Looking at pay and wages within the antiques business

By Wayne Jordan

How much money do workers earn in the antiques business? How much do shop owners have to pay workers in order to hold on to them and keep them motivated?

Published benchmarks are not available in our industry; there is no national trade organization that collects and shares such information. So, comparisons must be made from other sources. The website PayScale.com collects compensation data on a voluntary basis on dozens of industries (therefore, it’s not comprehensive or specific to the antiques trade) and Indeed.com regularly lists job openings and pay ranges. Comparing these two sources has enabled me to jump to a few conclusions about employee compensation in the antiques trade, and I’ll share those with you her.

Eying Experience and Position to Determine Pay

As an aside, if you find that the PayScale.com data does not match your experience, I encourage you to go to the site and enter your data. The information you provide cannot be traced back to you, so you needn’t be shy about sharing it. You don’t have to be an owner to participate; any employee can contribute. Sharing your pay information is good for you (might get you a raise) and good for the industry (as a reference point for job-seekers and employers).

The hourly rate data can be found at http://bit.ly/2w8fB8v. The data points I will review pertain to hourly rates.

Factors to Consider

  • Job title
  • Years of experience
  • Skill or Specialty
  • State or Province
  • Gender

I haven’t included a pay range for shop owners, because they aren’t paid hourly. But, if you’re curious, the salary range listed is $65,000 to $69,940.

Of their methodology, PayScale says that they “apply a set of propriety algorithms to assure the consistency and accuracy of every data point used in our compensation models and reports. Our data team regularly compares PayScale compensation data with external sources of data, both publicly and privately available.” The 54 million profiles in their database are updated daily with more than 150,000 profiles per month. In other words, this is about as close as we can currently get to an industry compensation database.

Evaluate Data to Gain ‘Big Picture’

I’ve cross-referenced and consolidated the data so that you can get “the big picture,” which is: Retail managers don’t make much more money than clerks: $13/hr. vs. $11.70/hr. (averaging the results of “Customer Service,” “Customer Relations,” and “Sales,” all of which represent the job of “sales clerk” in our business).

Retail assistant managers average $11.75/hr.

Value of Longevity

Of course, longevity counts … to a point. Employees with up to 1-4 years’ experience average $10.49/hr.; 5-9 years average $13.51/hr.; 10-19 years average $17/hr. Now for the outliers: The data shows that employees with 20 or more years of experience average just $12.50/hr., while new employees (less than 1 year) average $10.50/hr. Employees who hired on at minimum wage of $5.15/hr. in 1997 saw their earnings grow faster than the cost of living, but not fast enough to keep pace with the industry.

The average pay in small companies (1-9 employees) is only slightly less than in large (10-49 employees) companies: $12.21 vs. $12.48.

Examining Bureau of Labor Stats

As a point of comparison, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics [http://bit.ly/2w8i031] lists the median wage for a retail worker (regardless of product focus) at $10.90/hr., with a low of $8.56 and a high of $19.91.

Conclusions? New employees are costing more to hire, and retail wages in the antiques trade have slightly outpaced the cost of living [https://www.aier.org/cost-living-calculator].

Non-selling support staff presents a different picture. “Inventory management” (warehousing and display, I presume) averages $13.50/hr., more than retail managers. This result surprises me; to my way of thinking, public-contact staffers who are responsible for making sales and growing a business should be the highest-paid workers in any retail environment.

Location and Position Has Impact

Online support staff (Photography, Photoshop, and Social Media Marketing) average $11.73/hr., or about $24,000/yr. The salary range for Social Media Marketers nationwide (outside of the antiques business) is $34,000 to $56,000, for someone with a degree and a few years’ experience.

The best-paying, non-ownership job at an antique store is that of Office Manager, which averages $19/hr.

Of course, there are regional differences in pay. Workers in California and Massachusetts average $15.48/hr.; in Georgia, the average is $9.50, $10 in Virginia; and $13 in North Carolina. In each region, pay in metropolitan areas is higher than in rural areas.

Overall, in the antiques trade women tend to better paid than men. The average hourly wage for women is $12.21, compared to $10 for men.

Understanding Changing Characteristics In Antiques Trade

Clearly, retail sales employees in the antiques trade are better paid than at most retailers. Why, then, do we, as an industry, have such high turnover rates, and what can we do to retain workers?

According to WorldAtWork.org [http://bit.ly/2vDpfgX], retail in general is plagued by high turnover. Hourly store employees have a turnover rate of 65 percent, while in retail support positions (warehouse and office) turnover is 23 percent.

The Center of American Progress reports that the cost to replace and train hourly personnel can range from $3,372 to $4,291 [http://ampr.gs/1NmP0D4].

Influences of Employee Retention

Employees “jump ship” for more money, a better opportunity, or from sheer boredom. I can’t tell you how much money I have spent over the years sending employees to expensive seminars to learn Photoshop, or merchandising, or retail sales techniques. Every time I’ve invested in upgrading an employee’s skills, they have left my small Mom-and-Pop store to join a larger company with better pay and benefits. Even when I entered into a contract with them (“if I pay for this you must commit to stay for X amount of time”) they leave at their earliest opportunity.

Get more valuable business insights from Wayne Jordan.

I believe turnover can be slowed but not stopped. Through trial and error, I arrived at a hiring system that slowed (but didn’t stop) my employee turnover; perhaps it will work for you, too.
Here it is:
Employee curiosity is a key factor. Hire persons who are curious about antiques and/or history. If they read regularly, attend cultural events, and visit museums, they are good candidates for working in an antique shop (provided they meet your other requirements).

Don’t hire out of desperation. Build a library of re-useable training material: YouTube videos, books, magazines, and sales training material. Allow your employees time to study the material; at least an hour a day, at your expense. Then, randomly test your sales clerk’s knowledge: Ask them to give points of connoisseurship for various items in your inventory.

Always Turn to Truth and Creativity

Create a written job description. In it, list the employee’s duties and responsibilities, what they will be held accountable for (including sales quotas), how accountability measurements are made, and what your review process is. It’s just as important for them to know what they’re doing right as it is to know what they’re doing wrong.

Keep your inventory details and pricing current. Nothing is more frustrating for an employee than to be asked what a price is (or what discount may be given) for an item and not have that information available.

I hope you find the wage data and retention tips helpful. If you have other suggestions, please email them to me via atnews@fwmedia.com so I can share them with other dealers. 

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