The Journey of Antiquing — 8: To Bring Them In

The invincible barrier between antiques show and young generation
The invincible barrier between antiques shows and the young generations

This is an inconvenient truth: By and large, the antiques world is responsible for the shrinking market caused by its consistent neglect of the younger generation, and such an important demographic group will go on as missing unless they are brought in on their own terms, in their own way. The antiques industry is talking, but is it communicating?

There are no other issues more urgent than the expansion of the customer pool for the antiques business. From the beginning of the year, the first batch of the boomer generation enters the age of 65. With more retirements on the way, the core antiques consumers will begin downsizing. Yet in any given antiques show that we have attended, there hardly exist any young shoppers looking to fill their apartments with antiques. To expect them to love antiques suddenly when entering middle age is more of a well-wishing fairytale, and it is imperative for the whole industry to rethink and innovate in order to bring them in, NOW.

First let’s look at what marketing has been done for the typical antiques show. Well, the best of all is “word of mouth.”  Collectors get recommendations from friends (now they can get facebook recommendations), or they can inquire with dealers about other shows when attending one, who, nevertheless, will recommend their next show without reserve. Yet, this customer is not your typical Joe and the younger generations may not have collectors in his friendship circle and taking notes from dealers is a default sign of seasoned collectors.

Advertisement on traditional media is more a reminder to the seasoned or returned customers than to lure the new younger generation. I do not want to discredit the importance of the trade papers and the benefit of having show listed in such trade magazines. But let’s face it, less than 30 percent of people who are under 35 read any newspaper in 2009, not to mention the trade papers. Andrew and Hollie have a noble editorial column “The Young Collector” in the Main Antiques Digest, yet ironically they cannot avoid the conundrum that those articles are read largely by the gray-haired readers.

Will your half-paged show ad on page 32 of a trade paper be read by those under 35?
Will your half-paged show ad on page 32 of a paper be read by those under 35?

Nowadays most shows do have a website, unfortunately often with a design philosophy 10 years behind. What I mean is that it is often the same kind of HTML static page as those created before the boom and burst of dot.com. It is there again for the convenience of the internet-savvy type of the seasoned shoppers who can type a shows’ name into Google and find out locations, time, admission fee and perhaps a glimpse of dealer list. But again, the missing link here is the new customers must know the name in order to search for it. How would they come to know it?

Other advertising methods include postcards, radio or TV ads (or better a TV report). While the cost of the postcards may prohibit mass-mailing because of its low conversion rate to the young generation, radio or TV ads have also been made with a mind toward seasoned collectors. A even worse news is that based on Nielsen young people don’t watch TV on TV (and instead watch TV online or portable devices).

Now let’s look at some common attributes and trends of shopping patterns in generation x and y, which can be summarized in two words: social shopping.

It is NOT about that they will use OpenTable to make reservation for the dinner at a trendy restaurant and it is NOT about that they will buy books or almost anything online such Amazon.com. It is the capability of interacting with like-minded fellow to discuss, share and shop (Amazon review and rating system), take and give recommendations to each other (iTune store or urbanspoon) and connect directly with the service or product provider (check styleforum.net) to build the trust within the community.

Perhaps it is unfair to compare the comprehensive design of Amazon with a mom-and-pop website. Social shopping is just gaining momentum with big retailers now. However, from a technological perspective, the popular websites which attract the younger generation are either those with rich content (think of New York Times or Yahoo main page ) or those providing a unique service (think of Twitter or Groupon). But in either case, interaction is a must to keep their attention and get them to return. Both the New York Times or Yahoo have some interactive flash to use video and images to entice reader’s feedback or comments. Twitter is totally based on the inter-personally interactions. A simple static webpage will not trigger the conversion of the lead even if they happen to come across such a webpage, even worse if such a website is only updated once a year before the show.

While interaction may seem a long way to go as most of the show managers may not have the human resources and technology know-how to open up the opportunity for social shopping, they can begin to start from some simple tasks. For example, while not many shows can have the former Met director make a video as seen in the website of the Winter Antiques Show, home-made videos can be created with a less than 100-dollar camera and uploaded onto YouTube or Facebook. Don’t be afraid of professional editing or image quality. Take for example of Gary Vaynerchuk who became a celebrity with his home-made videos about wine. YouTube for generation Y is a way of communication and informality invites comments and interaction. Even better, invite visitors to upload their own video or photos to get into the video contest for prize or discount for the next year. The next generation look for the opportunity of participating in their own comfort zone. If antiquing is not within their comfort zone, photo and videos are.

Another example is Groupon. Perhaps some show managers who rely on the admission to break even, the total cost can hardly offer a 50 percent discount unless more than 1,000 show up at the door, it is still worth trying to make the presence in such new social shopping site. Whether or not such a deal will be “on” or not does not matter, it is the exposure to the younger generation who otherwise would not have heard of the show that makes it an ideal channel for antiques show. According to J.P. Morgan/eMarketer, web users between 18 to 34 were 10 times as likely as those 55 and older to have purchased from such a site–and those who earn $100,000 or more are also more likely to participate in social shopping. More interestingly, these shoppers are venture-takers who are willing to try something new, for them including the antiques experience!

In the end, we are in the 21st century with fads and trends in technology (and hence young generation’s next infatuation) will continue to change. Abraham Lincoln, in his speech to the Congress in 1862, made such a statement which is still resonating nowadays to the antiques business: The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise — with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew.

About Hui

Wang Hui lived from 1632 – 1717 and followed in the footprints of his great grandfathers, grandfather, father and uncles and learned painting at a very early age. He was later taught by two contemporary masters, Zhang Ke and Wang Shimin, who taught him to work in the tradition of copying famous Chinese paintings. This is most likely the reason why critics claim that his work is conservative and reflects the Yuan and Song traditions. One critic claimed that “his landscape paintings reflect his nostalgic attachment to classical Chinese aesthetics. Along with the other Wangs, Wang Hui helped to perpetuate the tradition of copying the ancient masters rather than creating original work.

4 comments

Most of your thoughts are right on. The one thing we fail to discuss often are the challenges that show promoters face in attracting new customers are the deeply imbedded perceptions in younger people about what an antique show is. Think grandma’s dimly lit victorian home, her china cabinent and her “special” dishes. As an industry, we need to challenge these perceptions(many of which are patently false) with marketing directed towards a new generation of customers. The antiques business has for decades relied upon “scarcity, rarity & expensive” as the lure to attract the type of customers it has now. The next generation doesn’t want scarce & rare, we want accessible, affordable and relevant to our lifestyle. An individual item may be rare & scarce given the fact that it survived intact for 200 years of use/neglect, but an antique show is filled with 10’s of thousands of rare and scarce items.
We are also struggling to change the message and methodology of attracting new customers. As Andrew & Hollie have said on occasion, a new generation of collectors is not coming to save us. Our best future is encouraging a new generation of users. People who would choose to live with antiques/vintage in their home as a stylish & sensible alternative to the mass produced dreck at the malls. Attracting these customers in dependent on us changing the message from the collector based marketing we have relied upon for decades, and embracing a new message. I would love to do a podcast/interview on the topic, as it is something I deal with on a daily basis in trying to move the business forward.

Just a thought…….
Could we, show promoters, dealers, antiques collectors & consumers as baby boomers possibly bear some of the blame for the current situation by indulging our children and grandchildren (instant gratification) with almost anything their hearts desired and when all of the parts were lost or broken, simply threw them away and got something new??? Immediately, if not sooner we replaced it with something better. How can we expect them to collect something piece by piece and furnish their nests over long periods of time.????

Good point. Not only do we use things up quickly and replace them without much regard for the harm that does, but we’re distracted and virtual. I was recently inside a large suburban home which seemed to have only computer tables and folding chairs. I really think many many people are living without a significant awareness of the world or even their homes.

Bettiane,

I have another editorial article in the Journey of Antiquing series discussing about why young generation would love to collect once they are brought in. I may publish it in a few weeks.

In short, most of gen X and Y grew up in the age of consumerism, in which merchandise are meant to be replaced or upgraded. A one hundred year’s patina may not ring anything to them. On the other hand, these are also the generations who are drowned by material affluence and yearning for their 15 minute’s fame. Antiques, in fact, can best suit their quest for the true “I” (identity) among seas of iPod, iPhone, iPad.

It is the affordability, functionality, adaptability to their own taste and possibility of adding their own touch which makes one type of antiques more suitable for them than another.

For example, the vintage clothing market is getting big as vintage clothing is an outcry from GEN Y against the impersonal and uncool consumer brand clothing. Same as the revival of records, which bears the same undertone of anti-consumerism and makes music listening more of a spiritual ritual than simply pressing a button.

Vintage posters are getting more attentions among younger generations as the visual impact of their strong colors and designs make gen y realize what they have been missing when uploading and sharing pictures just online. And those WW1 and WW2 posters ARE fun to have. For them they can view these posters with a detachment or a insider jokes of governmental propaganda in beautiful designs.

All listed areas above are not the conventional antiques business areas, simply because the media along with the industry people have been casting antiques as the hobbies of rich old people and hence creating a psychological barrier for younger generation.

This can be changed, with coordinated efforts from the industry.

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