March 30, 2019
Antique stores. A thing of the past? Or, will they stand the test of time? I would suppose anyone reading this would probably be someone that has in fact gone to or goes to antique stores and so perhaps the following story will sound like an experience similar to your recollection of shopping or trying to shop in an antique store.
"Are they open?" you ask. "I am not sure that this store is open," you say to your wife, husband, friend, brother, sister, or your pet hamster you have lovingly named Pegasus or Zeus (a big name for a little guy). You get out of your car and cautiously walk up to the façade of an apparent antique store that you have passed many times in the car and never looks open — approaching like a police officer responding to a call for a burglary. You peer into the window, looking past the 5-10 signs displaying their limited hours, whom to call if you wish to get in, their buying hours, and so on. Then you check to see if you can spot a visible living entity that may be able to assist you should you enter. "It's worth a try," you say, and you pull the door handle on the front door. Of course, it is locked. Now, why wouldn't it be closed? After all its 3 pm on a Wednesday, during "business hours." You peer in further, cupping your hands above your eyes to block out the sun. Luckily you see a shadow deep into the abyss down a dimly lit corridor, hiding out in an equally dimly lit back room. You wave to him (or is it her?) down to get their attention to let you in. As they approach, they seem to look you up and down as if making sure you're not there to sell them a lifetime subscription of razor blades or horse feed. Maybe they are also checking to see if you are carrying a hobo sack full of empty soda and pop bottles, (yes, even the folks at Artzze are aware that some people call it pop and some folks call it soda and we want everyone to feel included here). As they approach, they stick the key into the door, and it creeps open just enough to let you and Zeus in. They usually don't allow pets, but in Zeus's case, they will make an exception.
Finally, you made it! The store that always looks closed was indeed open. Maybe it was open all those times just like today, but who would know, there isn't such a silly thing as an open or closed sign on the door. Even if there were, there would still be a closed sign on the door when they are supposed to be open. Sound familiar? "Thanks so much, you say," as you walk in and begin to head down the rows and rows of things, brilliant period cut glass, fine European porcelain, Rococo period furniture and sure why not even a few Hummels and pieces of fine satin glass. "Is there anything I can help you find?" asks the person who works in this store, who may (or may not) be the owner, employee, or just a guy named Doug that may or may not live in the back of the store in place of getting paid. "Well, I'm not sure," you say. "Zeus and I are always looking; just we are not sure what we are looking for until we find it." This is a code word in antique dealer lingo for underpriced things, and worth more than the asking price, after all, you're no chump. You and Zeus are seasoned pros, and together you have furnished your stunning Victorian themed manor for way less than your interior decorator swore to you it would cost you to furnish and decorate it for in period décor.
As you peruse the goods, you spot something that catches your eye: a sparkling silver-gilt bronze 18th-century French pet harness for Zeus; so he can also be well dressed for all those in attendance at your Saturday evening parties that you throw for all your friends. You pick it up, and it's perfect. It just what you always wanted, and best of all, it even fits him perfectly, but how much is it? Hmmm, is there a price tag? Oh no. No, no, no, there will be no price tag for you in this establishment, but there is a sticker underneath with some hieroglyphic code: CWA-17-#12WCS-DS (that I think means nothing at all most of the time).
Okay, seeing as there is no price, you will need to ask Doug how much this item costs. That's what he is here for right, to assist the customer? You would think so.
By now Doug is distantly looking out the front window as if he hasn't been outside of this domain other than to empty trash in 30 years or make the occasional housecall. As if he got his sweater, worn cotton navy blue dress pants, and loafers around the time he took this position back in the day 30 years ago.
Asking for a price in a regular store is the doing business part of the business that that business would do, but not in an antique store. Asking for an estimate on unmarked items in an antique store or gallery is when the excitement takes off.
This silly, useless question of "how much is this item," isn't the entrance to the rabbit hole, you managed to get in the front door, after all, Doug let you in.
Doug will probably wander on over once you have posted this Zen riddle of "how much is this item," give you a look, carefully studying your attire, running a visual credit check on both you and Zeus, (maybe it was raining today, and you dressed Zeus in his little rain jacket). "Hmm," Doug says. "Yeah…yeah… You know that just came in?" He says this with a grim smile. The item has 3 inches of dust on it, and when you picked it up, it left a hefty outline of dust on the table it was sitting on. It just so happens that regardless of what you touch, look at, sniff, or show any interest in whatsoever will have "just come in." The only exception may be the floorboards of the store, but even then, I'm sure Doug would go on about how the store's floorboards were imported from the Vatican and carved by the Pope himself and walked on by Princess Diana, and what can you say about a place with such provenance? I am sure you didn't realize that our lowly Doug was such an international player.
One tactic in response to this silly little price question that our new friend Doug may use is to say: "Well you know this is a consignment, and because it just came in, I need to talk to the owner of the piece and find out what they want for it, and I just haven't gotten around to it yet." "Great!" You think. Why this is item even out on the floor of the store if it's not for sale? Is this a museum?
After Doug mentions the issue of consignment and not yet having a price, you begin to look around and notice almost everything you see either has no price tag at all or the price tags have codes, just like the meaningless one you spotted before. It is as if you wandered into the wrong universe at the door of the store and everyone has your face but is a different person. The room begins to spin, you start to sweat little and realize the mistake of this folly, that of entering this place at all.
Doug may have considered telling you that he needs to "check his books," but instead he pops in the back room, which may double as his bedroom, again no judgment), as he has no idea what the item is worth and in conjunction with studying you and Zeus's attire. Doug will try his best to figure out how much of a sucker's price you may be willing to pay for this thing that he probably doesn't even know what it is. During this time, he may also poke around online to see what other people are asking for 18th-century French silver gilt bronze hamster harnesses if he does happen to know its use.
Maybe Doug could play the "needs to call the store owner to get the price," game, regardless of whether he is the owner of the store, or not. Naturally, customers like you and Zeus assume that the owner of the store is not there, and why would the owner that is the only person that knows the prices even be there, after all the door was locked right?
In the end, Doug chooses to go with the the-owner-of-the-store-is-apparently-not-Doug story. Doug calls the store owner to ask for the price, but the owner didn't answer the phone. Doug leaves a message, of course. Now, how this owner magically would have known the prices for the 2000+ items in their store by memory from afar without even seeing the item, but by verbal instruction alone from Doug, and I bet you not by the item code for sure, is an absolute miracle. I am not Doogie Howser MD, the kid doctor on TV with a photographic memory, and the owner of this place, whoever it is, definitely isn't Mr. Howser either. Instead of giving you the price, Doug promises you that he will make sure the owner will get in touch with you. You write down your contact information, and as you begin to leave Doug says the owner will call you when they get a price, (or a clue), and generally you won't end up buying something unless the person that holds the fort is wholly convinced you are the world's greatest sucker, living or dead. Hopefully, you are neither.
There are variations on this theme. Prices change, different people need to be called, and so on, but the result is the same. You leave dejected and annoyed, you didn't buy anything, and you are glad you have only made this mistake once. It won't be a mistake you repeat.
You may get a call in 8 months from Doug, or whomever after they had tried to sell this item to everyone else in town, before they finally realized you are just a gullible and possibly the stupidest buyer that they can find, finally calling you and let you know the item is available for some overly outrageous price if you are still interested. Let's say $3000. This number didn't get pulled out of thin air. Doug noticed as you drove away you had been driving a German-made car and so Doug & co are taking a gamble on your checking account and your level of suckerdom.
Now to all those optimistic folks out there, you can always play the devil's advocate and say: "After they call and provide a price, if you don't like the price, that this is when the bargaining comes in if you want the item. Right? Moreover, to that I would say this, having played this game myself more than a few times, that doesn't usually work anymore.
Nowadays, when you begin to bargain in these types of venues and establishments, I find that you will get a few responses. My favorite answer is: "I am not sitting here waiting to sell this item to you, and besides I have a customer that comes in often, and she is crazy! Just crazy, she will buy anything for any price. She'll snap it up when I offer it to her later on today." Wow, so crazy Shelia buys 19th-century Belgian bronzes also, huh? No, she doesn't. Nothing alone displays such tact, poise, and humility as a store owner telling me they aren't sitting there to sell their inventory to me. Well apparently, I'm the only one in the store, so for right now so maybe they are waiting to sell this item to me.
It is always the opposite party's option most of the time that buyers and sellers can both be notoriously tricky to negotiate with. In my experience as a buyer and seller of goods, antique store owners and galleries seem reluctant to bargain anymore, and by negotiating, I do not mean the 10% off decorator's discount. At Artzze we welcome the conversation of negotiation by-the-way, we are here to sell our items, and yes, we are happy to sell them just to you, just as long as we can make a deal for a reasonable price. Reasonable offers are always welcome!
Negation needs to work both ways to benefit the buyer and seller. As a buyer, I don't insult the store, their prices, and the piece I am trying to buy. I don't start the buying process by telling the merchant how insignificant and pithy this item is that I am interested in buying and how I am only willing to pay 10% of the price they are asking. An art gallery or an antique store isn't a carpet bazaar; the customer didn't ride a camel to get there. Pretend you want something from this person, like as a discount. Are you more likely to get a better deal as a buyer with a smile or a frown on your face?
Exploring all the ways you can bargain is a blog post for another time, but a short answer is to be reasonable. 90% off isn't going to happen. Be friendly and humble; tell a seller them how you like the item, and you would love to own it. Ask what the best is they can do. Using the example of the case of the hamster harness, they may say they want $3000, knowing that this is a ridiculous price. However, you can say, "I enjoy this piece, but I can't afford it. Is there any chance you would be willing to accept $1750?' You should be prepared to offer a bit more if they reject that first offer.
If you think the piece is worth $60 and they are asking $3000, keep your opinion to yourself: you're not an Antiques Roadshow scholar. Voicing you're anger and disgust over the price they are asking can only help you get thrown out of the store.
If you follow this advice and you are respectful, honest, friendly, professional, and you put some real money on the table, you will get significantly further toward your goal of acquiring an item that you want to buy. Any dealer will respect you. Maybe some will deal with you, perhaps not today but perhaps tomorrow. It does depend on if the dealer is there to sell you things or not.
Given the negative view I have proposed regarding these venues, as a responsible adult, (at least I hope so ), I will you tell you that not every antique store, gallery, antique mall or other such establishment is like this. Some antique shops are entertaining, run by really great people, people that are business people. They understand how to run a business and how to help customers, but many are called, and few are chosen. If I want to look at neat things I will go to a museum for a look, maybe the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or any host of other world-class museums across the country, or the world, which also have funny codes on all the items called accession numbers. However, I am not trying to buy those items, and I do not go into a museum expecting to purchase the items I see in the cases. However, museums do have better, more regular business hours. There is always some trade-off.
I recently attended an antique fair, and one of their requirements of the fair organizers was that all the sellers had to put prices on everything they had for sale. I saw a colleague of mine that was selling at this fair other, and I joked that this antique fair was the one day of the year that all the dealers dread the most. Since this day was the one day of the year that they had to put prices on their merchandise for all to see a real horror show, not antique show, for all of them I am sure. As a dealer myself, I will tell you one reason sellers don't put prices on pieces is that customers, or browsers, don't want to buy. They want to figure out how much their pieces are worth, a free appraisal of sorts and the idea of that is very annoying to antique sellers and dealers that have made the substantial investment and time to set up and pay for a booth at an antique fair. I know all the reasons on both sides of the coin and both sides need some general education. I am not the one to do that, but I am one to air grievances for both parties and don't worry dealers, I will also write a blog on how to buy without annoying the seller article just for you…just not today.
Now, not to oversell ourselves too hard, but we have chosen Artzze as an online-only venue for many reasons. We felt a need to address accessibility, transparency, and offer clients a no-pressure environment to make decisions, to easily send and showpieces to family, friends, or clients and compare our pieces to other examples.
On the Artzze platform, all our prices are listed, and they can be purchased today! They will be sent within 1-2 business days. Our photos and product visuals offer high magnification (5-10 times the size) of an item, so you can fully see an items condition from multiple angles in well-lit circumstances. Proper inspection is something that might not occur in a store under dim lights with one's natural eyesight and just like in a store, should you see something you like but need a little discount, we are happy to accept offers within reason.
A customer's time is precious. We value a customer's time, and our products are here to be sold, not just looked at. On the flip side, there is this notion in e-commerce that to entice a buyer online; a seller needs to offer a concession or as I call it "the concession of buying online." This implication wrongly suggests that buying online is a lesser form of purchasing art, antiques, décor, and other objects. This incorrect notion infers that the seller should be required to offer a buyer a substantial discount to compel someone to decide to buy online instead of in a brick and mortar store.
In reality, buying online is a premium service. If done correctly, it is the most convenient and informed way to purchase, provided that you find a reliable and competent retailer to do business with, like us we hope. By reliable, we mean a retailer that offers accurate condition report information, that takes good photos of products, and ships items quickly and safely. A good seller doesn't throw the Chinese Qing dynasty vase you just purchased for $1000 in a box with a little newspaper, and it eventually shows up in 25 pieces. Such occurrences of improper shipping have happened to me more than a few times; a package isn't a rattle if you can shake the box and hear the item rolling around in it. That isn't the sound of a well-packed piece.
In general, when buyers email us with questions, we relay what we know and believe to be correct information based on the questions we are asked and the information we have on hand. We aren't here to sell buyers on our products. An item should sell itself. If a buyer is going to purchase an item, they should spend a little time learning about the thing they are going to buy, versus going by whatever a gallery owner tells them, as they often exaggerate claims, provenance, or value.
I can't tell you the number of times I have heard the line "…but the lady in the antique store that sold me this piece told me this item is from the 17th century!" Maybe the seller did not know; maybe they did, I don't know. What I do know is the piece they purchased from this gallery is 20th century in a 17th-century style, and now the buyer feels cheated. Never a good thing. When a buyer asks us to tell them more about a piece, our staff can undoubtedly relay its known provenance, but we always encourage our customers to spend 5 or 10 minutes or more looking at known examples, and we discourage them from asking us to make decisions for them. I don't think it's proper to make decisions for uninformed buyers. In a store, it isn't so easy to stand in an aisle with limited internet service and start comparing known examples of an item, especially in the art, antique, or décor market, and going by the salesperson's experience alone it may not be enough to make an informed purchasing decision.
The one thing I have heard about buying art or antique décor in a store versus buying online is that some people like to see an item; they want to hold it and feel it. This sensory experience is essential when deciding to buy a piece, and I can certainly understand that. Ironically, having purchased more than a few pieces myself, I don't like to see pieces in person when purchasing because I remain more objective when I look at it alone through images without the confusion of items feel. Some Chinese porcelain"experts" love to process how the feel of an item can provide a lot of information and provide insight into if an item is fake or not. They make this claim, all the while excepting and validating pieces that half the market determines are fake.
I prefer to pay attention to visual details, be it color, visible texture, design, and I might miss a subtle detail in those attributes if my attention is focused on the feel of an object. However, everyone is different and based on the excellent service, extended business hours, and honest pricing of antique stores, (yes, I am joking), I think only more people will begin to feel comfortable buying art, prints, sculpture, antiques, vintage items, collectibles and so forth, online from reputable vendors. I say reputable because in this category many are called and few are chosen.
Markets and ways of purchasing items change as a result of many things, not only are they driven by technology and the advances of technology alone but in most cases, things change from the primary human emotion of annoyance, irritation, an inconvenience. Similar to how the car buying and car leasing industry is changing because it shouldn't take the salesperson 45 minutes in a little back room with the manager to tell me how much the car costs and it's the same with a piece of art. A customer's time is money, and a customer's time matters. Apparently to some people that sell to the public, a customer's time doesn't matter, and then that business goes out of business, all the while complaining about losing out to e-commerce stores that list their prices, have unlimited hours, and excellent service. The point of all this is change happens for a reason, more so now that ever and we are happy to embrace that change.