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Group Shop History, Part One

GROUP SHOP HISTORY (1972-1992) Part One – Business of Doing Business – The Journal of Antiques and Collectibles – March 2005
By Ed Welch
* See February 2005 “Journal” Issue for Part 2 of this series
In the 70s and 80s, I taught a course, The Business of Doing Business in Antiques. I wrote a book for student use. Recently, I came across a copy of the book while cleaning a cluttered nook in my office. Even though the course and the book predate computers and the Internet, all the business concepts are still relevant.
This is the second of four chapters gleamed from that book. I purposely changed each chapter as little as possible, and only for clarity.
I have watched, almost to the point of studying, the growth of the “group shop” segment of the antique trade ever since the first one opened in Maine in the fall of 1972. In the beginning “group shops” tended to be summer flea markets moved indoors. The legitimate antique trade paid little attention to this new marketing procedure.
The so-called antique business went on as usual. Antique dealers sold their antiques out of antique shops. Flea market dealers sold their merchandise at flea markets during the warm weather and out of group shops during the winter. Collectible dealers sold either at flea markets or at antique shops, depending on the type of collectible carried by a specific dealer. Certain types of collectibles are more glamorous than the rest. For this reason, they are accepted by the antique trade and sold in antique shops.
Folks, it is the collectible dealers of America, as a whole, who are responsible for the growth and ultimately the acceptance of the “group shop” as a method for marketing antiques. Historically, the antique trade has never quite figured out what to do with collectible dealers. If a collectible dealer handled a glamorous type of collectible, that dealer was welcomed into the ranks of antique dealers. The antique trade actively shuns collectible dealers who do not carry the more glamorous collectibles.
It matters little that the flea market trade invented the “group shop” concept. The “group shop” was soon taken over by collectible dealers who found in this method of marketing a place where they felt at home. “Group shops” by their nature are flexible enough to accommodate the varied diversity of the American collectible trade.
Folks, the collectible trade of America had barely settled into its newly discovered home (The Group Shop) when the antique trade began to take a serious look at this new marketing concept.
I have, in the past five years, (1983-1988) written several articles that detail the growth and transformation of the “group shop.” I have become a fan and supporter of this method of marketing.
Today, as we begin the decade of the 90s, more dealers sell through the services of a “group shop” than all other methods of selling antiques combined. The above statement includes individually owned shops, auctions, and shows. You and I, the dealers who will be doing business in the nineties, have no choice but to do business with “group shops,” and as time goes on, this business will include selling as well as buying.
The antiques on display in an individually owned shop reflect the taste and personality of the dealer who owns the shop. You can tell much about the personality of a dealer simply by looking at the types of antiques he or she is offering for sale.
The antiques on display in a “group shop” reflect the goals and objectives of the owners and managers of that “group shop.” You can tell much about a group shop simply by looking at the types of antiques and the displaying dealers that a particular group shop attracts.
Group shops are now as diversified as individually owned shops. Group shops have become so diversified and some so specialized that the term “group shop” has lost the meaning it used to have. At one time, if I were to say, “Group Shop,” most people would think flea market or collectible. Today, a “group shop” can be an association of ten Period furniture dealers selling Queen Anne and Chippendale furniture.
Dealers, when I say that a shop is fun, or serious, or expensive, or cheap, you know what I mean. Some shops make you feel as if you want to hang onto your pocketbook. Other shops, although they sell the same kinds of items, give a warm comfortable feeling. As a dealer selling expensive antiques, which shop would you prefer to be selling from?
Displaying dealers searching for a group shop to sell from have many points to consider. A brief list of the major points follows:

  • The quality of the other antiques on display is important to consider. Would you prefer to have the cheapest antiques in an expensive shop? How about the most expensive antiques in a cheap shop? Perhaps it would be best to be in a shop with other dealers who carry items comparable to your merchandise in value and price.
  • The physical location of a group shop can, at times, be the leading factor that determines the price range and therefore the quality of the antiques that will sell from that particular shop. Antique shops located in areas frequented by tourists draw their customers from a base pool that have several things in common – all of which are detrimental to selling antiques.
    • The customers are on vacation and committed to spending money on food, travel, lodging, and family entertainment.
    • Americans do their traveling by automobile and airplanes. The family automobile is not designed to carry odd shaped antique items. The family automobile loaded with the necessities of a family vacation has NO room to carry antiques.
    • The antique buyer in the family on vacation is often reluctant to hold up or slow down the progress of the trip in order to arrange to have things shipped. A displaying dealer selling furniture, large decorative items, or fragile items that need care in packing and shipping should give very serious consideration to the nature of the customers that a group shop located in a tourist area will draw. On the other hand, dealers who sell things that can be easily and safely transported by a tourist can do a lot of business out of a shop located in an area visited by many tourists.
  • Displaying dealers should consider the size of a group shop. Do you want to be one of ten displaying dealers, or one of three hundred displaying dealers? Small group shops offer intimacy, personal service, and visibility of your merchandise. It is not “buried” by the very size and volume of hundreds of display areas. However, in small group shops there are fewer dealers to share common expenses such as lighting, heating, advertising, and employee salaries. Small group shops must charge more per booth to raise the funds necessary to provide these services, or they must, simply from the lack of funds, provide these services to a lesser degree.
  • Displaying dealers need to decide whether they wish to be in a general line shop or a shop that specializes. Shops that specialize have certain advantages. They can pool and direct their advertisement to a specific audience. Shops that specialize, attract a more educated and a more refined customer who is knowledgeable about, and interested in one particular type of antique.
  • Displaying dealers need to consider the atmosphere of a shop. Is it clean and efficient? It is well lighted? How do the displays look to you? Are they neat and attractive? Are they cluttered? How do you feel when you enter this shop? Do you feel comfortable? Do you feel as if you have to be careful, or you will knock down something that is precariously perched in the aisle? Dealers, it is possible to sell, and sell well, in a dingy, dirty, cluttered shop. Some shops are purposely maintained in this condition and cater to those dealers who can sell under these circumstances. I know of one group shop that looks like a junkyard. The first thing you notice when you enter this shop is piles of worthless junk. However, hidden in each pile is one sellable item waiting to be discovered by people who love to pick, poke, and snoop.
  • Most displaying dealers need to be in more than one group shop. A displaying dealer can keep his or her booth looking fresh and attractive simply by rotating the items on display between two similar group shops located in two different antique areas. Antiques sell best when they are in the right environment. It is hard to sell Period furniture from a group shop that specializes in glass and china. Displaying dealers who carry a diverse selection of antiques should be in several different types of group shops.

The trend today is for active antique dealers to utilize the services of several group shops as well as selling at shows, through auctions, and from their own individually owned shops. The selling of antiques through the services of a group shop has become big business. Dealers can make thousands of extra dollars each year by displaying their antiques in carefully chosen group shops. To choose the right group shop requires the displaying dealer to visit many group shops so that a sensible and logical comparison can be made.
In the decade of the 90s, those dealers who know and understand group shops and how to buy from and sell from a group shop will be the dealers that you will be hearing about, and I will be writing about. There is no denying that the age of the group shops is upon us. I, for one, think it is a good thing, and look forward to the challenge and opportunity, that the ever growing number of group shops present to the active antique dealer.
Folks, although these words were written 25 years ago, they are still relevant today. Dealers can and do make lots of money buying and selling from group shops. However, much time and money can be wasted working with the wrong group shops. Dealers owe it to themselves to study the group shop marketplace. Finding the types of group shop that is suited for the items you carry must be a priority for every active dealer.
* See February 2005 “Journal” Issue for Part 2 of this series

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