looking back and looking forward!
Another year gone by and once again I sit down to write my year end “News and Views”. It is a little clichéd to say “I can’t believe how fast the year has gone by”, but it is true!
It has been another interesting year in the auction business, but fortunately for me, they are all interesting years!
Certainly the most discussed issue this part year, has been the falling prices on some antique items.
Wherever I go I hear about falling prices on furniture, glass, china, coal oil lighting etc. It is true. I am selling some furniture pieces for the same money or less than they sold for in the 1980’s. Some of the coal oil lamps have been selling for less money than they did when I started collecting them back in the 1970’s. Pressed glass is generally lower than I have ever seen, and there are even some furniture items I will no longer take into the auctions, because it is no longer practical for me to pickup, store and transport them to the auction.
Many people are quick to blame the economy, but I don’t agree with that. I think it is a matter of changing tastes and changing demographics.
For the last thirty years the baby boom generation and their parents generation, have been buying up and collecting antiques. Now many people are in a situation where they must down-size, or settle an estate, and there are a lot of antique items coming onto the market.
We had two generations buying antiques, and now there is a generation of new buyers coming into the marketplace, but they are not buying the same way their parents and grandparents did. Look around at any auction and you will not see many people under age 40. When they do buy, they usually are buying accent pieces, rather than furnishing their homes with antiques. Not many are building collections the way their parents did, and probably most do not want to decorate their homes the way the parents and grandparents did. To me that seems natural.
Younger buyers usually are looking for primitives, advertising, toys and industrial type antiques. What I call “antiques with an edge”. The sort of stuff you see them buying on American and Canadian Pickers. Watch those shows and you will not see them buying much furniture or glass and china. They look for the unique items.
Most of the Victorian antiques appealed to an older buyer. The ornate furniture, parlor sets, rocking chairs, ruffled glass and nic knacks. Those buyers are now selling, but their taste in antiques was much different than the young buyers of today. So many of the “hot” items that sold for big money in the 1980’s and 90’s, have definitely cooled off. I think it is going to be a long time before that turns around. If ever.
However, it is not all doom and gloom. On the up side it is a great time to buy antiques, especially if you do prefer the “older style” Victorian era pieces. Also if you are selling items you bought 20 or 30 years ago, have used and enjoyed them, and now can realize a reasonable price when you sell them, that’s not a bad thing. Even if you don’t get the money you paid 20 years ago, if you had purchased a new piece of furniture 20 years ago for the same price, you would get nothing for it now! Antiques are still a good deal.
Auction prices certainly fluctuate, but auctions in general have become very trendy again. Many TV shows involve buying at auction, and I think the general public is now more aware of auctions. Our average attendance figures have gone up 20%
over the last year. We are having bigger crowds and bigger auctions than we have ever had. Proves to me that people enjoy coming to auctions, so you just have to make sure you have what they want!
So, for 2013, I once again am planning some adjustments to our business. I have said this before (probably last year and the year before), but I would like to make our auctions smaller, and concentrate on the quality items. As you probably know, we do get our share of good quality pieces, and those pieces usually do well, but we also get bogged down with low end items as well. Primitives in our back corner do very well, and rarely do we ever have to pack any unsold pieces up after the auction. However, low end glass, china and low end art, is another story. It is getting to the point where I can no longer sell a lot of that stuff, and we never empty the hall. So we pack it up again, move it back to storage, unload it, and then the following month, repeat the process over again.
Obviously this is where I want to make the changes, and I am going to do it. I may ruffle a few feathers and lose some consignments, but I am simply going to have to say no.
I will not eliminate the low end items entirely, because there are times when they are part of a large consignment and have to be disposed of. Also I don’t mind selling a reasonable number of $2 items, and if they sell quickly, it’s not a problem. However, when I waste valuable time begging for bids, that’s another story!
Basically I want the focus for 2013 to be filling the auctions with what people want. Quality items. Unique items. Primitives and country items…those are what we do best with, and that is what I want to concentrate on.
I want to make the sales smaller. Currently I am selling 700 items to get the same dollar value we used to get out of 500 items, however it requires two auction rings, more staff and as a result higher costs to sell those 700 items. Better off to have 500 decent quality, saleable pieces, and eliminate 200 pieces of low end “stuff”. At least, that’s the plan.
So I am looking forward to the upcoming year. I am optimistic about our auction business and the antique business in general. It’s just a matter of making adjustments, changing with the times, and like any business, giving your customers what they want and need.
Happy New Year!