Wednesday, December 22, 2010

So, Ya Wanna De a Dealer, eh?

(IMPORTANT! Please note that the title above is to be said with a Jack Nicholson accent. Thank-you for your co-operation!)

I have been getting lots of questions about items from Facebook friends....people who just happen to have "stuff" and some who are starting to "pick", getting their feet wet, so to speak. You do get your feet wet in this business, at times...and I do mean literally...stepping in basements with a half-foot of water in your brand new work boots...christening them.....but, we're not talking about that....not in this blog, anyway.

 I don't mind giving "free advice," to a point.

Of course, I can not afford to be doing lots of "free appraisals," either.  Went over that whole "time is money" issue in a blog entry awhile back, as you may recall.

I do spend a little too much time yakking with folks about their finds; dispensing advice, assessing items, giving tips, etc.  I don't really make any money doing that. Haven't figured out how to, either. Should I pop a "Donation" button on the blog? On Facebook? With every answer I give and/or post I do?

Sure, I could charge appraisal fees and all that, but that is not quite what I feel I need to do....I just can't figure out some other way to make money from these "free" services. 

The doing "appraisals" for money thing is why I have attempted to sign up as an "expert" on that site I have been nattering and bitching about. I guess we'll see how it pans out. I am not interested in doing appraisals of estates, items, and collections for people's insurance policies and the like. That would mean I have to take a "course" on "appraising." I do not have money or time for that. Plus, odds are I'd end up spending far more time on research than I should, and end up loosing money.

I do know that if I get many more people asking questions about items, I am going to have to start charging...just to cut down on the it does take a fair bit of my time....and it simply doesn't pay the bills. The wife also gets annoyed with me spending the additional time online...which I also do understand.

Plus, I am a nice guy, so I will try to answer people's inquiries. What can I say?

If some TV producer wanted to pay me to dispense free advice I'd do it. Maybe something to pursue.

Oh, yeah, then the advice isn't going out really for "free" now, is it?

By now I bet you are thinking:

"What the heck does this babble have to do with the title he has on this post????"

I'm getting there, hang on...

So, the question that I posed in the title: Should you become an antique dealer?

Or, to rephrase it: Should I become a picker?

Answer: Depends.

Ah, no, not the adult diapers....

It takes up LOTS of, no, not adult diapers...focus here people, focus!

I don't want to burst anybody's bubble, dash their dreams, etc.

However, you need to be realistic when you are thinking about stepping full time into this business.

Do you really want to spend 10, 12, 14, 16, or even 18 hours a day working?

'Cause that is what it takes. I know some of you may notice I am on "Facebook" quite a bit from Nov to March. Part of the reason is that it is WINTER here during those months, and COLD, so I am inside working...researching, posting auctions, sales listings, etc, much of the time. I have inventory that needs to be researched, sorted, cleaned, etc. I happen to have a Facebook page open a fair bit, just to communicate with some of the dealers I have "friended", doing some networking, and to promote sales listings, etc. Not really there to chat....or, rather, that is usually not my intent. (But, yes, it happens, ok?!?)

So, I am online lots in the winter. Have tons of stuff to getting a website up soon (finally), and need to make $ also. I currently have no fully operating store front, really. I do consign some items at a friend's storefront in a nearby town, but the sales of the vintage items at the place is not exactly "hopping" this time of year, either. It is a small town...I know how slow it got in the winter at my shops in the city, so I do not expect much in a small town.

You folks who live in year 'round warm southern climes don't know how good you have it, really. Your retail sales season is so much longer, overall. I realize things like holidays and such might slow your sales, but nothing can kill your business like icy highways, closed highways, severe weather warnings, snowstorms, temperatures with windchills that freeze exposed skin in 2 minutes....shall I go on?  

You may now thank the god of your choice for where you live...

Really, though, I like it in Manitoba. It is beautiful, and the winter is bearable, even enjoyable, most of the time.  No worries about hurricanes, killer bees (they don't survive the cold winters!) and a long list of other scary/annoying things. We do have black widow spiders, though I think I have seen maybe one or two in over 20 years of picking through all sorts of places where they could potentially dwell.

And did I mention summer is GREAT?  I think we maybe appreciate it more, with the extreme temperatures we experience.

So, anyway, I see I went off on one of those tangents again.....

The thing is, it does depend on many things.

You becoming a full time antiques dealer/picker, I mean. Just a reminder of what we are taking case you forgot during the side trip I took you on, or your mind is still stuck on Depends diapers (you weirdo!)

Yes, yes....I know, you'll be wearing Depends by the time I finish this blog...ha, ha, ha.

Did I mention I am psychic picker? 

No not really....I'd have picked the winning lottery numbers by now.....

Ok, you can quit groaning now...If YOU get to tell a joke, I get to tell a joke!

Yeah, I sort of did both of them....

AHEM, *cough* *cough* Ok, so there is LOTS of time spent doing STUFF of all sorts as a dealer/picker.  So, first question is, do you want to spend time with your family? 

No family? Just a "better half"? Take note that spouses will resent the time you are spending away from them. Even if they are involved in the business with take off to an auction, and they end up stuck working the storefront, packing stuff for shipping the next day from your online auction sales, etc, etc...

It can take a toll on your personal life. Have lots of friends? But they aren't into "old stuff" like yourself?

Oh oh....

Much of a dealer's/picker's social life revolves around the business. Antiques shows, flea markets, going for lunch with other dealers after doing garage sales since 6:00AM, yakking while at another dealer's stores, going for beers after work to talk about the annoying pseudo-customer you had, coffee after that weekly evening auction, etc, etc...suddenly you realize that the majority of your friends are in the business in some capacity.

Now, if you are a "part timer", then this may not be the case. But, if you want to make your living doing this, especially in the financial climate we are in now, you are in for LONG work days. You will HAVE to socialize during "work." Oh, yes, you can work at this "full time" if you already have a bankroll and maybe sustain a separate social life...that is not difficult. But, after that bankroll runs out, and trust me, it'll be struggling along with the rest of us.

In all my "chatting" with other full time dealers/pickers, I do hear how tough things are for 90% of the antiques dealing population. Oh, when I say "antiques", I mean antiques AND collectibles.

Seems the "I paid my staff/employee(s) and there was nothing left for me" is pretty common right now among those who require employees....and Kraft Dinner seems to be on the dealer/picker supper menu more often than it used to be.

I realize that all the "Junk TV" (and I mean that in a complimentary way, 'cause I love junk!) like American Pickers, Storage Wars, Pawn Stars, Auction Kings, Pawn Queens, Antiques Roadshow (American, Canadian and the original British one),etc, etc, etc all make this business look "fun" and even "glamorous" in some ways.

But, remember, they are TELEVISION SHOWS. Yes, it is "reality" TV, but so is "Survivor"...and I don't find that show all that "realistic." (I am sure there are those who will oppose me on that statement...)

 You don't see the boring times, the stressful times, the "I can't pay my bills this month" times, the "I'm sick as a dog and can't go picking and flip stuff for a couple weeks, so we will have to eat expired bargain brand cheese and macaroni for a month" times, the trips to the hospital for tetanus shots, stitches, etc.

So, when I got an email from a Facebook friend posing a question, I answered him with truth and honesty.
His initial inquiry is as follows (in italics):

So, Mr. Fedora, I need your opinion as an antique dealer. I may have an opportunity to go into the antique business full time but I'm concerned about the long term income potential. If things work out for me, I'll have a decent secondary income for a while, so even if it takes a little while to get my income up as a dealer, I won't starve.

But, my question is what can I expect to make once I have a year or two under my belt? Doing what you love is great, but I still need to pay the bills. I've got a wife who doesn't work and 3 kids, so it's all up to me.

What do you think? Do I stand a chance or should I keep a regular job and just continue antiquing on the side?

Thanks in advance for your help!

* * *
In the long winded fashion I tend to use, I answered thus (also in Italics):

Bare truth? Don't do least not right now. Market in general is really soft at the moment. Antiques & collectibles aren't a big money maker when there is a downturn in the economy. Plus, the fact of the matter is, it is a TOUGH living.....I still have trouble supporting myself and my wife...if we had kids to support...I don't know where we'd be. My step-daughter is 20, and lives with her dad, who has basically been supporting her for the past 6 years...he's been in the biz a long time, also, and does make a living...but he is also not supporting a wife, and my stepdaughter is not exactly a big financial drain on him, anyway. She buys 2nd hand in most things, and is a bit of an artist type....I suspect she'll be a pretty decent actress.

Her dad is past retirement age, and busts his butt to make a go of the business, still.

That said, Manitoba is one of the toughest markets to make a go of it, so that is likely why we are having a rough ride, despite my experience & expertise. I have seen lots of antiques stores close. As it is/was, many of the dealers I know have/had other things to keep their heads above water...auctioneering, refinishing furniture, good pensions, spouses working at high paying jobs, just do it on the side of their regular job or business, etc, etc....I am one of the few that actually make their living at this, in this province...I can count the dealers who make their full living in this province (at just buying and selling antiques) on one hand...and the count is under 5. Many antique shop owners are retired folks with pensions, investments, etc...and they are "playing", or it is someone with a high paying job, and opens on the weekends. They don't need to sell stuff to put food on the table.

Your best bet for a more "local" take on it is to talk to people into the business in your area...see if it viable where you live, and if so, do try to supplement a brick and mortar store's sales with online sales of smaller items that don't sell in your area, but that you are able to buy at reasonable prices and sell well online.

I doubt you will make money within a couple years, frankly, if you were to open, and all did go well. Will take awhile. Not a get rich quick have to love it, or don't do it. If you don't absolutely love old stuff, or you do love old stuff, but have a hard time parting with what you find, don't get into it as a business.

Also, it can be real hard on relationships. If your wife doesn't like old stuff...well, I have seen lots of couples (of all ages and backgrounds) break up because one didn't like the stuff and the other preferred to be surrounded by the stuff.

My best advice would be to keep the job that provides a steady income, and just keep antiquing on the side. Then, if you make some extra $ at it, you can take the family somewhere, or buy some new "toy", go out for suppers, or take the wife on a second honeymoon, etc. If you don't make any extra, well, it is entertainment that has (hopefully) paid for itself.

Don't risk your family's security.

I was "single" (sometimes seeing someone) up until 3 years ago, so it was only "me" I had to worry about supporting....And, financial stress also can destroy relationships quickly. Been engaged twice 7 year relationship ended in a great part due to financial stress. So, if you and the wife are happy & secure financially, stick with that is working!

This biz is not all fun and games, though I realize TV makes it look like that. Mike and Frank are making far more $ off of licensing, media deals, merchandise, etc than they ever would just in the antiques biz. I'm also looking at other ways to parlay my experiences, my expertise, and interests into $, beyond buying and selling stuff. As it is, I had the same concept that Mike has brought to market, but it was 10 years ago. Due to "life", I didn't pursue it that heavy...and the "reality TV" market wasn't ready for it, anyway. Mike's timing and persistence paid off. Hopefully it helps the business in general. He's doing well now...but, I understand/heard that prior to the show, his income was around the $40,000 - $50,000 mark...and that would be due to a frugal picker style living, also. Plus, I'd expect he had some other $ banked or invested from previous business activities.

Anyway, hope I didn't bore you to death! Will likely blog about this subject, also....I know the thought/desire/dream is on many people's minds.

* * *
His response (yes, in italics is your neck doing?)

Man, I really appreciate the advice. You have basically confirmed my gut instinct. And, no, I wasn't bored at all. That's exactly the kind of opinion I was seeking and I knew you could really elaborate on all the highs and lows.

Fortunately, my wife loves old stuff as well, so that usually doesn't present a problem. Her problem is patience. She has none. So, if I buy something, she expects to turn it around within a week or so and sometimes that just doesn't happen, as you well know. She would want to make good money right off the bat and I just don't think that's realistic, especially after getting your take on things.

I think I'll stick to the real job with this on the side because I don't want to make my family live a barebones lifestyle. If it were just me, that would be different. But, I can't do that to them.

Thank you very much for laying it out. I knew I could count on you for the straight dope. You really should blog on this because I know lots of people think it all glitz and glamour. Keep up the good work and look me up next time your in (his state).

* * *
Well, sounds like I might get a beer out of this bit of advice! The appreciation he expresses added to that makes it a good payment in my books!

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