If you have ever wondered about opening a booth at an antique mall as a way to make some side money, or even as a full time occupation, but didn’t know where to start or how it works, look no further. I went looking for someone knowledgeable that has been in the business for awhile and came across a kindly old gent who agreed to be interviewed on the subject; namely, my Dad.
Buck: How long have you been a booth operator and why did you get into it to begin with?
Dad: I have had my own booth space for 13 years but prior to that helped my wife with her space at another location for about 10 years. Originally we wanted an outlet for some of the extra items we had accumulated in our many years of collecting. We would end up with duplicates as we upgraded our collections or, as interests changed, we might want to sell an entire collection. We would also come across bargain merchandise we were not interested in collecting but knew we could resell at a profit. So, to make our many trips to antique shops, malls, shows, flea markets, garage sales and auctions more productive we started buying to resell as well as to collect.
Buck: Are there fees or commissions involved with operating a booth?
Dad: It’s important to be very thoughtful when pricing items for sale in a mall. They have to be competitively priced or they won’t sell. Most malls offer a 10% discount to other dealers to encourage sales. Malls charge their dealers a commission on sales of around 10% and sometimes there may be credit card or advertising fees charged too. So, all those charges have to be considered in pricing. The two biggest costs are booth rent and cost of merchandise. In order to make a profit, items under fifty dollars should carry a 100% mark up or even more. I deal mostly in lower priced items and use a sliding scale for markup of higher priced items, but in no case do I mark up less than 25%. When you are not on site to negotiate with prospective buyers your prices must be right.
Buck: How much time during an average week do you spend buying and pricing your items and tending to your booth?
Dad: Most operators of mall booths also work full time at other jobs. Some are retirees and use the experience as a social event and to earn a little extra income. Others are full time dealers who garner the bulk of their income from antique and collectable sales. There does seem to be a direct relationship between the amount of time spent and the amount of income you can expect. Buying can be time consuming as an entire day or weekend can be spent at an auction or prowling one of the huge flea markets. To be successful fresh merchandise must be brought to your booth on a regular basis. If your merchandise consists of mostly “smalls” you will spend more time pricing. If your merchandise is larger, like furniture, you will spend more time cleaning, restoring and refinishing and very little time pricing. Regardless of your type of merchandise your booth sales will benefit if it is clean and fresh looking and items are easy to view.
Buck: What are the tax implications of operating an antique booth?
Dad: A word of caution to working individuals or couples about income tax consequences if you score a good year profit wise because that could push you to a higher tax bracket. Most malls collect and pay state sales tax for you so a sales tax permit is not necessary. However, if you sell direct then you must collect and remit the tax as required by state regulations. Also, most malls require you to have a sales tax permit to qualify for their dealer discount. The permit is free in Iowa.
Buck: Any final advice or encouragement for those interested in getting into the business?
Dad: Buying and selling antiques and collectables can be a fun and profitable adventure. You need to continually increase your knowledge of what is collectable and what the current values are. With this knowledge you will be able to identify profitable merchandise when you come across it and keep fresh items in your booth. Otherwise your booth will most likely become a very expensive storage area. Happy Hunting!
Buck: Thanks Dad.