Saturday, May 24, 2014

8 Quick Tips for New Antique Mall Owners

I got a sweet note from Jayne at Chalk Mercantile in CT. (Stop by and LIKE her on FaceBook!)  She's starting a mall and would like some advice.   Here's a bit of her note:

I own a small shop ,, and am moving into a much larger space in one of our shoreline towns. I've changed my business plan a bit and will now have vendor space and your blog has been such an important resource for me! If you have any advice for a newbie antique/decor mall owner I would truly appreciate it. 

There should be an entire blog devoted to the owner side of the business!   I have never been an owner so I can't possibly know all the details, but I have picked up plenty of info from several owners along the way.  If I ever wanted to open my own shop, I feel like I'd have a head start on most, but as I keep saying, I'm a retired teacher and I don't want to work too hard at anything!  :-D

Anyway, here are a few things that come to mind right off the top of my head.  They aren't in any certain order.

If anyone has more to add, leave a comment.  
I'm sure Jayne would appreciate it!

1. Build some mutually beneficial connections.
One of the best tips I can tell you is to go to a similar store that you admire (not so close that it's competition - maybe a couple of towns away) and talk to the owner.  Most owners are really happy to offer advice if you aren't their competition.  Even after you are established, whenever you go out of town, if time permits, always stop by malls and talk to owners.  If an owner is super helpful, offer to buy them lunch or do something to show your appreciation. Always give them a shoutout and share their Facebook page when you get home.  This is how the owner at Rockin' B Antiques (one of the stores I promote) got started 15 years ago.  She still talks about how helpful this was and she is great at passing help along to other mall owners.  

2. Promote Your Store AND Your Vendors.
Make your Facebook page a priority and promote the big items of anyone who rents a space from you.  A web page is hit or miss.  Facebook can go out to more people on a regular basis. Show your furniture often - that really gets folks in the store.  And encourage your vendors to participate on Facebook.  Bribe them if necessary - promote things more for those who participate.  Their participation will help increase the number of LIKEs on your page!

If you aren't good on Facebook, find someone who is.  You can even trade rent for Facebook services.  If you farm this task out, make sure that YOU are the page manager and they are just a content creator.  Do NOT have two managers.  One manager can oust another.  They can take off with your page.  They can do all sorts of vile things.  It happens more often than you'd believe.  Let them start on a trial basis.  You don't want to get stuck with someone who doesn't do a good job and then have to go through an uncomfortable dismissal.  Better to ask them to do it for a few months and then, if you love their work, ask them if they'd like to do it for a little longer. Also, make sure you have a good opportunity to look at their writing before you sign them on. It's amazing how many creative, talented, well-spoken people can't write or spell worth a flip.  Which brings me to the next tip...

3. Delegate Wisely.
Have special vendors help with some tasks so you won't be overloaded.  Everyone has talents.  Not every person excels at writing, just as not every person is artistic.  No one can do it all.    You need to figure out what your vendors do best and enlist their help when possible.  You may not want that creative person with poor writing doing your Facebook page, but they might be just the person to set up a window display that makes customers swoon.  You may not want a shy or depressed person helping at the register, but they might be just the person to keep plants at the store looking perky.

4.  When you change a policy, give advance notice. 
When you make a change that affects vendors (rent going up, pricetag requirements, certain items no longer allowed, etc) try not to say effective immediately.  Most vendors can't get over to the give advance warning.  Starting in two months or whatever.  This is just a matter of respect.

5.  Choose vendors wisely.  Insist on photos.   If they have a booth elsewhere, check it out - online or in person.  Once you have a full store, let future incoming vendors start out in a small out-of the-way space on a trial basis.  After they have proven themselves with a nice booth and decent sales (and you have interacted with them enough to know they aren't a complete nut) then let them move into a better booth when one comes open.

6.  Allow one space per vendor.  This one is iffy.  I know of some great exceptions.  But generally speaking, it's better to have more vendors in the store than fewer vendors with multiple booths.  If a vendor has one space, they work harder to keep it looking good and they change things around regularly.  When they spread out into more booths, the booths tend to get stale or even unkempt and the vendor isn't always as good at filling in as things sell.   If the vendor is great, give them a slightly larger booth.  Also, more vendors in the store generally gives the store more variety.  Each vendor brings their own specialty.  A mall with nothing but chalk painted furniture wouldn't attract as many customers as a mall with a number of styles.

7.  Pay Extra Attention to Your Store's First Impression.   Think about all the senses.  When a customer first enters, the immediate surroundings should look fabulous, feel comfortable (not too hot or too cold), and smell pleasant without being overly perfume-y.  Change front displays often so repeat customers will never get bored.

8.  A mall owner has two customer groups - the people who shop at the store and the vendors who rent spaces.
The mall owner needs to keep both groups happy. Most owners strive to keep customers happy.  They know that's their bottom line.  Not all owners realize they should work just as hard at making the vendors happy and doing whatever they can to help them do better.  Word travels.  If you want to make sure you keep great vendors and keep a waiting list of potential good vendors, then be a great owner.  My smart friend, Martie, taught me this one.  She's a booth vendor but used to own a shop.