Scottie Porter’s antique-selling secrets

By Karen Parr-Moody

 

Scottie Porter doesn’t enjoy the treasure hunt behind finding antiques – despite this being a trait that defines nearly every antique dealer on the planet.

 

“That is not fun to me,” he said. “It truly is work.”

 

Porter operates Sterling Bridges Antiques in a strategic manner, as audience members learned during his recent GasLamp Too Tea@Too presentation. During the talk, Porter revealed his background, which was the perfect storm for success: He learned about antiques from his knowledgeable grandmother, then spent years in a banking career.  

 

“The banking definitely helped a lot, because in banking we work on a macroeconomics level,” he said. “We get down to the nuts and bolts of each transaction.”

 

For 17 years, Porter kept his antiques business as a part-time operation. He now works full-time in antiques, specializing in dining room sets. Based in Birmingham, Ala., he operates six booths in Birmingham and Nashville; one of those booths is in the original GasLamp and another is in GasLamp Too. His goal each month? To make at least four times the rent he pays on his booths.

 

“Four times the rent is healthy,” Porter said. “Five times the rent, you’re making money – good money.”

 

During his Tea@Too talk, Porter encouraged GasLamp dealers to maximize web-based media by posting their merchandise on the GasLamp Facebook site, their personal Facebook sites, an Ebay site and on Craigslist. He references every piece of merchandise in his GasLamp booths on Craigslist, noting, “Right now I probably have 50 ads on Craigslist.”

 

Porter also advised dealers to put business cards in their booths. Such cards should include the dealer’s business website address, if he or she has one, his or her booth number, a Facebook page address and the GasLamp’s hours of operation and store phone number.

 

Porter gave a lot of advice about sourcing antiques. He even revealed his “personal secret” to success, which was developing a strong relationship with an auction house.

 

“In the long run it’s hard to beat that buying process,” he said. “They can’t give you a discount at an auction, but they can drop the hammer faster if you’re their regular customer and you’re there every week and you spend $8,000 three or four times a month.”

 

Porter said that he buys 99 percent of his inventory at auction; last year he spent more than $100,000 with one house. He said that once he started buying a lot of merchandise, he would tell the auction house the type of antiques he wanted and they would find them for him.

 

Everyone isn’t spending the amount of money at auction that Porter is, and he understands that businesses have different scales. But, he stressed, even spending $300 or $400 a week at an auction house will foster a relationship that will lead to better buys.

 

Porter also recommended sourcing antiques at Scott’s Antique Markets in Atlanta, which occurs the second weekend of each month (www.scottantiquemarket.com). Another hotspot is the Olde Mobile Antiques Gallery (www.oldemobile.com). That market occurs the first weekend of each month in Mobile, Ala., and is where Porter once bought a Waterford crystal bowl for $12 that was worth around $175.

 

Porter has also perused Facebook “trading sites” for inventory, including Mountain Brook Trader, Vestavia Trader and Brentwood Trader. This route can be time-consuming, he said, but it can yield big returns – such as the time he bought a “drop-dead gorgeous” Chippendale dining room set for “pennies on the dollar” through a Birmingham trading site.

 

At the core of Porter’s business is the belief in going big and bold.

 

“One of the things that has made my business successful is that I am willing to jump out there and take a risk and rent a big space,” he said.

 

He also goes big with his operation. He arrives at auctions with a big truck and movers, which gives him an edge over dealers “who may only have a 10-by-10-foot booth and a minivan and no helpers.” Such a practice may yield him, for example, a $200 dining room set with 12 chairs that he can then put it in his booth for $6,000.

 

Porter rarely buys at estate sales because of the time involved and the general lack of discounts offered to antique dealers. But when he does, he said, “I’m in a 26-foot truck. I’ve got three guys with me. And I just go through collecting tags. Then I argue for two hours about the price. If I’m about to spend $6,000, I want a substantial discount on this junk!”

 

An audience member asked if the organizers work with him on price.

 

“They do with me or I put it back,” Porter answered. “I’ve learned to be kind of difficult with them. Use your power as a buyer to your advantage.”

 

Porter never goes to estate sales on the first day, but instead waits until the last day when the prices are significantly reduced.

 

“That’s one of my strategies,” he said. “I never go early. If they’re open from noon to 3 p.m. on Sunday, I go at 2:30 p.m.”

 

Then he offers to buy multiple tables of merchandise for a bulk price.

 

“If you go in to buy one piece, you can’t command a big discount,” he said.

 

Antique dealers tend to be – as a rule – artistic. They are the dreamers with an eye for beauty who love dusting off a treasure. But Porter insists that every dealer can earn more if he or she is willing to put the time in to brush up on his or her business acumen and computer savviness.

 

“The same opportunity for profit applies across the board,” he said.

 

 

Print this page