31 March 2015

Wind and Rain on our Journey.

There’s always something. Today it’s the wind, rain last week, and always the dovetailing of trades to work successfully side by side. However, all being well we are still aiming to re-open at the beginning of May and to be able to curate this year’s Exhibition in the re-modelled shop.

We are doing major structural and remedial work to the building, putting in a new shop front, modernising the services, re-doing the tired roofs and constructing a first floor level extension to the maisonette above. Even whilst updating the showroom lighting, we are very keen to retain the original atmosphere and style of the shop itself. The hand painted fireplace and distemper walls in the middle room, the original floor boards and terracotta tiles, the paint decorated and textured render in the back showroom and in the new window display area, I even plan to hand paint the Tree Design, (which I originally created for the British Interior Design Exhibition in 1991 and also had in the window for several years during the 90’s), of which we found traces of when stripping out. It is all very exciting.

We have missed the shop. Normally, we all enjoy our time working in our little Design Studio we have round the corner. It is a perfect place to come and do research, write catalogue captions, use the “library” and internet, we even have a sofa here, but it is not normally as crowded as it is currently, the phone didn’t used to ring so much and the shop was round the corner with its familiar filing system, log fire and coffee machine.

The reason we felt that now was the time to invest in the shop is because we have noticed and enjoyed people increasingly coming to visit us, to look at things in the flesh, touch and even smell them. It is the part of the art and antiques business that we have always enjoyed the most ourselves, the discovery, handling and chatting about the qualities of great old things.
It is also true, that like most “lifestyle” businesses, we are now conducting a remarkable percentage of our business online, using images and words alone.

Indeed we have been amazed at how many enquiries and sales we have received and made working from the Studio, in our current “shop-less” situation, but still we long to get back and start afresh in our long established shop/gallery space. Back where we enjoy the comforting habit of the rituals of opening and closing, chatting with our visitors, neighbours and window cleaner, enjoying our pieces displayed in balanced compositions around us, effectively lit and commanding their own space, with the luxury of being able to scoot off to the Studio for some peaceful and creative time and on buying trips!

So as this year’s Exhibition approaches, (and we can only simply remain hopeful that the shop will be ready in time), we continue with our planning. The draft of the Exhibition Catalogue was put to bed this morning, so it is now on its way to the printers, as our thoughts wander on to Masterpiece London and the next stage in our annual cycle.

All is the same, but somehow very different......just as it should be on any good journey I suppose.

24 March 2015

The A, B, (and multiple) C’s of mentoring.

It sounded so simple, just meet a young professional antique dealer, share a couple of days work, chat together, see if there is any advice you can give and maybe help them on their way. It looked like an opportunity to put a little something back and maybe help avoid some of the hazards put in the way of all young dealers.

The problem is that we are Antiques Dealers. We are independent, creative, restlessly demanding of ourselves and always aiming high. So once I’d agreed to do it, I wanted to do it well. But I didn’t know how.

I made an outline plan and draft agenda, before meeting my mentee. The first steps had been to investigate D Larsson Interior & Antik. Who were this young couple? What were their ambitions? What were their achievements, qualities and style and what opportunities were open to them? What nature of clientele were they hoping to attract ? Also what may they be lacking that could threaten their future success or impede them from achieving their goals or realising their vision?

You can get a good idea about dealers from the way they present themselves, their stock and their business and can discover a lot between the lines. We are in a visual industry and accustomed to judging pieces from images and dealers from the way they present their things. So I had built up an idea about them, before I made the connection. The story of that first encounter was written in my previous Journal entry of 3rd Sept 2014, entitled “LUCK, CHANCE, HAPPENSTANCE and ....INFORMATION”.

Now we are several months further into our association and as I suspected, the mentoring exercise has been at least as positive for me, as I hope it may have been for Daniel and Cristina.

Antique Dealers do not usually have the attributes common to management consultants, accountants, serial entrepreneurs or internet whizzes. Generally they are not really natural business people at all and few enter the trade with money or financial success as their primary concern or ultimate goal. It is a curious psychology that makes up a successful antique dealer and the component parts are usually a blend of passion, instinct, energy, creativity, an obstinate determination and the desire to make it alone, by backing their own judgement.

So Daniel and I were two of the original guinea pigs in the AYG initiative and we have plotted our own course. Recently this has grown to include our wives, (both also our respective business partners and integral to our businesses). As I mentioned before, the development and fruits of our association must remain private between us, but a few things have emerged that I would like to share and I hope may be useful to future mentors and mentees.

After days of non-stop and frank conversation, (bordering on what a successful antiques dealer colleague once described to me as “analysis paralysis”), we have established the A, B,(and multiple C’s) of mentoring and in so doing have managed to identify where there are faults and opportunities in our businesses. So instead of the story of our recent trip to Sweden, I thought I would simply share the core elements we identified as being beneficial to establishing and maintaining a small specialised antiques business in a confused and challenging market. Frankly these principles are as important to us, (after close to forty years trading), as they are to Daniel and Cristina in the formative years of growing D Larsson Interior & Antik.

There is no way round the absolute need for knowledge, this is the tool for which there is no substitute. Eye is subjective and impossible to analyse, but never to be underestimated. Vision is the unique idea you have that separates you from the rest, how you imagine marketing old things, to lend them new life, enhance their character and make them relevant to the contemporary world.

However during the course of our mentoring exercise, as we considered plans and ambitions for Daniel and Cristina’s business, I realised that there are so many other significant elements to consider, some practical, some aesthetic and some simply related to the desire to succeed, all of which need a degree of attention. So I started an alphabet of trigger words and noticed that the “C” words were looking dominant. A for : Accounts, Appetite, Attitude, Attention to detail; B for Branding, Buying the Best (you can find), Budget; C for Clients, Contacts, Cash Flow, Capital, Confidence, Cost Cutting,Collectors, Communication, Co-operation and Commitment.

Of course this is just a word game, but it helped to focus my mind on so much that we take for granted on the one hand and don’t consider on the other. Almost by definition, the most successful small antiques businesses are unique. They have their own character and individual style and are, however inconspicuously, somehow “Branded”.

So the closer we can get to putting all these aforementioned beans in a row, the better chance we stand of success and of establishing a place for ourselves in the market and creating our own “Brand”. Inevitably, if I continued down the alphabet I would include other important trigger words like Documentation, Exhibitions, Fairs, Focus, International, Internet, Integrity, Look, Margin, Marketing, Photography, Premises, Presentation, Promotions, Provenance, Research, Restoration, Service. Sourcing, Specialisation,  Unique, Websites, Vetting, and ending with the delightful “Zero Rated”.

As my time working and being in contact with Daniel has passed, I realize how many of these things need our regular attention and how many opportunities he and his generation are more naturally equipped and positioned to benefit from. We have discussed how the industry is changing and growing more competitive, yet simultaneously offering broader scope for expansion.

This is not a revolutionary blueprint for mentoring, but establishing a basic structure and identifying the goals of the young dealer, whilst occasionally referring to the alphabetic list, seems like a good place to start and then just watch them go.......... Daniel and Cristina are building the foundations of what I believe promises to be increasing success.

23 March 2015

The renovation work on the shop is well underway, at the time of writing the ground floor has no front and the large back gallery has no roof, well I suppose that is progress in some kind of way!

Ilse is now married and has returned to work today, so things at our temporary Studio “office” at least, are back to normal, except that now we need to address her as “Mrs” and no longer as “Ms”. We and you have missed her as our “virtual” presence has been conspicuously quiet and she will shortly be uploading fresh items to our online “Collections” again.

It is curious and reassuring how the dealer’s life carries on, even in uncommon circumstances, such as the business being homeless.

We are currently working on the catalogue for our forthcoming Folk Art Exhibition, whilst still sourcing and preparing for Masterpiece London.

We have been fortunate to acquire some remarkable pieces from exclusive Private Collections over the years and have recently sourced some genuinely fine pieces of country and vernacular furniture from an English Collection which have not been on the market for many years. Some of these will be included in our forthcoming Exhibition and others will be exhibited at Masterpiece for the first time in a generation or more. At a time when it is hard to find genuine interesting pieces, with style and integrity it is exciting to be offered such special pieces, fresh to the market.

We illustrate two unusually stylish upholstered wing armchairs, which also come with a private provenance, directly from the The Derek and Sally Green Collection; an extraordinary almost theatrical William & Mary Style example. and a Queen Anne Style example, upholstered in antique Verdure tapestry,

Josyane and I have just returned from a four day trip to Sweden, where we met up with Daniel and Cristina Larsson, (of D Larsson Antik & Interior) and travelled around Southern Sweden together on Friday and Saturday. Daniel is a member of the exciting new movement which harnesses and promotes younger professional members of the art and antiques industry, the Antiques Young Guns. For their annual awards in 2014 they introduced a mentoring scheme for a few selected winning members, of which Daniel was one. I was nominated as his mentor and we have shared both time and ideas together. This is a new initiative, that I believe will benefit both Mentors and Mentees and ultimately even the Antiques trade itself, when approached with the right balance of energy, ambition and fun, I will write more on this in due course.

Right now I will get back to writing catalogue captions and thinking about how to continue to run a business without a shop...... hopefully for only for a few more weeks..

Gallery Tour