Buying antiques at antique stores can be the most pleasant and safest place to buy antiques. I am going to include antique malls in this discussion, although I will discuss some important differences between the two. But let me explain why I said it could be the most pleasant and safest place to shop for antiques. Number one, the local antique shop is going to be there, although in this economy many are having to close. But you can go in and browse and ask questions about things you are interested in purchasing. For that matter, you don’t even have to be interested in purchasing something. Most antique dealers love to discuss antiques and are happy to give you any information you are seeking. You can also develop a relationship with the shop owner or manager. This is one difference between an antique store and an antique mall. The larger an antique mall is, usually the more employees it will have. So it is harder to get to know and develop a relationship with the employees. When we owned our store and small antiques mall, my wife or I (and most of the time both of us) were always there. We developed some very close friendships with many of our customers. We became “their antique store”.
The safe part is because of the above things. When you develop that trust with an antique store owner, manager, or employee, you can feel safe in your purchase. If they tell you some thing is a Victorian leather sofa, you can feel secure in knowing that it is. Because if you find out it isn’t, they will be there to come back and either return it or find a solution to the problem. When you buy at an antique auction, you are buying it “as is” and are unable to return it for a refund. Although in many stores, the policy also is “all sales are final”. Most stores will let you take things out on approval, so if you are unsure, take advantage of this. This is really helpful when you are trying to decide if that large hand knotted oriental rug or antique Georgian oak chest will work where you envisioned it. I might add, please don’t abuse this courtesy. If you are allowed to take something out for 48 hours, either make a decision to purchase it and call the store to inform them of your decision, or return it within that time frame. You can’t believe the number of people that abuse this privilege and return something five to ten days later. You might not realize that not only is the antique shop charged a credit card fee for the purchase transaction, but also they are charged again if a refund is made.
If you are an antique lover, you know that each antique store or mall has a personality all its own. In my hometown, Dallas, most antique stores specialized in European antiques. The population in Dallas that likes to shop for antiques, preferred English and French antiques more than American antiques. But each city has its own personality. There are stores that carry the finest antiques and others that carry mid-century modern, and everything in between. You might want to find a store that carries vintage or antique jewelry, books, or any number of specialty items. My store was on a block with three other antique stores, all within a hundred yards of each other. It was amazing the number of people that would shop at only one or two of the stores and never even check out the other stores. And most of the inventory had a lot of similarities with most coming from Europe. But that shows that most antiquers have their favorite places to shop. But I want to encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and explore a little. By checking out the store just down the street, you might find you could be buying the same items for less. Or they might have things you had not seen before.
Now let’s talk about how to negotiate the best price in an antique store. First, trying to pick an item apart and pointing out everything that is wrong with it, will not help you get a better price. Usually a polite, “What is the best you can do on this?” will work fine. I will say the standard discount most antique dealers will accept is 10%, some will do a little more. Usually there is a higher trade discount for other dealers and designers. You are required to have a resale tax certificate to get this discount. Be sure and identify yourself as a trade buyer until they get to know you. And do this discretely if there are other shoppers in the store. I had dealers shout out, ”What is my trade discount on this?” while others were shopping. It placed us in an awkward position. Non trade buyers might think this is unfair, but trade buyers will keep buying to either replenish their stock or to find things for their new clients. One example, we had one designer that bought about fifteen oriental rugs from us in a year. So doesn’t it make good business sense to give this kind of trade customer a trade discount. It is the wholesale price, just like store buyers get when they go to market. There are just some buyers that get pleasure in trying to beat antique dealers down on their prices. In the present economy (2010), it is hard enough to make a living in the antiques business without having to fight for every dollar. You might think that is not your problem, put out yourself in their shoes. Sorry, didn’t mean to get on my soap box. One other thing to consider when looking for a good deal at an antique store or mall. They nearly all have a big sale a couple of times a year. So if you are not in a big hurry, find out when they have their sales. In Dallas, there is a big charity event called “Partners Card” where people can purchase the Partners Card with all proceeds going to charity, and then all participating stores (including most antique stores and antique malls) offer a 20% discount on all items. It is a big week for sales for the stores, the customers get good deals, and the charity gets some much needed funding. Keep you eyes out for these big events in your area. There is a related article on selling antiques in your own antique store.
A quick note to other dealers that might be reading this. Over half of our business at our antique mall in Dallas was to the trade. Even though we were located in a wealthy area of Dallas and carried some pretty expensive things, there were always things that dealers could buy and resale (even dealers right down the street). So it never hurts to check out an antique store without assuming that you can’t buy anything for resale. And if dealers can find things to resale, then there are some good deals for the antique collectors. So find the antique stores and malls in your area and and have fun while you shop for antiques.