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Take-A-Boo Emporium

Updated:2010-06-25 17:19:49

Take-A-Boo Emporium, an eclectic antique store in Toronto, Ontario, owned and operated by Martin and Andrea Swinton, a husband and wife team.

Martin and Andrea have successfully operated their antique store for four and a half years now, and are justly proud that they're not only still in business, but growing. As Andrea says, "Retail is a tough business. Several retailers have come and gone in our neighbourhood within the time that we've been open".

One of the reasons for the success of Take-A-Boo Emporium is Martin and Andrea's solid partnership. As anyone who's ever been a part of one knows, a partnership is one of the most difficult business relationships to maintain. Andrea and Martin's partnership is so successful because their expertise complements each other perfectly.

"Martin and I have different strengths and we take advantage of it," Andrea says. "Martin is the sales person, the antiques expert, and the 'guy up front'. I'm the business side of it. He sticks to what he does best and so do I."

A life-long lover of antiques, Martin has traveled extensively through Europe, India, and Southeast Asia. He graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in Archeology and Anthropology (specializing in Chinese art and pre-Columbian art). His personal areas of collection include Asian art, European furniture, and the Arts & Crafts movement. He collects old phonographs and replicas of antique cars. Before opening Take-A-Boo Emporium, Martin worked as an antiques appraiser at an auction house.

Andrea holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Queen's University. She brings experience in marketing, communications, and public relations to the company.

As fits their backgrounds, each partner has clearly defined responsibilities and spheres of action. Martin is responsible for the day-to-day operations, such as buying inventory, doing furniture restoration (a skill he learned as a teenager!), and selling. Andrea is responsible for the business management aspects of both and Take-A-Boo Emporium, and handles the marketing, publicity, Web site, and finances.

While things are going well now, Take-A-Boo Emporium, like any small business, had to get through the start up phase first. Continue on to the next page to learn what the most difficult part of starting their antiques store was and how Andrea and Martin overcame that difficulty...

While many people think that finding antiques is the hardest part of Andrea and Martin's business, it isn't. Finding inventory is easy, as Andrea and Martin buy from a network of other antique dealers, do estate sales, and do consignment.

The hardest part of starting Take-A-Boo was finding customers. Like many small businesses, Take-A-Boo Emporium had no advertising budget when it opened (and still doesn't). Andrea and Martin have both spent many hours promoting the business. Rising to the challenge of business promotion means exploring a variety of promotion ideas and constantly searching for new business promotion opportunities.

Andrea regularly sends out press releases to home decor magazines, newspaper editors, and television producers. These efforts have paid off with mentions in local community newspapers.

For instance, a June window display that included wedding photos of local residents was featured in a local newspaper. "It was a nice way to tie in the community and generate awareness at the same time," Andrea says.

Take-A-Boo Emporium's second anniversary street party in June was another promotion idea that was a big hit with local customers and helped raise the business' profile in the community. The party included bubble blowing for the kids and free caricatures for customers.

The company's promotion efforts on local television have also been very successful, bringing customers to the store and building credibility. Martin has appeared as an antiques expert on Toronto Living and appears regularly on the Rogers Community Television program Daytime. When he appeared on Breakfast Television on Citytv, two customers who called in to the shop while Martin was on the air bought items from Take-A-Boo Emporium. Now there's great customer response!

Andrea has also often discussed story ideas with the Globe and Mail, the National Post, and a variety of home magazines. While nothing national has panned out yet, Andrea is hopeful. "Making the contact is the first part. Generating publicity takes time. The seed planted today will blossom next spring into a story."

Another way that Andrea and Martin seek to reach out to prospective customers is by using the Internet. Continue on to the next page to learn how they used eBay to test the market for their products and developed a web site.

Andrea and Martin's business goal is to continue to grow the business at a steady pace. "We'll accomplish this by sticking to what we know and just plugging away at it."

One phase of Take-A-Boo Emporium's continued growth is their web site,

Take-A-Boo Emporium sells unique, one-of-a-kind items. Andrea describes their store as "a return to an old-style shopping experience. From Arts & Crafts furniture to Tibetan and Chinese artifacts, to French washstands, Take-A-Boo Emporium has something for everyone."

However, the chances of a collector of Chinese antiquities, for instance, walking in off the street and buying something is very small. The company needed a way to reach those collectors (and buyers) of such unique items. The Internet was an obvious marketing vehicle for selling antiques.

Instead of immediately throwing up a web site and hoping for the best, though, Andrea and Martin decided to test the electronic marketplace first, using eBay to test their business idea. At the end of 2000, they posted six items on eBay, and sold four of them.

These positive eBay results led to developing their own web site, so they could link to their eBay auctions and hopefully generate more business for the retail antique store. "Our web site," Andrea says, "has made the world our marketplace."

If you're not in the Toronto area, visiting the web site will give you a chance to see (and drool over) some of the beautiful objects that Take-A-Boo Emporium carries. Pieces offered on the web site have included a pair of Chinese ginger jars from the late Ming dynasty, through a Gingerbread clock from the 1880s.

The biggest challenge facing Martin and Andrea today is the high rents and property taxes they must pay as independent retailers in a street-front location. Andrea admits that they haven't come up with a way to overcome this challenge.

But she and Martin have successfully met the retailing challenge of selling antiques, combining their expertise with ongoing marketing efforts to meet their goals.

"Our business philosophy is to provide antiques at a fair price," Andrea says. "We're in the antique selling business, not the antique storing business. We price things to move."



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