Friday, January 28, 2011

Book Report

Selling in an Antique Mall:  A Beginner's Guide
by Inis Lovely and Sue LaLumia

A Book Report/Review by Michael Edward Mitchell, age 46

In this time of economic uncertainty, many folks are turning to less traditional means to pick up some extra money and even make a living.  Selling secondhand, be it in a mall or flea market or online, is a popular choice.  Unfortunately, while some people will succeed at this venture, many of them will not. Most of the failures will happen because people didn't think things through beyond piling a bunch of stuff in a room somewhere.  This work was conceived, in part, to help people plan to succeed.  I think it does an excellent job of this.

In the freshvintage review of the book, they make the point that this is a book that would be useful for resellers who don't sell in an antique mall as well, and I second that recommendation.  Heck, I'm a low-rent junk dealer with a couple of piddly booths in a flea market, and I found a lot of good information in the book!

So what did I think?  Well, first off, I have to disclaim and pronounce that I've had a semi-regular correspondence for a few weeks with one of the authors, Sue, who is a mutual fan of old religious items.  I don't think it colors my perceptions of the work any, but thought it might need to be mentioned.

So...on to the good stuff:

The publication looks incredible!  The layout is clean and easy to follow.  The photos are just gorgeous and support the text well.  I had a wee bit of a problem getting used to onscreen reading, but that's mainly because I'm not a big e-reading person.  This is a well-designed, carefully thought out, highly professional looking publication.  Good job, folks!  I think it has a look which lends credence to its contents, so you should be congratulated on that.

Another high point is the extensive use of stories and anecdotes from other vendors, complete with links to blogs and sites.  It's nice publicity for some folks who have a lot of good experiences to share and stories to tell.

Since I don't deal in a higher-end setting, I learned an awful lot about that world from the book.  Vendor's meetings?  Malls that require vendors to work?  I had no idea!  I found the discussion about crafts to be especially interesting.  The limits on merch at my mall are no porn or fire arms.  I had no idea that hand-crafted items could be a source of such debate.  Kind of makes you think twice about Granny's quilts.

One practical point that the authors keep coming back to, is the dilemma of storage.  Stuff doesn't make you money if it can't get on your sales floor. And if it's not in your booth, then it has to go somewhere.  And that "somewhere" can quickly turn into your living space, and just as quickly take it over.  This may be one of the most important lessons in the book, so I'm glad they emphasized it over and over.  It's also one I wish I had been better prepared to deal with.  (He said, looking at a dozen tubs of merchandise in his living room.)

Another good point they make right from the start is the amount of work involved if you're going to do this right.  You can't just grab Mama's hope chest and china cabinet, throw them in a space somewhere, and then sit back and wait for the bucks to roll in.  If that's what you're thinking, you definitely need to read this book.  There's so much more involved, particularly if you want to make money.

The section on auctions is really good, so are the sections on estate sales, storage, and cleaning items.  Lots of detail broken down into digestible chunks make these sections the highlight of the book.  The information on auction terms and processing is worth the price of admission alone.

The information about choosing a mall is also good, but there is a surprising omission.  (More on that later.)  I loved the sidebar that accompanies that part.  It was so good, in fact, that I was a little disappointed that they didn't carry the sidebar technique throughout the book.  It would have enhanced the other chapters quite a bit.

Since I seem to be moving that way, maybe it's time to go ahead and delve into the "not quite as good" bits.  I can't call them the "bad" parts, because there really is no "bad" to this book.  It's just that the high points are so well-done, that it makes some other places, which are still quite good, stand out a little to me.

It's really surprising to me that, since the point of this endeavor is to make money, that no mention is made about sales reports, especially when it comes to choosing a mall.  How a mall records and provides sales information is something I think is very important for a potential vendor to consider.  Is the check out system computerized, so that you can get an itemized report easily?  How often do they provide reports?  Do they scribble everything in a notebook?  Do you have to ask staff for reports?  How often can you do this?  You can't always walk into your booth and assume that something has sold just because it's not there.  Regular reports can also help you know how much stuff to bring in and what kind of items to stock up on.  Some places limit the number of reports you can request/receive per month.  It's definitely something to consider.

Another thing that stood out to me was the attitude towards technology, which I found a little ironic in an e-book.  In fact, technology really gets no mention, other a dismissive "no need to invest in complicated software" in the section on accounting.  There's no mention of tech at all in the inventory record-keeping section or, as noted above, in the section about choosing a mall.  It feels oddly unbalanced in a work that otherwise gives a pretty even-handed look at different ways of doing things, especially when there are low-cost and even free resources that can help in these areas. There are, after all, some pretty distinct advantages to a computerized approach.  It would have been nice to see those explored and their impact on the business explored as thoroughly as, say, the layout of the mall.  It's a pretty noticeable omission in an otherwise complete and thorough work.

Overall, though, these are minor quibbles compared to the overall quality and depth of the work.  What I hope is that this might be the start of a much larger project, where the book gets revised/updated every couple of years, so that info can be added and things fleshed further out.  A guide like this is needed and can be really helpful for someone starting out.  It would be so cool if its successful enough that Sue and Inis can make it an ongoing thing.

Hey, a junker can dream, can't he?

You can find more information about the book at the blog they set up for it., including all the ordering options.  And, if you hurry, there's still a little time to enter their contest.

If you are at all curious about what it's like to try your hand at this sort of business, it's a book well worth checking out.

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