Sustainable Marketing for Antique Stores

sell more antiques marketing pyramid

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 are 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.

sell more antiques with good customer serviceBuild 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, right? 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 is built on five core elements:

  1. Store merchandising
  2. Website
  3. Selling (engagement) system
  4. Social media
  5. Advertising

These elements are illustrated in the Sell More Antiques marketing pyramid at the top of this page. The effectiveness of any level depends on how thoroughly the levels below it are executed. Here’s a brief explanation of each level; I will do a deep-dive analysis of each in my blog posts.

Store Merchandising

At the base of the marketing pyramid is the store itself. The items you stock bring customers into 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 store. The difference between negative and positive shopping experiences comes down to product selection, store merchandising, and customer engagement.

Website

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.

Selling system

When you opened your store, you assumed a huge financial burden. You have too much at risk to not maximize engagement with every customer that walks through your door. Your store is not a museum, it is a business. “Can I help you?” is not an acceptable question to ask a customer and “Just looking” is not an acceptable answer. Not everyone will buy, but you should be able to sell many, and enroll others into your stay-in-touch program so you can build familiarity and trust.

Social Media

Today’s marketplace has become overcrowded with competing advertising messages. Consumers have developed a resistance to traditional advertising, and sales messages aren’t getting through

What consumers want is to trust the person they will be buying from. Trust implies a relationship; consumers want to buy from people, not faceless corporations. Relationships are built one at a time. Social media is ideal for building relationships.

Advertising

Ads are at the top of the pyramid because they are expensive and need to create an immediate return on investment to be worth the cost. Use them sparingly. There is an abundance of media to chose from: social media ads, Google adwords, newspapers, magazines, even radio. All are effective if used properly.

Go with what works for you

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.

Antiques marketing info that’s specific to our industry

There are hundreds (thousands?) of marketing blogs on the internet. Why should you read mine? Because I’ll tell you what is working for antique dealers.

I’ve been in the antiques business for over forty years. I’ve owned two retail stores, operated several Antique Mall booths, a restoration shop, and have displayed regularly at Fairs and Antique Shows. My auctioneering travels have taken me across the U.S. from Florida to Alaska, and internationally to sixteen countries from Russia to Panama. I’ve sold a variety of goods at auction: cars, real estate, jewelry, fine art, antiques, business assets, and estate property.

Since 2009, I’ve written about marketing, merchandising, and retail management 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 these topics in greater detail in my books and whitepapers.

No time to browse the internet for new ideas? I’ll make it easy for you.

In the Sell More Antiques, I’ll keep you up-to-date on tools and techniques that will save you time and money. The promise of Sell More Antiques is this: the information contained herein can help you sell more, manage better, and plan effectively.

If you don’t have time to browse all the posts or read the books and magazine articles, then subscribe to the Sell More Antiques newsletter and I’ll send you the highlights monthly. You’ll be glad you did.

Subscribing 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. You’ll save time and stay informed. Sign up here:

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