I love having a booth at the local antique mall. For a relatively small sum each month we stock our booth with our little treasures that we have tired of and wonderful finds that we pick up on shopping trips. Last weekend we set up a yet another new booth in a brand new antique mall, and planning that booth gave me a lot of insight on what to do (and what not to do) when planning out and setting up an antique store booth.

Booth Planning – Before you Jump In

1. Is it worth it? What rate does your antique store charge for booth space? Is the fee a flat rate, or is there a commission to the antique store as well? Don’t forget to add to that the cost of any fixtures you’ll need to buy or build for your booth. Consider what sort of traffic the antique store gets on a regular basis. Does it have sales or special events to generate customer interest? How’s the location? The bottom line is: can you turn enough sales to make it all worthwhile? You may not know the answer to that last question until you are a few months into your booth, but by considering all of these things up front you will be in better shape to make sure that you aren’t wasting your time and money.

2. Know your resources. Some antique malls offer a pre-partitioned space for your booth. Some will rent a locked case to you. Our first antique store booth had wonderful shelving all set up for us, but we aren’t always so lucky. The latest antique mall was so new that no booths were set up, and if we wanted to create a boundary between our booth and the next, we had to put in our own walls. We ended up buying lovely unfinished picket fences from the home supply store and building some beautiful rustic dividers that got lots of compliments and lots of attention from customers and other dealers alike. If you need to build your booth from scratch, remember that places like Craigslist can be your best friend for fixtures: check the “business” and “collectibles” sections for display fixtures, and keep an ear to the ground for local business closings – stores that are closing often sell off their old fixtures and displays cheaply.

3. Know your product. What are you going to sell? Knowing what you will be selling is essential to planning out what your booth needs. Sellers with lots of clothing will want attractive clothing racks. Sellers with smaller, easily pocketed items may want more locking glass cases. Sellers with artwork will need pegboard and/or easels to display their wares. Glassware sellers need good, sturdy shelves. Sellers with a little of everything will need just that – a little of everything – to properly display what they have to sell. What you sell will play a huge role in how you plan your booth layout.

4. Know your customers. Obviously, your most important goal in all of this is to generate some sales, and to do that you need to offer items that people want. The antique stores I sell at offer dealers the option to work the counter at the shop in exchange for their booth rent, and in doing that I got to observe what people in my area are buying. In my neck of the woods, people like less expensive items. Fiesta Ware is popular, “shabby chic” is in, Golden Books were flying off the shelves and items that were on sale got a lot of attention. I have paid special attention to these observations when shopping for our booth.

With these things in mind, you can plan out the layout of your booth as well as the product you’ll be selling. Once the planning is done, the real work (and the real fun) can begin.

Setting up Your Booth – Making the Most of Your Display Space

The big day has arrived: you are setting up your booth. Your merchandise is neatly organized, tagged, and ready to go. Is your booth set up in a way that optimizes the space?

1. Keep the fixture footprint small. Your booth “real estate” is a valuable asset and it is in your best interest to maximize that space as best you can. Ideally, that means keeping the “footprint” of any fixture to a minimum. Shelving and pegboard are excellent ways to create visually appealing height to your booth. Large tables can hold a lot of merchandise, but they can also take up a lot of precious floor space. By thinking vertically and not horizontally you can get the most of your space.

2. Make the booth inviting. The more time a shopper spends in your booth, the more likely he or she is to find something to purchase. For that reason, you want your booth to invite the shopper in. Some of the most inviting booths have lower display cases near the front, a wide entry way, higher shelves along the sides, and larger items near the back. The lower front makes it easy for a time-pressed shopper to see everything inside the booth while providing a safe and attractive display for the higher-end items in the display case. The wide entry way lets the shopper know its okay to step behind the front display case. The high shelves along the sides of the booth can hold small items that invite the shopper in for a closer look. Larger items towards the back of the booth can be attention grabbers that draw the shopper’s eye into the booth instead of on to the next booth. While your mileage may vary, depending on the nature of your wares and the fixtures available to you, these basic ideas can be drawn upon for all sorts of booth styles.

Dynamic Booths Keep the Regulars Coming Back

It always surprises me to see just how many “regulars” most antique stores have. Smart sellers know that their regulars can be good spenders, but they also know that regulars tire of seeing the same thing over and over again. Even if you can’t add new inventory all the time, the simple rearrangement of a few items every week can really catch the eye of the regular shopper.

Holiday theming can add a nice touch to a booth as well. One of my favorite booths has pastel glassware displayed for Easter, green depression glass and drinking paraphernalia for St. Patrick’s Day, and red and green abound for Christmas.

Booth Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

The biggest mistake that I see at antique stores fall into three categories: sparse booths, cluttered booths, and booby-trap booths.

1. The Sparse Booth. If the shopper can look at every item in your booth in under ten seconds, your booth is probably too sparse to get much attention. A sparse booth is rarely revisited by antique store regulars because it gives the impression that there is nothing new, and it doesn’t attract the eye of the new shopper who has so many other new booths to visit. A sparse booth doesn’t invite the shopper to explore, particularly in a larger antique mall with hundreds of well-stocked, interesting booths. There are exceptions, of course – a few pieces of fine furniture may be more than plenty for a booth, and a single sale of the same can more than justify booth space. More often than not, however, the sparse booth is a “drive by” that generates little interest.

If you have too much booth and not enough inventory, considering shrinking the size of your space. You could save money in unused space, and your booth will look more full.

2. The cluttered booth. There is a fine line between a well-stocked booth and a hot mess and a good seller knows the difference. A messy, cluttered booth may hide some great treasures, but not all shoppers are treasure hunters. The key to keeping a well-stocked booth from looking cluttered is organization. If you have a little bit of everything, try to create sections or areas for certain items: a book nook, a glassware shelf, a tool rack, and so on.

3. The booby-trapped booth. We’ve all seen booths with items so precariously balanced one upon the next that something as simple as a misstep or an unlaced shoe could bring the whole thing toppling to the ground. Many stores enforce the “you break it, you buy it” rule, and customers avoid booths that look like they could be an expensive accident waiting to happen. If you have so much to sell that the only way you can cram it into your space is by piling item upon item, you may wish to consider renting more space or investing in more efficient fixtures.