Antique & Vintage Dealers Adapting To New World Order
Florida - For many in the decorative arts community it may seem impossibly hard to even conceive of moving past such a global pandemic as the Coronavirus, while simultaneously watching the current health and economic fallout from this crisis.
However, when momentarily paused, and then considered in its entirety, the reality is that most antique and vintage businesses will likely survive this crisis in one fashion or another, due in large part to the inherent low-cost to debt-ratio of many working in the industry, and the fact that many antique dealers often piecemeal their capital expenditures when it comes to inventory. While these factors alone may initially bode well for most brick & mortar dealers, it's unlikely they'll be enough to carry them through to the end of the crisis unscathed, unless like the virus, they evolve.
For the moment, it's main-street antique and vintage businesses that are truly feeling the pinch, as mandatory shutdowns of physical storefronts and locations continue. But for those businesses that have shifted to a hybrid model of sales that involve not only walk-in traffic but Internet customers, the future is looking somewhat brighter.
The current combination of stay-at-home directives, along with buy online & deliver is being felt almost instantly by Internet sellers and retailers across the board - including some antique and vintage dealers. While most news reports simply showcase 'essential' items as making the headlines (toilet paper, hand sanitizer, etc.), digging a little deeper into the story reveals that there are also a number of other areas in the online market that seem to be experiencing an uptick in sales (no doubt part of the reason Amazon just announced the hire of 10,000 new workers last week).
This connection between stay-at-home and order-online directives is starting to drive sales into some uncharted territory. While many antique dealers acknowledge that overall numbers are currently down, some have reported online sales as being steady or even rising in some cases. Calvin Smith, a second generation antiques dealer on the upper east coast near the Maine border, says that he's seen a lot of 'nostalgia' buying over the last two weeks. "I just sold a desk model of a DC3 online to a fellow at home in self-quarantine," says Smith. "He'd been thinking of his father, who recently passed, but used to fly them back in the 50s." Smith says that while his shop has shuttered the business's front door temporarily, his sales online have shot-up since everyone went into lock-down. "I wouldn't say they've replaced my walk-in trade," says Smith, "but if it keeps going this way, they might get close."
Smith isn't the only one who seems to be noticing a bump in sales from folks sitting at home with little else to do but surf the net, watch the tube, chat to friends, and apparently make a few online purchases. Pamela Hill who helps run a co-op of vintage dealers at a market in Illinois says that her groups online sales on Etsy have mushroomed in size over the last week. "We obviously had to shut down the market shops," says Hill, "but we decided to throw everything we had into a blitz for our online stores, and so far it's been great - even with all the turmoil." Hill acknowledges that she doesn't know how long these increased sales will last given today's current economic climate, but says that people are definitely spending while being cooped up inside, and maybe even because of the isolation itself.
When school staffers decided to reach out to a number of past graduates whose primary businesses are online, many of them also reported an increase in general site traffic, as well as an uptick in sales, especially when the self-isolation campaign became more commonplace. "Once it started to gain traction and more people were indoors, sales jumped," said Robert Foley, whose online stores deal exclusively in "smalls" related to the Mid-century modern period. "I can't say for sure that's the reason we're busier now than a month ago, but it sure seems like it..."
Even longtime industry insiders such as New England Antiques Journal publisher John Fiske, commented on the need for old-school dealers to make the leap into the digital age during this crisis. "Even if you’ve resisted it up till now, you might find that you enjoy browsing and buying antiques online. There are a lot of advantages to it: It’s the way of the world, whether we like it or not."
While many of these dealers descriptions are clearly anecdotal in nature, and don't yet have the luxury of time or data to be fully corroborated and substantiated, they nevertheless provide an insightful glimpse into a slice of current market conditions being experienced by a number of hybrid-dealers during this international crisis. Whether or not these results will have any meaningful near-term (or lasting) impact on shopping habits within the decorative arts and antique community remains to be seen, as conditions appear to be changing by the hour. However, if you're strictly a bricks & mortar antique concern, then these results might just be enough of a reason to give you pause and consider the merits of adding an online presence to your business... especially if you're already stuck at home.
- A.I.A. Staff Writers
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