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Running a business offline – know your market and your value

Should you use online channels to help grow your offline business? Independent antiques dealer Andrew Davis shares his experience of maintaining footfall and business offline.
Offline business
Andrew Davis, runs an independent antiques dealership based in Kew

I’ve run an antiques shop for nearly 50 years.

In that time, a lot of things have changed.

Tastes, prices and shopping habits have all fluctuated, often in recurring patterns.

Antiques markets and stalls are currently full of mid-century furniture that I couldn’t give away in the 1970s

But the one thing that has permanently changed the landscape for business owners and shopkeepers has been the introduction of simple online trading platforms. Affordable and easy to use, they enable people to access new markets and audiences with their products.

But if you’re looking to adapt your business model to sell online, it’s key you don’t lose what makes it work offline.

Is your product suited to online sales?

For me, the difficulty is the nature of my product. Antiques and paintings are difficult to sell online. They’re unique items and most have an interesting history that makes them appealing to potential customers. This means online sales platforms need to be painstakingly updated, which can be very time consuming – it takes around half an hour to photograph, write a description for and upload a single item for sale online. There’s also every chance that someone will walk into the shop the next day and buy the item you’ve just advertised online. Delivery is also troublesome – canvas and wood aren’t the most robust of materials, especially when they’re over a century old.

People tend not to purchase high value items like paintings and furniture online. A luxury buy like a painting is something we naturally want to see up close and in detail – so even high res images feel lacklustre when it comes to marketing paintings and large pieces of furniture.

Helping sole traders

Asto can help you manage your business admin when you’re on the move. Send invoices, record your expenses and get an overview of your accounts now.

Know your abilities, manage your resource

At the risk of sounding technophobic, there are areas of my business where I know my time will deliver a far higher return on investment than managing social media accounts or digital marketing. This is why I made a conscious decision not to sell online but to focus on the product.

If your business is running well offline, it’s important to look at how pivoting to a new platform can affect this – don’t just put yourself on social because you think you have to – as you may not have the time, skill, or customer base there. Speak to experts to understand what new tasks or responsibilities you might have and balance those against your current workload.

"If your business is running well offline, it’s important to look at how pivoting to a new platform can affect this"

Specialise without compromise

If you want to buy a watch, you’re likely to visit a website you know stocks a large number of watches, rather than browse several websites that might have a watch on the off-chance you’ll find something interesting.

This demand for specialisation has led to a lot of antiques dealers and shopkeepers changing their business model as they moved towards online sales, and unfortunately sacrificing what made their proposition work offline.

Before taking a business online, it’s key to look at how much time and energy you’ll need to put in to adapt your model, and to ensure that you’re confident this won’t undermine what already works.

Andrew's Antiques

Work within your community

I’ve been lucky enough to hold the same premises for over 40 years now. While they aren’t in a primary shopping area, I’m able to generate repeat custom from people who know what I do and where I am. It sounds simple, but reliability within a community can be key to building a customer base. People don’t need antiques as regularly as they might other services, but I do have a number of regular customers who know they can call on me for presents or purchases of a particular nature.

If you’re able to build a reputation in your community and nurture this with a range of reliable services, this can grow exponentially with minimal marketing effort, helping you focus on what it is you actually want to do.

Andrew Davis is an independent antiques dealer based in Kew. He doesn’t have a website, but you can contact him on 0208 948 4911 or visit his shop on Mortlake Terrace.