Make Money Advertising Your Antiques Business – Business of Doing Business – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles –
By Ed Welch
Antiques dealers need two types of advertising, “wanted to buy” and “wanted to sell.” “Wanted to buy” ads and “wanted to sell” ads are fundamentally different from one another: They are worded differently and directed at a different audience. It is a mistake to purchase one ad and try to achieve both objectives at the same time. Although both types of ads can appear in the same publication, it is often more advantageous to place each in a different publication.
Advertising makes money, sometimes a lot of money. If an ad does not generate business, it is time to review the ad’s wording and design as well as the publication in which it is run.
“Wanted to Buy” Ads
Every antiques dealer in the trade to make money must keep several “wanted to buy” ads active at all times. The best place for such ads are in the classified section of your local paper and in one or more trade papers. Such ads must be run 365 days a year. Each ad must produce enough purchases to pay for itself and make a profit. “Wanted to buy” ads in local newspapers tend to generate purchases that can best be described as a general line of antiques. “Wanted to buy” ads published in trade papers tend to generate purchases and are specific in nature.
But these are not the only outlets for ads. If you belong to a church, its Sunday bulletin or newsletter is an ideal place for a “wanted to buy” ad. Such ads not only support your church but also provide a service to its elderly members. Many elderly persons do not want strangers in their home. However, if you both belong to the same church, you are much less of a stranger.
A “wanted to buy” ad on the Internet also works extremely well. There are two places specifically designed for such ads. You can buy a “dot-com” and create a “wanted to buy” page or buy a listing under one of the many sites that offer classified advertising and appraisal services.
Your own dot-com offers more flexibility, but you must pay a monthly storage and search engine fees. A listing as a buyer in an appraisal network or in a classified ad site is much less expensive, but you must share your keywords and space with other buyers searching for the same item. I maintain a “wanted to buy” site that cost about $1,000 a year. I have bought several major collections because of this site. The owners of many of the collections live in other states and would most likely never have seen my “wanted to buy” ads in local papers. They easily found my ad on the Internet.
“Wanted to Sell” Ads
One of the best places for a “wanted to sell” ad is in a local map or regional directory. Such ads are usually inexpensive and are directed at buyers already in your area. If someone in your town or area starts a local map, join. Such ads are a proven method of bringing buyers to your shop.
“Wanted to sell” ads in local newspapers do not work very well. The only exception to this is special events. Buy “wanted to sell” ads in your local paper only when you run a special event such as a Christmas sale, open house, wine tasting, appraisal day, and so on.
“Wanted to sell” ads in antiques trade papers work well if the ad is specific to one or to a few items. Such ads should feature a new item or a new group of items each month. In the 1980s, I watched Bob Hudson, a New Hampshire dealer, grow a small antiques shop into a major business with one full-page ad each month. Each ad featured 30 items. More than 25 of those items sold each month. Bob worked several days each month on his ad. He took photographs, he wrote descriptions. The dollar value of sales generated by this ad campaign was impressive. An unexpected bonus was the thousands of people who visited his shop because, as they often said, “Your ads are always so wonderful and are filled with interesting antiques.”
“Wanted to sell” ads on the Internet are of two types: general such as “when you are in Central Maine visit my shop in Winslow”; and specific such as a catalog of individual items. Internet “wanted to sell” ads require the use of a dot-com. Because ads of a general nature and ads to sell a specific item are formulated differently, this type of advertising requires the use of two dot-coms.
I have been an advocate of Internet selling since 1994. However, recent increases in search engine fees and source page programming are pricing catalog sales on the Internet out of reach of most small antiques businesses. The exception to the above statement is “eStores,” the Internet equivalent of the group shop. Dealers can sell from any of a dozen Internet sites that offer eStores for a cost around $1 a day. By contrast, a typical online catalog will cost between $5,000 and $10,000 to build and several thousand dollars each year to maintain. (More on this subject next month.)
Often overlooked are the advantages of “wanted to sell” ads in high school and college yearbooks, sporting programs, homecoming events, plays and musical performance programs, and graduation publications. Many people keep these programs for years. I recently made a repeat sale to a customer who responded to an ad in a homecoming brochure at our local college. I placed the original ad eight years ago. The ad cost was $65, but has generated sales of several thousand dollars. That is a good bargain by any standard.
“Wanted to sell” Ads and the Group Shop
In 1982, I rented booth space in Shiretown Antique Center in Alfred, Maine. Professional dealers at that time purchased their own ads to attract customers to their displays in group shops. I purchased so many ads to attract customers to my booth that many people thought I owned Shiretown Antique Center. I displayed at seven group shops at that time and bought ads for each of my booths. My monthly sales at Shiretown averaged close to $4,000. I am not willing to give my total sales figures for all seven group shops, but my advertising budget of $240 per month was money well spent. If you are in the trade full time or to make money, it is a mistake not to advertise to attract customers to your group shop booth.
To prove to myself that my ads were working, I offered a 15 percent discount on everything in my booth. The customer simply had to sign the ad and fill in his or her mailing address (optional). The group shop owner collected the signed ad when the sale was made. I collected the ads and sent a personal thank you card to everyone who included his or her mailing address. The cards resulted in many repeat sales.
What Size Advertising Budget?
Traditionally, antiques dealers are reluctant to spend any money advertising. The exceptions are dealers in the trade full time and a few part time dealers who use the antiques trade as a second job. Fortunately for me, my first ad, taken in 1968, resulted in several thousand dollars worth of sales. One customer, a collector/dealer, has remained a faithful customer. He has purchased tens of thousands of dollars worth of fine antiques from me over the years.
But I purchased that ad under protest. The other dealers in my area insisted that I join a regional listing of dealers. I did not participate the first year and received so much criticism and badgering from my fellow dealers that I had to buy an ad the second year. Just four of the original dealers are still in the antiques business. Many have died. I never miss an opportunity to thank these dealers. Their insistence that I advertise with them for the good of all the dealers in the area was the correct thing to do. They could have been a bit more diplomatic in their approach but being politically correct was not the “in” thing in 1968.
Typically, a dealer should spend between two and five percent of profits advertising for new business. Should you make $100 on a sale, set $2 to $5 aside for advertising. The bigger your business, the more sales you make, the larger your advertising budget.
Your ad budget should be divided 60/40 or 70/30. The largest portion of your advertising budget should be spent on “wanted to buy” ads. Generally, dealers make the least money on items purchased from group shops and shows. Dealers tend to make slightly more money on items purchased from mid-level auctions. Low-level auctions are expensive when one considers value received per dollar spent. High-level auctions can produce large profits but only for the knowledgeable dealer with a specialty. Generally, high-level dealers have been in the trade for years and have a substantial buying budget.
Dealers make the most on items they purchase from homes and collectors and when they buy the contents of an estate. Your “wanted to buy” ads should be targeted at buying estates, collections, and from homes. The best place to run ads directed to the homeowner is in local papers, church publications, and in community related brochures and bulletins. The best place to run ads directed at buying complete collections is in antiques trade publications. Hopefully you will be contacted by a retired collector who wants to sell an entire collection.