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Melanie Mills Bell • 3 years ago

Hi! I am thinking about starting a small antique (painted furniture and original finds), along with new home decor and gift items. I want to do a stand alone small building in style with the business at my home address. What should I do first? What should I avoid? Do you think this is a good idea?

I'm in a small town of less than 50k. The downtown area is picking up and revitalizing. A few antique dealers have popped up recently and seem to be doing well in the downtown area but I don't want to pay rent to someone and with this scenario, worst case, I get a storage building out of the attempt.

I should also mention that I have a full time Monday - Friday career and I would only post open hours of Saturday & Sunday. I guess this would mostly be a side gig doing what I love and (hopefully) making a little profit to make it feasible.


Carla Aston • 3 years ago

Did you check out one of the other articles published here featuring Mona Thompson from Providence Design? They said to start small and they started in an antique mall where they rented a booth. Might be a good set up, since you have a regular job. Then you can test the waters so to speak. Here's that blogpost. https://carlaaston.com/desi...

Neena C Smith • 4 years ago

Dear Joanie,
How are you? I live in Hong Kong and I would like to move to Nashville. I am a freelance fashion designer and now I would like to have my own label and start a boutique there. I have been through a bad divorce and now I am coming out of it. I want to settle on my own and be financially strong. Do you have any suggestions for me on how to set up in Nashville.

Thank you very much,


Ryan S. • 5 years ago

Hi Joanie,

Having read this article for 3 times, it's truly inspirational and thank you for your valuable advice.

My plan is to only start as an e-commerce, but what are the challenges as compared to brick and mortar? I'm from Asia, where do I start looking for suppliers?

joanie_ballard • 5 years ago

Hello Ryan S.,

My work experience is more in the brick and mortar area, although I do a fair amount of the e-commerce work on our website but with someone who is in charge of the heavy technical and SEO aspects. I personally love choosing our product lines and the creativity that entails, and I do have input into the design of the website as well. Those are fun areas for me.

The difference between owning a brick & mortar and doing a website? Well, I love the daily interactions with customers in my shop & gallery. I miss that close relationship when working online. It's a bit more removed. Setting up our website was also very challenging due to the unusual nature of our products - numerous SKUs in our fine gift area, home decor, etc.. that often changed and evolved. And then there are our gallery works. Two different customer bases although they both intersect from time to time.

Finding the right website platform was key. We went through several design upgrades over many years until we finally found one that works for us. But we are a small operation, one store, one website for the shop and one website for the gallery.

If you love working on website design, data, customer service, and developing a brand, then having only an e-commerce sight would suit you. If you can do all of it yourself, that's great. It can be costly hiring a website management company, or someone who oversees all aspects of your website development from start to finish.

As far as suppliers, just start researching trade shows, merchant markets etc...near you for whatever area you are interested in pursuing. Ask your suppliers a lot of questions regarding e-commerce and supplier relationships once you find your sources. Product availability, shipping time, payment terms, website contracts, are all areas that you need a firm grasp before going forward.

Thanks for your questions, Ryan. I hope this helps!

Frances K. • 5 years ago

Hi Joanie!
It was great reading your advice and I will take it to heart. I've been dreaming of owning my own home decor shop, but I'm afraid of failing. My biggest worry is being financially successful, where do I get the money? How much money do I need to start up? Where do I find my merchandise? I love all things vintage and antique and have started a collection for my future shop, can I sell these?

This is the first time I've ventured out with questions about my dream, so I appreciate any advice and your time.


Joan Ballard • 5 years ago

Hello Frances,
Thank you for your question. I can say with confidence that I too was afraid of failing when I decided to go forward with a French-inspired, artful retail shop in a small town. As I look back 19 years ago, I was a little naive with the idea of "If you build it they will come." But I was also confidently passionate in my vision. It sounds like you are passionate about vintage and antiques. Antiques and "green" items are very popular these days. There are so many large venues around the country where you can do research, make connections, and also find unique vintage and antique items to re-sell. Depending on your focus, here are a few of the best places I would recommend to buy and do research on antiques and vintage items - Round Top Antiques Fair: www.roundtoptexasantiques.com/, Brimfield Antique Show: https://brimfieldantiquefle..., Marburger Farm Antiques Show: http://www.roundtop-marburg.... I would take the time to travel to these fairs and see how other businesses work in the environment you are familiar with, and focus on making contacts and obtain information on other fairs, dealers or markets in the country.

When I started my business, I felt solid with what I knew and what I didn't know about running a retail business. I realized I need to attend business workshops and trade shows around the country, speak to other small retailers, do tons of research in my areas of interest, and eventually start small. Starting small was the best thing I did. As we grew, I delegated things I was not good at to others so I could focus on what I was good at. If you want to create a huge retail business right away you will need very deep pockets.

With my business, I tested the waters with my ideas, tried several key products for my market, researched and knew my target audience in my area really well, made sure to research product pricing, and just trusted my instincts. Fortunately for me, my instincts were pretty good, however, sometimes they weren't but I learned from the mistakes and always used that to my advantage going forward.

The first few months of my business was such an eye opener. My products were well received, and I saw that I continued to learn how to work with customers and build relationships through common interests. I also dove into our local community to volunteer in areas I saw I could assist. Partnering with other business on joint projects is also a great way to learn about how others run their business. Everything is out there for you to learn from, good or bad.

As far as how much money you need, I am not sure how to answer that. It really depends on what your business is going to be about, where you want to sell, where you want to rent or buy a building, how many employees, etc.. Many businesses start with family loans, credit cards, and bank loans. We made sure we had at least 3-5 years of money available to use for the business products alone, at the beginning. Any less and you may find yourself not being able to adjust to slow times. As our business grew, we just kept saving but also putting a lot of our profits back into the business. That is the hardest part because you will do without your favorite needs for periods of time, but the end result will make you more confident as you go from month to month with your ideas, events, projects and new areas of interest and as you grow your business.

Budget, budget, budget. Know exactly where the money is going, what your profit margins are. Stick to the budget as much as you can. It will be fun, challenging, stressful, you will think about your business and work 7 days a week. I am not the only business owner that will tell you this. But if you love all that you are doing and creating, the down times reap better times. As corny as it sounds, a positive vision and focus really do work, along with financial acumen.

Finally, take time for yourself to re-charge. It will be hard to find the time, but it is essential if for anything but your quality of life in the retail world..

I hope this helps in some way, Frances. Good luck with your future business endeavors!

All the best,
Joanie Ballard