We’re in this Show Together, But Who is Talking to the Customer?

By most measures antiques sales are off their highs. The size and performance of the antiques industry is not measured in any scientific way, but I think its safe to say the conventional wisdom is things are not what they used to be. Some of the issues are external like demographics and consumer preferences, but many are in the structure of the way things operate.

This morning I heard yet another story of the politics that too often goes on in shows. There’s no shortage of blame when things don’t go well. Slow sales and low traffic can easily be blamed on a show promoter, but let’s face it, to many show promoters, the dealer is the customer, or the end user of their product. The dealer may say the promoter didn’t do their job, but its the dealer who has the direct connection with the end-user.

You can see how and why the blame goes around, and around. From my experience with shows, the number one response to where a customer heard about an event has been from a post card sent by a dealer. A dealer is able to reach a very likely customer- one who has been to a given show before. A promoter tries to reach this customer in a less than direct way, through media.

Faced with slim budgets, along with dealers, promoters are forced to target messages. Those messages are aimed at familiar audiences. While these audiences may be most likely to attend, the result is an insular customer base.

“Where are the new collectors?’ is often asked. The unfortunate answer is too often “They haven’t been invited.”

The other truth here is even a whopping advertising budget may not reach eager new audiences if it is not directed at channels they frequent. Very successful markets have been launched with very slim resources by sending the message through the right channels.

This, of course, assumes that a systemized media plan and the support of dealers (vendors) for new channels of marketing.

People stream to events when they think they will have an experience. This is best achieved when new and social media are embraced.

Back in the early days of the Internet I started a web magazine called The New Colonist. I think it even pre-dated Craigslist by a few weeks. Back then I received an email informing me that some of the material we were covering (sustainable city living) even then was being covered elsewhere on the web. I have heard something along these lines from dealers today. The thinking is if a show or a dealer has a web site, there’s no need to have the information elsewhere on the web. That couldn’t be further from the truth.

Buzz builds. Trending is created when people make it part of their social living. No one wants to be left out of the hottest new thing.

So, the more times an event is mentioned online – whether it be on Twitter, the Calendar of Antiques or an article in a trade journal – the more likely a potential customer is to feel that he or she must be part of the experience.

The end goal is not a hit on a web site. The end goal is a customer at the gate.

Granted, it sounds like all you need to do is sic a Mellinial on the social sites and go back to your reading. Unfortunately, that is not true. With everything on the Internet being measurable, a science has evolved around the use of social media.

This is especially true with antiques weeks, where multiple shows and multiple events are being hosted. Unless you have a pro at the helm, dealers and promoters end up talking in to the same audiences. As it is, dealers and promoters are all talking to the same audiences. They cross promote each other’s audiences. And if you think that is frustrating as a dealer or a show promoter, imagine what it’s like for a customer.

The existing customers take the path of least resistance, shopping the same venues they shopped last year. New customers take the path of convenience, hitting shows that are close or offer free tickets. Few do the whole tour. But if the weeks are well promoted and marketing frontiers are forged, there will be more dealer satisfaction.

One positive effort under way now is AmericanaWeek.com, which seeks to cross-promote the events of New York’s Americana Week.

Regina Kolbe contributed to this article.

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

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