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.


  1. Hi Julia

    Thanks for this advice. Funnily enough I am one of those hundreds thinking of dabbling in some craft and antique fairs, mainly as I'm fast approaching 40, my kids are in their heyday at 6 and 9 years old, and I would love to understand how it all works and whether there is ever going to be a job in the industry for me!

    The main motive is to enjoy the creative process and to meet like minded people. I know it won't pay me to give up my day job, hence giving it a year to work out the market before I make a decision about whether to make it an aspiration in years to come, or whether to write it off as a pipe dream.

    I will look forward to reading your future posts. I love your stuff from what I've seen on the facebook posts so far, and keep meaning to get to a fair to see your stall first hand.

    Good luck!

  2. Brilliant advice and it really helps. I have not done any fairs but have given it some thought. It is still hard work to keep networking and marketing yourself and its all good fun. How nice to be doing something we love?

  3. Fabulous blog Julia and some fabulous advice with home truths and plus and minus points .. like 3am starts.

    I have linked you to my blog.

    Sarah x