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How to Start an Antique Mall

Considering opening an antique mall? Here is a brief guide on How to Start an Antique Mall based on our 25+years of being antique mall dealers and antique mall owners.

A recent reader of this site emailed me and asked about a building they found and wondered if it could possible be a successful antique mall. I thought others might have the same question, so I thought I would give a more complete answer here. Before I forget, all of the photos are my own of different booths in antique malls.

Opening an Antique MallThere are a ton of factors that will determine whether an antique mall will be successful or not. The old adage in real estate is important in the antique business now also. Location, location, location is now more important than ever. Gone are the days where people will drive 5 miles out of the way to find an antique store or mall. It needs to be convenient and easy to find.

The building the man found was 10,000 square feet. Size is important for several different reasons. It needs to be large enough that you can have enough space for booths that will give you the potential to generate the necessary income to cover all of your expenses and the amount of profit you need.antique mall booth

The larger the mall is, the more employees you will need, which will of course add to the overhead. Unless it is real small, you need to have two people most of the time, although we got by with one sometimes. If you are helping someone you want to make sure the cash is safe and another customer will not walk off with something. I may not talk about security later, but it a very important consideration. Make sure to have all dealers write a description to help prevent ticket switching.

There are several things you need to do before you even consider a location. Check other malls in the vicinity to see how much they are charging per square foot for booth rent. Also are they full or do they have empty booths. You may have to ask are there booths available because many malls fill up empty booths to make the mall look full. Also talk to dealers in the area to see if there is enough demand to make another mall viable. This is easier said than done. But it helps to have several dealers committed before you make a commitment on a building. The larger the building, the more difficult it will be to fill it up with dealers. Empty booths will not generate any income unless you have your own merchandise to fill these until you can rent them.

I need to add an insight from our own experience here. We wanted to have a large portion of our mall to be our own merchandise, which turned out to be a mistake when the economy went in the tank in 2008. If I had more spaces rented, it would have been income during the slow economy. By 2009 most antique businesses had lost about 50% of their income through sales. Of course many dealers either pulled out of malls or cut down the size of their spaces, so you have to always remember there will be turnover. But the better the mall, the lower the turnover, however there will always be turnover. Screening new dealers will help, but it takes a while to figure this out.

Opening an Antique MallYou need to have knowledge of the antique business. I know you think that might be a silly statement, but some people just think having an antique business will be fun (and it should be). People will ask all sorts of questions and the more knowledge you have the more helpful you can be. Many customers think if say you don’t know, you are really hiding something until they get to know you. You want your customers to become friends. Normally there re other places they can shop, and if the consider you a friend they will be much more likely to be regular returning customers.

While talking about your own merchandise, you have the right to put your merchandise anywhere. But you will create goodwill with the dealers if you don’t take the prime locations, or at least most of them. There are so many different variables to consider. I’m sure I will forget some of them. But please don’t hesitate to send me and email or comment at the end of the article and I will respond there.

When laying out the mall, be sure and put the checkout stand where you can view the most Opening an Antique Mall 1booths. It doesn’t have to be close to the front door, but you should be able to easily see the door so you can greet people and keep an eye on people leaving (for security purposes).

Also be sure your aisles are wide enough to easily move furniture in and out. You don’t want to break expensive items while you are moving furniture. And your dealers will always try to fudge on booth space by using some of the aisle space if you don’t enforce this.

Most malls have standard size booths. I prefer a 10’ X 12’ booth rather than a 10’ X 10’ myself. Not only does this provide extra rent income it also looks better. A 10’ depth is the ideal. Encourage people wanting to display furniture to get larger booths. You could keep every booth on the 12’ intervals but a 10’ X 20’ is a nice booth size for furniture.

Opening an Antique Mall2Figuring out the how much to charge per square booth is critical. You don’t want to be charging more than other malls in the area unless you can offer a compelling reason like the best location. Dealers shop for the best deals. The rent charged varies widely depending on location. When we were in Dallas, we charged $4 a square foot. But we were paying over $4000 a month for a little less than 3000 square foot building plus utilities which were over $1000 a month. Here the standard rent is more like a $1 a square foot.

Then on top of the rent, you have to charge a percentage of each sale, usually 10% in many places. The credit card charges come out of this. These can run as high as 4% on some corporate cards. So you will not make 10% on each sale. People are paying with cash much less often now. Finding the best deal on credit card processing is very important, there are many companies, get several quotes.

If you are not familiar with promoting your business on the internet, you need to find someone that is. You need your own site, a Facebook page, and a listing on Google Places as well as many other local directories as possible. This is getting more crucial all of the time. If you don’t have a presence on the web, you have two strikes against you. It is important to do these right and not just have a web site. You can read other articles on this site about owning your own antique store and all of that will apply to owning an antique mall.

One other thing you need to know. You will need some time off. Close one day a week. Monday is the day many antique stores and malls close. Most are only open from 1-5 on Sunday, others choose to close on Sundays. But don’t think you can work 7 days a week. And what happens if you have to miss work for illness or vacations. You will need some time off. So you will either have to have regular employees or one of your dealers who can fill in for you. This is very important. You will get burned out, even if you love the business, unless you have some time away from the business. It is nice if you can afford a full time employee that you can count on for these days.

This information does not include everything. But it will give you a good start on deciding if owning an antique mall is right for you.

11 Responses to “How to Start an Antique Mall”

  1. Terry Walsh says:

    Hi from UK.
    Love this website,plenty of excellent advice, I have thought of opening an antique mall or centre as we call them here or even doing a shop share with one or two other dealers. I sell at present in two antique centres about 150 miles apart in North Yorkshire and Berwick upon Tweed on the Scottish Border which suits me fine for the present, this gives me plenty of time to source new stock. Sales through a website and Ebay help to make a profitable business, good luck to everyone brave enough to start an antiques business, you will have tough times but also lot’s of good times as a modern day treasure hunter.

    • Chuck says:

      I miss our buying trips to UK 3-4 times a year visiting the Newark and Lincoln faires, as well as many of the centers, especially Hemswell. Also loved the small weekend faires.

  2. Victoria says:

    Many thanks for your article i thoroughly enjoyed it and very imformative too!

    I have been very lucky and been offered a barn within a popular garden centre for very cheap rent. I am new to the archetectuual salvage side of the business in which I have to use this space for. I would like to rent space within the barn to people who have any salvaged, indusustrial furniture or retro items and really do not know how to go ahead and let people know that I have space to rent.

    Please could you help.

    Much appreciated.

  3. Barbara says:

    Thank you for sharing your wisdom, including ups & downs!! My question is about taxes, actually. Do you give each vendor a 1099? Are they considered subcontractors? Do you simply file as a business selling antiques & collectibles?

    • Chuck says:

      Taxes are the responsibility of each individual dealer and no 1099, but you should consult a tax person (CPA) for their legal advice.

  4. Alisa says:

    Great article! I am looking at purchasing a 5k storefront to sell my refinished furniture pieces and other small creations. I want to create an open market feel and rent out some floor space to people who create things similar to the shabby chic/vintage style. It he store needs some work (mainly roof repair and paint) and has been on the market over a year due to the roof condition so the price is low at $40k (think I could probably get for 30k). I really don’t need to make much off of renters – my work sells very well I just need a larger space to work on my items and sell the from. But I don’t want to be paying for the space of that makes any sense. With the building payment, utilities, insurance, etc. my monthly will probably be anywhere form $450-$650 depending on a few factors. I haven’t moved forward yet as I am waiting on a quote for the repairs and also trying to get renters lined up. I was planning on charging $1/sq ft but wasn’t going to charge commission. I see in the article it doesn’t really look like it’s debatable. I don’t want to sell myself short but I also know my town (Ardmore, AL) is extremely small and although the location is the best possible for the town I just feel like initially I was the renters to pay my building bills and let my work pay my personal bills. Recommendations? At this point I have 3 maybe 4 renters lined up and was thinking I wanted at least 7 before I moved forward.

    • Chuck says:

      It is always more difficult to rent space without being open so people can get a better idea about what they are renting. When we were renting space, we had been in the business for many years and had plenty of contacts. I would not rent less than 100 sq feet to anyone unless there was a special circumstance like selling jewelry out of cases or something similar. It also standard these days to charge a 10% commission on dealer sales. And ( think $1 sq foot is pretty standard in that area. That’s what we pay in Decatur and 10% commission. Hopefully you will find dealers that want 200 sq feet or more (a 10 X 20 booth) The larger booths sell much better than smaller ones because they show off the merchandise better.

      You might also check to see what billboards are going for on the interstate. That would be a big draw for bringing traffic to the store.

      Everyone would love to have no rent for their merchandise, but that’s not always possible, especially in the beginning. And you can count on dealers leaving and new dealers wanting pace.

  5. hello from Fayetteville NC. I wanted to ask you if you think there is a problem with hiring vendors to work my antique mall rather then someone outside the vendor group?………….thanks, fred

  6. Mindy Malone says:

    I am considering opening an antique mall and would hope to have it mainly occupied with vendors and I myself would only have a small space for my own items to sell. There is an empty commercial building across the street of a very successful, established antique mall, which has been there 20+ years. If the building I am hoping to rent is just over 3,000 square feet (air conditioned in Florida) what would be the actual profit I might generate? I know that is a difficult question to answer but yearly – what would I actually be making myself, as far as income……just an estimate or rough idea would be appreciated. There are many vendors in this area, I already know, that would love to rent a space with me. Thanks

  7. Janet Cecil says:

    Hi. I took over an existing Antique Mall in January of last year. This is the first year that I will be filing a tax form that includes the business. I am struggling to find a model of how to complete the IRS Schedule C. Any ideas?

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