker's mark, colourway or pattern can make big differences to price.  Your item might look the same, but even a small difference in design or colour can affect its value to a collector.

Other seller's sites on the Internet will give you a feel for style and pricing - Facebook features a plethora of amazing vintage and antiques businesses here in the UK.  I follow a number and if they have a website, take a look at those as well.  Some of my favourite pages are Goose Home and Garden (  and Winter's Moon (

There are numerous specialist books and guides out there covering silver, pottery, glass, costume and precious jewellery, toys, books, furniture and textiles.  Start to build up your own reference library of books which will help you identify and value your stock. Many books focus on the history, design and production of items - pricing is not always mentioned.  Background reading gives richness and depth to your knowledge and develops your eye for beautiful pieces.  Anyone who loves vintage and antiques is sure to be interested in the history and provenance of your best pieces.   Some sellers give a flavour of this by putting some description and history on their price labels - this is a great idea, if you have the time to do it.  If there is any original paperwork or packaging with any piece on your stall, do keep this with the item - such as the original box for a toy or the original sales receipt with a vintage dress.  This is valuable social history and adds to the value of the piece.

There are some simple ways of working out pricing if you want to take a more systemised approach. I have a simple rule of thumb and try to at least double the asking price on what I paid for something. But often the multiples are much higher - even an item purchased for a £1 and sold for £10 is a great return on investment.  Bigger items can bring you great profit margins - an old table bought for £20 and then painted and waxed might sell for £120.  There is scope to do very well on furniture, if you are able to restore and update old pieces. With the current trend for painted furniture, I know several traders who buy up very ordinary looking brown furniture and work magic with paint and wax to create a very desirable interior piece.   For inspiration take a look at Harriet's Attic (

You will need a large vehicle to transport furniture, storage and a workshop space to make the transformations - not ideal, if you live in a flat!  Bear in mind the costs incurred for materials and time involved in doing any work on pieces.  This will cut into your profits - sometimes it is easier to leave something unrestored and let someone else have the fun of doing it up. 

Some traders are quite happy to sell a lot of items with a small profit margin - this relies on two things.  Firstly, being able to buy a stream of items at a good price that will sell quickly; secondly, to trade at enough events to generate the sales and to keep trading costs such as stall fees low. This involves a lot of leg-work  to keep stock replenished,  but it is a lower risk strategy than having all your money tied up in a few expensive pieces if you are just starting out.    I try to have a range of stock across a wide price range to appeal to all pockets.  In the current economic climate, even affluent people are thinking twice about what they spend and many people limit themselves to a budget when they go to fairs.  If you do have very expensive pieces, be prepared to have them for a while.  If you can afford to do this and wait to get your price, then no problem.  Upgrading to better pieces that command higher prices is a good aim to have, as you learn more and find the fairs attracting the specialist or high-spending customers. 

You will begin to develop a gut feel for pricing - this will come from a combination of seeing other traders' prices, Internet and offline research, price guides and information in magazines such as BBC Homes and Antiques Homes and Antiques is a fantastic magazine - great for highlighting trends and fashions in interiors and with useful price guide, collectors features, places to visit and buy antiques,  reviews of fairs, even a Sale and Wanted column. (  

Other inspirational magazines and where you can get a feel for prices are Country Living ( and Country Homes and Interiors ( interiors).  Both have superbly-photographed features about decorating with vintage and antique items - good for getting your eye in on current trends and pricing information.  I have stacks of these magazines and constantly use them for reference and inspiration.  There are a lot of new magazines picking up on the vintage trend including Pretty Nostalgic (, Vintage Life ( and several others. 

Auction houses are another source of intelligence on pricing.  Auction houses have valuation desks where you can take in items to get an idea of auction value. If this is for insurance purposes, auction houses will charge for this service.  But if you are considering selling the item at auction, you may be able to get a free valuation and some basic background information.  Bear in mind that the auction is the equivalent of buying wholesale so the auction price may not be what you sell the item on for.  Normally, you would hope to achieve a better price.  The BBC TV show, Bargain Hunt, is rather confusing on this aspect.  Here people buy items at fairs and sell at auction, with the aim of generating a profit.  This rarely happens, proving the point that auctions tend to generate lower priced items than fairs.  There are exceptions, but watch the show and see how it works.

Pricing is often about trial and error.  We all make mistakes - the item that flew off your stall with dealers competing to buy it, is quite possibly an example of something that was priced too cheap.  A while back I sold a beautiful pressed glass dish with sea creatures on it for a few pounds at a little local fair - the same dish turned up in a local antiques shop for £90.  Ultimately, it might not have sold for that price, but they got a great buy from me, all the same.

If you sell to the trade, you have to accept that they will sell on and make a further profit.  This is the antiques and vintage "circle of life".  Many traders are happy to make their profit on something, knowing that the trader who bought it will also make a profit.  Some will even buy at a fair from you and then put the item on their stall at a higher price straight away.  On Ebay this is known as "flipping" - and can bring a nice quick return.  I have friends who regularly buy at a boot sale and by the time they go home, have "flipped" most of their bargain purchases!    Traders love to sell to each other - hence the old joke about two traders on a desert island selling the same thing back and forth between them.  Things can pass through many hands before ending up in a private home.  Most fairs bring a mixture of trade and private customers - you will soon learn the difference. 

Like most things in the antique and vintage business, pricing is trial and error and you will learn by experience and making a few mistakes.  In the next chapter, I will talk about selling and about "knowing your customer".

Sunday, 13 January 2013

To buy or not to buy....sourcing stock

Once you have traded at a couple of fairs and had good results, you are probably ready to widen your horizons.  Perhaps you are thinking of trading at more fairs or even taking a unit in a centre.  Hopefully, you have got the bug and sooner or later will be going out on buying trips. And if you do a regular fair, your loyal customers will relish seeing a few new items each time.  This adds to the excitement of your stall and keeps it fresh.  As a rough guide,  I try to change my stock with at least 50 % new items at a regular fair - I keep back the older stock for my unit or for other fairs.  Or, if I can't manage to buy new stock, I vary how I arrange my display and give prominence to different items.

Finding good quality, reasonably priced stock is a constant challenge - you can spend every day looking or just a couple of hours a week if you are time limited.  There are many sources for buying stock, some more reliable and fruitful than others.  You can go far and wide, even abroad, to find pieces, but to start off with these are a few possible avenues to explore:

Buying at auctions is a relatively hassle-free way of buying, but not always at bargain prices.  Many of the auction lots will not be suitable or be within your budget.  But it's possible to buy a lot of items at one sale, saving you time and money, if you think of the cost of driving to a lot of different places.  Auctions can be found all over the UK and are often advertised in local papers as well as in the Antique Trades Gazette website and newspaper (  The Gazette has an extensive list of major auctions and fairs across the country. Also,  look out for the small, one-off sales that might not get widely advertised - charity auctions or house sales.  Many auctions allow on-line bidding or you can leave bids before the sale if you can't attend; location is no bar to bidding at most sales.  But bear in mind the cost of having items delivered if you are not close enough to collect them yourself.

Do try to go along and view the sale before it starts; most auction houses allocate several days to view in advance or at least an hour before the sale begins.  This is your chance to check over the items you want to buy very carefully.  If there are big lots of grouped items try to go through the boxes and see how much is damaged.  Damaged stock, unless very rare or unusual, does not sell well and you could end up losing money if you are not careful.  And you might find something really good in a big mixed lot, with any luck you might be the only one who spots it.  I used to love buying these big mixed lots for a few pounds.  These days, with online bidding, geographical location is no bar to buying so prices have gone up in many cases.  But the general sales can yield some great finds.

Many years ago I used to attend a Saturday auction in Romford - an eclectic mix of old and new items were sold there.  It was a great afternoon's entertainment, with a real East End wide boy auctioning off the lots in an old shack.  I spotted a Clarice Cliff dish, which at first glance looked damaged.  The "damage" was actually just paper labels that had stuck to the surface which could easily be cleaned off.   The auctioner was even going to miss out the lot, until I expressed some interest.  I secured the dish for a very low price and quickly sold it on at a great profit, having cleaned off the labels.  It really does pay to look at things carefully and not be in a rush.

To avoid auction fever, you can leave bids at the sale and then you will not be tempted to over-bid.  If you do go along, try to set an upper limit and stick with it - it is easy to get carried away. If you are bidding against a private buyer, they won't be thinking about re-sale value and often pay over the odds for something they really want.  Plus with a buyer's premium of 10-15% on top, you will pay more than your final bid if you secure the lot.  The disadvantage of not being at the auction is that you can miss some great bargains and buy them ad hoc.  If you are successful, you must collect your items within a few days and pay all the costs inclding buyer's premium.  I am told there are some great country auctions in Devon and Cornwall and also Wales, where you can come away with boxes of great things for little money! If you are holidaying in rural areas, it is worth asking about local auctions and sales - you might get lucky and stumble on one! Even agricultural auctions can yield some interesting items, in amongst the tractors, equipment and even livestock.

Car boot sales
Another great source of stock is from car boot sales and garage sales.  Buying successfully at boot sales requires perseverance and a lot of luck.  You are bound to find a boot sale close to home all over the UK.  There are lots of websites listing boot sales and your local free papers will probably carry advertisements for them, too.  Bear in mind more people go to boot sales on a Sunday than church! there will be alot of competing buyers looking for the same kinds of things as you.  Opinions vary on when to get the best bargains.  Some say get there as early as possible for the best pickings; others arrive later and find the items that get put out after the first rush.  I prefer the earlybird attack - a challenge  in the winter when it is too dark to see what you are buying, so take a torch.  Boot sales are frenetic and exciting, especially if you have never been to one before.  There are a few basics to consider;
  • if you like an item pick it up or hold on to it while making up your mind - otherwise someone may jump in and buy it in front of you;   
  • haggling over prices is totally acceptable and expected - and cash is king; people rarely accept cheques so take plenty of money including small change so you are not kept waiting if sellers don't have change ready at hand;
  • as the seller opens their boot,  ask them if they have the particular type of items you seek -  they may only have modern household stuff or clothes and you could be wasting time waiting for them to unload.  Also, if you ask and they do have something, you have a chance of seeing it first;  if you spot something in their boot of interst, ask if you can see the item when it comes out;
  • I always ask if I can look through boxes if they are unpacking very slowly - some sellers get very angry if you rummage without asking and manners cost nothing.  Sadly, some people are very rude and pushy at boot sales, and I have seen arguments and even fights break out.  By being polite and friendly you will stay out of these situations.

By attending a specific boot sale on a regular basis, you will get to know the regular sellers and the best sources of your kind of stock.   It is helpful to get to know the regulars and some may even look out for stuff for you or keep things back, if you are a regular buyer and willing to pay a fair price.

Everything and anything eventually turns up at a car boot sale - but it is a case of buyer beware.  There are fakes around and even experienced dealers get caught out.  A very experienced kitchenalia dealer I know bought a piece of Cornish Ware which she thought was rare, for a few pounds. On checking the Internet, it turned out that the item had been faked and she had been unlucky enough to buy it.  But there are some amazing finds too -  I know of one specialist in Chinese art who found a small ceramic bowl, which later sold for over £30,000 at Christies auction house!  

Try and spot the sellers who are having a genuine clear out or selling off granny's bits and pieces, amongst the regular traders.  Their items will be new to the market and not have done the rounds of every boot sale in the county. The first-time or novice seller is often a bit slow to unpack and maybe a bit disorganised, but being patient and polite can yield results.  House clearance stalls can be good for inexpensive and unusual finds amongst the rows of boxes and crates.  The good stuff is often sold before the van is unloaded to regulars, but there is still a chance of finding a bargain or two.

Haggling is fine, but if you make a really cheeky offer, don't be surprised if you get a short and pithy response.  One trader I know smashed up a table in front of a buyer who kept on trying to haggle him down on price - he got so fed up with her, he made his point in very dramatic fashion!  I've seen sellers smash a piece of china rather than sell it too cheap.  You do get allsorts at car boot sales, so be prepared for anything.

Boot sales usually run on Saturdays and Sundays, but there are a few sales in the week, particularly during the summer. These can be less competitive and a bit more relaxed.  You will soon find the boot sales that you like and get to know the traders. It's a fun way to pass a morning and buy some exciting new stock.

Garage/house sales
Garage sales and house sales are getting quite popular in the UK, particularly when people are moving. Householders lay out their wares in their garage, garden or driveway and buyers come to the house for the event.  Usually the sale is only advertised locally or even just on posters and signs on the day - keep your eyes peeled for these.  Canny dealers get there early or sometimes the day before, to bag the bargains.  If a phone number is published, I usually ring to find out what is on sale and if I can come along early.  If it is just household stuff with nothing much else, I may not rush along.  But even then, it may be worth a look - people often don't know what they have got and their idea of old rubbish might be your idea of a bargain buy. In some places a group of houses, even a whole village, will hold a collective sale when any householder can put out a stall and sell in their driveway.

Jumble and rummage sales
In the 70s and 80s, I used to haunt local jumble sales and get some extraordinary bargains.  I bought vintage clothes and textiles for a few coppers as well as old books, pictures, china and old toys.  I would queue for an hour before the sale started to be at the front of the pack.  The old hands would try and see through the gaps in the door or the window where the good stuff was set out to plan their attack.  As the doors opened, the pack would rush in like hounds chasing a fox.  With no time to look at every item closely, I would just grab the things that looked good and pile up my purchases.  Very satisfying to get three or four boxes of items for a few pounds.

Sadly, the days of the traditional jumble sale are pretty much over - jumbles are still held, but tend to be full of plastic, kids toys and poor quality clothing. There is an art to finding a good jumble - go for a  sale in a well-to-do village or market town , and an event organised by older volunteers.  I find Scout/Guide jumble sales, Conservative club, choir and church group sales, theatre groups, and sales for animal charities tend to have a good amount of quality items. 

Charity/thrift shops
Charity shops are another source to investigate. Nowadays, most charities are very clued up about the value of donated items and quite rightly, are trying to achieve the best price they can.  The aim of the shop is not to provide bargains for the public, but to raise funds for their cause.  I buy some lovely things from my local charity shops (or "Chazzas" as I think they now get called), but rarely for a bargain price.  But, if I can still make a little bit and have something unusual or interesting, plus help a good cause, then it's a win win situation.  Personally, I think it is completely out of order to haggle for goods in a charity shop - the exception might be if they have the item for a while or it is damaged, and they have not noticed this.  If you buy regularly from these shops, you might be given first option on your "wanted" items.  And if they do help you in this way, pay the good deed back and take your unwanted items to them to sell.  A few years back, I bought a 1960s Oz magazine for 50 p in a charity bookshop; I had an inkling this was a good find although not my normal type of item.  I sold it on Ebay for a considerable sum - but I did give the charity a donation of 25% of the final selling price. 

Buying privately
This can be a convenient way of buying wonderful things, without the competitive atmosphere of a boot sale or auction.   But I have had my hopes raised and dashed many times when I have been offered items on a private basis.  Sometimes the items have been poor quality, damaged and not as described when examined. But you can never tell.  I know people who buy very successfully from the free and classified ads in their local newspapers and online ads.  You need to be quick off the mark and able to travel around and view things at short notice.  Sellers don't want to wait for two or three days for you to come along and view.  Often bargain buys get hidden in the ads if they get put in the wrong category.

Or you can advertise in your local paper or put "Wanted to buy" cards in local shop windows. State what you want to buy and make sure it is easy for people to contact you by phone.  Don't put your address or any other personal information.  It is usual to pay in cash, but do get a receipt for the goods.  If you leave a deposit because you need to go back to pick items up, get a very clear list of what you have reserved or paid for.  Sometimes items get removed before you collect, and then you have paid for items that are not there.   If you do go to a private home to buy, please think about your personal safety.  Tell someone where you are going and when, or better still get someone to go with you and wait for you outside.  Verify the telephone number you are given by calling it back.  Alternatively, you can ask the seller to bring items to you - either at your home or at a fair.  To start with, I would try to buy from people who you know, or through contacts and referrals.  There are a few potential pitfalls buying this way - you could even end up with stolen goods. Buyer beware.

Many private sellers are coy about giving a price, as they want you to make an offer. And people often have inflated ideas of what their things are worth and expect a retail price or what they saw on an Internet auction or on the TV. The phrase "I can't be a buyer and a seller" comes in handy, but if they want an offer then you have to come up with a price.  I am assuming you are not an antiques specialist with any formal training, so this can be really tricky.  Try to work out the selling pricee for the item/s and then offer a percentage of this - probably between 30-50%.  Remember, you are buying wholesale, in order to achieve a retail price and a profit margin.   Be prepared not to buy on occasions and find a polite way of refusing things.  "It's not really what I sell, but it is a lovely/unusual/fun item" is a nice way of saying no.  If there is masses of stuff, you might have to buy it as a job lot.  Work out the overall sale value and how much of the job lot is stuff you simply won't be able to sell.  It's easy to get lumbered with lots of unsaleable stock and then have the bother of storing and transporting it.

Fairs and markets
One of the best fairs for traders to buy at is the wonderful Sunbury Antiques Fair ( held at Kempton race course twice a month.  This is a great event with loads of sellers, a huge range of stock at all prices,a  fantastic atmosphere and a worthwhile morning out!  It opens at 6.30 am and the dealers come in droves to buy.  Sellers from France, Germany, Holland and Italy can be found with some eye-catching and different items.  Come armed with plenty of cash, a trolley and a large vehicle to haul away your finds. As well as the trade, props buyers from film, theatre and TV, photographers, stylists, interior decoraters and garden designers are there to source wonderful things.   It's also a great fair to sell at once you become more adventurous.  Other excellent buying fairs include the group organised by IACF ( including Ardingly and Newark.  Newark is the biggest fair in Europe with several thousand stalls.

Local antique and vintage fairs can also yield great buys, although on a much smaller scale than the big trade fairs.  But easy enough to make a quick visit, and perhaps find one or two bargains. Plus, great for market research, ideas for display and to see your competitors at work.

Online auction sites
People tell me that it is possible to buy some fantastic things at online auctions.  This involves being a little bit clever and thinking outside of the box.  Anything fashionable and popular, correctly described and listed will probably not go cheap.  But, items that are listed with incorrect spelling may not come up on searches; items that are not attributed to a maker or mark that slip through the net but with diligence can be found.  Another trader told me that she buys items that only allow for personal collection - this can mean that many buyers out of area are deterred from bidding.  If you are willing to arrange a courier or collect yourself, you can sometimes get a good deal on these items.  If you have to pay postage, this can add a considerable amount to your costs and make an item unprofitable.  Nonetheless, the Internet auctions give you enormous scope to find unusual items.

Antique and vintage shops
Despite these being retail outlets, it is still possible to find good buys in shops.  Antiques centres and the old-fashioned junk shop can yield bargains.  Not every dealer is an expert in every item; you may find a lovely piece of glass on a stall that is mainly furniture.  The seller may not be that interested or aware of the value of the item, but you might know it is a very special piece and underpriced.  Again, visiting these shops is part of your education - getting an idea of what's popular and any trends or fashions in particular types of goods.

Buying for your antiques or vintage business can be one of the most exciting and enjoyable aspects of the process.  I still get a real thrill and buzz from finding a fantastic item at a bargain price.  Just the other day, I managed to buy an Arts and Crafts bookcase for £35 from a local shop.  Polished up, it looks lovely in my study but could also be re-sold for double what I paid.

The next chapter will focus on researching and pricing your stock.  In the meantime, happy hunting for those hidden treasures that are waiting to be discovered.

Monday, 7 January 2013

On your marks, get ready....

Now, for some research and preparation before launching your vintage or antiques stall.  If any of the advice falls into the "teaching granny to suck eggs" category, please accept my apologies.  Hopefully, there will be a couple of hints or tips to take away...and if you already know all of it, then stop reading and get blogging!

So, your house is overflowing with so much stuff you want to do a fair before you become the subject of a Channel 4 documentary on hoarding. Or you've been buying or renovating and upcycling things ready for your trading debut.    Before signing up to a fair or market, it's a good idea do some basic market research and check out a few possible events in your local area.  It is probably wise to start your venture at a local fair to keep costs and stress-levels down.  I would visit at least three local established fairs, to gauge what is being sold and if there is good trade to be done.  As fairs are usually busy first thing, try visiting later in the day to get a sense of how much business is done after the morning rush.These are some of the things that I would think about when checking out potential fairs;

  • Is the event busy and thriving, with a good range of customers for most of the day?  Ideally, you want to be rushed off your feet making lots of sales, but having a steady flow of customers is great.  Most fairs have their peaks -  such as first thing in the morning and mid-afternoon -  and troughs - lunchtimes can often be quiet and late afternoons.  Of course, you might make one big sale on a slow day, but statistically a busier fair will be better for business.
  • How easy is it to park and unload when you set up? Personally, I loathe having to carry heavy boxes up flights of stairs or from faraway parking spots.
  • Is the car parking for traders free or in an expensive public car park ? This can be a nasty surprise  if you are there for a long day, particularly in a city centre where parking costs £s per hour.
  • Is there good parking for customers and is the venue easy to walk such as in a town centre or close to shops or other attraction.  If  in a country location, is it near or in a busy village, near a tourist spot  or easily accessed from a busy or major road? Some fairs are part of a bigger event such as a country fair or agricultural show.  If you plan to try one of these, check that your stall will be around busy areas, not out in the boondocks away from the main flow of people.
  • Does the stock at each fair look inviting and varied  and would you feel comfortable selling at this event?  If you have very expensive stock, a more prestigious or specialised event might be a better bet; if you are just clearing out unwanted household goods, clothes and toys, a boot sale is more suited to your needs.  If there are only a few stalls with lacklustre stock, it is unlikely to be a thriving event with plenty of customers. 
  • How is the fair advertised - are there plenty of  fliers, posters, local paper ads about the event, is it advertised on local radio; is the fair well signposted on the approaches to the venue?
  • Can customers buy lunch or light refreshments so they linger longer? On a weekday if the fair is in a town centre or near offices/workplaces, good refreshments often attract the working population at lunchtime who will also browse the stalls.
Most likely you will get a gut instict about the fair which you feel suits you best as well as meeting your other criteria.  It is important that you feel comfortable and confident as a trader when you start out, as it can be quite daunting at first.

I find chatting to friendly stallholders pretty useful -  you can subtly find out how they rate the fair, if it is busy and if they attend on a regular basis.  Most will be fairly forthright if the fair is no good, too quiet or not well organised. 

Look carefully at what kind of goods and items are on sale at the various fairs you visit. Will your stock be complementary to what is already on offer or stand out like a sore thumb.  Very specialised and expensive goods may not do well at a local fair, where most customers do not expect to spend too much. If you sell something along those lines, a specialist fair will be a better option (there fairs for postcards, cameras, stamps, fine art, coins, medals and militaria, to name a few examples).  A few organisers will limit the number of sellers of items such as jewellery or cupcakes, to ensure there is sufficient variety of goods on offer.  You may have to wait for someone to drop out, if this is the case. Wherever you go and whatever you sell, it will be a case of "suck it and see" as trading in antiques and vintage is not an exact science.  Maximise your chances of a good day, with varied, fairly priced and interesting stock.

Do have a proper conversation with the organiser,after your recce, if the fair looks promising.  You might be able to catch them at the event, but if they are busy or distracted it is better to speak to them at a quieter time.  As well as checking availability - good fairs often have a waiting list and some have a selection policy - and the cost of a stall, find out how the fair is promoted and how many people usually attend.  If the public pay an entry fee, the organiser should have a very good idea of numbers; free entry events may not be so well monitored or recorded.

Some of the best vintage fairs in my home county of Sussex are organised by Love Lane Vintage.  The two organisers distribute 1,000s of fliers, advertise in local press, put out huge banners around the venue in advance, get all stallholders to promote the event to their clients and contacts and use Facebook and Twitter to get people talking about the day.  This takes a lot of time and effort, but is reaps benefits for the organisers and stallholders, as the footfall is consistently high.  By contrast, another organiser of a recent village hall fair only managed to print some fliers for local shops and cafes; they decided against advertising in the local press and very poor signage around the hall on the day meant there was little by way of passing trade.  Disappointing for the organiser and stallholders who had travelled some way to attend.

Once you have signed up for your first fair, you can start preparing your stock. Expect to pay around £20-40 for a stall at a one-day local fair - which is not too great a financial risk.  Stalls/stands cost a lot more than this at the major fairs eg Newark or Ardingly Antiques Fairs or a "by invitation to trade" country house fairs such as the Decorative Living Fair at Eridge in Kent.  Little fairs such as school or village fetes can be cheaper, but in my experience are never that great for selling antiques and vintage items.  The more expensive the fair, the more the organiser should be advertising and marketing the event to generate the footfall.  Some more exclusive fairs may not publicly advertise, but will have private databases and client lists of high profile and affluent buyers.

I would urge you to have a practice run at home, setting up your stock as if at the fair.   Most tables provided are a standard 6 foot by 2.5 foot trestle or you may just be allocated a space and no table.   Set your table with a clean and generously sized cloth, cotton bed sheet or even a curtain.  I sometimes use a piece of hessian for fairs where I sell garden-related items for a nice rustic look.  Some traders use old fashioned wooden trestle tables of their own; often painted in the shabby chic/distressed style.  

To create visual impact, your stall should have one or two "crowd-pullers" -  unusual eye-catching items that create a talking point.  Also, if you can vary the height of items on your stall by using props such as wooden crates, tray tables, little cupboards and small shelves your display have more impact.  Very busy, colourful and cluttered stalls can be exciting, hinting at hidden treasure.  Beautifully displayed and styled stalls will always be admired and sometimes having a few distinctive items can work well.  There are no hard and fast rules here. Find the style of display that suits you and will make your stall unique, rather than copying everyone else.

There are hundreds of interesting ways to display things, these are a few ideas to consider or adapt:
  • use a vintage mannequin or dressmaker's model to display jewellery - hang necklaces and pin on brooches for a flamboyant effect;
  • use an old fashioned fairy cake baking tin to display buttons and earrings in each section;
  • keep old jam jars (those with checked lids look particularly nice) to store and show off bits and pieces - great for old haberdashery products;
  • find a pretty glass fronted cupboard, to sit on your table as tea sets, glass and ornaments look great displayed on shelves; you can paint the cupboard if you want it to look more vintage-y;
  • beg some wooden wine boxes from your local wine merchant and use these as display shelves - and also for transporting stock  - they can be used in a variety of ways stacked, standing on their side or upside down; paint them to match your cloth or keep them natural, for a more earthy look;
  • use an old mirror to display small items such as silver, jewellery and glass on - the reflected light and shine really brightens up a stall and draws the eye;
  • use a child's chair or table to display toys or lay out vintage games; 
  • drape battery operated fairy lights around your table in amongst your stock to brighten things up; a vase of garden flowers or a potted plant such narcissi, geranium or lavender look lovely at a spring or summer fair; in the autumn, golden leaves, conkers and acorns are free and attractive as decorations; Christmas fairs give you carte blanche to go for it, decor wise. 
  • some traders stick to a colour scheme for their stock - one trader I know sells only grey, cream, pink and white items, with the occasional blue and white piece as contrast, which looks amazing. I have also seen red and white, which is very eye-catching, on another stall.  This does involve a bit more effort and time, so perhaps an idea to develop as you progress.
If you "rehearse" your stall you will be able to work out how much stock to take with you, with a bit in hand to fill gaps. If you can use the floor space in front of the stall for small furniture you can flank the table to maximise your selling space - double check this first with the organiser if you don't know this is allowed.  Anything fragile or valuable is best kept in a locked cabinet or on a high shelf so that you can keep safe - sadly, items do get pinched at fairs, even low value things.  Once you are happy with your layout, take some photos for your records and if you are using Facebook, post them on your page as a bit of pre-publicity.  

You now need to price and pack your stock.  Sticky labels or tie on tags are available from most stationers or from Ebay - or you can even make your own, if you have the energy.  Having your stock priced and labelled in advance means you won't make the mistake of asking a low price on a good piece in the first rush of unpacking and trading.  When you get more experienced, you may decide not to price everything - many antiques dealers don't, as this allows them a bit of flexibility at trade markets.  However, having clear price labels helps you and the customer. Not all customers will ask for a price, as they don't want to be embarrassed if an item is out of their price range and it appears they can't afford it!  I will cover how to work out the price of your stock in another chapter in more detail.

Wrap your stock up carefully - nothing is more annoying than getting to a fair and finding things chipped, cracked and unsaleable. This eats straight into your profits.  Bubble wrap is best for breakables - you can buy it, or often find it given away on Freecycle and other recycling websites.  Clean sheets of tissue paper are great for wrapping textiles (acid-free is best for anything very old and fragile) and glass. Newspaper is horrible - it makes the stock and your hands filthy, so only use as a last resort.  Books should be stored carefully to avoid damp and damage to spines or pages.  Suitcases or those huge plastic laundry bags sold in discount stores are great for textiles, clothes and cushions.  If you don't want to spend a lot of money, supermarkets give away cardboard fruit boxes with are great for packing and stacking.  Don't overload your boxes and try to keep the contents level, so that you can stack in your vehicle.  If you want to spend out, then plastic crates with lids are great.  I also scrounge the plastic crates used to deliver online shopping - these are sturdy and have handles.  Remember, for the sake of whoever is doing the lifting and carrying, make it as easy as possible and don't overload the boxes.

Loading up the car is the next job.  As most fairs start early, I try to load the day before to avoid a frantic morning rush.  There is an art to packing a car which you will soon perfect.  Stack any level boxes and flat, heavy items first - make sure that the fragile stuff is on the top!  Odd shaped baskets, bags and loose items can be packed around and on top of the base layer. Do wrap loose things in blankets or sheets to avoid other items being scratched or damaged in transit.  Keep your tablecloths, price labels and any documents you need on arrival in a separate bag or basket on your front seat for ease of access.  If you are at an outdoor event and taking your own tables, gazebo or covers, make sure you can get to these first.  Roof racks are ideal for this purpose. Be conscious of safety and avoid the risk of items falling on you if you have to brake sharply.  Really heavy things should be secured or tied, preferably under other items.  Your car will be heavier than usual, so check and adjust the tyre pressures.  Also, I cover my stock with blankets and park securely - if you are only able to park on the road, it might be advisable to load just before you go.

Another obvious point is to work out your route to the fair and the likely traffic conditions.  If it is local, you will probably know the route and time it will take you.  If you going further afield, do have directions on hand.  I don't use satnav as this is often unreliable in the countryside, but you may find it fine .  AA route planner works well for me, with its detailed list of directions.  I always allow loads of time to go to a new destination. If you are stressed, having a rushed journey will not helpl.  If you arrive too early, then you can always have a cup of tea, read the paper or have a rest!  Also, you can park as close as possible and check out your stall location without being in a rush.  Sometimes, organisers don't allocate stalls and you get to pick  - but normally stalls are allocated in advance.

Unloading and unpacking is a very hectic time for everyone.  If you can buy or borrow a trolley to cart stuff in, then it does save time and effort . Or find a willing helper to assist you  - I have been known to rope in loitering teenagers to carry stuff in on the promise of a decent tip!  If you get hot and bothered easily, you might want to arrive and set up in some comfy old clothes.  I always take a clean top/outfit, a handtowel and some toiletries with me, to freshen up before the public arrive.  Being a lady of a certain age, I always get too hot and having a wash and brush-up helps me to look halfway normal!  Some traders even dress in vintage style fashion, which can look fabulous and sets a great tone for their stall.

I also highly recommend taking a picnic with you - buying food and drink all day can be expensive and eats into your profits.  Also, leaving your stall to queue for food can mean you miss potential customers.  You can always treat yourself to a cake in the afternoon, if you are having a good day! You will need an energy boost after your early start and unloading, so having some snacks and a hot drink/bottle of water available really helps.

One thing that will make your day go smoothly is to befriend your neighbouring stallholders. Everyone finds it stressful getting ready, but a bit of give and take between neighbours does help.  If you are on your own, a friendly neighbour will keep an eye on your stall if you need to go for a tea break or a wee break! And you can learn a lot from chatting to other stallholders - details of other fairs, where to buy nice stock and so on.

Whilst you unpack, many organisers will allow dealers in early to get the first pickings from the stock on offer.  Some people really don't like this, but dealers are good customers with money to spend.  Most will pay in cash and are decisive about what they want to buy.  If you have attractive pieces, they will buy from you on a regular basis or even ask you to look out for items on their behalf.  Be prepared to haggle on price with them, but don't let your star pieces go too cheap!  At many fairs, you will find the best sales come first thing in the day with the trade buyers.  Some fairs do not allow early entry and in that case, you will be able to unpack with no distractions.

Once you are set up, and with a few minutes to spare, then make sure you have a chair to sit down on when things go quiet; change into your clean top/outfit if you have one; get out your cash float and put it in a safe place ie in a shoulder or bum bag or a cash tin hidden away.  Make sure you have packing and bags on hand for wrapping up purchases.  Keep a pen and notebook available to record your sales.  The customers are in the hall and the race is on!

Just before I close, just a few words on the thorny question of what makes an item antique, vintage or even retro!

Antiques used to formally be defined as things aged 100 years and over; these days there is a bit more flex in the definition. Items from the Art Deco era of decent quality would probably be described as antique but are not yet 100 years old. Antique would usually refer to something of a reasonable quality to something rare, precious or unique with some age to it.  Pricewise an antique could be 50p - say for a Victorian button, to sums in the thousands or millions for a rare Chinese ceramic or an Old Master painting.  Antique prices fluctuate, just like property, and there are fashions and trends in antiques.  Years ago, copper and brass items were hugely popular; now you are hard pressed to sell these even for a few pounds, unless the piece is very rare and unusual.  These days, people don't want to spend time cleaning and polishing stuff.

Vintage items usually date from between the 1940s-1980s and are often goods that would have had a modest price tag when produced.  For example, the famous and much-collected black and white Homemaker china, which originally sold in Woolworths in the 1950s.  Vintage describes just about anything that is pre-owned or loved, that people want to collect.  Popular vintage items include painted furniture, enamelware, prettily decorated tea sets and dinner services, old toys, mass manufactured or homemade fashion clothing and accessories (not usually haute couture), old kitchen utensils, furnishing textiles, colourful theatre, cinema and travel posters and advertising memorabilia. There is also a growing interest in twentieth century technology such as manual sewing machines, typewriters, old calculators, phones and even computers. And of course, vintage cars, motorbikes and other forms of transport are enduringly popular and often very expensive!   Vintage celebrates the ordinary objects that would have been enjoyed and used by our parents and grand-parents. Because the majority of these items were not particularly rare or expensive, they were also easily disposed of - hence hearing so often "my granny had one of those but chucked it away"!

Retro is another category covered at some specialist markets mainly in cities such as London, Brighton and Manchester,  for the dedicated followers of this style.  The focus is on great design, beautiful materials and cutting edge style from the 50s-80s.  Retro encapsulates the most innovative and forward looking designers and manufacturers of the time.  Specific brands, such as Ercol, G-Plan, Midwinter, Hornsea or designers such as Terence Conran, Lucienne Day and Jessie Tait are highly sought after.  Scandinavian style from the Mid (twentieth) Century is also popular, particularly furniture, glass and ceramics.

Do be aware of the masses of "vintage style" products on the High Street and sold at online auction sites. Many fairs and markets allow traders to sell these vintage-style goods which can be bought from wholesalers and warehouses. Of course, there are some well-known brands that produce some gorgeous vintage style pieces and revive forgotten patterns and designs with a modern twist. Selling reproduction items knowingly as antiques is tantamount to fraud.  Sometimes a vintage-style product is more practical than a fragile or rare original; others are just cheap imitations and look shabby, without the chic!  If you are going to sell these new items, please be honest about what they are - if they have the "look" then some people are happy if the price is right.  Others prefer to buy genuinely old stuff.

Next time, I will talk about the selling process and the kinds of customers you might encounter.  

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Introduction and where it all began...

The new year arrived and with it, my self-inflicted challenge of doing something different or better than I managed in the year before.  I had already decided to launch myself into the blogosphere in my "try something different" quest.  I had read quite a few blogs that reviewed vintage fairs, both from the buyer's and seller's point of view.  Most were enjoyable and fun to read, but I felt that another blog along those lines would be one too, how much different can be said about tea-sets, vintage clothes, bunting and cupcakes. The better blogs, in my humble opinion, revealed something about the personality of the author as well. 

Recently, during a fairly casual conversation, someone said they were thinking of getting involved in doing fairs. Oh boy, if I had a pound for everyone who has told me this and asked how to begin, I would be a wealthy woman! (well, OK, a bit richer than I am now).  I started to explain that doing fairs and markets is hard work, but at this point their eyes glazed over.  Perhaps they had hoped they could just turn up with a few beautiful things, lay them out artistically and take loads of money.  If only it could be that simple.  And then, I had my lightbulb moment and the theme for my blog was born - just how do you get started and what does it take to run a vintage or antiques business?

The fact is running your own antique or vintage business can be hard work - yes, often fun, exciting, rewarding, but nonetheless, hard work.  It can involve early starts (I mean 3 am not 8 am); really long days; lifting heavy stuff; mending broken items; driving for miles; being out in all weathers and dealing with the public (not always a joyful experience).   But there are many plusses - it can be done on a shoestring, run alongside another job, fit in with a family and be part of your social life.  You can meet some great characters, make lasting friendships, have a laugh, buy some beautiful things, eat a lot of picnics and go to some lovely places.  It can be a paying hobby, a passion that finances a collecting addiction or a proper, grown-up business. I know people who do it for fun, for love and a few for money - all are welcome to try their hand.  No qualifications needed, just some enthusiasm, some cash and a bit of luck.

Before I go any further, you might be asking "who does she think she is" in terms of my knowledge, experience and background.  So, here's an introduction....

I am now in my 50s, but started selling at car boot sales when I was in my teens.  My Mum and I had to move house after her divorce and boot sales were just starting in the UK.  We used to load up the car with our bits and pieces and sell them for a song.  But the behaviour of the dealers used to fascinate me....they knew just what to look for and wasted no time in haggling a price in their own special language  - "what's your best on this".  From then on, I became a collector of ceramics and all sorts of eclectic bric-a-brac - and the collecting habit became addictive.  So, I decided to sell some surplus items at an antique market, with a friend in London.  As simple as that.  And that was 30 years ago, when antique markets were in their heyday. My first fair was at Hammersmith Palais - we were promised "cash rich punters" but they never came!

As years have gone by, my tastes have changed - but the great thing about having antiques in your home and as your business is you can re-sell and buy something else.  The ultimate recycling process!  I have never had the money to buy fine antiques, but diligent foraging at boot sales and auctions has led to some great buys, both for my home and to re-sell. I have had pitches at a huge range of fairs amd markets and for some  14 years, a unit within a successful antiques centre.  Plus, the odd foray into on-line selling. 

I have dabbled in many things - books, old garden items, clothes, ceramics, glass, textiles, kitchenalia, retro 50s gear, French shabby chic.  Defining my style is hard, but I would say a blend of the rustic, eccentric and quirky would be a polite way of describing what I tend to sell and collect.  It's the kind of style that works with country living, pets, muddy feet, lolling on sofas, not too much dusting (!) and definitely not having any minimalist tendencies.  Being somewhat eclectic in my tastes, I have a continual stream of bits and pieces coming through the door - currently, birdcages, dog related ornaments and ephemera, pottery, treen, old kitchen utensils, advertising and typography are all favourites.  Some stay put, other items go straight to the unit or a market.  Every now and then I "de-clutter" and a few old favourites are moved on to make room for newer finds.  It's a constantly evolving process and helps to keep my stock fresh and inviting and my hallway and kitchen table clear.  I am the typical collector turned trader and there are a lot of us about.

I have also appeared on Bargain Hunt, the BBC's long-standing antiques show - needless to say, like most teams, we lost money!  This is not a qualifcation for writing a blog, but does illustrate that it is possible to lose money, as well as make it!

Next time, I will talk about some of the basic steps to getting started including market research, where and what to sell and what to expect at your first fair or market.