Friday, August 1, 2008

The Wall Street Journal

For those of you lucky enough to have missed it, last Friday, on the cover of the Weekend Journal, we were sited in an article entitled "New Bargains on Old Furniture; As 18th- and 19th-Century Antiques Fall Out of Favor, Prices Are Plummeting.” In case you must read it, here is the link. After a week of neglecting my blog to work on an adequate letter to the editor, I felt that I should publish it here.

Dear Editor,

I am writing in reference to the Nancy Keates’ article published by the WSJ on Friday, July 25, 2008 on the cover of the Weekend Journal titled “New Bargains on Old Furniture; As 18th- and 19th-Century Antiques Fall Out of Favor, Prices Are Plummeting.”

I should start by letting you know that our business was interviewed and misquoted for this article, which is of direct consequence to me and my business. Aside from the misquote, we were most disconcerted by the fact that the article painted a grim picture of an industry that in our firsthand experience is doing remarkably well and experiencing growth, for those who have known how to adapt to the changing market. Suggesting that all antiques are unfavorable and unfashionable can only hurt us. I cannot understand with what motive Nancy Keates or the WSJ would publish such detrimental “news”. I will begin with the reference to our store.

The article states: Alhambra Antiques in Coral Gables, Fla., is posting almost all its growing inventory on the Web, and cutting prices 30% from what it would have charged in the store. Still, people ask if that's the best price, says marketing director Doug Scott.”

We never stated that we were cutting our prices by 30%. At the time of the interview, we were having a limited-time seasonal summer sale on garden furniture only and those items were discounted 30%. We have already received phone calls and a visit from your readers expecting such discounts. When I pointed out to one of those callers, that my marbletop tables are in the $4,000-$7,000 range, he seemed flabbergasted. “Those aren’t bargains!” he rightfully exclaimed. I am requesting that this significant material misrepresentation be corrected by your newspaper.

We are posting our inventory on our website, but only to increase our sales. Any retail business in the US is simply not looking ahead if they don’t sell online. It is not because “antiques are falling out of favor” or “prices are plummeting.” It is for our customers’ convenience. In fact, we told Ms. Keates that our sales have continued to grow year to year, and if anything, due to the fact that we import from Europe, our prices have steadily climbed, similar to the new furniture to which she refers. Any comments made that contradicted the idea of “prices plummeting” were dismissed. Unfortunately, we feel she was not interested in hearing the truth.

Ms. Keates made untrue blanket statements about the antiques market by lumping Victorian bric-a-brac sold on Ebay with the quality, trendy antiques sold by us or our peers. The article states, “Younger consumers want more casual, cleaner lines, just as they do with clothing.” This is absolutely true, and the reason why as heavily carved antiques have fallen out of favor, the prices of Swedish, Biedemeier, or Art Deco antiques have sky rocketed. Painted Scandinavian furniture and Italian crystal chandeliers have become so hot that dealers cannot replace them fast enough in their showrooms. Certain antiques have lost their value but the industry as a whole is doing well. Look at the success of 1stdibs.com, a website that features the top antique and vintage design dealers in the country. Interestingly, the Journal recommended shopping on 1stDibs for antiques back in 2006 (“Interior Decorators on Where to Shop the Web for Home Décor” by Elizabeth Blackwell, March 6, 2006). 1stDibs posts approximately 4,000 new items monthly and boasts a turn over rate of over 60% on a monthly basis. Doesn’t exactly sound like merchandise or an industry “falling out of favor.” Successful dealers have adapted to the changing styles by altering their offerings within the antiques realm and not escaping it.

Another quote from the story was the most surprising – “Flip through any home magazine and it's tough to spot an antique among all the chrome, clean lines and modernist decor.” Any home magazine? I don’t know what home magazines Ms. Keates reviewed. Pick up Architectural Digest, Veranda, House Beautiful, Elle Décor, Domino, Vogue Living, Traditional Home, Southern Accents, Martha Stewart Living, or Oprah HOME and you won’t see a single issue without something about antiques or vintage furniture. Last month’s Martha Stewart Living had an entire chapter devoted to antique shopping across the US, and the renowned Keno brothers have a regular column in Traditional Home. Only niche design publications, which focus on the cutting edge, may not include antiques.

I’d also like to comment on this quote – “The trend is reinforced by the products promoted by retailers such as Target and Ikea and the set designers for TV shows.” Again, how Target and Ikea ended up as the style setters of the entire home design world is beyond me. Someone looking to buy a $50 coffee table is doing so because of the price point not as a design statement. We are not competing with Ikea for consumers. Even so, many popular retailers such as Pottery Barn or William Sonoma take their inspiration from classic antiques and use antique accessories to enhance their catalogs.

Lastly, I would like to add that I am a regular subscriber to the Wall Street Journal, I did not just read this article because it pertained to me. After reading it, I was shocked that such a renown and reputable newspaper would publish an article that truly missed the mark about our business.


6 comments:

Lewis Baer said...

Olga,

As a dealer too, I have to believe that Ms. Keates is both right and wrong. While being misquoted is unfortunate and inexcusable,I find that her focus on how antiques are out of favor is more about what styles are in and those that are out.

As a design trend of the last 5-10 years, items from the 2nd half of the 20th Century have become a dominant prefered form of furnishing at the expense of traditional English and French antiques. 1st Dibs success is really all about their ability to show those modern items.

What Ms. Keates failed to explain is the widening gap in demand between quality and ordinary antiques. Great pieces of any period bring great prices and the reverse is now more true than ever. It is the ordinary that is now being reevaluated by the marketplace. As demand for those antiques remain weak, lower prices are being reflected in auction sales which are compounded by the additional effect of a buyer's premium.

Perhaps Ms. Keates should have written about how some dealers are being more creative in these times. She should have written about dealers with innovative marketing ideas, function internet web sites, and how they have adapted their inventory to saleable, trendy items.

Lewis said...

FYI,

The New York Times had a similar article on antiques back on 2/8/07
Here's the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/02/08/garden/08antiques.html

Country French Antiques said...

Olga,

It is very evident in the article, Ms. Keates is not familiar with the antiques business and searched for and/or high lighted situations which collaborated her story.
She is not the first and won't be the last so called journalist, to quote someone out of context.

The good news is....
I think the majority of people take anything they read in a journal with a grain of salt. The WSJ, as most, operate from a Doom & Gloom perspective. They all have their slant and are trying to MAKE news.
More good news...
we now have the power of the internet (and blogs).
I truly believe their days are numbered and my clients don't know who Ms. Keates is or care what she thinks.
I think the definition of an antique in the public's eyes has always been a bit hazy. Antique malls and Ebay do more to muddy the picture when they define vintage and garage sale junk as antiques. Just the way it is.
It falls on our shoulders to educate the public about our product.
You responded in a most professional way, but frankly, I think you are giving her power that she does not have.

The House of Beauty and Culture said...

I read that article. And to be perfectly frank, I thought the reporter at best was misinformed and biased. At worst, a complete philistine. This is just another case of someone knowing the cost of everything and value of nothing. What she should have pointed out is that $700 19th century table will last a damn sight longer than anything produced today at that price point.

When will people realise that antique dealers (I am speaking of myself now) are not interested in the type of customer that would ever shop at Ikea? It is a completely different mindset.

How tiresome for you.

Elaina said...

Yes, antiques make good accents for home decoration.

Piece o' Coconut Cake said...

I hope yo sent that letter in eventually. They most certainly deserved to see it!

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