As regular readers of this blog know, I recently opened a booth at LoneStar Antiques in Haltom City near Fort Worth. The name of my booth, which stocks retro pop culture, is The Time Machine. I wrote about opening this booth in a recent issue of AntiqueWeek, and I've reprinted that article here for your perusal:
So you want to open a booth in an antique mall.
Before following your dream, there are a few things you may want to consider. I don’t have all the answers, of course, but I can tell you what I did when I opened my first booth a few months ago, and maybe you can pick up a few pointers along the way.
I live in a major metropolitan area, Fort Worth, Texas, so there are several antique malls within 20 minutes or so of my house. Before I talked to anyone about signing a lease, I spent a couple of months browsing the malls, getting display ideas, making notes of what types of items each mall sold, and paying attention to customer traffic.
Further, whenever I would see a vendor working in a booth, straightening up or adding more items (something any dealer should do on a regular basis), I would talk to them about that mall, tell them I was considering opening a space, and ask them how their booth was doing. This turned up a lot of useful information, especially regarding which malls were the busiest. One person in particular had booths in three different malls in the area, so what he had to say was especially insightful.
As luck would have it, the antique mall right around the corner from my house—LoneStar Antiques—was a perfect fit. Not only was it close, but it was usually busy when I would go there, and every single one of the vendors I spoke with said they were happy with their sales. They also liked the staff and the facility’s reasonable rental rates. LoneStar wasn’t the cheapest antique mall I looked into, but it was definitely the busiest.
So I was ready to rent a booth. Since I do shows on the weekends, I already had plenty of stock—boxes and boxes of comics, action figures, retro technology (laser discs, old video games, and the like), vintage paperbacks, Coca Cola and Campbell’s Soup collectibles, and much more. LoneStar had a couple of other booths with pop culture items of relatively recent vintage, so I knew they were allowable (certain malls only allow fine antiques and/or items 50 years old or older), but I wouldn’t have too much competition in this regard.
Unfortunately, when I went to reserve a booth—this was in June of 2012—they said there was at least a four-month wait before I could get a space. I was disappointed, but at least I had my name on the list.
It turns out I had to wait six months before any spaces were available. This was frustrating, but it turned out to be a good thing. During that six-month waiting period, I went to auctions, garage sales, thrift stores, second hand bookstores, and the like, looking for additional stock and, more importantly, fixtures. My plan all along was to build my booth on the cheap, and some of the bigger thrift stores in my area frequently sell bookcases and various other types of display fixtures.
During one of my outings, I went to a used bookstore and found more than 100 laser discs in near mint condition priced at just a dollar apiece (they typically sell for $5-$25 each in the collector’s market). I bought almost every one of them. My next stop on that trip was a nearby thrift store, where I stumbled across a vertical rack designed for displaying record albums, which are the same size as laser discs. The rack was made of welded steel, but only cost $10. Since I also plan to sell LPs in my booth, purchasing the rack was a no-brainer of the highest order.
On another outing, I went into a comic book store and discovered a great way to display comic books in a lateral filing cabinet, a method that saves tons of space (you can read about this in the “Insights” column in AntiqueWeek #2280).
Another happy accident occurred when I helped a friend move. As “payment” for helping him relocate from an apartment to a house that was already furnished, he gave me two custom-made bookshelves that were perfect for displaying mass market paperbacks in an efficient manner (most store-bought bookshelves are designed to fit trade paperbacks and hardcovers).
By the time the manager at LoneStar Antiques called to say a couple of booths would soon be available, I had a garage full of bookshelves, racks, and other fixtures, plus plenty of fresh stock. However, I needed one more item: a glass showcase for displaying small, expensive items.
Fortunately, I found the perfect glass showcase at LoneStar.
After LoneStar called, I went in and looked at the two 12’ x 8’ spaces. One appeared freshly painted, had tons of peg board, and was fully finished out. The other needed a fresh coat of paint and had a large pole in the middle, stretching from the ground to the ceiling. Needless to say, I chose the former.
The current tenant was going to move out of the space at the end of the month, so I had to wait a couple of weeks before I could begin setting up. I noticed there were fixtures for sale in the booth, and it occurred to me that other booths might have fixtures for sale as well, so I walked the mall looking for just that.
Much to my delight, I found a large, horizontal glass showcase with sliding doors in the front, meaning I could situate the showcase at the front of the booth and place the lateral filing cabinet directly behind it. The showcase was in excellent condition and only cost $100. And, since it was already at LoneStar, I wouldn’t have to go through the arduous task of loading it into a truck and moving it.
Once all my fixtures were in place, I spent a couple of days pricing items (if you do use glass a showcase, make sure the prices on your items are visible as customers are much more likely to inquire about said items if they can see much they cost), arranging pegs in the peg boards, stocking shelves, and creating signs. One sign I recommend for any dealer to make is SMILE, YOU ARE ON CAMERA or a similar message letting the customers know their activities are being monitored (most antique malls have security cameras in place).
Opening a booth at an antique mall can be fun, rewarding, and profitable. While I was scouting out a location, several dealers told me “none of us are in this to get rich.” This may be true, but if you plan ahead, refresh your stock frequently, and follow a few other simple guidelines, you could turn your favorite hobby into a nice little business venture.