Being an antiques dealer today is more challenging and demanding than it has ever been. The days of buying for $1,000.00 and selling for $2,000.00 (or more if you’re lucky) are fraught with more legal, accounting, marketing, and operating expenses than were ever contemplated by dealers in the past. Today, I couldn’t be in business without my educational background (BS in accounting at Lehigh University) in order to deal with the more time demanding chores of payroll, insurance, taxes, etc, etc, etc.
Oddly enough, the easiest part of being a dealer is the buying, because that aspect comes from experience and the “gut reaction” I get to an object I think worthy of investing in for resale. Unfortunately, it is the area I spend the least amount of time doing. Worrying about employees, their welfare and work, along with the maintenance and attention to my building and the inventory stock take up a disproportionate amount of my time and energy.
Today, being a dealer requires too many hats to wear; and that is the real challenge for not only antiques dealers, but any small business operation. As a small business, we don’t have the luxury of having various departments staffed for specific duties. Is there a dealer who has an account receivable, account payable, marketing, and customer relations department? Dealers on that scale don’t exist (yet). But give credit where credit is due; look at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, or any medium to large auction house. They offer a template as to how a consolidation of dealers into a single large entity can navigate the overhead with efficiencies of scale.
But this dream will have to come at a different time. There are no dealers in the trade who can conceive of this idea without the thought of just liquidating their stock before contemplating a method to really grow and strengthen their position through consolidation. Every dealer, whether large or small is fighting against each other, the auctions, and the operating costs of existing in business just to survive.
The challenges we face tomorrow will only get more daunting both financially and in methods of operating. Ten years ago, did a dealer need a web site, a computer, or concern for currency values? In ten years, the new challenges will demand more skills and more know-how to juggle in a day. Will that then require dealer specialization within a consolidated entity? I’ll have to ask my sons and daughter, if they want to take up that challenge.