More signs of why its less than the best of times for the antiques, and in particular furniture business. The National Association of Home Builders says homebuilders are feeling less confident about their ability to build homes for Americans who are at least 55 and older. These folks, members of the Baby Boomer generation, have been the mainstay of the antiques industry.
So far we’ve been keenly aware they’re downsizing, but until now we’ve assumed that’s been into condos. This latest report however says NAHB’s measure of condo sales in the senior age bracket also is weak. Unable to sell their homes, people in this age bracket are turning to rentals. The group says the rental market is experiencing a surge in demand for this group.
What’s happening to their suburban homes? You may be interested in this recent New York Times article about McMansions becoming college student ghettos.
Unfortunately for the antiques and furniture industries, it looks like there will continue to be more selling going on than buying, at least among Boomers.
So what’s a dealer to do? So far this answer seems to have been to concentrate on the very high end. I’d like to suggest another way. Market entry-level to mid-range items to Millennials (Generation Y). These folks were born iaround 1980, making the oldest around 30. Sure, many don’t have jobs, but that may mean they can’t afford Pottery Barn. The situation won’t stay that way forever, and this group is huge. Find customers and make friends now, and that relationship has the potential to be there for the long-haul.
There’s other things to love about this group. Research shows they like to shop for price and dump a brand if it gets costly. They trust advertising, are civic minded and want real solutions. They use technology, like to multitask and need stimulation. If you don’t walk the talk, they’ll write you off. If you say antiques are green, they better be green. They make up almost one-third of the population and they’re going to live a long time.
Want a testament to the power of this generation? I have three words for you: Occupy Wall Street. Learn live and love this generation and you won’t go wrong.
It’s easy to get hung up on just what is and isn’t an antique. But it may have little if anything to do with how desirable something is. It’s also easy to play the role of arbiter and decide just what should be in an antique show and what shouldn’t. These are topics that never come into play in a more mainstream retail environment.
The primary component of any definition for an antique has to do with age. One hundred years is the most often referenced number. Why one hundred and not 99 or 101 isn’t exactly clear, but it is a nice round number and an easy barometer.
Yet age also has little to do with quality. A 75 year-old piece of great quality can be more desirable than something with a century and a half of age that just wasn’t very nice to begin with. For sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but when more folks desire one thing over another, that gives it market value. It would also seem the younger the customer is, the less older means better.
Now if we’re talking about the traditional 55 to 75 year-old collector, age may weigh heavier when determining value. The shows catering to this age category, which is most of the smaller hotel and charity shows out there, go through at least the motions to keep the stuff this crowd may turn their nose down at off the floor. These are also the shows where you see the gray hairs scratching their heads wondering just where all the young collectors are.
Here is where the antiques market has something in common with the real estate market. What the older homeowners are looking to sell so they can downsize, is not what the younger folks looking for their first home are looking to buy. It’s not a problem of too few buyers, or too much supply exactly. There are enough buyers and enough supply, but what one group is selling is not what another group wants.
The results of a recent and ongoing survey here at Urban Art and Antiques can be used to demonstrate. The largest age group in the survey is aged 31-50. This would include the youngest Baby Boomers down to the youngest of Generation X. An additional seven percent of respondents were aged 30 and under, making the total for the two groups more than 50 percent of respondents.
Another question asked about the period in which the things they buy were produced or crafted. The top answer straddles the age-related definition of antiques at 1900-1930. This would seemingly include Arts-and-Crafts, Colonial Revival, Art Deco and even early modern things. Not what you might typically expect to find in antiques shows.
The next most popular response is the time period preceding it, 1851-1900. Here we fall smack dab in Victoriana, a style also not common at antique shows, yet gaining some interest among younger buyers particularly as it relates to Steam Punk and the like. Only then do we get into the era of more of the things you would typically expect to find at an old-school antique show, those stemming from the period of 1801-1850. That’s followed by an almost as popular 1931-present category. And way at the end, things from the 18th Century.
If there’s a better way to say DISCONNECT, I don’t know what it is.