News & Events
Discover Mid-America October 2005
Good mall management
marked by diverse styles and opinions
by Terri Baumgardner
Strolling through an antique mall can give one a sense of history, along with discovering the places and people of today.
That's because each mall has its own personality, a reflection
of the geographical area it's located in as well as the people who do
Such distinctions — some subtle, some not —
affect shoppers, mall owners, managers and dealers. And it impacts where
we go to shop, what we shop for and how much we pay for an antique. Making
it work can be called “the art of mall management.”
Knowing the experience
The shopping experience can be shaped by whether or not a mall owner or manager has knowledge of antiques and collectibles. Shoppers who want to know the history or value of an antique prefer doing business with a mall manager whose management experience is well grounded in the trade and the changes affecting it.
"When I go to an auction, other dealers buy like there is no competition from eBay," said Carol Jacobs, owner and manager of Antique Ames in Ames, IA.
"(Internet shopping) is something young people are comfortable to do, so it is going to grow in that respect. But what you provide in a mall is the shopping experience. The ability to handle things, and know something about them."
While all mall owners or managers emphasize a keen sense of business in operating a successful antique mall, some put equal importance on a knowledge or interest in antiques.
In fact, Jacobs credits the success of her Iowa mall with her own experience as a dealer. Jacobs worked as a dealer in the mall before she purchased the business in 1995.
Customers' shopping experience at Jacobs' Antique Ames is enhanced by window displays and dealer displays. What's more, Jacobs' mall is housed in a mid-1800’s building, which is situated in Ames' cultural and historic district.
"The former owner really didn't have a powerful interest in antiques," Jacobs said. "They simply rented space. I think there is a difference, I think the involvement of the owner, their own collecting, buying and selling, being directly involved with customers makes a big difference."
While no one person can carry a vast knowledge of every antique or collectible, mall owners and managers must be willing to research an item for
a customer. And, many mall managers do maintain a stock of antique books for research and reading. If Bruce Leimkuehler, manager of Brass Armadillo Antique Mall in Grain Valley, MO near Kansas City, doesn't have information on a particular antique, he's sure to have a book that does.
"We maintain over $50,000 of reference books, for sale and for research," Leimkuehler said. "We're open to the general public to review the books."
Mission Road Antique Mall not only maintains a library of reference books for employees to research information for customers, but the dealers are knowledgeable of antiques.
"I was a dealer," said Casey Ward, owner and manager of Mission Road Antique Mall in Prairie Village, KS. "I was raised around antiques, my parents were antiquers. But the antique field is so vast you can't be expert on every aspect of it. So, you want to surround yourself with knowledgeable dealers."
So it is that the success of an antique mall depends, in part, on its dealers. That's also a challenge in mall management.
"Here's the thing about antique malls," Ward said, "They could be a house of cards. Most of them, the only assets they have are dealer leases. So you need to be certain those dealers are well established, happy in your mall and are
going to stay in your mall. When malls go under, dealers start a max exodus (and) you get too many spaces to fill. Then, you have a half-empty mall, and that's the beginning of your end."
While some owners and managers believe it is important to
have a genuine interest in antiques and collectibles to operate a successful
mall, others do not. For them, an antique mall is simply a business.
Ward, who purchased her antique mall in June and oversees 350 dealers, also places great importance of mall owners and managers knowing their customer base.
"The economy has hurt the antique business," Ward said. "So many malls have closed, we're probably one of the last two or three in the city. However, we're positioned in a really established, affluent area of the city. A lot of our customers are people who frequent the mall often. Interior designers come here with their customers. We've seen a resurgence in the industry in the last few months, sales have started to upturn. And, that, is going to be the trend in the next few years."
Patty Hoover, owner and manager of Hoovers Have All Mall in Claremore,
OK also sees an upswing in the industry. Especially in primitive furniture and all things Western, be it horse stir-ups or saddles.
Hoover credits word of mouth advertising amongst dealers and customers with her success in business. Publicity doesn't hurt any thing, either.
"We were picked the best mall in Oklahoma by Oklahoma Living magazine," said Hoover, who opened her mall in 1986 before moving to its current location in 1989. "We've been very fortunate with a waiting list of dealers all these years. I think we're well established; we were the second mall to open in Oklahoma. Being established as long as we have has helped."
Hoover also credits her success to the name of her antique and collectibles mall.
"A mall's success is not to just have that many antiques," Hoover said. "People claim to have antique malls, they're not antiques. That's why we stayed away from the word, that's the secret."
According to Hoover, a collectible is an item that is 50 years old or older whereas an antique is an item more than 100 years old.
As shoppers will discover, there are as many different types of antique malls as there are dealers. Some specialize in collectibles, others in antiques.
"Attracting good dealers, keeping the mall full, keeping up with the trends in the industry," Ward said. "That's what's been so important about staying in business, the face of the business has changed."
One such change, as noted by Brass Armadillo's corporate headquarters, is the rise of entrepreneurism.
"We look to the future from the standpoint that we are entering a time where baby boomers are starting retirement," said Brass Armadillo's Vice President Dave Briddle. "A survey shows 80 percent of baby boomers are going to be looking for a part-time business or part-time job. We are working towards that, fitting ourselves with retirees for part-time businesses."
At Hoovers Have All Mall, Hoover keeps abreast of various antiques and collectibles to help her newer dealers.
" Reading, research, every day I learn something new," said Patty Hoover. "We have reference books — I don't waste a minute. At home, I've got an antique book in front of me. I stay up on all the antique books. It is important because with a new dealer, I'm liable to see a $100 item (tagged) for ten cents. So I pull it and tell the dealer, 'You're giving it away.'"
Another trend amongst antique and collectible mall dealers is that some of them once owned their own shops. They even place a banner above their booth with the name of their shop.
Indeed, many small shop owners join forces with antique malls because of the downturn in the economy in recent years. Some shop owners rent a booth to enhance their shop's profit margins. Others closed their storefronts, tossing aside the overhead expenses of owning a business to simply rent a booth in an antique mall.
"As many as 40 percent of our dealers have shops of their own and use their space to augment business, or had their own shops," Ward said. "It gives them freedom to go out sourcing merchandise, such as going to France to shop."
Which is a good thing for both mall owners and shoppers, because dealers have time to study trends, shop for antiques and collectibles in anticipation of what shoppers are searching to buy.
Ward not only depends on her dealers' initiative to anticipate shoppers' buying trends, she encourages it. The former dealer regularly pens a newsletter for her dealers, and provides them with industry publications to keep them informed of the market place. Ward even brainstorms with her dealers.
"We have a dealer work night once a month," Ward said. "We talk, order pizza and kick ideas around about what's coming up."
And at Mission Road Antique Mall that means dealers trade in fine furniture, china, silver and antique jewelry.
"Vintage brooches have been so big that has gotten people interested in vintage jewelry, choosing antique rings for wedding rings," Ward said. "More young men are buying vintage bracelets and necklaces for their girlfriends and wives. And, people are accessorizing their homes with architectural pieces, using them over mantels and doorways."
By staying apprised of market trends, Ward's dealers anticipate
what shoppers will want to buy, often times, before they sign the credit
"A lot of our dealers take it a step further in acquiring vintage pieces," Ward said. "I see trends going back to fine formal, high-end furniture like Fine English, French, American, Chinese pieces — big armoires, china cabinets, dining room sets. We're seeing more people buy vintage or Victorian chairs, sofas, and having them recovered to use as their main furniture pieces."
Mall owners and managers see a trend in shoppers buying habits for items that can be utilized — not just showpieces housed in a glass case.
"They are more conscience of what they purchase," said Leimkuehler, manager of Brass Armadillo's Kansas City mall. "Whereas, two or three years ago, they bought it just because the liked it. Now, need and function is priority."
Brass Armadillo's vice-president echoes the point.
"In the late ‘90s, a larger percent of our business was dealer to dealer sales, accounting for about 45 percent of our business," said Dave Briddle of Brass Armadillo's corporate office in Ankeny, IA.
"That has reduced to about 25 percent of our business. Collecting shows and home decorating shows are popular; which is becoming a large trend for people to look for older merchandise to decorate their home. The trend has added new values that weren't there ten years ago."
Yet, Brass Armadillo's Des Moines's mall manager doesn't gear his merchandise to trends. Rather, his eye is towards collectibles.
"There's not really a trend, the customer is always looking for something to add to their collection," said Rick Nehman, Brass Armadillo's Des Moines mall manger.
Regardless of whether a mall is geared towards antiques or collectibles, there is a trend in how shoppers shop. Internet shopping, especially through eBay, became hip, convenient and easy. Its effect became a negative impact on some malls' sales.
So many malls created their own Internet presence with websites geared towards shoppers and tourism. And mall owners began to lure shoppers back to the malls by enhancing the shopping experience.
As Ward said, a mall owner must know who their customers are to cater to their interests. According to mall owners and managers, more shoppers are women than men. Although shoppers' ages range between 35 to 60 years old, the trend is towards younger buyers.
"Younger people are beginning to get the message, antiques retain value," Ward said. "It's a nesting trend. People are spending more money on their homes because they are spending more time there. So, they want substantial pieces, pieces that have history and meaning."
Terri Baumgardner is a Blue Springs, MO-based freelance writer.
Mission Road Antique Mall
Prairie Village, KS
Owner and Manager, Casey Ward
The mall is a two-story, 50,000 square feet mall, which houses an award-winning bistro. Featuring 350 dealers, Mission Road Antique Mall trades in general merchandise while also specializing in fine furniture and high-end collectibles.
Hoovers Have All Mall
The Brass Armadillo Antique Malls
Discover Mid-America founder and Senior Contributing Editor Ken Weyand files regular reports on notable Midwest destinations. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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