Monday, June 30, 2008

What is Selling in the Antique World

Lulu of Luluz posted a very interesting question, that I've been asking myself lately. I am really asking for opinions, please!! I've been in the antique business for over 10 years and while I understand the economy has a lot to do with this business, I would like to know from those that are still having great shows or having customers still buying from their business, WHAT IS YOUR SECRET? What are the customers looking for? Are you seeing a trend? Is it mainly new items that are selling, items from the market, or are antiques still going strong? I really would like to know what your thoughts are on this subject so here's your chance to tell us.

(my booth during the Fall Antique Show at Zapp Hall)

Thanks to all who have commented. Your opinions are so valuable to me. I really appreciate that you've taken the time to share your insight!


  1. Hey Theresa,
    Good question! I don't know of anyone who is not asking that same question. I really do think it has much to with the economy. For me, antiques have not done as well as vintage for a long time. But I have found it more necessary to carry lots more smalls than before. People want to buy, they are just being more conservative.
    Pictures of your space always look great. I think we do have to adjust a bit, and ride this out.
    Debbie from

  2. Hi Theresa! Great post cause I know we all wonder about this. I can't wait to see the answers and I hope everyone does respond.

    I saw a huge downturn in sales on furniture and big ticket items while the shop was open. I just had a sale on Saturday at my house and the hot items were funky garden junk. I think it has to be unusual these days but not so unusual that buyers can't figure out what to do with it. And it has to be priced right which makes buying for us dealers/shop owners hard cause we all know how hard it is to find fab stuff cheap! I think it will continue to be tough cause we are competing with the price of gas and groceries!


  3. Oh thank you so much for posting about this. I don't have a shop per se (booth in an antique mall and 5 Big Fleas a year) and am constantly asking myself this question.

    Personally, I think there's still a strong interest in antiques and vintage stuff, but people are nervous about the economy. I'm definitely seeing a lot more smaller-ticket items selling than furniture. I do well with mirrors, pictures, frames, and smaller pieces of furniture.

    I'm truly hoping that with the economy in the gutter, people will be looking to reuse and recycle and buy older things. It just can't happen fast enough!

  4. I'm not really seeing a trend on anything. It's like everyone is afraid to try anything new for fear it will not do well. In my own booth, we are still doing well with smalls, more vintage/cottage than antique, but no furniture sales. We sell a lot of cards, tags and I've been selling lots of my smaller artworks (anything 25.00and under) and sells are still ok for us. We continue to do well with anything that is cottagie. In the big store, candles and cards remain the staples. We sell a ton of that kind of thing on Saturdays. So, I'm not really sure what the answer is. I don't think I've helped much! : D


  5. I think you sell more when you put a moving sign in the window...LOL, but I agree, it is day to day in this biz. Out of my daughters shop I am still selling smalls, pictures, frames and of course my soaps and a lot of her candles, she also does candle jar refills, so that is always pulling in extra. Now up at Sisters' I have had surprisingly, two good months lately (we're shocked).I have sold painted furniture(chest, buffet, tables)and lots of white painted frames and smalls under $45.00. But again my hand-made soaps are huge sellers and the candles are fairly good sellers, the soaps we keep cheap at $3.00 per bar and it's nothing unusual for them to buy 3-10 bars. It is a cheap item that is strictly impulse, until they get hooked, then I start shipping to them or they come back for several more. Barb is still selling furniture, cupboards and unusual pieces, chandeliers, garden tables and chairs, garden stuff in general and sets of 4 country chairs. Harvest tables are really hot too and sell quickly and fun old over-stuffed chairs (there is one there I am Jones-n for right now). She has a lot of dealer sales. But again, she has been in the biz in this location for 15 years, she is out in the country on a busy (two-lane) highway near a college town and a university hospital, so there is money to be found in them there hills. But we have had our rough times too, biz has been in slow decline for the last 5 years and the weather killed us this year, alot of crying on each others shoulders.

    Like Debbie says, we have to ride this one out, cause I think it is gonna get alot worse before it gets better, but we Americans are of hardy stock and there ain't much that will stop us from holdin' on till the end. We just have to adjust.


  6. The more unusual an item is the better chance of selling it. Vintage (is mostly what I sell) continues to be hot, but smalls.

    Chippys sold a lot of bits-pieces from our stashes so people could do their own jewelry/scrapbook,etc.

    Furniture picked up a bit(?!).

    The allure of the space is 50% of the battle we think.

    Pricing: We've noticed people feel 'entitled' to lower prices. Lauri & I aren't going hungry and will not discount to ridiculous prices just to make a sale.

    Hang in...hang on...hopefully by NOV things should settle down
    xo hope it helps.

  7. Hi Theresa,
    Thanks for asking me to comment. I have owned a shop for almost 10 years now and living through Sept 11th as a shop owner I am sure that we can survive through this economy slow down. Keeping a chin up and grin on....I am going to do what it takes to not change a single thing about what I am doing and push forward. Furniture sales go through these ups and downs frequently and for me fantastic pieces of furniture will always sell for a good price, its the "Just OK" pieces that sit and collect dust! Smalls have always been the bread and butter of my shop & shows. Furniture is always the GRAVY for me! Garden is certainly a new trend that I hope stays around for the long haul...cause I just love it! I wish I had an answer for your question, but to be honest, if we had the answer we would all be billionaires and we wouldn't have to be junking at all! But for me basically UNIQUE ITEMS are IN....ordinary items are OUT! Happy HUNTING!

  8. I'm new at this, but I've found smalls are doing real well. Stuff under $10 and $20. Like sweetpea said, people want to go home with something, but with gas and food, our kinda stuff comes later. I've also talked to experienced dealers, and they can't answer the question either. Your stuff is so great, I can't imagine you are having any trouble. My May was awful, June has been real good though. Who knows.

  9. I knew I loved your blog for some reason! Glad you posted this question because I'm anxious to see what everyone has to say. My shop has been open for 5 years and I have to say that 2008 has been a slow year. I think it would be foolish to think that all the media hype that is out there now about the bad economy, gas prices, and the election year has not affeced business! I don't think I am selling anything different than past years, just less of it. I also sell new items that blend in well with antiques and vintage, so I am able to carry things that sell for under 10 bucks. These things have always sold well and are still selling.My best sellers are vintage white furniture (under $100.00), vintage linens,vintage children's books (all I can get my hands on),china w/pink roses, vintage prints, tea cups, anything sterling silver (not plate). My shop is in a country setting, about 10 miles outside of Ann Arbor (home of U of M), so I know gas prices are influencing decisions on whether or not customers visit. And again, I love your blog and will visit some of the other dealers and shop owners who have commented on your question. Thanks.

  10. Theresa.. I purposely did not read the other comments before I write my own, as I did not wish to have my "heart" answer influenced in any way... I continue to hold to a belief system that has served me well for many years through thick and thin .I have been in this business for 28years and supporting myself entirely by this means,, with that said I know what I know, and that is that 95% of it is your own personal energy and your willingness to serve the needs of the customer without losing yourself or your professional behavior in the process and that means bring the best product you can ,have it clean, priced, fixed. Come rested pulled together and ready to work, to sell. Don;t sit in your booth and worry, fret or talk about the bad times the gas or the next election, talk about your product, your customer, how many ways a piece can be used in how many places and all for the price your asking ,which is a fair price to start with and not an escalated price that you set hoping to get the last dime on the planet. The sooner we all stop worrying and fretting and discussing this the better it will be.Do your foot work and put one foot in front of the other ,show up with a real smile and a joy and have fun ,engage your client and help them help you, it has worked for me for 28 years and now I will step down from my soap=bx and wish everyone the best! We are made of stronger stuff, we are not babies, we are smart creative wonderful honest people, we stay healthier than most of the population and we have more FUN than anyone I know... that's my two cents!!!!

  11. Bonjour Theresa,
    Great question and interesting to read the responses.
    For me, the answer is French :)

    I agree with several other commenters that unique items do well, but I can always sell good quality farm tables, sideboards, armoires, etc.
    I think being a niche has helped me survive.
    Now, let's just hope I continue to.
    I could really start on a ramble here. There is a lot more I want to say, but
    I think maybe I will continue on a blog post and we'll keep it going.
    Thanks for asking the question and I look forward to reading the other responses.

  12. Theresa, I like everyone else is i am sure wondering the same thing. In the shop I am in alot of mahogany seems to sell well. I myself am not a big fan of it so it always amazes me when it does sell. Another thing that seems to do well is jewelry vintage mostly.
    The funny thing is right now I am trying to get the shop I am in to start a blog of their own. They havent been to exited about the idea. I have been trying to explain to them the benefits of having a blog and how in this slow economy you need to do everything possible to increase sales. I have also tried showing them the benefit of having a site that is more interactive, and have told them that many woman such as yourselves have crafted these incredible blogs into part of your business of dealing in antiques.
    My point being that I do think certain things will sell more if you have better relations with the people to whom you are selling then to. And that the blog is a big part of setting trends.

  13. Vintage maps, suitcases, globes, small benches/stools, sewing notions, crusty garden tools and anything vintage garden, mirrors, cake stands, 40's tablecloths, farm tables are some of the things I can't keep in stock. Smalls do the best, people wan't cheap. I have my shop in a building on my property so my overhead is low, which is the only thing that keeps the doors open. I try to buy low and sell low to keep a rapid turnover. My best bargains are found at garage sales, but you have to kiss alot of frogs to find the prince of a deal at garage sales...but I love the thrill of the hunt. It's tough times for the antiquing business. There are enough of us die-hards out there to keep it alive though! Hang in there everyone and happy hunting.

  14. Theresa, I think this is a great question, and I am glad you asked it. I have read through all comments so far and have found them all to be very interesting. I will need to go back to see where all these ladies live.
    I am afraid to jinx myself if I say this, however our business has actually picked up in the last few weeks. I sold every "antique" piece of furniture that I personally had in the store with the exception of one all in the same week.
    We continue to sell smalls every day and lots of garden statues and planters. I still believe presentation is the key and of course movement of stale displays periodically. I have always found that if someone see’s something they like in a magazine they will search far and wide to find it so I am forever keeping up with what style/product is being featured. I keep a customer wish list and call them when I find what they are looking for. I now offer lay-a-way on large pieces of furniture, and of course I try to keep something in what I feel is everyone’s price range.
    I certainly am not an expert, but these are things that have consistently worked for me.

  15. Hi Theresa, I know I emailed you about this, but I am so glad you asked this question. We all, I think are feeling the crunch. My shop I had for 6 years felt it on elction years, 9/11 and road construction. Canton Flea Market is great at the Holiday Season and I'm just getting started on trying to go online with the shop. We all need to support each other by giving inspirations on times to look forward to and how we are going to push through this. I do think at this time the items that will sale most are the ones $25.00 and under. I'm really concerned about the elderly that are already on the set incomes.

  16. Hi Ms T. I haven't read any of the comments but the opinion of my husband and me is that it seems like very inexpensive (and new) is selling and then the very high end (or really unique) items are selling. Unfortunately it seems like if your merch falls into the middle range things aren't selling. The average housewife just doesn't have the extra $$ to decorate her house. Too frazzled trying to fill the car w/gas and kids w/food. Peg

  17. Teresa: I asked myself the same question a million times. I wish I had a have a crystal ball to foresee what the next trend, hot item is going to be. I have been a
    dealer for over 15 years. I started as a crafter and saw the market gear into the antiques and collectibles era. In my opinion it has always been about people surrounding themselves with what they loved. When the shabby chic style came across I was delighted because so many of us were shabby chicks already, Rachel Ashwell was the business savvy one that give the style a name. My shop is mainly shabby chic and not so long after starting my business so many people forecast the style was going to die and go away. I'm glad to report that is still going strong. Many are calling it another way, but the favorite items have not change much. Anything roses is a hot seller. I can not paint furniture fast enough, I have added the black furniture for the European look and red furniture for the country cottage look. My costumers love mirrors, lady pictures, old postcards and photos, lately bisque and composition dolls, hankies, old hats, old luggage, tole trays( if you ever can find them)signs(mine are scriptures and they sell, sell)anything
    stoneware(creamware)old buttons, shells and last but not least...I can bring garden stuff and it sells within a couple of days(hot,
    hot). The market stuff is a direction I will never go. Yes, there is a lot of super cute stuff
    decoratively speaking, but is not unique, fascinating and inspiring as antiques and old one of the kind items are. I used the new stuff as fillers so I can
    merchandise the items I loved. The costumers that visit antique stores or attend antique shows are not looking for market/gift store merchandise. We are
    lovers of the old, caregivers, historians, sentimentaly wire brains, many times called other not as nice names for what I called the most amazing addiction. I praised God every day because I'm able to do what I loved. One last question to you. How are the
    yard sales in your area? I have been expiriencing the most frustating times. I can not afford to drive around looking, specially since I live in babyland country and 90% of the sales are baby stuff. Then there is the false advertisement that some people use
    to get you to come to their sale. I spend 15 minutes driving in the worst dirt roads last Friday. The add read "6 families, 100 years
    worth of antiques and collectibles". There was 2 tables full of Disney vhs. When I asked the lady in charge if the antiques were in the house she reply that the vhs were very collectable and the cartoon stuff on one of the tables too. I have to use
    the God given restraint.Awfull...

  18. Welcome to the dog days of Summer!! Doesn't this happen every year about this time?! Although the 'under $20' items remain the biggest sellers at the shop,in the last 2 weeks I personally sold a $225 shabby mantle, a $295 heavy industrial pine work table, a $79 shabby painted table,a $169 dresser. We also sold a $295 table, $145 cabinet, $225 church pew, and a few other large items, garden chairs, etc. We feel very lucky and are extremely encouraged about these recent sales. We all know what these last summer months have in store though---usually NADA!!!

  19. Theresa,
    As you know, I have hit my head against these brick walls over and over wondering the same thing. I do not know the answer but it seems some of this is based on what part of the country you live in. Here where we live all the shops are experiencing the same recession. We are worried. Luckily I have my retirement check propping me up during this time.
    As to what does sell, beats me!!!

  20. Service, Service, Service.
    I'm fortunate in that I plopped down by business in a part of the country where most of my clients are impervious to a recession. But as the owner, I never, ever am "above" doing anything for my clients. Many designers and antique dealers have their assistants deal with all the mundane....if time is of the essence and something is needed, I roll up my sleeves and take care of it for my clients. It's true you can't make everyone happy and you need to know when to walk away from trying to please a toxic customer, but this is SO RARE.
    Hot in my area/store: Vintage Farmhouse Tables (we can't obtain them fast enough), Full and Queen size French beds, Antique and Depression glass pedestal cake plates have always been a huge seller for me..... and oddly enough....Dash and Albert Rugs!I sell more than I ever imagined! Who knew?

  21. Bonjour Theresa,

    I think that is different for all of us. For me, of course first it is anything French, Victorian or Flapper ~ Boudoir.

    I think the key is to find your niche, and always keep your merchandise fresh. If it isn't moving, at least rearrange it often, to give customers an idea of what this item will look like in their own home. You want your customer to think "Oh wow, can't wait to get this home!" (which I would do with all of YOUR things, since your displays are truly exquisite)

    For me, I have been doing well with a variety of things, at a large variety of price points. I try my best to offer items that are really unusual. Like a Victorian Wedding Cake Decoration, still in the original box. Or an exquisite 1920's French Silk Apron which sold for over $400. My smalls are doing well, too, both new and antique, in the under $50.00 price range.

    I think the worst thing any of us can do at this time is to stop bringing in new merchandise. Then everything starts to look stale. I'm still out there buying, although I am more careful than before.

    Going to do some thinking about this!
    xo Lidy

  22. Hi I had to think about this. I mainly sell jewelry & handmade items, beachy stuff and garden items. Several of the gals at both stores did better with smaller items. Furniture sold when it was priced to sell. When I'm buying if it's vintage and I find it I usually snag it up. Who knows when I'll find that item again. I wish I lived closer so I could come to these fabulous sales you have. Oh I just look at all the pictures and love everything. Denise

  23. Hi Theresa,
    This is a perfect question, since I deal with more trends in the Building/Remodeling market, I noticed the swing for more Architectural items to make a home sell or appreciate. Lighting, windows, carved moldings...details, details.
    I do not have a store...I love to buy at Yard sales and look for china, pictures, frames or decorative items I can redo or repaint for clients.
    Many have commented on prices...middle range is perfect. Friends with stores, mention many potential buyers, pass on the larger items since they can't afford the extra shipping price's They and I prefer American, French, Italian European vintage items...nothing from the mass market. They don't want anything they can find a Walmart or Target nor labeled made in China.
    That's good news for us and local artist who would like to sell their work.
    Vintage jewelry, books and mirrors are also a favorite.
    As for weekend buying trips, I like to look at Craiglist's, especially when pictures are posted. Saves on time and trips.
    I'm located in South Texas, close enough to the border, making weekend yard sales difficult. Many Mexican nationals travel and load up on everything. I just have to keep my fingers crossed that they missed out on something special that I could use.
    How are the Fairs holding up to travelers?
    Are numbers down?

  24. Theresa,
    I have enjoyed reading all of these great comments. Funny thing is, there are moments that I would have to agree with almost every one of them!
    We have had a good show so far this month, and I am grateful. Many of the items that are running out the door are under $25.00, but that adds up nicely if you see enough of them!
    Overall, though we are selling things that are unusual... the one of a kinds... things used in unusual ways that get people to thinking "outside the box"... and, of course, all sizes of furniture items painted white, creamy pottery, bird cages, lamps, etc.

    I do have to add that upbeat attitudes, friendly helpful service, cool air-conditioning, ice cold water (or coffee if they prefer) and customer friendly pricing all really seal the deal.
    We feel that customers who know they got a great price and had a great experience will always come back for more...

    Finally, **** As I was saying to a dealer/friend today, I am not buying the "High price of gasoline" excuse any longer when you see everyone still lined up to go out to dinner... A margarita at $3.99... wonder what it would cost for a gallon of that stuff!?! How about a gallon sized Starbux Latte?****


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