How to start an antiques business
What is it?
The prospect of owning an antique shop is always one that scores quite high on the list of dream businesses to run. However, it’s not just a question of having a good eye for relics. Competition is tough, and the present economic climate has meant the clients with money to spend are thin on the ground.
According to the British Antique Dealers Association there are around 20,000 antique dealers in the UK, and times are hard. Antiques are becoming increasingly difficult to find, and prices are getting higher, so this is an expensive and time consuming business to set up.
Joking aside, there are more similarities in the trade to the TV series Lovejoy than you may think. Being in the antique trade involves a lot of detective work. You also need an incredible amount of specialist knowledge and must be prepared for a lot of waiting around. The Antiques Roadshow may paint a rosy picture but if you’re expecting to find enough items in your loft to set up a shop then you’ve already fallen at the first hurdle.
It has been suggested that one quarter of the overall population collects something. As people become more educated and gain greater expendable income, they tend to look at the purchase of antiques and collectibles for investment, security, and for aesthetic appeal. Of these type of people, it’s estimated that one third invest in antiques and collectibles.
But owning an antique shop is not a short-term profit-making venture. Antiques can sometimes sell well, if they’re at a good price, or they can sit for months, if not years, with few interested customers, therefore some owners make their antique shop only a sideline to their usual occupation, starting from home or specialising in antique fairs.
According to Fiona Ford special projects director at LAPADA (The Association of Art and Antique Dealers) now is ‘one of the hardest times of all to set up an antique shop’ particularly when starting from scratch. “People read the headlines about objects going for lot of money, but don’t realise that it’s not an easy business. People go into it because they love it, not because you can make millions,” she insists.
Most new antiques dealers are from an antique or auction background, are in their 50′s and 60′s and have a lifetime of collecting behind them. Very few people get into it at an early age unless they’re the sons and daughters of existing dealers. Ingrid Nilson a map/print dealer and consultant started when she was 30 while most of her competitors were in their 50′s. Nilson thinks if you intend to start young then an apprenticeship is quite vital, as you’re unlikely to have enough specialist knowledge in your 20′s.
Despite it being an extremely competitive market, the trend for collecting has never been bigger. Indeed the definition of antique has gone through many changes. “The definition was objects 100 years old or older or an arbitrary dateline like 1756,” says Ford. “At one point Antique fairs would prevent dealers from exhibiting if they sold objects younger than an arbitrary dateline. You now no longer have datelines at antique fairs”.
So if you can find a niche like coins, early 20th century furniture, art deco art nouveau, second world war memorabilia then you already have an edge, but remember what you make up for in lack of competition you lose in possible buyers as the smaller the niche the smaller the available clientele.
Lastly you have to remember this is generally a luxury market. “The general economic client affects us,” Nilson warns. “It’s a still a luxury market whether it’s a £50 porcelain jar or a £600K painting, food, rent and clothes come first. If the economic climate is good then trade is good”.