Artifacts: Be prepared

Read our article in the Cayman Financial Review Magazine, eversion 

Advice from Charlie to potential small business owners:

Charlie Adams didn’t dream of being an antiques dealer; indeed he had loftier pursuits in mind. He wanted to grow up to be a pilot. His father was living in Jamaica in the 1960s and made his first trip to Grand Cayman in 1964.

Over the years he and William “Bill” Walker blazed trails for bankers and lawyers in the islands. It was the early days of what would become the now.

At the same time Charles Jr. was in the UK trying to take to the skies. He got through all the necessary tests and interviews to be accepted for training at exactly the same moment that the intake of new students was cut off. Not one to be discouraged he decided to pursue hotel management and business studies at university.

He would apply for flight training again at a later date. Once he had graduated he was ready to take another shot at the British Overseas Airways Corporation (now British Airways) but alas this time he failed the final test and it seemed it was the sign for him to hang up his fledgling wings for good.

Charlie had always had an interest in antique watches and actually bought himself a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers so he could tinker with his first watch, purchased off Carnaby Street for the exorbitant price of one pound sterling, bartered down from 30 shillings. He took the watch apart, cleaned the workings, and saw it come back to life once he reassembled it. From that moment he was hooked.

On a trip to Miami he sold a couple of silver watches to a dealer in Coconut Grove who gave him a good deal more than he had paid for them, but recommended that he bring gold watches the next time; so he did.

He was making a nice little bit of money from his cottage industry and was visiting Grand Cayman every summer. One day his father noticed a business for sale in town, a shop selling furnishings in the front and a few antiques in the back. He asked his son if he was interested in purchasing it. He was, and so Artifacts officially went under new ownership in 1975.

The first task was to sell off all of the old stock, and once the space was cleared he got about buying unique pieces to slowly fill the shelves. He was particular about what he stocked from the very beginning; discerning taste that has greatly contributed to the shop’s success and longevity on the waterfront.

Business wasn’t exactly going gangbusters when Charlie initially took over. Word needed to get out that there was an antiques store in residence, and town didn’t have many shops or visitors at the time.

Life began to change the next year as cruise ships started to arrive in George Town on a regular basis. It was a thin trickle at first, but the market slowly grew and thanks to Artifacts’ prime spot facing the harbour, Charlie saw his sales pick up. He began to buy small shipwreck coins and got a local craftsman to mount them in gold. He couldn’t keep them in stock they were selling so quickly.

As time passed so his contact list got longer. He was able to buy directly from the sources of antique pieces instead of third party dealers, which kept his costs down. His stock became more diversified but his quest for quality remained, and he would always travel back with all he had bought. His theory was if it was small enough that he could easily transport it, it would appeal to tourists who had limited space in their luggage.

Charlie has now been in the business 37 years but neither his shop nor his method of running it has really changed in all that time. He has never had any regrets about his choices and even sees quiet periods as a way to revisit methods and costs and find more efficient ways to run his company.

He dabbled with the idea of opening another location, but decided in the end that he was happy with the status quo. He could probably charge more for some of the items he stocks, but he is comfortable with the margins he uses and the formula works.

Charlie Adams is a small business owner who managed to turn a passion for antiques into a profitable venture, and as there are still so many pieces of history being discovered every day, it would be unsurprising to find him behind his counter another 37 years from now.

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