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Antique dealing is a fascinating and potentially profitable profession for those with a passion for history, art, and beautiful objects. This beginner guide outlines the most important steps to become an antique dealer who is competent and established. By following this advice, you can turn your love for antiquing into a thriving business (and quit your 9-to-5 once and for all).
1Develop a Solid Foundation in Antiques
Before starting your antique dealing career, it’s crucial to build a solid foundation in antiques. This includes understanding the history of antiques, their types, and their value in the market.
What Is antique dealing?
Antique dealing can occur in a physical storefront, at antique shows, or online. The dealer must effectively market their items, negotiate prices, and build relationships with customers. Many also offer appraisal services, helping individuals determine the value of their heirlooms. This requires a thorough knowledge of the antique market, including current pricing trends and demand for different types of items. Being an antique dealer requires a passion for history, a keen eye for detail, and strong negotiation skills.
Learn about different types of antiques.
Familiarize yourself with various categories of antiques, such as furniture, porcelain, silver, and glassware. This will enable you to identify and differentiate between authentic pieces and reproductions.
As you become more knowledgeable about antiques, you may find yourself recognizing certain styles, makers, and time periods. You might also develop a better sense of what makes a piece valuable or unique. Before you know it, you’ll be able to accurately appraise antiques without an expert.
Study history and art.
Understanding the historical context of antiques is essential to properly evaluate an antique’s worth. Read books and attend lectures on art, architecture, and decorative arts. This will help you understand the cultural and historical significance of the antiques you come across.
Find helpful (and free) lectures at the following museums:
2Gain Practical Experience
Hands-on experience is invaluable in the antiques business. To develop your skills and learn the ins and outs of the industry, consider the following:
Volunteer or work at antique shops or auction houses.
Volunteering will expose you to various aspects of the business, from buying and selling to restoration and appraisal. When I first started in the antique business, I did an unpaid internship at a local antique store as part of my undergraduate program. After, I apprenticed under antique dealers and jewelers who taught me the trade while I worked for them part-time.
Attend antique fairs and markets.
Regularly visit antique shows and flea markets to learn about pricing, negotiating, and networking with other dealers. This hands-on experience will not only enhance your industry knowledge but also help you identify emerging trends and valuable connections, ultimately contributing to the long-term success of your antique business.
3Pick a Niche and Expertise
To be a successful antique dealer, it’s essential to develop a niche and become an expert in that area.
Choose a specialty.
Select a specific area of interest, such as Victorian furniture or Chinese porcelain, and focus on developing your knowledge and expertise in that niche. Here are some niches you can specialize in:
- Victorian furniture
- Art deco pieces
- Chinese porcelain
- Antique jewelry
- Vintage textiles
- Mid-century modern furniture
- Antique clocks
- Ancient artifacts
Build a reference library.
Invest in antique appraisal books, auction catalogs, and periodicals relevant to your niche. This will help you stay current on market trends and values.
4Create a Business Plan
A well-crafted business plan is essential for starting and running a successful antique business. Here’s how to get started.
Define your business objectives.
Clearly outline your business goals and objectives, including your target market and competitive strategy.
|Niche||Focus on 19th-century European furniture and decorative arts as a specialty within the antique business.|
|Target market||Cater to interior designers, decorators, and collectors interested in 19th-century European furniture and decorative arts.|
|Competitive strategy||Differentiate from competitors by offering a unique, high-quality inventory and personalized services.|
|Inventory||Curate a distinctive inventory by acquiring authentic pieces through auctions, estate sales, and private sellers.|
|Sales||Increase sales and customer reach by utilizing online platforms, participating in antique fairs, and networking.|
Estimate startup costs.
Determine the necessary costs for inventory, rent, insurance, marketing, and other expenses.
|Start-Up Cost Item||Description||Estimated Cost Range|
|Inventory||Purchase initial stock of antiques and collectibles for the online store.||$5,000 – $20,000|
|Website development||Design and develop a professional, user-friendly website to showcase inventory and services.||$1,000 – $5,000|
|Website hosting/domain||Annual cost for website hosting and domain name registration.||$50 – $300|
|E-commerce platform||Subscription to an e-commerce platform to facilitate online transactions.||$20 – $300 per month|
|Photography equipment||Invest in quality camera and lighting equipment for photographing inventory.||$500 – $3,000|
|Storage and workspace||Rent or purchase space for inventory storage and packing/shipping operations.||$500 – $2,000 per month|
|Packing and shipping||Purchase packing materials and cover shipping costs for sold items.||$200 – $1,000 per month|
|Marketing and advertising||Allocate budget for online advertising, social media promotion, and email marketing campaigns.||$500 – $3,000 per month|
|Business registration||Register the business with the appropriate local, state, and federal agencies.||$50 – $500|
|Insurance||Obtain business insurance to protect inventory and operations.||$500 – $2,000 per year|
|Total Estimated Cost||$8,320 – $37,100|
Plan for growth.
Establish a strategy for expanding your business, such as opening an online store or participating in additional antique fairs and markets.
5Build an Inventory
Building an inventory is a crucial step in becoming an antique dealer. It involves sourcing, selecting, and acquiring a variety of antiques that align with your business model and target market.
Source wholesale antiques.
There are various places where you can source antiques, including auctions, estate sales, flea markets, from other dealers, and online platforms. It’s important to research and visit multiple sources to find quality items that fit your niche. Remember, the condition, rarity, and desirability of an item can greatly affect its value. Once you set up shop, you can advertise to homeowners to buy antiques off the street.
Evaluate and purchase.
Before purchasing an item, evaluate its condition, authenticity, and potential value. This might involve researching the item’s history, inspecting it for damage, and determining its market value. Once you’re confident in your evaluation, you can negotiate the price and add the item to your inventory.
6Establish an Online Presence
In today’s digital age, having an online presence is crucial for expanding your antique business and reaching a wider audience.
Create a professional website.
Creating a professional website for an antique business involves designing a visually appealing and user-friendly platform that showcases your unique inventory and expertise. Begin by selecting a clean and elegant website template that complements the aesthetics of your antique niche.
Next, organize your website into easy-to-navigate sections, such as a homepage with featured items, an online shop categorized by type or era, an “About Us” page detailing your experience and expertise, and a “Contact Us” page for inquiries.
Quick Tips: Website Design
– Integrate an e-commerce platform to facilitate secure online transactions and ensure a seamless shopping experience for your customers.
– Optimize your website for search engine visibility and mobile responsiveness to reach a wider audience and provide a consistent user experience across devices.
Here’s a list of resources to use for easy and inexpensive website building:
- WordPress: A popular content management system (CMS) with a wide variety of customizable themes and plugins for creating a unique and professional website.
- Shopify: A user-friendly e-commerce platform that allows you to build a fully functional online store, complete with inventory management and secure payment processing.
- Wix: A website builder with a drag-and-drop interface, offering a range of templates and features for creating a visually appealing and responsive website.
- Squarespace: A user-friendly website builder with a selection of sleek and modern templates, perfect for creating a professional online presence for your antique business.
- Weebly: A simple website builder with a range of customizable templates and e-commerce features, suitable for small businesses and entrepreneurs.
Utilize social media platforms.
Engage with customers and fellow antique dealers on social media platforms to showcase your inventory and share industry news. Here are the top social media channels for antique dealers and the reasons why they are essential:
- Instagram: As a visually driven platform, Instagram is perfect for showcasing your antique inventory with high-quality images and videos. With features like Stories and Reels, you can share engaging content that captures your audience’s attention. Instagram also allows you to connect with potential customers, fellow antique dealers, and old house influencers, fostering a community around your niche.
- Facebook: Facebook offers a versatile platform for antique dealers to share not only images and videos of their inventory but also informative and engaging content related to their niche. You can create a dedicated business page, interact with customers through comments and private messages, and even set up a Facebook Shop to facilitate transactions directly on the platform. Facebook Groups can also help you connect with like-minded individuals and potential customers who share an interest in antiques.
- Pinterest: Pinterest is a powerful visual discovery engine where users search for and save inspirational ideas. By creating and sharing visually appealing pins of your antiques, you can drive traffic to your website and attract potential customers. By organizing your pins into boards based on themes, styles, or periods, you can showcase your expertise and provide valuable resources for users interested in your niche.
- LinkedIn: While not as visually oriented as other platforms, LinkedIn can still be beneficial for antique dealers looking to network with industry professionals, interior designers, decorators, restorers, and collectors. By sharing industry news, insights, and events on your LinkedIn profile, you can establish yourself as an expert in your niche and connect with potential clients or collaborators.
List items on online marketplaces.
Online marketplaces are important in addition to your own website for listing antiques because they provide increased exposure to a wider audience of potential buyers. Additionally, they offer a trusted and established platform for conducting transactions, enhancing your credibility and customer confidence. Reach a global audience by selling antiques on popular online marketplaces such as eBay, Etsy, Ruby Lane, and 1stdibs.
7Network with Professionals and Buyers
Building a network of professionals and buyers is crucial for the growth and success of your antique business.
Join professional associations.
Become a member of professional organizations, such as the Antique Dealers’ Association (ADA) or the International Society of Appraisers (ISA), to connect with other professionals and stay informed about industry news.
Attend industry events.
Participate in antique shows, conferences, and seminars to network with other dealers and potential buyers.
- The Annual Conference of the Decorative Arts Trust: A yearly event that gathers collectors, curators, and professionals to discuss and explore various aspects of the decorative arts, including antiques.
- Haughton International Seminar: This annual event features a lecture program with prominent speakers discussing topics related to fine art and antiques.
- Antiques Diva & Co. – Antique Buying Tours and Seminars: The Antiques Diva & Co. offers educational antique buying tours and seminars in various locations throughout America, Europe, and Asia, led by industry professionals.
Establish relationships with appraisers and restorers.
Build a network of trusted appraisers and restorers who can assist you in accurately valuing and maintaining your inventory. Restoration experts will assist in the repair and restoration of inventory items, ensuring that you offer high-quality and valuable pieces to your customers.
Working closely with niche appraisers allows you to expand your knowledge about the history, craftsmanship, and market value of various antiques. This deeper understanding enables you to make informed decisions when sourcing new inventory, setting competitive prices, and providing expert advice to your clients, ultimately enhancing the overall success and reputation of your antique business.
Should antique dealers restore antiques?
In summary, the foundation of a thriving antique business (with a successful antique dealer at the helm) lies in strategic planning, thorough research, and smart investments. As you embark on this entrepreneurial adventure, keep this final checklist in mind so you have all the necessary elements in place for a successful launch.
- Business License
- EIN/Tax ID
- Storage Space
- Website Domain & Hosting
- E-commerce Platform
- Professional Photography
- Packing & Shipping Supplies
- Marketing Materials
- Business Insurance