(Above photo - Shipping decorative arts and antiques globally through the pandemic.... )
2020 was a difficult year that presented challenges to everyone of varying scales, both personally and on a business level. Living through the pandemic - a calamitous event of historical proportions - forced big changes on how we live, socialise and shop as many of us were forced to spend more time at home with limits on the things we could normally do. It was - and still is tricky. Of course, I consider myself lucky that I don't really know anyone close to me who died from Covid-19 but offer my condolences to anyone who has suffered the loss of a friend or loved one.
(Keep the mask on and stay safe )
The experience of the pandemic forced our hand to a trend that was already well underway - the move to e-commerce and shopping online for antiques and decorative arts. Although of course not a new thing, 2020 saw the final push to clicks and mortar. Luckily for our business, we already had a strong online presence and our journey as a business since the late 1990s was always a steady migration to online. Now we think nothing of our clients buying expensive items from our website via their mobile phones after three clicks. Although that seems normal now, it's amazing how fast this transformation has occurred and it makes you wonder where it will lead. What will the technology be like in 5 or even 10 years with the rate things are moving?
(Above photo - Our birthplace in London's Swinging Sixties )
Through being in business since the 1960s we have always weathered change and adapted to new situations and technologies - it's essential to adapt to change and pivot accordingly. The initial start of the business started with a bricks and mortar presence in those halycon pre-internet days. First starting on London's Blackstock Road in Islington in 1966, moving to Camden Passage, N1 and then a solid twenty years on Westbourne Grove, W11. Up to when we left Westbourne Grove in the late 90s (heading slightly north to Church Street, NW8 for a few years) that part of Notting Hill Gate - being close to Portobello Road - had long been synonymous with antiques. Westbourne Grove was a street full of antique dealers and from this reputation people would come from all over the world to buy. Although, if you walked down The Grove today, you wouldn't know it as it's now all chi chi boutiques and high end restaurants, the domain of hedge fund managers, trustafarians and celebrities.
(Above photo - 174 Westbourne Grove - our home for 20+ years... )
I do always wonder at the old days when you would sit in your shop waiting for customers to - hopefully - come in and buy things. Of course you could pay for adverts in traditional print media to attract clients, but more often than not it really was a case of hoping and waiting. You could tell it was a quiet week as you walked down the street and looked at the dealers looking out the window anxiously and expectant, whilst biting their finger nails to the quick, waiting for that elusive 'big punter'. Now it's a different story, with the wonders of Google Analytics and Adwords (and the thousands of other software applications and platforms in existence) you can really drill down to reach your clients through targeted advertising mixed in with some healthy content marketing. It's all data, micro targeting and tracking. How did they get here? What keyword did they use? How long did they spend on the website? Why did they leave? Most importantly - did they buy anything and if not, why not?
(Above photo - 1 Church Street, NW8 - our Christmas window display circa 2002)
Circa 2003 many other dealers - like us - thought it was time to move on as the business started to head online so we traded up for more space in the Hertfordshire countryside and moved into our current warehouse. Eighty per cent of our business was now from online sales so it helped - almost using the Amazon business model - to have a bigger premises with cheaper rent from which to fulfil orders to every corner of the planet. Particularly when dealing in high end antiques, clients often still like to look and touch the goods before parting with their money so we also had a showroom facility. Interior designers working on projects will need a good visual to see if a piece will work in a place, something sometimes difficult to calculate just from a photo. Hence, please come and see us in person. Also, you can't beat face to face interaction in many situations, and we love to forge healthy long term client relationships in person. This model still works really well. With good marketing, clients will find you and often enjoy the experience of a day out in the Hertfordshire countryside. Many international customers would stop off on their way to (or from) Heathrow Aiport which is a few junctions around the M25 from us.
(Above photo - Our large showroom in Hertfordshire, open to the public and fulfilling orders globally )
These are just a reflections on how the business has morphed over the years and how the last year particularly has really pushed the market even more online. I feel 2020 really sealed people's confidence in buying online, allaying any residual fears about security whilst revealing the benefits of its convenience. Of course, I won't giving away any of our secret recipies and formulas for success - our trade secrets - but I think it's posit for some healthy reflections. In this way we see how far we've come and try to, a little bit, without sounding all Mystic Meggy - see into the future.
In Part II of this feature I will be looking at trends that have emerged via working through the pandemic in 2020-21. Stay tuned...
(Above photo - Canonbury Antiques Decorative Arts and Interiors - From The UK To Anywhere )
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