Sustainable Marketing for Antique Stores

Colored glass

It’s tough to have consistent and sustainable marketing when you’re a busy store owner.

You know it, and I know it: antique stores are not your run-of-the-mill retail operation. In comparison, other retailers have it easy. When they run out of a best-seller, they pick up the phone, call their supplier, and order another four cases of whatever.

Not antique dealers. We search out every item we sell. We go to auctions and estate sales and spend way too much time on eBay. When we find a unique item, we pick it up, inspect it, and research it. If the item passes muster, we haggle a price and take it home.

Curating inventory, merchandising our stores, and selling to customers takes all day, every day. When was the last time you took a vacation (when you weren’t also picking inventory)?

Our sales curve looks like a roller coaster. Feast or famine. When we’re busy, we don’t have time to work on promotions. When sales slack off, we think “guess I better rustle up some customers”. So, we throw a few posts up on Facebook, buy a few display ads, and start the cycle all over.

The ups-and-downs of the antiques business is hard on us and hard on our bottom line. We throw money at hit-or-miss marketing tactics without having a solid plan. There’s always a new “bright, shiny object” on the horizon: a “guaranteed, sure-fire” marketing strategy, or a new social platform, or a new advertising technique. Our social media and email are bursting with supposed “magic bullets” that will fill our wallets with money.

I’m going to call “B.S.” on all that. Having owned retail stores and auction businesses for more than forty years and spent (conservatively) hundreds of thousands of dollars on marketing, here’s my “take” on the subject:

There is no magic bullet.

Build your antique store marketing plan on a firm foundation.

Building a small business is like building a house: you start with a solid foundation. That’s common sense, isn’t it? Anything you build on a poor foundation is going to fall down, whether it’s a house or a business.

Any effective marketing strategy starts with the basics and builds from there.

For antique dealers, that means having a marketing system that, once set up, doesn’t take a lot of time to maintain. It’s thorough. It’s sustainable. It’s focused. It’s effective. With such a system, it is not necessary to “re-invent the wheel” whenever sales need a boost.

A sustainable system employs three coordinated strategies that are the foundation of your marketing system:

1 Customer acquisition
2 Customer engagement
3 Customer retention

Acquisition is comprised of tactics that get customers through the door. But, it’s not enough to just get customers through the door: there must be a system in place to maximize sales (engagement) and keep those customers coming back (retention).

Antique car
Photo by Sue Hughes on Unsplash

Within each marketing strategy are multiple tactics that you can employ. The best tactics for your business are those that you find uncomplicated and repeatable. For example, if you can’t engage with your followers on Social Media every day, then don’t make your Facebook page the lynchpin of your marketing. Instead, use Facebook ads to drive traffic to your website, and let your website become your “get-to-know-me” tactic. Or not. Go with what works.

Although there is flexibility in the marketing tactics that you use, there are two must-haves that cannot be ignored.

These items are your marketing bedrock; you can’t build an effective system without them.They are:

Must-haves for marketing antiques and collectibles

1. Local search dominance. Whenever residents, visitors, or travelers google “antique stores” in your town, you must dominate the results. In order to do that, you’ll need:

⦁ A quality, mobile-optimized website. Not a Facebook page or a “freebie” website that came with a hosting account or a business directory listing, but your own dedicated website. A properly executed website will be optimized for search engines and serve as an online hub for reviews, maps, citations, social media links, details about and photographs of your business. It is not a do-it-yourself project; it’s not an adult coloring book where the object is to make everything look pretty. A website must be engaging enough to hold readers and accessible enough to be understood by the Google bots that index the pages. If your pages aren’t clearly coded so they can be understood by Google, they will never be seen by anyone else.

You don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on an e-commerce site. A simple four-page, mobile-optimized information site is a good base to build on. You need a home page, an about page, a contact page, and a privacy policy. Privacy policies are required by law if you intend to collect email address on your website. As your business grows, you can add online sales or a blog as needed. A website deserves as much planning, effort, and money as your bricks-and-mortar store.

⦁ Social proof: Lots of positive reviews of your business, citations (links to your website from local establishments and directories), and social media links on your website.

2. A well-merchandised store. Antique store merchandise has an allure that new consumer goods don’t have. Even so, buying is secondary to shopping. The merchandise you carry brings customers back to your store, but it’s the store experience that sends them home with a smile on their face and prompts them to tell their friends and neighbors about your business.

Antiques marketing information you can depend on

Since 2009, I’ve been writing about these and other topics for Antique Trader Magazine. You may have seen my bi-weekly column; it’s titled “Behind the Gavel” (a reference to my being a licensed auctioneer). I’ve covered marketing in greater detail in my books and whitepapers.

Antique Frames
Antique frames photo by Ellen Auer on Unsplash

Here’s what my readers are saying:

About The Business of Antiques: How to Succeed in the Antiques World

“My decision to give this book a five-star rating was based on the valuable information included…I would definitely recommend this book to anyone wanting to know more about the antiques business. Knowledge is power after all.” Michael

“Husband originally found and read this book from the library, found is so informative that he requested I order it for him.” Mary Kay M.

About Antique Mall Profits for Dealers and Dabblers

“Great advice for sellers, whether newbie or veteran. Easy to read. I’ve been a dealer for 20+ years and picked up a couple ”hot tips” that were new to me. And some of the other info I needed to be reminded of, so the book definitely was worth my time to read, and I’ll reread it again when my sales are in a slump. Thanks for the kick in the you-know-what, Mr. Jordan!” Ms. Dow

“An absolute “must read” before you start a business, especially an antiques booth business. Good basic info, well written, easy to understand and implement. I just wish I could purchase a hard copy to have on hand as a good reference.” P. Roberts

“I am going to spend the recommended time analyzing my business plan – especially the inventory management ideas. Especially the concepts I read on the buying, inventory analysis and marketing described in this great little book. Thanks in advance for the insights and thought-provoking business advice. Well worth the time I spent reading it.” C. Adams

About Wayne’s column Behind the Gavel in Antique Trader Magazine

“I’ve been reading your articles in the Antique Trader for several years now… I admire your column and appreciate your expertise! I just retired from teaching marketing at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh….and have always found your marketing advice to be brilliant! I grew up in a family where my parents had an antique and secondhand furniture store in…NY and that is where my love of antiques began. I wish you all the best and hope you will continue to write your articles for many years to come!” N. Church

“Your columns are the highlight of Antique Trader. You use firsthand knowledge, industry data and logic to draw conclusions about the business of collecting rather than speculating” J.P.

“Wayne: great article on pricing…As always, I look forward to your articles. Agree or not, they are always interesting and informative reading” R.B.

In Sell More Antiques, I’ll keep you up-to-date on tools and techniques that will save you time and money. If you don’t have time to browse all the posts or read the books and magazine articles, then subscribe to my Sell More Antiques newsletter and I’ll send you the highlights monthly (monthly is often enough, don’t you think?)

The newsletter is free; I’ll keep your email private, on a secure server. You can cancel at anytime, but you probably won’t. I spend hours a day sifting through antique industry news, marketing blogs, and consumer research. I’ll find “the best of the best” and send it to you every month. You’ll save time and stay informed. Here’s the signup form: