There’s more to running an antiques shop than having an eye for a bargain (although that skill is essential). You’ll also need sound business sense and know exactly how to target your audience. Practical experience of dealing with antiques is essential before you go it alone, so if you’ve not worked in an antique shop before it’s time to start thinking about it.

What will you sell?

High street antique shops will generally sell items of popular aesthetic appeal to a mass-market. These are low-value and occasionally mid-value items. You may buy your stock from a range of locations including car boot sales, other antique shops and online.

Specialist antique shops rely less on footfall and more on the needs of its audience; collectors will often be looking in a particular niche and will visit the shop for a particular item or advice. Specialist shops deal in more expensive goods; the collector may appreciate the goods’ history or provenance or be attracted to the aesthetics.

Deciding the type of antique shop you’ll run is key as it affects a huge range of decisions including how much it’ll cost to start up your antique shops, the types of marketing you’ll pursue, whether you need a high-street/public-facing location or a highly secure lock-up, the level of insurance cover you need, what type of relationships you need to secure, etc.

Developing knowledge

Creating profit from antiques works around a single principle: believing you can sell an item for more than you pay to buy it. If you can’t do this consistently, you’ll make a loss or break even, and your company will fail. Knowing what items to buy therefore comes down to understanding the value of a range of items and being able to spot a bargain based on what the item is, its quality, and general demand.

This is a lifelong learning process but you’ll need a very developed knowledge before you start your antique shop – that’s why it’s worth gaining practical experience working for an antiques dealer before you take the leap.

You should also be aware of any industry publications for your niche (or general publications if you run a mass market antique shop) that detail the average price for thousands of goods – these can be useful until you get a feel for the market.

What type of location will you need?

If most or all of your sales are organised personally, then you may not need a public-facing location, saving you thousands of pounds each year in rent and overheads. The disadvantage of this is that most personally-organised sales will be for high-value items, so you’ll still have to invest heavily in your business for suitable stock.

If you do want to rely partially or completely on footfall, a decent location is important. Some more specialist shops operate a fixed location but are out of the town centre, and are thus visited specially or through appointment. It all depends on the type of stock being offered. The more specialist and higher-value the items, the more personalised the service will need to be.

Auction houses

Auction houses can form a large part of your operation or a small part, depending on what type of goods you deal in. Most auction houses will only deal with a particular niche or higher-value items, and if you need to travel to them you’ll need to factor in the cost of petrol and overnight expenses to see if a sale is worthwhile or not.

Also bear in mind that many visitors will be shrewd buyers which can make it difficult to find a bargain – whether you succeed will often come down to conditions on the day. Test the water until you get a feel for auctions; they may or may not work for you.

Training and development

Courses are available that prepare you for starting your own antique dealership, although you don’t legally need qualifications to do so.

Some people specialise in a certain area by studying an undergraduate degree or shorter course such as history of art, fine art or decorative arts. There are a number of post-graduate courses including Arts Market Appraisal as well as education programmes at auction houses Southeby’s and Christie’s.

Shorter courses – often up to a year – are available from a variety of organisations. These will typically be more specialised than broader degrees, and can help you gain theoretical, focused knowledge alongside practical experience gained in an antique shop.

For more information the British Antique Dealers’ Association (BADA) is the best port of call; they can also advise on starting out on your own.

Start-up costs

Specialist antique shops will often require higher start-up costs with regard to stock, as you’ll need to finance the high-value items that your niche market is interested in. However, your rent and overheads will be lower as you won’t need a prominent location that guarantees regular football. General antique shops will require a decent location, which may involve retrofitting the shop for purpose, as well as a sizeable and diverse range of stock.

It’s difficult to come to an actual figure because antique shops vary so widely, but you can probably start a very basic shop for around £10,000, which could easily climb to £250,000+ for certain specialties e.g. fine or niche art.

Insurance and compliance

Public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance are recommended to protect you against third-party lawsuits. You’ll also need employer’s liability insurance when you take on your first staff member.

While no specific legislation exists to cover the operations of antique dealers, they may be subject to some compliance regulations depending on what they do. Antiques over a certain age and value must have an export license under the Export of Goods (Control) Order. Contact the British Antique Dealers' Association (BADA) for more information.

Selling antiques abroad that are made from endangered animal or plant products will need a CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) license. Speak to DEFRA for information.

Antique dealers that receive over 15,000 euros in cash for any single transaction must be registered with HM Revenue & Customs and put in place money laundering systems in order to comply with the Money Laundering Regulations.