Starting an Antiques and Collectibles Business: A History Lesson
Mo Bachman of Portland’s Kenton Antiques and Collectibles is more than just the owner of a cool retro-flavored shop full of everything from Lenin posters to more Roy Rogers memorabilia than you could ever shake a six-shooter at.
Bachman has also become a force of good for her North Portland neighborhood, hosting and volunteering for many causes that matter most to her and the residents in her part of town.
Her store, Kenton Antiques, has been in operation for 20-plus years, and is a staple on the North Portland treasure hunting circuit. She shares lessons in starting an antiques and collectibles business.
“Treasure hunting is how I came across this shop 5 years ago, and it brought me back time and again, said Bachman. “In September of 2009, I came into the shop to spend some birthday time and money, and found that the shop was going to be sold….I thought nothing of it, until 3 days later when I realized it was all I had been thinking about; scary since at the time I was working a “career” job for Vestas American Wind Technology, and didn’t see myself doing anything else. So, in November 2009, without in-depth thought, or anything more than a deep desire and a wing and a prayer I took ownership of Kenton Antiques.”
So Bachman decided to take the plunge and buy the business. Since then Bachman has worked tirelessly to create a space that combines antiques with vintage, and history with a current feeling. “I’ve become more and more drawn to the idea of collecting, and am fascinated with what people collect, why they collect it, and what it all means,” said Bachman. “Over time, the space will develop as a found object, antique treasure trove, but also as a canvas by which to explore the culture of the collector — to celebrate these objects which take on deeper meaning, and which all in their way lead us closer to that special feeling of Home.”
Townsquared asked Bachman to answer a few questions and here is what she had to say:
Townsquared: Mo, how old are you?
Bachman: Just turned 37 last week!
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Oakland, California. Went to college at UC Santa Cruz and moved to Portland on a whim in 2005.
Were you a collector growing up and what do you collect?
In the Bay Area there are incredible flea markets almost every day of the week. My grandpa and I had a really special relationship growing up, and one of the things we would do for fun was go to flea markets to look for bolo ties. I bought my first typewriter when I was around 12 years old, and it started a lifelong passion for writing and for the machines! I’ve managed to pair down my typewriter collection to under 10 (from 50+ machines) and in the process snagged the Typewriter Repair man, so can’t complain! Now I collect a variety of things — mainly antique medical, antique books (especially antique books on the formation of the Pacific Northwest). And I suppose my largest, and oddest collection is my pocket tape measure collection. I’m going on about 400 of them now, can’t really say why, but I love them.
Do you remember anything about going to antique stores or malls as a child?
There was an antique store in Alameda, (California), Paulines. I always wanted to go there when I was growing up, and she was the sweetest woman. Most antique stores scoff at kids, and she made it a point to make me feel welcome, and she really nurtured my interest in older items, as well as the historical context behind each item.
Were you also going to garage and yard sales and Goodwill?
All through college I would hit up Craigslist Free / Garage Sales etc, and buy stuff free or as cheap as possible and then clean them up and have garage sales every few months. It was a great way to make extra income and ended up with some pieces that I still have in my collection today.
What do you do and what is your title?
I have owned Kenton Antiques since 2009. I do everything – I do estate sales, I buy estates, I clean/restore items for sale, maintain four online shops as well as a brick and mortar. I keep myself pretty busy!
How many small businesses have you helped with your work?
I love helping other business owners. It took me a year or two to figure out the best way to market and sell items online, and when I see fellow shop owners struggling with how to move their merchandise onto the Internet, I feel compelled to step in and help save them the time, headaches and missteps I took along the way. Consulting with other small shops about their inventory and coming up with sales strategies is one of my favorite things to do (in all my free time). I have also been the president of my business district for three years now, and being able to grow a business community has been such important work for me, I really take great pleasure in being able to see myself and my business grow along with others in the neighborhood!
Starting an antiques and collectibles business is about passion
Is opening an antique store a good opportunity for people looking to get into small business?
I am not going to lie. Opening a small business is a HUGE risk. An antique store is a double challenge as we are increasingly living in a world where disposable is king, and where trends pass in an instant. I decided from the very first day that I took ownership of Kenton Antiques, that I was going to make my store accessible to ALL. It is important that I cultivate a love of history and the history that each item has to a younger generation. A lot of antique stores are going under because older owners aren’t able to really understand the importance of separating the story each item has with what they perceive the “value” of each item to be. If you want to open an antique store you need to be passionate about history, about design, about what each item represents in historical context and what meaning it can have once it leaves your store with a new owner. I am not ever going to get rich owning an antique store, but I am truly happy with my chosen life, and I love sharing that passion with other folks who want the items in their lives to have more meaning, and be less disposable.
Does it matter, as a small business, what you call yourself in the resale business?
I definitely think in the resale business you need to decide what type of a store you want to be. There is an implied difference between an antique store and a thrift store; they operate on different models and both serve an integral role in the resale world. My passion aligns me with older items with unique stories, but I LOVE thrift/consignment/resale shops, not only because I’ve found great antiques in them, but because I have been able to outfit my house and most of my wardrobe with second-hand items. Pick a shop that aligns with your interests and values and you can’t go wrong!
What makes a good antique store?
I actually got into the business because I was tired of going to antique shops selling stuff from the 1990s as “antique,” or beautiful furniture that’s all been white-washed. I want an antique store full of unusual items, well-organized but not overly curated. I love the feeling of walking into a shop and thinking, “Oh, I know I’m going to find something in here.” I love a shop with a bit of mystery to it.
What makes a good antique mall?
Vendors with eclectic tastes that update their booths regularly. The Stars Antique Malls, in Portland’s Sellwood neighborhood, has the format nailed. And if you are thinking of opening a successful antique mall, I’d definitely recommend going to as many as you can in Portland and in other states. After a while you’ll get a good feel for what works and what doesn’t work in an antique mall.
In the current economic environment, is opening an antique store as a first business for young entrepreneurs a good idea?
It depends on what you want out of life. I am not going to get rich, and sometimes you have to work harder and longer than you ever have just to scrape by another month. Dedication and passion are critical for getting through the rough patches when starting an antiques and collectibles business. Always being willing to change things up helps tremendously. I love the living I am making, and I love the people I am meeting, and I am always excited about what tomorrow holds. At the end of the day, I think that antique stores are invaluable and I don’t want to see any more of them go away. I’d love to see new ones open up and be successful!
Is it best to start small and open up a booth in an antique mall?
I think this is a great way to get a feel for what people are interested in buying, and it’s a great way to see how a business runs on a small scale. I think it’s a perfect opportunity to dip your feet into the antique market and see if you can make a splash!
Can starting at a antique mall be profitable or is it better as a spot to dip your toe in and see if it is something you like doing?
I know folks that have gone from having spaces in antique malls to having their own shops, and I also know people that supplement their income, and even a few that do it as a full time job, having spaces in several antique malls throughout the area. I think it’s a great way to start whether it’s just a hobby, or if you are interested in seeing if it could have long-term viability.
Is it getting harder to find cool stuff to put in antique stores?
YES. I am SO TIRED of going to sales full of IKEA furniture and basically disposable quality art/furnishings. I really want to teach people that you can outfit your home with unique items, functional and decorative, that were made to last forever, and that can really reflect your personality in a way that shit from IKEA or Urban Outfitters can’t. If you think about the amount of money people spend on throwaway merchandise, it’s boggling. We have been trained to trend shop and what I want to convey through my store is that you can find pieces that reflect you and that are timeless. You can change your whole look and still have antique/vintage pieces that transition with you through each style change.
What are the hot items that people are always asking for?
Functional antiques – things that look cool and can also be used – dressers, small tables, home decor items are always an easy sell!
If someone were to open an antique store what kind of product would you encourage them to sell?
I’ll say this: you have to be passionate about what you are selling. If you don’t have an interest in it, it won’t sell. I’ve had items in my store that I just wasn’t into, and as a result no one else was either. But if I bring in something that may serve no purpose, but I LOVE TO PIECES, it’s often the first thing that sells. People want to have authentic connections with items, and I love seeing people finding items that genuinely excite them!
What tips do you have for a person that wishes to enjoy antique and collectible markets while on a budget?
Spend the time. Look high, look low. There are treasures out there but you have to be willing to spend the time to look and possibly get dirty while doing it. If you don’t like the price, feel free to respectfully negotiate. As an owner, when I see someone develop an attachment to an item in my shop, I am always willing to work to find a way to make sure that item ends up with them. Worst case, they say no to your offer, but it never hurts to ask, as long as you are respectful and fair.
Is it important to be close to other antique shops or coffee shops?
I think the more antique shops, the merrier. People love to wander around a shop and I find when there are several in an area, people spend longer in each store. And that translates to sales. Having coffee shops and great lunch spots in the area is a huge bonus. We want people to come to the neighborhood to pick up a library book and accidentally spend the whole day enjoying everything the area has to offer.
Visit Kenton Antiques and Collectibles at 8112 N. Denver Ave in Portland, Oregon.