Earnest discussion about opening a militaria shop
We are all in this together. In an effort to report on the state of different facets of the military collectibles market, Military Trader strives to discover and share the opinions of the hobby’s leading dealers and collectors. This month, we had the privilege to talk with Craig Luther. Most will recognize his name as a full-time dealer and active fixture in many militaria shows. Recently, he decided to take his business, the “Military Connection,” to the next level and has opened a traditional, brick-and-mortar military relic store.
Before becoming a full time war relics dealer, Craig was a military collector since he was ten years old. He became a history teacher, a profession he followed for 14 years before deciding to take his passion of military items to the full-time job level.
Craig also served as a military historian for the US Army during Desert Shield and Desert Storm in 1990 and 1991. Today, he is widely known as an expert on Iraqi and coalition military items from that time frame.
Though Craig has been in business for the past ten years, his traditional storefront venture is new. We recently had the opportunity to ask him about the decision to open a store and some of the bonuses and pitfalls of doing so. We are pleased to offer his response to our “10 Questions about Opening a Militaria Shop”
Military Trader: Let’s get to the heart of the matter: Why now? After all these years of dealing in militaria, why did you decide to open a storefront?
Craig Luther: I felt it was the right time for me, the right location, and the right situation to be in so I figured I would give it a shot.
Military Trader: You seem to buck the trend in the hobby by not having a web site where you buy or sell. Why have you avoided this path when so many others seem to feel it is the pathway of the hobby?
Craig Luther: I have a website. I just have to finalize and activate it. To be honest though I am so busy with eBay, shows, phone, and customer sales I wonder where the time will come to handle a website as well, but I will figure it out.
Military Trader: Keeping a store “fresh” will require lots of product flow. Obviously, a storefront depends on foot traffic. What are you doing to promote customer visits to your store? What do you think will keep them coming back? ? Will customers see new stock “in the store” first or at your show tables?
Craig Luther: I am running ads, promoting the store on Facebook, Craig’s List, attending shows, through eBay sales, and any other way possible. I believe in selling at a reasonable rate so product turnover is frequent. This makes customers happy with my prices and gives them new things to look at more often.
It depends when an item comes in, as to whether it gets to a show first or in the store. Of course, the sooner I am able to sell it the better.
Military Trader: What trends are you seeing in the customers who come to your store? Describe your “typical” customer.
Craig Luther: There is no such thing as a “typical customer.” No two are the same.
Some collect certain things while others collect something else. Some are invested in the hobby, and some appreciate the historical significance of the artifacts more.
One thing I do notice is the age of the collectors. We need to all work together to get younger people interested, or when we go to sell our collections one day, we won’t see the money we have put into the stuff in return.
Military Trader: Many don’t realize it, but you have one of the largest repositories of Iraqi militaria. Tell us how you came to sit on this supply and how it figures into your business model.
Craig Luther: I served in the 132nd Military History Detachment with US VII Corps during Desert Shield and Desert Storm. I stared collecting Iraqi and coalition military items from that time period – now 25 years ago – and have been buying collections and specializing in that ever since.
Yes, I have a book in me that needs to get written one of these days. I feel this is an important period of collecting because the prices are reasonable, and the stuff means something to the younger generation because for many, the continued war in Iraq and Afghanistan is what they grew up with. So, it means something to them, plus it is affordable.
I think it is beginning to come into its own right as a collectable field. I am investing a lot into it, so I hope that pays off now and in the near future. If not, I could outfit almost an entire Iraqi company from head to toe with even the change in their pockets.
Seriously, there are some interesting and unique items to be had in this area collectors. Investors just need to be educated to know what they are buying.
Military Trader: What items are popular among OIF / OEF collectors? What resources do you recommend for someone interested in collecting militaria from this time period?
Craig Luther: Much of the same Iraqi military items are collected by OIF/OEF collectors, but there are some variations that didn’t exist until OIF/OEF that are unique to that time period. The Desert Storm items were still used in many cases, as well.
There are some forums to find out information but be careful. Some of the articles I have seen don’t totally contain accurate information on some things. I guess, contact me, and I will help you the best I can would be the safest.
Military Trader: What is your approach to firearms in the store. Are there types of militaria you won’t carry or sell.
Craig Luther: I don’t sell firearms in the store since I don’t have an FFL. I do sell some non-guns that are used as props by collectors and reenactors, but that is about as far as I go in that area.
Military Trader: You have also had your hand in show promotion. What sorts of things have your tried with your own show that you consider particularly successful in broadening your customer base?
Craig Luther: I am trying to encourage younger people to attend the shows with their families so they become the future collectors of tomorrow. We have tried offering a family rate to attend the show, among other things.
Military Trader: Our readers love stories about collectors’ “Favorite Finds.” Tell us about what you consider one of your favorite store “walk-ins?”
Craig Luther: One of my recent favorites was a 32nd Division uniform identified to a Purple Heart recipient and the Red Cross uniform of his wife. I collect 32nd Division stuff, and it is a unique pair of uniforms as a husband and wife combo.
Military Trader: What is your advice to anyone considering opening a militaria store? How a person can be successful as a full-time militaria dealer today? What would you suggest to a person to avoid or to follow if he or she was considering becoming a full-time dealer?
Craig Luther: First, make sure it is your passion. Your love for it requires much more than the normal 9 to 5 job. You must love what you do, or you might hate it.
Second, you need to have a good location, business model, and store design. After all, if you are going to do it you must do it right. If you don’t know where stuff is, and its not well organized, how can you sell it and how can customers find it?
You can be successful, but you must not rely too much on any one thing. For me, it is a combination of eBay, phone sales, shows, and now, the store that are helping me to be able to get by. You must diversify to make it work.
I would suggest trying it part time first. Review how it went and what you thought of it. If it went well, then give full-time a shot. It isn’t easy, but it can be done with the right combination of things. J
We are honored to interview and report on prominent players in our hobby. Craig’s new store, The Military Connection, is located at 723 Milwaukee Avenue, South Milwaukee, W. 53172. It is open Mondays, 12 pm-8pm; Tuesday-Thursday, 10am-4pm, and Friday and Saturday by appointment. Phone: 414-522-0033.