Wholesalers by Ed Welch
wholesalers occupy a unique place in the antique trade. Generally,
pickers and wholesalers do not sell at antique shows, group shops,
auctions, or from a privately owned shop.
Pickers and wholesalers sell to dealers, collectors, decorators, and
individuals with whom they have established a relationship.
dealer who chooses to sell his or her merchandise at a lower price
to attract a following of other dealers is not necessarily a picker.
A dealer who chooses to sell his or her merchandise at a low price
is not necessarily a wholesale dealer.
Generally, wholesalers tend to be generalists. They buy and sell
anything on which they can make money. Pickers, on the other hand,
tend to be specialists buying a few types of items and serving a
small clientele of buyers.
became an antique dealer in the mid-1960s. I entered the trade as a
wholesaler. I did not become a wholesaler by choice. At that time
there were no group shops, no antique shows, and auctions
specialized in selling to wholesale dealers. I could not afford an
individually owned shop from which I could sell retail. I did not
have the money for a retail shop and I did not have the time to tend
a retail shop.
customers were long-distance haulers who came to Maine once each
year driving 40-foot tractor-trailers. My selling season was March,
April and May.
bought all summer, fall and winter and stored my purchases until
spring. The going wholesale price for an oak commode was $12,
dressers brought $65, and a roll-top desk brought $150. I had to
sell at these prices because I had no other selling outlet.
first group shop in Maine opened in the fall of 1972 in Wells. At
this group shop, I could get $36 for an oak commode, $125 for a
dresser and between $350 and $500 for a roll-top desk. My days as a
wholesaler ended when I rented space in this group shop.
1975, real antique shows began to replace the original “antique
show and sale.” At the original “antique show and sale,” collectors
showed off their collections, hence the term Antique Show. The only
items for sale were their mistakes and things they wanted to dump.
Real antique shows, especially out-of-state shows, offered yet more
opportunities for dealers who were willing to travel.
was a wholesaler selling from my barn, my selling expenses were
zero. When I became a retail dealer selling at group shops and
shows, my selling expenses got out of hand and cut into profits. I
soon realized that I would have to keep a close watch on selling
expenses and recover this money by charging more for my antiques.
time, I sold out of seven group shops and more than 30 out-of-state
antique shows. Shows in New York, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., Miami
and Chicago cost a lot of money.
NOTE: an astute wholesale dealer willing to sell quality merchandise
at less than value in exchange for zero selling expenses can
literally make more profit than a retail dealer on the same item.
Wholesalers and pickers who cheat their regular customers by
withholding some of their best items for retail sale at auctions,
shows like Brimfield, and Internet auctions like eBay, make
additional profit in the short term but lose in the long term
because their customer base disappears.
takes years for a wholesaler or a picker to build a strong
following. It takes much work each year to maintain that following
and to replace buyers lost due to retirement. The first time a
wholesaler or a picker sells one item to someone not on his
clientele list, that wholesaler is for all practical purposes no
longer a wholesaler.
picker, I sell everything to the dealers and collectors who normally
buy from me. The only things I sell on eBay or at local auctions are
things that my regular buyers chose not to purchase. In plain
English, my regular customers get all the good stuff. E Bay and
local auctions get all my junk.
picker, my specialty is medical, dental and optical antiques. I
travel extensively to buy such items. I travel the eastern half of
the United States plus most all the United Kingdom. I buy all year
long. I prefer to buy in large lots such as the contents of an
optical shop, the contents of a dental lab, the tools and equipment
from a retiring doctor, and entire medical
example, last year I bought the entire contents of a hospital put in
long-term storage in 1955. The lot contained nearly 5,000 items. I
am willing to travel any place to inspect and purchase large lots
and entire collections. My buying expenses are extremely high.
Therefore, my selling expenses must be very low.
keep my selling expenses low, I sell just two weeks each year, the
first week in April and the first week in November. If you want to
buy medical, dental and optical antiques from me, you must visit my
selling locations during one of these two weeks.
display at three private shows and one public show during each of my
selling weeks. The private shows are in hotel suites. Attendance is
by invitation only. The public show is at the Metrolina Expo in
Charlotte, N.C. I have had the same booth at this show for 19 years.
than 80 percent of the merchandise I purchased between shows sells
at the next show. I dump through local auctions and eBay almost
everything that does not sell at a show. The few items that I keep
are placed in long-term storage of between three and five years. My
goal is to have 100 percent fresh merchandise for my next selling
merchandise is of two price levels: very expensive and very cheap. I
cater to high-level dealers and to collectors who want the very
best. I also cater to low-end dealers. I purposely avoid the middle
layers of the antique trade. My business strategies are tailored for
a marketplace where only the very best and the cheapest sell.
time, there were many more pickers and wholesalers than there are
today. The lure of fast, cheap money on eBay and online catalogs has
cut into the ranks of what used to be called “The Dealer’s
Remember, the attraction of choosing to be a picker or a wholesaler
is zero, or very cheap, selling expenses in exchange for a lower
price. eBay and online catalogs give wholesalers and pickers cheap
selling expenses plus the advantage of retail selling prices. It is
not surprising that many pickers and wholesalers abandoned their
time, I bought more than 80 percent of my stock from pickers and
wholesale dealers. I now buy less than 10 percent from these
unrealistic, high prices once possible on eBay and online catalogs
are becoming a thing of the past. Today, eBay has abandoned the
antique trade, the very thing that made eBay possible. It appears
eBay makes more than 90 percent of its income selling automobiles,
consumer electronic devices, and new merchandise.
needs to ponder how much time and resources are devoted to improving
services for the antiques and collectible trade. One also needs to
consider what will happen the next time eBay must cut jobs. Will
eBay cut the jobs of that portion of its business that produces 90
percent of its income? Will eBay cut the support staff, or even the
entire service, of that portion of its business that produces less
than 10 percent of its income?
addition to being a high-level picker of medical-related antiques, I
am also a mid-level dealer who chooses to sell an entirely different
collectible through online catalogs. Because marketing techniques
differ between the levels of antiques, I am forced to maintain three
selling strategies, high-level medical, low-level medical and
not mix my mid-level collectibles with my high-level or low-level
medical antiques. My mid-level collectibles are bought separately,
stored separately, and marketed separately. I do not take mid-level
collectibles along on my two, one-week selling sessions.
Selling expense for the “picker” part of my business is less than 3
percent of the cost of goods sold. Selling expenses for my mid-level
business average between 10 and 18 percent of the cost of goods
mid-level portion of my antiques business has the largest overhead
because profit margins at this level tend to be smaller. Therefore,
the only way to make worthwhile profits at this level is by
aggressively going after sales. The only way for a business to
attract more customers is by advertising. Because I sell mid-level
collectibles on the Internet using an online catalog, my advertising
costs are Internet related.
engines, the cyberspace tool for finding almost everything on the
Internet, are no longer free. I pay thousands of dollars each year
for search engine listings that five years ago were free. I pay to
be included in online business directories. I pay to take expensive
computer training and programming courses to learn source page
search engines are changing cheap and free Internet selling into
expensive selling. Paid search engines are changing the nature of
Internet catalog sales from wholesale to retail. Will this change in
Internet selling costs once again open a gap between the wholesale
trade and retail, a gap that can be filled with a new crop of
wholesalers and pickers?
think the answer is yes. I also believe that this new crop of
pickers and wholesalers will fully understand internet selling, be
more specialized, serve fewer clients, and be more than willing to
sell at prices low enough to allow their repeat customers enough
mark-up to make a real profit.
This is an online directory
of Maine Antique Dealers
This is a Search Engine database for New England and Northeast Art
and Antiques Trades
This is a do it yourself message board that users can use free of
charge to ask questions about the value and identification of antiques