The New UK Way: Auctioneer Exemption, Of Course

When I was trying to relax this past Sunday morning, I picked up the latest edition of The Art Newspaper and was stunned when I came upon an article explaining how the new English Regulatory Reform Act of 2013 would exempt the auctioneer’s from being a party to a public sale.  At auction, the restrictions and disclosure of financial arrangements are only applicable to dealers who form a “ring” or limit the number of potential buyers, but not on the auctioneer’s side of a deal.

I can’t image how proud I would feel if I were a member of the British trade.  First they blinked at challenging the auctioneer’s buyer’s premium back in the mid-1970s, and now your own government in coming down against the dealer trade.  When you read about the restrictions and new regulations, I am totally in favor of them.  I think that disclosure of inside information is good for the market. Since governments can’t control or regulate the financial markets from a meltdown, let us start in my unregulated industry.  Great, but why not level the playing field for disclosure of auctioneer collusion with another interested party.

Disclosure of a transaction within the auction world is of course, the biggest joke that Wall Street envies.  The way this new Reform Act works, the info on the irrevocable bid somehow does not need to be disclosed in the same format required by non-auctioneers.  It seems strange that the auctioneer, the consignor, and another party (or more) does not have to disclose the same information requirements of the new law.

To be fair, I think the British trade has been a good model for the US, who have an even more flawed structure as a representative organization.  It really comes down to the classic duopoly approach that leaves one two-headed monster (guess who they are) running their own show.  I would love to lead the charge to dismember them, and would suggest that only a class action be initiated to demand equal status as the auctioneer who is running the event in question, with these new rules.  

The Sotheby’s/Christie’s duopoly has had its share of publicity regarding hedge fund activity, record prices at their auctions for contemporary art, and having made a major push into the private treaty/dealer space for transactions.  They pride themselves on being the most egregious offenders of conflict of interest in their major transactions and way of doing business.  

These new Regulations requires that the “ring” dealers submit a written contract to the auctioneer, so the auctioneer is aware of the pending transaction. But what of the dealers or other bidders who does not have the privilege information that an auctioneer may have with its consignor and or an interested third party?  This is a fundamental flaw in the regulations and with their international scope, will allow them to funnel contracts to auction merchandise in the country that best serves their and their interested 3rd party’s interests.

This leads me to the point that dealers must and will have to evolve in the face of the unregulated, manipulative, and fraudulent methods employed by auctions. Secret reserve and chandelier bidding are blatant deceptions; the British government condones that and leaves dealers like myself with another excuse to not partake in their farcical way of operating.  Unfortunately, this is the power they exercise.

Buying Decorative Art; A Changing Knowledge and Passion

The alchemy of knowledge and passion can usually result in a productive creation (not necessarily legal either). However, in the decorative arts as a dealer or collector, it now requires a new calculation of the supply/demand equation.  The reality of how goods surface on the market has drastically changed and with it is a radically different consumer, who has an expanded or minimal visual perspective of space.  

Filling the space to suite a lifestyle will usually require some sense of taste and style.  Today, the buyer of antiques for the home has not changed much and has always been the largest application for their functionality.  The home will always be the easiest destination for one’s own passion be it living or working.  Where you want to show your passions and interest can range from an apartment with dramatic panoramic views of New York City, to bomb shelter garage housing a collection of vintage automobiles.  It is all in the perspective of having enthusiasm and satisfaction.

Knowledge is much more tangible and easier to quantify.  What you know presents a clear advantage that does not require an interpretation when the facts are self-evident.  You know a Tiffany lamp when you have seen thousands.  The decorative arts has so many nooks and crannies of makers, materials, shapes, and functions.  How can’t you just keep learning?  The search for knowledge and recognizing a great object requires an inquisitive mentality that has many competitors for your attention.  It requires a motivation, which also includes money and valuation.

Since I first went on a European buying trip with my grandparents in 1963, I have witnessed some of the most critical junctures in the pricing, supply, and demand for use of decorative arts by interiors designers, who also work with collectors.  Acquiring a 40 foot jumbo container of great merchandise was almost literally like a walk in the park.  That fantasy period has completely disappeared and has now being transformed by the complete lack of dealer price support in the market.  Are you kidding, who is buying things at auction for stock?  Not nearly as many as in years past.  The critical number of dealers to support auction pricing is vastly different and private purchasers cannot make up the difference.  

Because of this disruption to the buying side of the decorative arts, new and exciting options will avail themselves to those dealers that afford to control or take advantage of the lack of competition both to buy and sell.  As economists talk about generational passing of assets from parents to children, the amount of inventory potentially coming on the American market is staggering.  There was such a tremendous importation of decorative arts into the United States in the last century and a half. Not much has gone back.  For me there is no financial advantage to try to load up a container in Europe; it is already here, somewhere.

This gets me back to my original thought, how the changing market dynamics offers an opportunity for someone to wants to own and live with these items.  It should not be a case of making it difficult to find and buy at a reasonable price.  The decorative arts needs to embrace design, and expose minimalism for what it really is, stunted creativity.

Going, Going, But Not Gone; This Decorative Arts Dealer

If you take out of the equation, Mid-20th Century Modern, the traditional antiques dealer no longer exists or does so as a relic of the past.  Counting down the number of surviving dealers from just 20 years ago is a staggering thought.  The monumental shift in taste has made the antiques business a one pony show of 20th Century and modern.  Dealers in classical French, English, 17th, 18th, and 19th Century decorative arts might never appear again.

Never is a strong term, but the role of a dealer must evolve into being more of a merchant than a curator.  No one ever accused Sotheby’s and Christie’s of being curators, but rather as super promoters.  If you want to curate, go to a museum; to make money you have to raise the awareness of your business and promote it so it can engage one’s visual and intellectual attention.  You don’t do that by building walls of intimidation (go to a “fancy” antiques show), price deception (auction with secret reserves or dealers not showing a price tag), and difficulty in finding and shipping the item.  We are not talking about buying TV’s, but these are major obstacles to connect with the potentially massive public domain.

These issues of making it difficult to embrace the public will not be ameliorated by any dealer run organization, as has been the case for the last 35 years (since the British dealers blinked at the imposition of the buyer’s premium at auctions).  Dealers as a group sounds more like an oxymoron for inaction.  It can only come from some sort of dealer consolidation, where many can be spoken for by one dealer, both in policy and operation.  Perhaps that is an evolutionary thought for my industry, but how else will it ultimately survive?

For the last several months, I have heard from so many dealers that having a physical storefront is not particularly relished any more.  An incredible number of venerable and well stocked firms have made the decision not to renew a lease or are looking for an exit from the business.   And this is on top of an industry that has contracted significantly in the last 10 years.  Adding fire to the situation, The New York Times noted in an article on affluence that every major category of wealth spending rose considerably, but furniture fell 16%, yes 16%.

But somehow, I think Newel will survive this present state of the industry like it has always survived; it will go on with what it does best but with a vision of doing it even better.  For years we have been busting out of our building and it has been a major constraint on our growth.  Walk-ins can be great (and scarce) but a presence on the Internet is worth that price.  

Later this year, we are planning to move our business to a new destination; the third in our history, Long Island City.  Yes, it is across the river from where we are now, but it is closer than you think and will make Newel bigger and better.  We’re going, going, gone; across the river into an exciting new channel of our future.

Why Obama Will Go Down As a Great President

I have never written a political blog commentary, at least on the point of an American President.  When President Obama was first running for the office, I deferred to my oldest son on his opinion of who might be the better choice.  I felt McCain was part of my generation.  But there does come a time to pass the torch, and I voted with my son.

Because I voted for him once, does not automatically mean I would go with him on a second round.  Romney could have been an excellent President, with great managerial skills.  We do have a lot of waste in government and it is a systemic problem that needs more oversight and direction.  It is part of what a President does, but the challenges in this age are expanding exponentially.  Control and being cool under pressure are the hallmarks of any leader.  You can bend, but you can’t break.

What got me re-appraising my thoughts on Mr. Obama was his performance and focus when he was being heckled by some immigration protesters at a prepared speech.  Even the Presidents strongest critics must acknowledge that he is extremely bright and his family values are impeccable.  But what set that episode apart, was the fact that he waived off Secret Service agents who were going to approach the hecklers.  He was the man in the room and went on to articulate his greatest problem, Congress, which can’t pass any legislation relating to immigration issues.

But let us get to the area that every American President wants to shine, foreign affairs and international diplomacy.  We have seen this president do what Richard Nixon did in opening up Communist China, or Reagan and the fall of the Soviet Union. Being at the right place at the right time can also be very fortuitous. The opening of a dialogue is only a starting point.  You’ve got the ball, now start rolling it together.  I think Iran realizes that might is right, which has taken its economic and social toll when applied in the manner that Obama was able to implement with the international community.  After all, he started it all with his “Arab Spring”.

President Obama would love as much as any President to be the architect of a lasting peace in the Middle East.  Europe was moved off the spotlight after the fall of Communism so the world has had two generations to figure out this dilemma.  Religion is a big issue, but that is just an excuse for power and a following; it doesn’t provide an equitable solution.  But if you must start with that big impediment, a test of wills is the last resort.  The President’s enforcement of restrictions on Iran is an unqualified success.  We know that they know our economic muscle is for real.  Obama deserves all the credit for its effectiveness.  He also was able to see what kind of diplomacy has not worked in the past.

Perhaps his most successful and renowned accomplishment might be the breaking down of Al Qaeda and its leadership.  Obviously President Bush never did the job, only to leave office with a stalemate.  International dynamics are now more than ever dominated by economics exerted by both political and corporate interests.  It also worked because Iran is a one trick pony with its oil and gas.  I believe Obama understands how effective we can use collective economic interests for political gain.  That same approach can work with the Palestinian and Israeli conflict, as a trickle down of the Iran capitulation. But he does have one big problem that needs his attention to make it all work and gain recognition as a great American President, the economy.

If ever someone was dealt a bad hand, this President came into an economic mess of potentially catastrophic proportions.  The fact that we are still standing is a thought that many might argue.  Yes things have most definitely improved, but at what cost and will the President keep growth going or let it possibly slip back.  The strength of the United States has historically been attributed to our economic growth and creativity.  This President understands that the opportunity for economic growth is to integrate it into the world community, where American values can best be displayed.  It is a noble goal.

The State of the Decorative Arts Market, Never Better

After a solid 15 years of ho-hum at best business, the decorative arts are finally reaching a critical state, with the greatest potential for success in front for all to see.  Great merchandise has never been more available. The quality is of all shapes and forms, and anyone with some sense of taste and value can find great objects like never before (or perhaps since the last three decades after World War II).

I think it has taken a maturation of the decorative arts to be weaned off auction blood for survival.  The biggest potential market for a dealer’s acquisition of inventory is now the private collector or client who employed a talented decorator to design rooms that exuded a class not seen but in old time moving pictures.  It can be purchased (or preferably consigned). Today a dealer has to adapt, and the better ones tend to be on the mark with the right kind of inventory and a well-developed internet presence.

So why is business so good?  I’ll tell you a little secret, it’s not.  But still, the opportunities have never been greater.  The availability of exceptional merchandise at auction is a joke.  If they would only sell works of art without a reserve, everyone (buyer, seller, and auctioneer) would be happy.  After sale haggling sounds like auction houses truly want to be dealers.  With the 25% buyer’s premium is tacked on, so much merchandise is now bought in.  There is a better way.

In all my years in this business, I find that it has never been hard to buy good merchandise. Except for the obvious financial constraints, I have always been able to find antiques and decorative arts that had a saleable personality (or rentable; our TV and movie rental business in New York City is doing fantastic). Rustic and Regency are as connected as Mid-Century Modern with Italian Neo-classic.  If you keep your eyes wide open, the pieces are there.  My favorite phrase, “opportunity meeting preparation” works with everything.

So what are the chances that we will actually see an expansion of business in the next couple of years?  Well, we all know, and have been saying for some time that “it can’t get much worse.”  The heroes of today in this industry are the ones that are still here, a lot less than in the last millennium.  I also don’t see many new “start ups” in this field.  Capital allocation is the wildcard.

There needs to be an understanding that personal capital allocated to this asset class, can be a value investment, especially for better quality.  Anyone can “pick a stock,” but those that see value will make a profit.  At market price or a great deal, there is undeniable value in the decorative arts, hopefully with functional and intellectual user benefits.  For this industry to be able to expand and grow, the dealer function will be even more critical. The dealer must act as a conduit for merchandise distribution. It will take more that 1stDibs to make this happen.  However, capital allocation to this market will grease the wheels of the evolutionary growth in this industry.

When Decorators Used to Teach Their Client

I had an interesting conversation with Mario Buatta, who recently published a book on his lifetime of designing interiors for clients who could afford the best and looked to a person who understood what that meant.  We reminisced about the skills today’s clients require from their interior designer, and what was offered by those of a prior generation.  Unfortunately, we will never see those individuals who understood the job requirements of teaching a client what they were going to purchase and how its value was measured in what is was and how it added aesthetic qualities to enhance a living space.

Mario Buatta is a living relic (sorry Mario for being so crude), who extrudes skills that his pictorial of work can only scratches the surface.  He knows that the Louis XV style is no substitute for Louis XVI.  He knows his periods and styles, and doesn’t just rely on Mid-20th Century modern + color as the only scope of decorating.  Unfortunately, today’s decorator also has a different type of client that cares little about what it is that they are buying through an interior decorator, but is more apt to use that individual as a stylist for the their home.  Like preparing for a photo shoot, a store window, or a TV set, the interior is meant to portray an elite sense of minimalism, and not a sophisticated knowledge of times and places.

 With an abundance of technology and limited time, the world as we know it does not require or even want to take the opportunity to learn, touch, and appreciate what can be an intimate part of our lives.  The interiors shown in many publications reveal a simplicity bordering on being airless, dry, and without a soul.  Oddly, when these shelter magazines do show an interior chock full of personality and eclectic period pieces the casual contemporary reader is left speechless from the visual overload.  Too bad there so few designers to explain what is going on.

When I started out in this business, I was blessed with the opportunity to grasp a job that would offer a lifetime of learning.  As a young “shlepper”, I moved, waxed, cleaned, and wrapped items in the store, but I relished the opportunity to walk around with a respected interior designer, as he explained what each item was and why it was important for the client to purchase it for their home.  I cut my teeth in this industry by learning from professionals who knew what they were buying and how it was to be properly used in the decorative scheme of an interior.  There was no cookie cutter Mid-Century Modern formula.

 The transformation of the client/decorator relationship has been irreparably changed to one of expedience to get the job done and cheaply, ASAP.  The attention to detail is substituted by either the view from the windows or the trophy art on the (few) walls.  With educational institutions giving lip service and a fleeting acknowledgement to antique periods and style, less of today’s designers are prepared to teach their clients anything short of the prestige and cache of having done the job and getting it published.  A client deserves more but demand less.

The 2013 Haughton 25th Anniversary International Fine Art and Antique Dealer Show, My Review of the Show and how it has affected the Industry

I can safely say that I have attended many Fine and Decorative Arts fairs and events where you get to see a lot of good, great, and outstanding items.  My clarion call is, “One man’s treasure is another man’s trash.” However, I must premise this review by stating that I am a Decorative Arts guy and I love anything that extrudes some human creative skill.  Music, art, theater, even a great real estate deal or speculative investment product is all the byproduct of creative thinking.

I digressed—a show is all about the goods and this one had contemporary works challenging and dominating classical antiques. Maybe I should quickly relieve myself of my standard complaint that most dealers absurdly conceal pricing, while others just write a short description that includes measurements, but no price.  PLEASE show a price (I assume it is negotiable anyway). I also noticed that presentation among the various booths was very inconsistent.  I found that, short of some dealers using a solid color pattern on the walls, only the Phoenix Ancient Art booth used an eye-catching creative window display design. Lack of presentation is something that kills most of the period stuff.  The booths filled with period English (but VERY LITTLE French) furniture haven’t changed their display presentation since the first Haughton show.  It is a stark contrast to even the casual browser, as the dealers showing art forms of the 20th and 21st Century dominates this event.

And then there is vetting, does it really work?  Show me how someone can vet the booth of a dealer showing work of a contemporary furniture designer?  But guess what, this show continues to evolve with a bigger and better dynamic, and vetting is not the reason to visit. The show and auction formats are joined at the hip; they both create an instant bazaar that lasts less than a week.  Just as auctioneers think that they are or are not telling you what they’re selling, so useless is the idea of vetting.  Keep it if you must, but it is only a challenge to a dealer’s integrity.  

When this show first began, the Haughton dared to challenge the “venerable” Winter Antiques Show, which was the only superior show of its kind in New York City.  It had been established several decades before and had become the premiere public social event in the City.  But the new Haughton Show’s challenge was to be less restrictive with the exhibited periods and styles of both Decorative and Fine arts. In New York City today, the show has evolved to be one that challenges the modern styles shown at The Salon: Art & Design Fair opening in two weeks; this show spreads the wealth.

If you are planning to decorate your entire house at a show like this, then forget about it, unless you take the whole booth at Maison Gerard for consideration as your living room.  Who could not just move in (or take it to a new home)?  Creative new pieces being made by contemporary designer Achille Salvagni dominate the space that mimics the quality and design of the last half of the 20th Century.  Maison Gerard also provided items for other booths in need of the punch of a decorative art item or two.

At this show, contemporary artists were displayed as though they had always been there.   You could observe contemporary trends in the dense black patina of the bronze sculptures of artist Xie Aige at the Michael Goedhuis booth or the incredible crystal bonsai plants by Simone Crestavi, scattered on a Sorney dining table in Bernd Goeckler’s space.  It was a pleasant diversion away from the real nature of the merchandise you come to expect and see at a show like this.  It was booths like H.M. Luther’s that demonstrated they were not afraid to mix it up and display multiple styles and periods together.

However, the trick to this show and shows of this kind is the unfortunate absence of information and disclosure; information comes only from a serious conversation.  The exclusivity of the items is even more apparent when you realize that they are not even posted on the Internet.  Dealers hide their merchandise from view for shows like this, although some pieces seem to have been given a second go around.  But the condition of the stand-alone brick and mortar dealer has been, and will continue to be, the challenge to survive.

The show option, with its carnival atmosphere of load in, load out, and onto the next town, will always have an allure, as will auctions with their hype and dubious methods.  How they compete with the wunderkind of the Internet will be the ultimate test.  It is imperative that we consider our future customers and how to engage them to learn and appreciate our things.  It is the principal challenge to the whole industry, no matter the format.

Holding Physical Inventory, a Value Added

I guess if you live long enough you can discover anything is possible.  Thank you Goldman Sachs and friends; you taught us how to manipulate the price of aluminum upward with the technique of storing and moving inventory.  Is the storage and movement of decorative and fine arts really a disadvantage? Perhaps you can skim a nice percentage, like a built in commission.

Without physical control, it would be hard to classify anyone in this industry as a dealer.  It is the function of a dealer to trade with inventory and bet that you can buy low or beat up a consignor’s share, but be able to sell it.  For anyone in this industry who is still around to enjoy it, a sale is a welcomed event.  They are far fewer, more selective, and require attention to detail regarding shipping, taxes, import/exportation, form of payment, etc.

A large, centrally located storage facility could service many needs of many dealers. We see this form of dealer grouping in local antique centers.  There is usually a manager who runs the facility and dealers tend to assist each other.  However, that is being challenged by online super malls like eBay and 1stdibs.  Yes, it is nice just to rummage through, but we live in an “arm chair” society.  Technology now rules the day, but there is a visceral effect with actually be able to physically find, buy, and taking home any form of decorative and fine arts.

Aside from the one hit wonder show extravaganza of an auction, the only time you get significant attendance at a dealer venue would be an elegant Park Ave. style show, but how about Brimfield too?  It happens were the merchandise is in large quantities, and the choices are broad.  What clearly defines the most success is not having the best, the most, or whatever, but how are sales? The common denominators are: is it easy, predicable, interesting, and a place where selling is conducive and happens.

Can a single dealer or consortium of dealers ever coalesce around a shared attempt to acquire and store for sale through consignment or purchase, a massive amount of inventory?  It could be a single location or many regional locations.  Goldman and their buddy JP Morgan Chase made warehousing of a commodity, a successful enterprise.  Of course there must have been some price manipulation or these big guys would not be in it; but with a commodity, pricing is fairly consistent.  Not so with the decorative and fine arts.  Yes, there are price results out there, but they are mostly flawed auction results that include an inflated buyer’s premiums.  It is a market of thinly traded items, with subtle differences between each.

Yet, there should be considerable saving of overhead and operational inventory maintenance with economies of scale.  There is a reason Amazon’s large operation creates efficiency.  Shipping, storage, and assorted logistical needs are a byproduct of how our industry must operate.  Like many industries, survival can depend on consolidation to achieve these ends.  

Having A Representative Dealer Organization

There are immeasurable challenges with the concept and creation of a representative organization that would serve a genuine purpose and function for decorative and fine arts dealers.  Dialogue is one thing but a membership with an awareness of its needs has to have leadership and direction.  A meaningful organization must have a membership that can coalesce around issues that need to be clear, identifiable, and attainable goals.

Simple to say, but membership in this industry is pretty hard to quantify and standardize.  Perhaps a starting point would be to at least have a state issued resale certificate and or a designation as some sort of second hand dealer.  I think that a minimum requirement be the active intent to trade the owned or consigned inventory of art, antiques, and collectibles.  This might create an issue with so called consultants, but their issues are not as complex and differ substantially to a stocking dealer. Auctions, well, unless they clean up their act, they should be exposed.

Having a membership is one thing but creating an effective representative organization really requires much more, starting with money.  Let’s face it, with a K Street government lobbyist you get what you pay for.  To be perfectly frank, I have no idea how these successful lobbyists work or what their methods may entail.  After reading David Stockman’s book The Great Deformation, I am certain that not having representation will get you nothing.  But dealers in my industry have a big problem seeing beyond the survival of their own business.  This is not a job or should it be a job of membership.   It must have outside professionals guided by a Board.

Did I just say a Board?  Who, how, why, what would a Board be charged with?  Now we have the real issues of our future.  A Board must have a vision and the back of its membership; it also needs the right paid professional to articulate and engage in a plan to improve the public standing of the industry.  I wish I had a template as to how you go about creating such an organization, but there are certainly enough successful ones out there to study.

This blog may be an exercise in what ifs, but I know I can’t do it alone, nor should I.  I’m running my own business alone, and that’s hard enough (a writing a blog is on overtime).  I wish I had the time to divert to the creation of an independent representative industry organization, and be self funded for the benefit of all; what a noble task!  But who knows, maybe there are others out there that are like minded, and want to pursue the aspiration.  Ideas are cheap however goals should be attainable only with the right effort by those who want them bad enough.

Soccer and Antiques, in the Summer of 1969

I lived in New York City in the summer of 1969, as a college student between my freshman and sophomore year; it was also the first of three summers that I would be working at Newel, the firm my grandfather founded in 1939.  I had worked as a lifeguard the summer before in the suburbs of Philadelphia, where I grew up, but this would be a summer like no other.

Of course there was Woodstock and those incredible evening concerts in Central Park, which previewed many of those who performed at that great event.  Concerts at the Fillmore East were experiences of iconic performers and Greenwich Village was filled with a perpetual smell of incense.  However, working full time at Newel was something that was a means to an end. My grandparents paid me with a salary and use of their apartment while they were off to Europe for a full fledged summer of buying and vacation via the luxury of an ocean liner.

Newel was well established with its rental business to Broadway, window display, movies, TV productions, and commercial photographers, along with a select coterie of interior designers shopping our various warehouses filled with massive amounts of inventory.  That summer, I was moving, cleaning, wrapping, and learning about antiques, as well as understanding the demand to be a productive worker.  My focus on doing my job prevented me from thinking about taking a couple of days off to meet my college buddies at Woodstock.  

But living in New York would offer more than a job, or being in the center of a social revolution.  It was also a time when I wanted to prepare myself for the fall, and moving up from the freshman soccer team at Lehigh to the varsity.  We had an undefeated freshman team and our coach, Tom Fleck, was now the varsity coach (at that time freshman couldn’t play varsity) and I needed to step up my game.  Central Park would become my training ground.

Back then, there were soccer field throughout the Park and it was a gathering place for young foreigners who grew up playing the game.  I would generally do running in the Park just to keep in shape, but those pickup games were always going on. While I might be the only one who spoke English, they got the message that I wanted to play too. Those summer evenings after work and weekends hanging around the fields would more than make up for any organized practice.  This was where I could play in international competition and would be called by my teammates “American, American”.  As the only one on those fields who was born in this country, it was an honor to be treated as an equal and share the passion and pleasure of playing a team game that only required skills and mutual respect.

While I might have been an adequate college soccer player, I was not professional material. I was also playing lacrosse in the spring but that also presented limited opportunities for my skill set.  Realizing that my academic progress was suffering because of the time needed to commit to two sports, the clear choice became obvious for my junior year. However, that summer also gave me my first opportunity to get my hands dirty by moving antiques and hanging chandeliers.  My early training in this business had begun and it is still continuing.