Small Business Banking: Antique Americana Fueled by FinTech

May 23, 2016
Trae Turner

Poking around the rusty tools of a farm auction might be the last place you’d expect to find financial apps. But don’t be fooled. The scruffy guy with the country accent didn’t just bring his cousin and his pickup truck. He also brought his smartphone loaded with apps to find value on every item in the barnyard and his mobile banking app to see how high he can bid.

American History for Sale

If you follow Mike and Frank on American Pickers and the craze for “rusty gold,” vintage petroliana and advertising, you also know the Texaco sign rusting in the back field is worth thousands. Auto industry advertising is one of the hottest sectors of the vintage and collectors’ market. Morphy Auctions’ of Pennsylvania hit $4.4 million in sales at its recent petroliana and automobilia auction.

Philip & I have a passion for this business and like most antique store owners our business centers on the stories we get to share with collectors who visit our shop from all over the country. Because we love what we do it’s easy to infuse the store with that passion.

The financial aspects of running an antique business, on the other hand, are less simple. But as anyone who’s followed their small business dream knows, this is where the rubber really hits the road.

Decisions Run on Data

Like many small businesses, we’re in perpetual “should we stay or should we go” mode. No small business owner is lacking in passion, but this can be a bad thing if it keeps you from facing financial realities.

According to the Association of Resale Professionals, while many businesses close their doors every day, the resale business remains healthy and continues to be one of the fastest growing segments of retail. Resale has also become “destination shopping,” which is the kind of unique experience our shop strives to provide.

We could always go back to selling antiques online, but we love having a storefront. It gives us the opportunity to hear everyone’s story and connect in a way that we truly enjoy. It’s a gathering place for people who share our passion for cool, old stuff. It’s rewarding to have a team of enthusiastic employees. We love the design and display aspects of showing off particularly unique finds. It feels like our mission to rescue these items and give them new life. The storefront is like an extension of our living space where we host an annual Holiday Open House, which has become a holiday tradition.

We had a vision for the store in our mind, and now it exists in all it’s funky, vintage glory. But how do we decide that having an antique store is still the best business plan?

Here are three important questions for tracking and forecasting our small business success.

1. What tech do we need?

One of the best parts of owning a small business is meeting and supporting other local business owners. We patronize each other’s shops as often as possible since it’s the perfect excuse to visit places like Purple Cow Ice Cream Cafe!

When local business owners like Becky from Purple Cow come in our shop, what do we inevitably end up talking about? You got it, banking and financial apps. Whether it’s credit card processing, online sales or Facebook ads, we’re all hungry to know who’s using what and how it’s working. Finding the best tools for managing money is important whether you’re selling milkshakes or motor oil.

2. What’s coming in and what’s going out?

We use a few different apps such as Square payments and our credit union’s mobile app to monitor our cash flow to see what’s going in and coming out.

We watch cash flow daily and view the mobile reports often to see how the week or month is shaping up. We also look at the historical reports and compare, for example, sales from the same month last year to get a sense of whether our sales trends are typical or in an unusual slump that needs attention.

Since we’re watching cash flow constantly, apps are particularly important whether we’re at auctions and shows or out cruising the back roads for interesting finds. It’s encouraging to hear the “ding!” of a payment notification when we’re in the car deciding how much to spend at the next stop.

3. How much can we spend?

Tracking cash flow and sales trends helps us forecast and budget. We can easily anticipate overhead expenses such as rent, utilities and payroll. These are the “must pay” essentials we know about, but making decisions about variable expenses requires tracking and analyzing income from store sales, website sales and Instagram and Facebook sales.

On Inventory?

Can we afford to make the trip to Bouckville, New York, in June for the annual Petroliana Fest? We need to take into account how sales went for April and May to gauge our available cash for travel expenses and buying new inventory at the show.

On advertising?

Facebook ads can be affordable, but they add up over the weeks. We made the $400 commitment to advertise in the annual “Sunday Driver” antique guide and map. But can we also afford to get in the July issue of “What to Do and See in the Shenandoah Valley” guide?

On promotional items?

We’ve added a new “ANTIQUES!” banner by the road this month and attached a large logo banner on the front of the store, but after more than three years in business, we’re still holding off on the big investment of a “real” metal sign for the storefront.

Read the Signs

Part of the excitement of running a small business is the personal challenge of making it work. We don’t expect to get rich, but there is satisfaction in creating a business based on what we love. Driving the back roads of Virginia and discovering awesome “junk” is how we’d be spending our weekends anyway.

Our goal is to sustain a successful business not just for our enjoyment, but also for potential retirement income. Even after three years in business, the decision-making process is ongoing. We continually monitor and pay attention to the financial signs that indicate whether we’re on the road to success.

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