Low sales for the first 1/3 of the month

After the first week of March, when the weather turned nice, our sales have been down.  We turned in our lowest ever return on investment in March…just 2x dealer rent in sales.

In the first eight sales days of April, the percentage dropped to just over 1.5x rent.  Our first week was the lowest sales total since the first week in September!  Dealers who have been in the store and working their booths are for the most part holding their own.  What is selling are items which are low priced, with the exception being primitives and furniture (in the $50.00 to $150.00 range.)

A couple weeks ago, Debi and I made the decision to begin an advertising campaign in the Peoria Journal Star.  This was mentioned in the April Newsletter.  Results have been mixed.  Folks are finding us, especially on Saturdays.  In fact, thanks to the ads, Saturdays have remained quite strong.

Being new antique mall owners, Debi and I were taken by surprise at the sudden drop in sales.  We’ve been told by several experienced dealers that the first weeks of good weather are always slow, as shoppers turn their attention to outside pursuits.  I’ve seen this myself as I’ve watched our neighbor, “GroUp”, a garden store, enjoying good traffic these past few weeks.

That is the bad news regarding “Spirit”.

The good news is that we saw excellent traffic in the store on Tuesday, April 10th.  And sales for a Tuesday weren’t terrible.  The weather was nice and perhaps antiquing is once again on the minds of some folks?  We certainly hope for such.

The worst case scenario is that the weather stays nice the next couple months…and the community determines as a group to garden every square foot of available of space!  Sweet corn growing up the length of land in the middle of Park Sreet….radishes and carrots sprouting from a freshly tilled ‘Mineral Springs Park”…those weird upside down tomato plant sacks hanging from every window downtown!  If this happens, April and May could test the resolve of our dealers.

Of course, Debi and I continue to do everything we can think of to promote sales.  We could use for some dealers to update their booths.  Some are very empty and/or filled with product with some age of shelf life (it’s been in the store awhile.) 

The best case scenario is that the new “Peoria Journal Star” ads, as well as our other advertising, continue to let shoppers find the store (we are ten months “new” this Friday and have yet to find much of the local community.)  and after a month of low sales, the gardening and outside labors are mostly complete…and we get back to the level of sales we’ve enjoyed since we opened!

There are some events in the area which will aid our cause.  “Military Uniform Supply”  opened it’s doors on Tuesday.  We wish them great success.  Alan, the owner, is also a dealer in “Spirit” and is commited to refer shoppers to the store.  “Amanda’s Closet”, “One More Time”, “Derby Street Antiques”, and others are also strong, cooperative friends that let folks know about us.  “One More Time” recently expanded after Amanda’s Closet’s old space became available.  The owner, Donna, has always let people know about us.  She is now having estate sales!  She is just a block 1/2 away and in this industry anything that draws shoppers to the area is good for all the stores!

If I had to predict, I’d say that April will end up being similar to last September, perhaps slightly worse.  If we come out of April with another 2x rent, I won’t be entirely upset.  It seems this is the season for slower sales…and still in our first year of business, our first real slow down probably upsets me more than it does the experienced folks we have renting space in the store.

Oh, I’ve had a good look at the new Web Page and Web store which is in the works.  It looks great!  Debi and I are preparing to get it up and running soon.  I know…I’ve said that before.  We HAD a finished product in February, but we didn’t like the amatueristic look of the sight and hired a professional company to start from scratch and build an online store which we can all be proud to utilize to display our products.  Soon, we’ll have “Spirit” merchandise selling online, and once the bugs (if any) are worked out we’ll offer up the online service to our dealers for a low percentage of the sales.

There are going to be some “rules” to selling on the Web Store. 

First, I THINK the percentage we will charge will be 15% of the sale.  That is similar to the ultimate price one pays in commisions to Ebay…yet we will be doing all the posting, and shipping, so our dealers will not have that burden.  Don’t hold me to that price.  We need to see if there are fees we are not aware of…I think the credit cards might have a slightly higher fee…not sure.  We WILL NOT have additional fees…the percentage will represent our entire charge.  We need to see what our costs will be before we commit.

Next, items posted will be at our discression.  No dealer will be required to participate, but if they so choose, we will pick items to post based on:  appeal, value, condition, ease of shipping…just pretty much figure we’ll post items as best we can, as much as we can, when we can.  We will not be posting anything under $20.00.  We’re going to spread the efforts to everyone who participates…no favorites.  Honestly though, the items we’re concentrating on will be the unique and higher end ANTIQUES and true VINTAGE items which will add spark to the Web Store.   

We will ONLY offer the Web Store service to persons renting space in “Spirit”.  We’ll have to expect that those who participate keep their areas well organized.  We’ll have to replace tags with new ones which will include an identification number so we can track internet sales.  Remember, these items are going to be available in store, and online, we’ll need good communication if a dealer removes items with the Web Store tag from the store.

Obviously there is much I could get into regarding the Web Store.  Some quick, important aspects.  Discounts will not be offered online, nor will negotiating.  The price will be retail and fixed…no bidding.  We’ll be spending some money to promote the Web Store…we’ll absorb those costs through our own investment.  It may take time to establish online customers.  Although ordering product will be available to anyone within the United States, we are going to seek markets (antique stores, large collectors) in bigger cities and areas where antique prices run much higher than central Illinois.  Let’s face it, our immediate area is amongst the lowest, if not THE lowest, of places where antiques can be purchased.  If we wind up with several stores using us as a location to fill their shops…at the prices we are comfortable to sell…why not!?!?  We will seek to establish longterm relationships with our online customers.  Hey, I met Debi online!  Online relationships can work. 

The bottom line, for our dealers, is that we are not offering to take requests regarding what makes it to the Web Store.  We’re going to be very busy posting the quality products that everyone stocks in the store…and the last thing we can promise anyone is immediate service.  It will take time, but it will get done.  Once we get caught up…things may be different.  I’m sure everyone understands…this is a big step…and one which should put the “premium” in the premium service “Spirit” wishes to offer to it’s dealers.  Perhaps down the line we could consider offering an “Immediate Posting” option for a higher commision?  I don’t know…not sure anyone would be interested. 

For now….it is important to get the thing up and running, FINALLY.  I’m sure everyone in the store community knows that Debi and I will be fair and make every effort to set this up to work well for everyone involved. 

We’re also going to be utilizing our online marketing through the Web Store, new Web Page, FaceBook, and our new blog to reach customers for the brick and mortar store.  One idea I’ve had is to establish either on the blog or on FaceBook a community of “member” customers and dealers where anyone can post.  It could replace the “Wanted to Buy Box” to some extent and give the buyers and sellers a place to talk!  It has been months since we’ve made efforts online to promote the store…well, not really…the efforts have been in building a better place to gather online!  The fact that it has taken longer to build the online site than it did to design and set up the physical store site still frustrates me.  But finally…finally…we are seeing the finishing touches being put on the thing.

I wonder if anyone is still reading?  If so…a bit of a personal thought.  Recently, I had an experience which was mildly disturbing.  (“Spirit” receives constant compliments from customers regarding the looks of the store…and for just being a place to shop when so many antique stores have dissappeared over the years.)  A gentleman came in the store and quickly walked the aisles….this used to happen when we first opened…some folks came in and commented on the “empty” shelves…questioning how soon “Spirit” would go belly up as antique stores are a thing of the past..those sort of negative things.  This guy went through the store barely looking at the product.  The same kind of walk I’d seen from those others when we first opened.

He questioned outloud why anyone would ever shop an antique store when they could get the same things at garage sales and auctions, or online?  I answered him, but he didn’t hear a thing I said.  He left, and I’m sure he figures he’ll drive by an empty storefront some day…he was so sure of himself.

Well, “Spirit” has turned a slight profit each month from the end of July until now…and we will again in April even if the sales remain slow.  (Now..if the dealers are patient and stick around after a slow month is indeed a question, massive exits could put us back for a short time.)  Debi and I are not going to get rich operating the store…unless this Web Store takes off and we’ve no idea what to expect regarding that.  But, we are well past fears of failure.  “Spirit” is going to be around a very long time.

Now, how I would have liked to answer the gentleman…had he been willing to listen:

“You sure can find quality antiques at garage sales and auctions.  In fact, we’ve several dealers, including ourselves, in the store who do just that!  They spend their time and gas, and use their expertise, to locate THE BEST products available.  Then they gather them in one place, and for a slight fee (price) which is never going to earn them a hotel on Boardwalk they offer items for sale to folks who can count on a clean, air conditioned, year round open, staffed, comfortable environment in which to shop!  Heck, most days shoppers can count on cookies and coffee!  And, shoppers get a selection of vintage and antique items not mixed amongst the microwaves, baby clothes, and press board furniture!  Hopefully, they also get interested, friendly service from the store staff who earn a living making the cutomer experience their primary concern!  They may just get a chance to visit with human beings…talk about the weather, or interests…or anything on their minds.

Regarding the internet.  Obviously Debi and I see no problem with it as we are setting up the Web Store.  But we consider it a different sort of animal.  Some folks prefer being able to lift up an item and examine it.  Some folks still actually like to shop in a real, brick and mortar store.

Why does “Spirit of the Past Antiques” exist…and why should it?  Just over a year ago, Debi and I were just shoppers ourselves.  We’d seen antique stores closing at an alarming rate.  Shops like we enjoyed were getting harder to find.  It just so happened that we’d determined to start a small business.  It was a dream of ours.  We considered several options such as an ice cream shoppe…a consignment store…even a water tubing location on the Mackinaw!  (I still like that idea.)  But, we just kept coming back to the idea of an antique mall, the kind like we liked to shop in.

“Spirit” came from the idea that if we like to antique…so do others.  And maybe, if we did it right, we could buck the odds and make a place for folks like us…perhaps we ARE all kind of stuck in the “Spirit of the Past”?  We weren’t worried about failure.  To us, looking forward 25 years…if we never tried…we would regret it.  So, just starting it was better than not..even if it didn’t work!  Well, it has, to some degree.  It will exist…now I would obviously like to afford to buy a new car again someday, but if we never get to that level of income, no bigee.  There are many rewards to owning an antique store that go far beyond income.  Personal pride in offering a good store…..seeing someone find that special item they always wanted…meeting some trully remarkable people…just, many good rewards.

So, we did find enough like-minded shoppers to allow us make a living owning an antique mall.  And, we’ve found enough dealers to keep the shelves full, either because they are very successful (and many are) or because they are hobbiests satisfied to make rent and a little better.  I don’t know why some stay…perhaps because the Web Store is coming and they see opportunity on the horizon.  I don’t question it…nor do I expect folks to stay if it gets too tough effort wise or their sales don’t measure up to their needs (one month lease…no one is expected to stay if they wish to leave…it is one reason our shelves stay maintained and product is fresh.).  Anyway, the point is, it is working.

And even if, EVEN IF, the Web Store takes off and income from it would allow us to close the door and sit back and simply ship to buyers all over the country….”Spirits” doors will NOT close.  “The Spirit of the Past Antiques” is an antique mall, a brick and mortar shop where folks can walk in and enjoy the…spirit…of…the…past.  A time when shopping was an event, not a means to obtain an item.  A time when the guy behind the counter cared that the shopper feel welcome.  (I hope I do…I try.) 

I guess I’m remembering “Tillman’s Variety” back in my hometown.  Around 1968 or so…and after school I’d step in to spend a quarter or so on candy…or something.  And those ladies (two cash registers… busy dime store it was) made me feel like I was ten feet tall.  I guess that’s what I want to try to keep alive.

And maybe, Mister….while garage sales and auctions and buying online all have their place, and I would never say they don’t…maybe an antique mall still has some value?  It might not be your kind of shopping…no biggie…but why come in and tear something down when others still enjoy it?  Come back sometime and instead of stepping quickly down the aisles without even looking around…instead of preaching about how the ways you prefer to shop are better…maybe take a real look around, and maybe you’ll see why a store like “Spirit” has it’s place as well?”

Anyway, that’s what I’d have liked to say to the guy.

Ah…I guess this little tale is just a way to get though the slow sales?  Everybody get those gardens planted and get back in the store…I miss you.  Later this year…bring me some tomatoes. :^)

   

  

   

       

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