Research that reached me via Facebook this morning helped confirm what I have suspected to be true for some time. It’s not the ultra-wealthy who are the primary buyers of antiques. Middle-class baby boomers, and before them middle-class members of the GI-generation, have traditionally been the buyers of antiques.
The research that reached my desktop this morning is actually from 2009 and titled Popular View of Luxury Spending Debunked in Survey of the Wealthy and is contained at the web site of the American Affluence Research Center. Some of the highlights of conclusions are that some 90 percent of the most affluent are not conspicuous or ostentatious consumers. Moreover, the affluent market is composed primarily of people with middle class backgrounds who continue to pursue a somewhat middle class lifestyle with middle class values. Even more incredible, the affluent market does not appear to be very knowledgeable about the pricing and brands of products that are generally recognized by marketers as being in the higher price points associated with the luxury category.
When ever I visit antiques shows and hear “the top of the market has been unaffected, they are talking primarily about the 10 percent of the affluent who have been busy consuming and are still doing so. Ninety percent have traditionally kept their money in their wallets and still are. The doldrums are instead due to the middle-class consumer being hurt by housing values, unemployment, lack of credit, etc.
With that in mind, we might move over to a recent read of mine titled The Age Curve by Kenneth W. Gronbach. In this book you’ll find lots of information about demographics and trends, including on the middle-class baby boomers, who have most likely been the force behind the antique market since 1980 or so.
To put it simply, many of them are done spending. Worse, Generation X just isn’t a large enough group to support the market even if they had an interest and Generation Y is in its early 20s at its peak, hardly antiques consuming age.
The good news is that Generation’s X and Y love the concept of green. And yes, antiques are green. In fact both high-end antiques all the way down to used furniture are green. The antiques industry has begun to use the concept of green, but unfortunately uses it on baby boomers. It’s with the younger generations with who it resonates best.
To me, all this makes sense. Where is the biggest growth industry in the business right now? In the hotel-oriented or country club high end antiques show? Nope. The Boomers and Silents before them were the source for the proliferation of those type of shows. Expect there will be fewer and fewer. The stregnth in the market is in the high-end auction houses AND in the urban vintage markets- for which Generation Y is providing the momentum. It’s things like fashion and low-cost mid-century items they can use to decorate apartments they are looking for, not Regency chairs and silver servings. Their taste may refine as they get older and begin buying houses, but for now, as far as we can look ahead and see growth, they will be the source of it.
Some facts from THE AGE CURVE:
Baby Boomers– There are 78 million Baby Boomers born between 1945 and 1964. The peak is now cresting 50, the age at which consumption traditionally begins to fall off.
Generation X– There are 69 million members of Generation X, born between 1965 to 1984. There are t0o few of this generation to buy up the McMansions Boomers are trying to sell (and have filled with antiques).
Generation Y– There are 100 members of Generation Y, born after 1985. They are consuming at five times the rate of their Boomer parents in adjusted dollars.