Every Wednesday, for as long as it takes me to say what I have to say on the topic, we are going to discuss all of the down and dirty details when it comes to being a vendor in an antique mall or multi-vendor mall. The BEST way for you to not miss anything in this series is to sign up to have our blog posts delivered to your Inbox. You can do that HERE. I have also set up a private Facebook Group for vendors only. This is for existing vendors and a place for us to connect with other vendors across the country to vent, support, and bounce ideas off of each other. If you are a vendor come join us! Click HERE to join the Vendors Only! Facebook Group.
If you missed Part 1 you can find it here.
Today I am going to explain to you how I started selling in Antique Malls and when I decided to turn my hobby into a business. How to know if selling in an Antique Mall is right for you and if you are ready to take your business to the masses. Warning: This post has lots of blurry photos in bad lighting from the early days. Please don’t judge. I had to start somewhere and although I would like to erase them from my blog and pretend I always knew what I was doing, that is just not the case!
In 2010 I started selling painted furniture on Craigslist after I had painted all of the furniture in my home. I loved going to Estate Sales and Garage Sales and transforming pieces of ugly furniture into a gorgeous, custom pieces. Since I had painted almost everything in my home and I wanted to keep painting I started selling pieces on Craigslist.
It was great because I had a full-time job and could work on pieces of furniture at my own pace. Some months I sold 3 pieces of furniture and other months I sold none, just depending on how much time I had to hunt for furniture, haul it home, repair it, and paint it. After doing this for over a year I met a woman who was opening a vendor mall and offered me free rent for 6 months to open a booth there. I had gotten burned out with dealing with people on Craigslist and I thought this might be an answer to a prayer. Craigslist could be frustrating because sometimes people no-showed, were constantly trying to buy my furniture for ridiculously low prices, and would get mad if I sold it to someone who showed up and paid me cash after they had expressed an interest.
Being in a vendor mall allowed the furniture to be available 6-days each week and I was able to minimize the time it took dealing with inquiries from Craigslist. Plus, since it was a new vendor mall I was hoping the foot traffic would be slow, enabling me to learn to ropes of selling in a retail store at a manageable pace. I had no retail experience to speak of, except working at Victoria’s Secret over Christmas one year, so I was nervous to try selling in a retail space.
My hopes were right. My first month in the vendor mall my check was $18.40. I had sold 1 hand painted sign. Now, I think the store was only open 2 weeks at that point but I was a little discouraged.
I already had a blog following, and a Facebook Page, and listings on Craigslist. I was sure it would have been busier but I was thankful I didn’t have to pay rent.
The second month my check was $738.32 ($550.00 was from a workshop I hosted at the store).
I stayed in the store for 6 months until it closed and then I moved to an established store with more foot traffic. And guess what? I was ready. I had learned so much about selling in a multi-vendor market in those 6 months.
Today I am in 3 different vendor markets and rely on it for my full-time income, in addition to teaching workshops and blogging. If I hadn’t taken those baby steps in the beginning then I’m not sure I would be able to do what I love today!
Here are things to consider if you want to sell your items in a retail store for the first time or if you are currently in a vendor mall and are not having success.
1. Start out SMALL.
Do not jump in without having any experience or customer feedback on what you sell. An established and busy market will most likely not let a new business owner into their store. So gain experience before you go to bat for the big leagues.
2. Get Experience.
A great way to get experience under your belt is to sell on Craigslist like I did or if you sell smaller items consider opening an Etsy Shop. This is an excellent way to get feedback about your items, see what sells, and create a small customer base before you jump into selling in retail.
3. Get customer feedback.
Doing craft shows or Antique Fairs is also a great way to see if your items are marketable. If you don’t think you are ready to sell at a fair start out at a small one, like at a church craft show or a small flea market. If you have a friend in the business who does craft shows, offer to work with them at a fair and see if they will allow you to sell your items in their booth at the fair. You will gain invaluable experience and build your confidence. When you rent space at a vendor-mall you will most likely not work there, so you rarely get to hear what your potential customers are saying. Finding out what the public’s reaction is to your items can be invaluable.
4. See if you can consign.
I have allowed people on occasion (if I really love their products, it fits my style, and I think they are extremely talented) to sell their furniture or decor in my booth spaces on consignment. This helps me in keeping up with the volume of maintaining inventory for 3 booths while allowing the consignor to work at a slower pace and not have the commitment of paying monthly rent. Typically you can expect to pay about 30% – 40% of the sale price to the booth or store owner when you consign an item. This could be done in a one-owner boutique or in a booth with the booth owner.
For me, the key to running a successful retail business in a competitive handmade market was to start small and gain experience over time.
Question: If you are thinking about opening a booth what is holding you back? Have you taken the proper steps to success?
If you are an existing vendor: what did you do in the beginning to set yourself up for success? Did you jump right in or move at a snail’s pace like me? What advice do you have for a newbie?
If you are looking for information on how to register your business name and other things to think about when starting a new business check out my 10 Steps to Starting a New Business. You can also find out how I quit my full-time job as a Vice President at a corporate bank to Refunk Junk full time here.