Wednesday, 6 April 2011

How to be a Vintage Trader whilst Keeping Your Sanity

If at some point you find that your collecting or hoarding have gone feral, there's a chance you'll start to consider whittling down. 

A few years trading in the vintage and antiques scene led me to acquire some know-how on this matter. Not that I claim to be  an expert  but I have a few ideas which, hopefully, will help guide or inspire you.
I don't have the foggiest when I started. I was working full-time, and began to pick up the odd thing I liked.  I was blessed at this point to meet genuine, honest people in the antiques trade who helped shape my ideas and ideals to this day. In return, I would like to pass on what I learned from them.

Know your passion. Whether it's furniture, clothing, design, or collectables, it's imperative you stick to one area of interest, at least in the first few months. This will help you build your expertise on the subject. You can always move on later to another period or area. In fact, you probably will as one particular passion tends to lead to another.

Read & Research. Never stop learning. It took me a good year to know what I was looking for and what I was buying. Information technology has reached its zenith. With a click of a mouse, you can find what you need to know. Alternatively, you can always pop down to your local library. Don't forget that British TV is known for its trademark antiques programmes. Don't just shun them because they are shown relentlessly – they're still a valuable source.

Buy what you love. You'll find it easier to sell because you're passionate about it. Behind most dealers is a passion for collection gone horribly wrong. If you fail to sell an item, you'll be able to take great pleasure in having it at home with you.

Sell in an Antique Centre or Vintage Shop.
 Partly because of recent hard economic times, and partly because of vintage and retro's growing popularity, Antique Centres are increasingly making stalls available to Vintage traders. Happily, this is a good business model for a trader.
You can start a business by taking a space in an existing centre or vintage shop. This means you only pay rent for this, rather than a whole shop. Your overheads are reduced to one simple monthly outgoing, and you don't have to come in daily to man your stall. Staffing is a major cost for most retail ventures. Your main priority is to stock a good selection of items to interest potential buyers. You must however, keep your stall tidy. Ultimately, you are contributing to the main shop or centre's collective image. 

Look at the lay-out of the shop/centre. Can you get your things, e.g. big furniture, in and out easily? Is there a lot of traffic from passers-by? Does the venue have good vehicular access and parking? This has a major influence on how much passing trade a shop or centre gets.

How secure are your items? Is it a clean place? There's no excuse for having a dusty shop just because you sell old things.

Choose the ground floor if possible. It is a known fact amongst shop keepers that people will spend more time on the ground floor than trekking up to the next floor. 

Have a chat with the shop owner or manager. Are they friendly, and do they give good eye contact? Are the other traders interested in chatting with you? Do they greet people who are coming into the shop? Atmosphere is everything in retail, something which many antique centres and shops neglect to note.

Remember, for your business to succeed, you need to have honest, dependable and personable people running the stall for you when you're not there. These are the people who will turn a miserable and negative customer into a happy one on your behalf. And trust me, there will be miserable, negative clients, no matter how wonderful your unit is.

 Visit other shops or centres in nearby areas. You might find somewhere more suitable for you.
 Additionally, put yourself on the waiting list of several potential venues. This will help you secure a stall sooner rather than later.

Sell at Fairs.
 Okay, you might find this intimidating, as you'll be constantly on your feet and interacting with potential buyers. But fairs are a great place to hone your communication skills and learn your subject. What you must project is that you're knowledgeable about your goods, that you enjoy what you do, and that although some discount is available you know where to draw the line. You are a business, not a charity.

The easiest bit is booking a stall, and paying the organiser. Most will accept payments via the internet.
 The hard part is organising your items, wrapping them securely, and transporting them. If you're a stamp dealer, then you're laughing. If you sell furniture, you need muscles. And a van. Be prepared to drive at dawn as you need time to set up your stall before the fair opens to the public. Some fairs open very early in the morning.

Haggling is part of the whole experience, and something that many people loathe. Keep in mind though that this is a game, and it's a part of trading. If someone tries to be cheeky, keep your cool and stick to your price. You have to decide if you're prepared to let your item go. If not, then someone else is meant to have it at some point. There will always be another customer.

Below are some sites in my little red book and they're not meant to be definitive.

For general antiques, crafts, and decorative interiors: for fairs in Newark, Swinderby, Ardingly, Shepton Mallet, Newbury, Redbourn for Art Deco & Art Nouveau for Decorative Interiors for General Antiques, Vintage and Collectables for High End Antiques, Vintage, and Collectables

For vintage furniture, clothing & accessories, crafts, textiles:

Sell on the Net. Ebay is where Internet trading started. It had a significant dampening effect on auction house revenues a few years back. For other sites, check out

You'll have to be disciplined with time-management though, as you could find that you spend more time with your computer than your friends or family. Running your own business is supposed to be liberating, not ruin your life.

Sell at Auction Houses. If you have valuable items, get them looked at by your local auctioneer. Or go to the bigger places like Christie's, Sotheby's and Bonhams. Again, if you do your research you'll sell your item at the right auction house, and with a bit of luck, the right bidders will be there to fight for it. Selling fees and VAT will be applied on your final sale amount.

The one and only clothing & textile auction house that I know of is Kerry Taylor Auctions in West Dulwich Kerry is an experienced clothing & textile auctioneer. She's very down-to-earth and you'll certainly sell your items well with her now that vintage is on the up.

Display well. This is make or break in trading, whether in a shop or at the fairs. In my case, I'm fortunate that my better half is talented when it comes to space organisation. But I did learn through time and by doing it on my own. 

Many moons ago, I was in my unit, when a family who was just about to step in stopped and said "Is this a flat? We're so sorry to barge in!". I had to explain that it was still part of the main shop, as evidenced by the price tickets on every item.

One of my 'claim to fame' celebrity visits came from Mr. Jools Holland. I'll never forget his words – "You have an exquisite shop!" I kept my cool for a second before descending into giggly fan mode. I don't know what I had on display that time. It was fairly generic vintage, but laid out nicely.
 You don't need to create a display for Buckingham Palace, but it should be something cohesive that will be pleasant to look at. Clean and dust once a week, and rearrange things regularly. It's surprising how many people pop in week after week to check out your place.


Enjoy dealing! 
Trading is not just about profit. It's about discovering the item's provenance, knowing who you sold it to, where it's currently housed, and enjoying the friends you've made along the way, whether they're clients or fellow traders. And keep on smiling. There's nothing more disappointing than seeing a trader looking forlorn, unenthusiastic, and unapproachable.



  1. All fantastic advice...
    Thank you Joy.. and thanks too for the great mention of our Vintage & Handmade Fair.
    Michele x

  2. Excellent advice for any would-be vintage dealer!


  3. Hi Michele & Jayne. Lovely to meet you here. I like what you do. Best of luck and more power to vintage:) Thanks for following. Kindest regards, Joy x

  4. Why didn't I know about your blog before? This is so interesting Joy, I love anything vintage I even had 1940's inspired wedding. Our house is an 1867 lodge, we got a powder blue 1973 beetle outside (we're actually selling it @tm) I started collecting 1950's inspired swimsuit lols...oh this is fab. Not that i'll ever be a dealer hun (my hubs dad he was an antique dealer, furnitures)atleast ill have an idea when going in antique shops, we got one in Lancaster, GB Antiques i bought few pieces there. Oh cant wait to see ya again and talk vintage hah! I wil defo follow ur blogsite xx-Joy Clarkson


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