December 17, 2012 by Christina Hamlett
A Conversation with Deb Haupt
At Haupt Antiek Market LLC in Minnesota’s Apple Valley, not only is everything old “new” again but it’s also only available four days a month. Owner Deb Haupt shares the story of what sets the clock ticking, her heart racing and her spirits soaring about transforming her dream job into reality.
Where and when does the story of Haupt Antiek Market begin?
I have been interested in old things as long as I can remember. Going to my grandparent’s home and being invited to visit the attic was one of the highlights of my youth. Transferring that passion for old treasures into a business that I love has been an incredible journey.
I started out buying things for my home and then decided to pay for my habit by selling some of the extra things at an antique sale from my garage. This blossomed into a wonderful way to meet people who share the same passion. My sales were held three times a year for six years in our garage – in all kinds of weather! My husband and I began traveling to Europe and shipping home containers full of flea market finds and furniture. We decided to expand our business to a permanent location. Greg thought he wanted to reclaim the garage for cars. (We will keep you posted as soon as it happens.) Update…Nine ½ years later and cars still on the driveway!
In April 2003 we rented a home in Rosemount, Minnesota that was built in 1900. It was perfect for us, with all the charm and character of an older home. In November 2003 we expanded our business and rented the building behind the house and added the Carriage House. We invited fellow dealers to become a part of our shop and they set up in bedrooms, bathrooms and hallways. We had six great years renting in Rosemount and then it was time to re-evaluate and we decided to invest in our own building. We were able to find a one story office building in Apple Valley – just three miles from our original location in a much more commercial area. We took three weeks and with lots of help of many talented people we were able to move and open at our very own new location at 7570 W. 145th St. in Apple Valley, Minnesota.
It has already been 3 1/2 years at our new location so our decision to move and invest in our small business was the right one. We have carved out character, warmth and a wonderful atmosphere and best of all no steps!
Who is your target demographic?
Our target demographic is fairly large. We appeal to the 20-35 age groups for several reasons. Many are just setting up first apartments and homes and they have a need for good furniture pieces at reasonable prices. Because of our creative design and re-purposing of unique vintage pieces we attract Pinterest, Etsy and DIY lovers. We also appeal to an older audience 36-60 that needs a specific piece or new look for their home or garden. Our design ideas inspire our customers to look at a piece that they have owned for many years and give it new life. We often touch a sentimental and emotional feeling when someone finds something that their Grandmother, Aunt or Mother had.
How did you go about defining how you would attract them to your merchandise?
Because we are open only four days a month, we have created an “event”. Our customers put us on their calendars, call in sick, and create ‘girls night” out with their friends, all to make sure they can shop our market. We watch what sells and try to find similar selling price points. We create the urgency to buy now because it won’t be here the next month.
Starting a new business – especially in an unstable economy – requires not only passion and confidence but also taking a bold leap of faith. What inspired you to say, “Yes, I can do this and I’m going to do it right now”?
Moving from our garage to our rental property seemed like the right thing to do. We had outgrown our garage and needed to be more “professional”. I had created a strong customer list, I had enough inventory, I also had mentors that shared their experience with me as Occasional Market owners. We were fortunate to have success with the growth of our business. Six years of paying rent and learning what it takes to create and stay on top of a growing business made me restless. Our landlord had control of my income and I wanted to take control of my expenses. The wonderful 100 year old house and carriage house were full of charm but they were also full of stairs, drafty windows, bad plumbing and lots of yard work! We started looking for a new place to grow our business.
Because it was 2009, the economy had dropped out and many retail locations were empty. There were many options. One of the places had an option to buy. I put in a very low ball price, never thinking I even had a chance. I remember sitting in shock when I got the call from the realtor that my offer was accepted. It was a very scary leap of faith. I knew financially we were better off paying a mortgage than rent but I was committing to our business for the next 10 years. My husband is and has been my rock of support. He is the one that says go for it. He is the one that gives me confidence to take risks and grow outside my circle of comfort.
What were you doing academically/professionally prior to opening your own business and how do you feel those experiences prepared you for life as a globe-trotting entrepreneur?
I graduated college with a degree in Therapeutic Recreation. I got a job as a program director at an Army recreation center in Augsburg, Germany. I organized events and took the soldiers and their families on field trips around the area. My husband and I traveled as much as possible. When we got back to Minnesota I started a number of my own businesses. I did daycare for 10 years, sold Discovery Toys, made and sold hair bows, made and sold Minnesota pins to local high school and college teams, made and sold high school Homecoming coronation items to area high schools and made baby banners for local hospital gift shops.
All of these attempts at following my passions were all part of my education. I took business classes to learn about small business. I continued to read as many books as possible on successful businesses. Each one taught me different things. When the right business came my way, I was ready to take it.
What is your primary method of advertising and why is it compatible with your vision?
My primary form of advertising is social media. I do a large email blast twice a month to get the word out. I continually update my Facebook business page to keep my followers tuned in. I use Twitter and will be using press releases, Pinterest and my blog to further push my name recognition and to keep my customers involved when we are not open. The cost of using social media is such a gift to a small business owner.
What do you know now about marketing and promotion strategies you wished you had known at the beginning?
My other form of advertising is a monthly direct mail advertising piece to my customers. I started this before email and because it is a large financial obligation I am working at converting much of my list to email. I have spent money on advertising in newspapers and magazines and I don’t put my marketing dollars in that direction any more. I get few responses and they are hard to track unless you offer a coupon or free gift.
In your opinion, what accounts for our ongoing fascination with items representative of an earlier era?
I think people continually look for a symbol of a happy memory. Sometimes they find it in a bowl that Grandma had or a lamp that sat on their desk as a child. Many times people have to clear out whole estates and they can’t take the time to sort through what is important to them to save. So a few months later they find one piece that they remember and they buy it from us.
How has the concept of repurposing/reinventing/recycling factored into the success of your business?
Keeping things out of the landfill and giving it new life is a basic principle to my business. The rake head becomes a wine glass holder, the old window becomes a picture frame and the typewriter keys become a necklace with your initial. When you look at things with new eyes and a little creativity you can keep the prices down and the customer interest up.
You have an enviable work schedule in that you’re only open four days a month and also get to travel to Europe on a regular basis! Tell us about the thought process that went into the structure of this particular business plan, coupled with any pros and cons you’d like to share with kindred spirits who might be thinking of emulating it.
I love what I do and I love the flexibility that it gives me. Many people are surprised when they find out we are only open four days a month. When they ask me why, I laugh and tell them that is all I want to work. In reality I work at my business every day. I am always out searching for new inventory – “the thrill of the hunt”, cleaning it, pricing it, advertising it and only then selling it during those four days. I do regular maintenance on the shop –from cleaning bathrooms, stocking toilet paper to changing the dates on our sign out front. I have to be a manager of creative people – an amazing group of people with lots of good ideas. Sometimes I have to make hard decisions I get to choose when and how much a I want to work but I also have the awesome responsibility to the 13 other vendors that sell from our shop. I always try to surround myself with the most wonderful, passionate people – I am amazed every month at this event that we create. I never get over how cool it is to lock the door the night before we open when everything is in place and I know that our customers are going to love it.
I love to travel and the opportunity to find the hidden flea market or old barn filled with treasure is what keeps me going. You never know if this is the day when you will find the most perfect thing. There really isn’t anything bad about shopping in Europe! Taking people with us has been a joy. I remember walking up to the Eiffel Tower in Paris. You couldn’t see it until you turned the corner and there it was – I got there first and then I turned around and watched everyone’s face as they saw the Eiffel Tower up close for the first time. How fun is that!
What’s the largest item you have ever sold? Conversely, what’s the smallest?
The largest item I ever sold was an American Indian carving that was about 5 and ½ feet tall. He was carved to stand outside of a store. He had to lay down straight in the back of my van and I wheeled him into a show strapped to my two-wheeler. I love letters and numbers and some of my favorite are the old screen numbers. People used to put them on their house screens to keep track of what screen went to which window. They are little metal push pins with numbers on them. You can use them for numbering so many fun projects.
Has there ever been any item that you secretly hated to part with?
I just bought two turn of the last century pharmacy cupboards. They each have 20 drawers and they pull out and then swing open. I laid them on their side and they look just like the Flat Screen TV cupboard that I always wanted. The sad thing is I don’t have a large flat screen TV nor the room for the cupboards so I have to sell them.
Aside from your unique business hours, what do you feel best sets Haupt Antiek Market apart from other antique/retail shops?
I think our themes are what sets us apart. Each month we have a new theme and new inventory. One of my favorites was “Under the Tuscan Sun” and “French Country”. You may not have Italian or French items but you can create a look with color and design. “Industrial Chic” and “Funky Junk” made us really be creative! Last year we had “Create the Look”. We each took a page from a magazine and tried to copy it with our items. We then had our customers vote for the look they liked the best.
Given your familiarity with flea markets in Europe, how do you feel they compare with the way these same events are run in the United States?
Flea Markets in Europe and the US can range for very large show of over 400 vendors to a small 20 vendor flea market. The fun difference between a European flea market and the US is the uniqueness of the things you find. The old enamelware, the linens, clocks and old signs are not the same as what we find here. The doorknobs are different; the architectural pieces are more interesting. I like it because you see something so different than what you find in the states.
Going to flea markets, poking about in old barns and discovering off-the-beaten-path venues has to have yielded no shortage of vintage treasures over the years. What, to date, was the most remarkable “find” you discovered and brought home with you.
My favorite things to bring home are the old battered oil paintings of flowers. They have age and patina and they make me smile.
Has the business opened other income streams and networking opportunities for you? Was this part of your original model or was it an unexpected happenstance once the business got underway?
I have met the most amazing people in this business. I think “junkers” are fun to around. We have a sense of adventure. I have found a few different streams of income that I didn’t plan on when I first went into business. The best is the tour side of our business. We are now taking one to two tours a year to Europe. My husband and I make a good team. I would like to put out a book on how to set up and run an “Occasional Sale” and become a speaker. I would like to inspire others to take a risk and follow their passion. I would also like to create a TV show –American Pickers goes to the flea markets of Europe. I may also pick up a line of furniture paint to sell to my customers so they can repurpose their own pieces.
What do you really sell if it isn’t just antiques and vintage items?
Two different customers came up to me last weekend and told me how our shop is their safe and happy place. They can let all of their troubles disappear as they weave in and out of the rooms in the store and become inspired by our designs. So many people shop with girlfriends and families and it becomes their “event” – their time together. I have one group that comes and eats at the bar-b-que restaurant across the street and shops at our place – they call it “bar-b-tiquing”. I realized a few years ago that our business isn’t about selling vintage and antiques it is all about selling happiness.
So tell us how you expanded to include European shopping tours.
Our tour business started in 2007. So many people told me they wanted to come with us. We found a travel agency to work with and we filled it in six months with 30 people. It was a magical time – beautiful weather, great shopping, wonderful food and wine and amazing places to see. It wasn’t until we got home that it hit me how lucky we were and how much could have gone wrong but it didn’t. We didn’t offer another trip until two years later when the economy picked up a bit. We have had 14-16 people on the last three trips. I like the smaller amount of people but would like to average about 20 people per trip. I would like to offer one longer and one shorter trip each year.
What is it like being in business with your spouse?
I feel very fortunate to have Greg right beside me supporting me in this crazy business. We enjoy shopping together, setting up together and doing the paperwork after every sale. He has the same craving for adventure and the foresight to look ahead. I am the big picture person and he is good at the details. I am lucky to have him.
Where and how do you see Haupt Antiek Market growing in the years to come?
We are on a steady path of growth. People ask me if we want to expand the store but I like the size we are at now. It is easy to manage, I have great people and our customers are happy. I would like to develop the book, speaking engagements, the tour business and maybe even my big dream of a TV show.
Anything else you’d like readers to know?
I bought a Louis Vuitton trunk this past summer. It is from around 1893-1897. I want to track down the family that bought it. I think it would be so fun to find the history of their lives and how the trunk came to be with them. The only trunk that I have found that looks like mine belonged to the Vanderbilt family and it is now in the Vanderbilt museum. Christy’s Auction house is putting Louis Vuitton trunks from the era of the one I own, up for auction in England and I would love to have it listed for sale. It would be so fun to see how much it would sell for!
To learn more about Haupt Antiek Market, readers are invited to visit www.hauptantiek.com.