I had some “old” dealer friends email me that I hadn’t written a blog in a while. I hate to make excuses, but there is a major project underway at Newel that took my focus away from writing (there were plenty of times I wished I could have written something). This industry is potentially far stronger than how it has evolved under the methods of deception and conflicts of interest perpetrated by the Sotheby’s/Christie’s auctioneer duopoly. Their business model is built on a real house of cards.
The only effective way to really change this industry from the auction centric thinking is to do what they do, but better. Basically, they live off of consignments and for practical purposes they are the choice of death, divorce, or taxes. They squeeze the consigner and stiff the buyer with a buyer’s premium. That, alone, should motivate buyers and sellers to look for a dealer.
The historical problems dealers have had are the abilities to warehouse, display, and finance inventory. None of the three is easy to do. Most antiques and art dealers also operate with a limited field of focus. Whether art is Modern, Impressionist, or Old Masters, few art dealers can claim to stock all three to buy and sell. With the decorative arts, the disparity in styles is even more pronounced. How many antiques dealers can mix French Art Deco and American Rustic or 18th Century English with Art Nouveau? But think what kind of dealer could offer both decorative and fine arts, together.
Space and drama in presentation is the name of the game. That is what art and antiques show attempt to do for dealers. Both the auctioneers and shows exhibit for no more than a week and then it’s all gone. Sold! Who knows?
The real trick for dealers is to capitalize on the consignment opportunities. Warehousing is a major issue, but if you’ve ever seen a Sotheby’s or Christie’s warehouse, it can be done. Turnover is a key element for profit, but not necessary storage overhead, which remains pretty fixed. The requirement for auction turnover has additional expenses of moving and manpower that are not required for a more static inventory. So where are those consignment opportunities? They abound.
Just mention Sotheby’s and Christie’s to anyone today, and they really don’t have much nice to say. It’s not that the individuals who work there are bad, they just don’t have any other option. They are all good Company people, but they don’t work for either the consignor or buyer. That is the best reason why dealers should succeed.
My idea of a Mega-Dealer is seen through by what we have accomplished in our newly renovated showroom. Seeing decorative antiques of all periods and style mixed with Contemporary artists of any form is exciting. Displaying a mixture all period art forms can be done anywhere. You just need professional managers (dealers) to run an operation that works better with buyers and sellers.