As I’ve been posting this series about being a vendor at antique shows, I’ve been asked a few questions. Some of them involved pricing and negotiating, so I thought I would chat on those topics.
I was a shopper at these events long before I was a vendor and that helped me with the decisions made about the kind of vendor I wanted to be. I wanted to be the kind of vendor I like to shop from… great stuff, great prices, friendly and helpful. And, given the wall of people who run to my booth each year at Lucketts, I think that approach has really paid off.
So, how do I approach my pricing? I’m not going to give a specific number for things, because the nature of antiques and handmade/hand painted items makes uniform pricing difficult. I’m going to talk about my approach generally.
First of all, I look at the big picture. I don’t look at the profit on each individual item. On some pieces, I make a lot…well above the usual markup and on others, it’s more about buying pieces I love to fill the space. I still make money on those, but maybe just a few dollars. I can’t have a entire booth full of pieces like that, but again, I look at the big picture profit, so a few low-profit pieces are fine.
When I started my business, $20 was my limit to invest in a piece of furniture I bought to sell. I was on a really tight budget and spending even $20 was big to me. So, it’s really important to me to keep my prices affordable and they haven’t changed a lot over the past few years. I do carry some high ticket items, but I try to have a really nice mix.
If you want more specifics, I wrote an entire post called “What Price is Right” that you might want to read. In that post, I covered topics like paying yourself, knowing your market and making your money when you buy.
And negotiating… This is such a personal taste thing. Some dealers dig in their heels and will not budge on price and I understand and respect that. The life of an antique dealer isn’t always easy. It can mean hours at an auction, digging through a junk store, milling through antique malls, scouring thrift stores, yard sales and driving all over the place to pick up Craig’s List finds. That’s followed with hauling things to your car, unloading them, sprucing them up, pricing, loading them in the car again, unloading one more time and then arranging and styling the space. When calculated, the hourly rate can be ridiculously low.
But, then I think about when the roles are reversed and I’m the shopper. I expect a little wiggle room and negotiating. That’s a part of the game and it’s kinda fun. So, I will negotiate, especially if a customer is buying several things or if it’s late in the sale.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to negotiating as a customer:
…make a realistic offer. It’s insulting if you offer $10 for something that is priced at $50. If you think something is overpriced by that much, just keep walking.
…be polite. You’re not going to win any brownie points by telling a dealer their stuff is crappy or overpriced, so you should get a discount. Some good approaches are, “Would you take this…” or “What’s the best you can do?”
…show respect if they won’t or can’t negotiate. You don’t know what they paid for the item and they may be losing money if they take any less.
…ask for discounts right when the fair gates open. Things will usually go at full price then, so dealers aren’t eager to drop their prices, yet. If you’re buying a big ticket item or several pieces, you can probably get away with asking for a bit of a break.
…push too hard. If a dealer gives you their best price, don’t continue to haggle. This is their livelihood in most cases and they need to know you are respecting that.
And dealers, please don’t get bent out of shape when customers negotiate. They expect there is some flexibility to the prices at antique markets, so they shouldn’t get attitude if they ask. You can politely say “I’m sorry, no.” and leave it at that. It’s even a good idea to price your items about 10% higher, so you have room to negotiate. They get to play the game, you get the price you want. It’s a win-win.
Remember if you look at the big picture, it all works out. If you’re getting full price at the beginning, and pieces are priced a little higher, then you can afford to give better deals towards the end of the fair.
And before I sign off, please remember that this is just my opinion and if you handle things differently as a dealer, that’s okay. The nice thing about this business is that you’re your own boss and can manage your prices, policies and customers however you want!