Buying to Sell

Marian ParsonsRunning a BusinessLeave a Comment

 As I was preparing for Lucketts, I received some e-mails and comments from a few of my readers who are fellow antique dealers.  They were interested in knowing how I select what I buy to sell.  The short answer is…I shop for myself.

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I know that’s sort of a fluffy answer, but it’s true.  I buy what I would love to have in my own home.  It’s worth more to me if I love it.  Does that make sense?  If I only sold things I was “eh” about, I wouldn’t be very proud of my booth or shop.  If I sell things that give me a little pain to put a tag on…well, then I’m on the right track.


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So, more specifically, what do I look for in things I buy?  How can you translate my philosophy if you’re a dealer?


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  1. As I said, buy what you love.  I think that is the most important thing, because then your personal style will be shown in your space and people who love your style will be drawn in.  
  2. Look for pieces that are special.  This doesn’t mean that the piece is rare and expensive, but something that will stand out. A warm patina on a piece of wood, a pretty monogram on a textile, chippy paint, cool typography, great texture…something that makes the piece decorative, unique and desirable.
  3.  Be particular.  It can be easy, especially when you’re shopping in a crunch, to buy things just to fill your booth, space or shop, but it’s important to be choosy.  It might not make sense, but I’ll give away stuff I don’t like before I put it in my space to sell.  I don’t want a piece that’s not my style to distract from the pieces that are my style.  Remember – you’re selling your look/style/brand, not just stuff.
  4. It has to be profitable.  I know this one can be tough when you’re shopping for things you love.  What’s a good price for you as a buyer might not be good enough for you as a retailer.  You have to look for things that allow you to make money without inflating the price beyond market value.  I shoot for doubling the price, but sometimes it’s more and sometimes it’s less.  This is definitely not an exact business  Not for me, anyways.  Now, there are exceptions to the profit rule.  Sometimes I will buy things that I break even on or only make a dollar or two in order to fill my space.  With big profits made on some things and good profits made on others, it all evens out.  I try not to get too hyper about each individual item, but look at the big picture.
  5. Mix it up.  I know that some people have specialties, but, as a general rule, it’s nice to have a variety of items at different price points.  I make more on larger pieces, obviously, but the little things really add up and it’s definitely worth the time to focus on the smalls.  The ironstone pieces flew out of my space at Lucketts and I sold every single roll of upholstery webbing (and I had a lot of both!)
  6. Think through the display.  This really helps me with deciding what to buy.  I always look for baskets, crates, cool boxes, larger bowls, etc. that I can fill with small things.  If I have a lot of smalls, I need surfaces to set them on, so I make sure I have enough tables and dressers.  I look for baskets for lavender, upholstered pieces for pillows, shelving for ironstone, etc.  I never know how it’s all going to look, but I do have a rough plan in my mind of how things are going to work together in a cohesive display.
  7. Buy “like” items.  Displays are stronger when you can group things together that have something in common…color, style, function, etc.  A bunch of random things can be confusing to the eye and makes it harder for shoppers to spot things they’re interested in.  I usually group by theme and/or color.  At Lucketts this year, I had a school/office/red/white/black/wood section.  A red & white nautical flag was the backdrop for a wood table/desk, red desk chair, with a school desk and red metal stool beside.  Trophies, typewriters, blackboards, leather books, alphabet cards, etc. rounded things out.  Make sense?
  8. DSC_9726 (640x424)Inspect what you buy.  It’s such a bummer when you get a piece home and you realize it reeks of smoke or has a leg that wobbles beyond repair or a handle that was glued on in a sloppy manner.  Imperfections that you miss might make it impossible to sell a piece for a profit, so take the time to look everything over very well.
  9. Buy what gives you butterflies.  This may be redundant, but I view “buy what you love” as more of a general statement…like I love ironstone, Empire dressers and French chairs, so I buy those whenever I can.  Buying what gives you butterflies or giggles or goosebumps or whatever means to follow your gut.  When you’re excited about a piece and paranoid that other people are going to buy it before you make your mind up…buy it!  Trust your instincts.  I used to hesitate on purchases like these, because they’re usually impulsive and usually higher priced items, but I’ve learned to jump on it and not second guess myself.  The pieces that get me all a-flutter usually cause the biggest stir on my blog and sell the fastest in my space.  DSC_9820 (510x640)
  10. You never know what people will buy.  You wouldn’t believe some of the things I have put a price tag on.  It’s all stuff that I like, but I wonder if anyone else will.  This year, I sold the scraps cut off the barn door used as the top for the farm table.  They were cool, old, tongue and groove wood pieces, about 6″ long, and I thought I’d give it a try.  I sold them for $1.00/each and only have about 5 left out of about 30 that I brought.  I would love to see what people do with them!  I also included a “mystery item” this year that was a bundle of grain sack scraps from the pillows I made.  I sold the bundle for $1.00 as well and figured anyone who bought that bundle was a special person.  Someone who sees potential in little things.  Someone who’s an optimist.  I happened to write up the sales ticket for the woman who bought it and I smiled as I wrote it up and told her she was purchasing the “mystery item.”  Everyone who read about it on my blog cheered and, having not read my blog, she looked bewildered.  I apologized for the lack of confetti cannons and then told her she had $20 off her purchase for buying the mystery item.  For seeing the potential in my fabric scraps.  You really never know what people will buy.  I’m not saying to put a bunch of lame stuff in you space, but it’s okay to try things out and let your customers decide…and have a little fun with it.  

I know a lot of this advice is “soft advice” that might not make sense to people who are black and white about things, but this is the best way I can express how I buy to sell.

It works for me and I hope it works for you!

Buying to Sell

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