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Auction House Bargains for Retailers

Store Fixtures, Props and Merchandise for Less


Many retailers are using eBay but few small businesses are capitalizing on live auctions. If you sell antiques or collectibles, chances are you know auction houses can be a gold mine of bargains for items to resell in your shop. Other retailers may not be aware of the deals they can find at an auction house. Local auctions are great places to purchase store fixtures, display props, merchandise and other items to be used in a retail store.

What Retailers May Find at Auctions

Store Fixtures

Watch your local paper for liquidation auctions of similar shops going out of business. A store permanently closing its doors may commission an auctioneer to sell out the entire inventory and fixtures to the highest bidders. Round racks, 4-ways, grid wall, mannequins and other store fixtures can be purchased for just pennies on the dollar.

Don't limit yourself to standard chrome and glass store fixtures. Use your imagination. Wooden end tables, coffee tables, Hoosier cabinets and other vintage furniture make excellent display fixtures. An old armoire filled with new merchandise can serve as a centerpiece in your store. Corner racks allow a retailer to utilize space otherwise overlooked. A wooden ladder also works well to display hanging clothing.

Display Props

The cost of props can really add up if purchased new for each seasonal event. Look for holiday decorations auctioned by the boxed lots for very little money. Baskets, boxes, bottles, glassware, and pottery are all great props for creative visual displays that can be found at auctions.

Vintage items serving as display props can bring character to your retail shop. A child's sled or snowshoes can create a focal point among winter merchandise displays. An antique typewriter adds flair to office supplies, while a watering can or gardening gloves look great in a floral display.

Store Use Items

Before purchasing an item new, check local auctions for good used items. Cash registers, coolers, neon signs, small appliances, and lawn care equipment can all usually be found at live auctions well below retail price.


If your store sells one-of-a-kind items, auctions are great places to find unique merchandise. Auctions featuring estate sales or consignments can net savvy shoppers a fair price on goods for resale. One antique dealer I know doesn't purchase any item she can't markup at least 200%. All of her merchandise is comprised of distinctive, quality pieces which she purchases directly from auctions.

Where to Find Auctions

  • Classified Ads in Newspapers
  • Online Auction Directories
  • Yellow Pages
  • Fliers in Antique Shops

Before Attending an Auction

Understand Auction Terms: Educate yourself on commonly used auction terms such as buyer's premium, reserve and other auction lingo.

Preview Items: Show up at least an hour early to preview the items up for sale. This is your time to look them over inside and out. Auction items are sold as-is so it is recommended you carefully examine any item you may be interested in purchasing. Photos from a flyer or pictures posted online may not disclose cracks, chips or the working order of an item.

Payment: Verify types of payment accepted. Many established auctioneers will take cash, good checks and credit cards. Some only accept cash. If you plan to resell the items you purchase at the auction, bring a copy of your resale certificate to register with the auctioneer or sales tax may be charged on your purchase.

Transportation: Bring an appropriate vehicle to haul your deals back home. The auction house may have a scheduled pick up time/day so be sure to ask if you unexpectedly purchase a large piece that won't fit in to the back of your small, two-door sedan.

Like any buying trip, go to a live auction with a plan and a budget. Keep track of each item you buy and its final price. Buyers caught up in a bidding frenzy may later regret bad purchases. Once you've arranged your auction bargains in your shop, don't be surprised if customers ask to buy unique props and fixtures. Some retailers will put price tags on displays for that very reason. After all, retail is all about making money, isn't it?

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