Journal

03 September 2014

LUCK, CHANCE, HAPPENSTANCE and...INFORMATION.

Antiques Young Guns Heavy Artillery Mentoring

Daniel Larsson won me as a prize in the 2014 Antiques Young Guns Awards, ouch!

Perhaps it would be rather more accurate to say that in recognition of his achievement of building an internationally known antiques business, specialising primarily in original Swedish vernacular furniture, in a remarkably short time, he was selected as one of the winners of the innovative AYG Mentoring initiative and I was dumped on him as his personal mentor.

The mentoring scheme was introduced for the first time this year and as it has no history to build on and no formal guidelines or template to adhere to, neither Daniel nor I really knew what form it should take, or how to approach it.

However, I like the principles behind the Young Guns and have followed the development of the movement over the past couple of years. I admire their enthusiasm and vision and think the most talented of them are introducing a creative energy and individuality to their business’ and therefore also into the trade as a whole. All this during a period of remarkable change in taste, presentation and marketing of art and antiques.

So with this in mind and having been invited to act as a mentor, my intention was, and remains, to make as genuine a contribution as possible and do what I can to help move Daniel and Cristina’s business forward.

The antiques business has an amazingly rich history of “mentors”. Ask any successful dealer their story and you will find it will inevitably be peppered with references and anecdotes of older dealers who influenced, encouraged, helped or inspired them, but never previously in a formal framework like this. So I wondered how, in this slightly artificial environment,  I could condense some of the important things I have learnt from others and pass them on to Daniel and Cristina effectively.

So, prior to meeting him, I set about doing a bit of research, (as dealers do), into D.LARSSON Interiör & Antikhandel and gradually prepared what I considered might be a helpful “agenda” for us to consider on our first day together and looking forward.

My initial research showed Daniel and I to have a few potentially relevant things in common. He is married and working in a family partnership with a foreign girl, they will soon have two children, he is practical and hands on, he has a sensitivity for the vernacular and historic painted surfaces, he has a small shop, he works internationally, he likes the sea, a chat, a drink and is ambitious. Seemed like a good start and I don’t know how the Judges selected the pairings of mentors and mentees, but it felt like I had been dealt a good hand.

We emailed a few times, chatted on the phone a bit and arranged to meet in the UK a week or so ago. I picked him up at Gatwick.

He had the smallest carry-on bag for two days and nights in London you could imagine, (which I later discovered also contained a large pack of the most delicious coffee he had brought me as a gift from his hometown of Helsingborg, "just hoping you would like coffee"), was comfortably and casually dressed, in that cool Scandinavian way, topped off with headgear that somehow defines his generation. He excuded energy and warmth. First impressions were positive.

We chatted as we drove. At this stage I did not share my pre-prepared "agenda" with him, because I needed to know more about what his objectives were and to somehow define his ambitions. How did he hope to develop his business? What was his personal history, what were his motivations, passions, interests, inspirations and most importantly of all, what did he hope to achieve from our time together?

It seemed pointless to try and influence things at this stage, as this initiative is only likely to achieve anything if it is tailored to meet his targets. We chatted all day, I can’t remember ever having such a full-on conversation, for that length of time, certainly not with somebody I had only just met, since heady student days.

During the course of the day we visited a few dealers, had a pub lunch, dropped in unannounced to see one of my clients homes, (just because we were passing), looked at some of their collection and wandered around their garden, drove back to London, had supper at a little local Italian and a nightcap with Don Grant, the Arts Correspondent of Kensington and Chelsea Today and his welcoming family. We were still chatting.

During the course of the first morning I mentioned to Daniel that there are probably two major components to developing an antiques business. The first is the selection of stock, the second is to establish a clientele, (as any business can only be as strong as its client base). Leaving the prerequisite demands for edited stock selection and pricing aside for now, in my experience the other significant elements common to most successful dealerships, are: Information, Presentation, Eye, Reputation, Individuality, Intuition.......and Luck.

The problem is that all of these vital ingredients, with the important exception of "Information", are largely out of our direct control, (since Presentation is inextricably tied up with Eye and Individuality, which are somehow innate), so we need to understand that Information is our most precious and valuable controllable asset. Hence it is neither prudent nor natural for us to give it away! I explained that it may from time to time be difficult for me to answer questions for this reason and that for the purposes of this exercise we needed to be as open as possible with each other and respect absolute confidentiality between us. So I'm afraid that I am not in a position to share the juicy details of our discussions or action plans here. 

However, Daniel now has some new ideas and objectives, both specific and general, that dovetail in with the vision that he and Cristina had already formulated for their development. The "agenda" I had prepared did prove useful when we addressed it later in the day and when we reviewed it again, through slightly bleary eyes and with thick heads the next morning, before heading off our separate ways. Exciting.

Daniel has already worked himself into a good position. He has a great geographical, cultural and linguistic advantage to exploit his expertise in early Swedish furniture, he is developing his international business relationships and online presence, he has energy, passion and ambition. I think I may learn a lot from our times together.

It may seem churlish to mention, whilst discussing the possible merits of a mentoring scheme, but I did tell Daniel that luck, chance and happenstance have really been the most powerful forces in moving our business forward. Occasions when a chance word or meeting led us to valuable information, a great discovery, important clients or opportunities. When I look back it was moments such as these that have had the most significant impact on our business. But we have still always had a vision, supported by plans and objectives which we review regularly. Maybe without these we may never have benefitted from the luck?

Being nominated as mentor to D. Larsson Interiör & Antikhandel may just prove to be another such "lucky" moment for both of us.

 

 

 

 

 

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