If you’ve ever wandered the aisles of an antique mall and wondered “how it works” to be a vendor, this post is for you. It might even help you decide whether to explore vendor opportunities for yourself. An antique mall (and by ‘antiques’ I mean true antiques, second-hand vintage and mid-century items, and maybe even the whole “collectibles” category – most malls are a combination of all of these) as you probably know is typically a large building sectioned off into individual spaces, with each space managed by a different vendor. At the most basic level, the vendors rent the space from the mall, then sell their merchandise from their booths, hoping to earn more in sales than the cost of rent and other fees charged by the mall.
Of course, there’s a bit more to it than a simple space-for-rent agreement. The details of the agreement should be examined carefully before you sign up for a space. In addition to understanding the basic concepts of retail merchandising and what items might be good sellers in your booth, it’s important to understand the terms of the agreement you’re signing. Here are some common elements of antique mall agreements.
Rent, Commission and Fees
Rent is typically priced by the square foot, and is charged either monthly or twice-monthly. So for example, in a mall where space is $2.25 per square foot per month, an 8×10 foot booth (80 square feet) is $180 per month. You might also be able to encroach into the aisle a bit (one mall I’ve been in allowed this while two others did not). And, don’t forget to ask how high up you can go.
You’ll also most likely be charged a commission on your sales. In my area this ranges from 8-10 percent. And, other fees may also be assessed such as a credit/debit card fee, security fee, or others.
All of this means you must sell enough in merchandise to cover your rent, commission and all fees. If you don’t, you will owe money to your mall at the end of the pay period. Anything above and beyond all this is what they will pay out to you.
Some malls require you to pay a month’s rent up front; others do not. One variation on this is that you may be required to pay your final month’s rent in advance. This assures the mall that you won’t “skip out” after giving your notice to vacate. Or, you may be asked to pay your final month’s rent in advance on the day you give your notice. In any case, if you have paid rent in advance for a given pay period, then rent should not also be deducted from that period’s earnings.
Frequency of Payout
Some malls offer monthly payouts, and some offer bi-weekly payouts. It’s important to know what you can expect here, as well as the exact date on which you can pick up your statement and/or check. Also be sure you understand the mall’s policy on carrying over any rent that might be due if you did not sell enough. One mall I was in offered bi-weekly payouts, and would allow vendors to carry over any due rent into the next pay period.
What you get for your rent
Your contract should specify everything that the mall provides to you in exchange for your rent, sales commission, and fees. These items may include: employee wages and all associated costs of employing workers to staff the mall; utilities; sales taxes (which they collect from customers and remit to the state on your behalf), price tags, sales reports to vendors, and business expenses associated with running the mall itself.
A note about sales reports:Your mall most likely uses computer software to track sales. (If they don’t, you should seriously consider a different mall.) This computer software has the capability to generate a monthly statement of all your sales, but also the capability to create a daily sales report. Being in a mall that automatically emails you a daily sales report gives you a nearly invaluable advantage – you can know almost immediately whether a major piece has sold, leaving a void in your merchandising space.
Some malls require dealers to participate in store-wide discount days. In our area, two of the three malls I’ve been in did not require this, and one did. In the mall that did, they routinely promoted 15 percent-off days – this meant that dealers were required to sell their merchandise for 15 percent off, and also pay 10 percent commission to the mall, for a total discount on each item of 25 percent. You have to factor this in to your pricing, and still be able to make a profit on your items.
Offering discounts in your booth
Be sure you understand whether and how the mall requires you to handle having a discount sale in your booth. Some may allow you (using signage) to state the percent off that you are offering, while others may only allow you to say you are offering a discount that the customer must inquire about at the checkout desk. They’ll probably want you to also let them know when the sale is over, so staff doesn’t continue to offer your discount longer than you intended. Just be sure you communicate the parameters of your sale with the mall manager.
Disputes Over Pricing
Occasionally, you may find that the mall has sold something for the wrong price. Review your contract to understand how they will (or will not) adjust your sales report (and therefore your payout) in the event of an error.
If it’s not stated in the contract, ask the mall manager how they handle customer requests to “hold” merchandise without payment. It is not in your best interest to allow the mall to hold or place a sold tag on an item if they have not collected payment for it.
Security & Theft Recovery
While it’s important to understand how the mall handles security and prevention of shoplifting, don’t expect to ever get back an item that has been stolen from your booth. Sadly, this has been our direct personal experience – the only times we lost merchandise, it was stolen from the one mall that had the best and tightest security around. While they had a firmly established policy of how they would handle trying to catch the thief, our items were never recovered and we were just “out.”
You’ll likely learn a whole lot more about “how it works” when you are sitting with the mall manager, going over the contract, but above are the basics. And even if they don’t sit down with you to cover it, you should or course read your contract thoroughly before you sign and ask them any questions that come to mind.
You’re also welcome to ask any questions in the comments here, and I’ll be happy to share our personal experiences with you!