1stdibs, the global online marketplace for high-end art, antiques and decorative objects, has wholly acquired Online Galleries, the British-based portal favoured by LAPADA, the BADA, SLAD and CINOA.
The deal, which is being announced at this
week's LAPADA Fair in Berkeley Square - an event sponsored by 1stdibs - is the
latest step in 1stdibs' strategic plan to expand its reach and
become the destination of choice for collectors, buyers and
The 230 or so members, including trade
associations, who currently appear on Online Galleries, are being
offered a preferential deal to sign up with 1stdibs by the end of
the year, but the existing Online Galleries site will continue as
now, said Carmine Bruno, managing director of Online Galleries, who
has now become managing director of 1stdibs UK. There will be no
interface between the two sites.
It is not just a surname that he shares with
Michael Bruno, founder and chairman of 1stdibs. When the two met
earlier this year to discuss the future of the industry, they were
not planning to construct a deal, Carmine Bruno told ATG.
"However, it became very clear, very early
on in our discussions, that our individual visions for the future
were very closely aligned."
That shared vision, which laid the
foundations of the eventual deal, focuses on high-end quality, not
just in the art, antiques and luxury goods being offered online,
but in the people selling them, as well as the ongoing refinement
of the technology and systems being used.
Michael Bruno, who launched 1stdibs in 2001,
now finds himself at the helm of what is billed as the "largest
online luxury marketplace" in the world, hosting 1300 dealers in
everything from fine art, jewellery and vintage fashion to high-end
Every dealer is vetted, has to be
recommended by recognised trade professionals of a high standing,
must operate from a bricks-and-mortar gallery and must be working
full time as professional dealer. Many of them also have to undergo
a gallery inspection by 1stdibs before being approved for
Revenues come from membership fees, set-up
costs and uploads.
Operating across seven countries, from the
US and Mexico to major European centres including the UK, France,
the Netherlands and Belgium, there is a waiting list of close to
1000 dealers wanting to sign up, says Michael Bruno.
Above: Michael Bruno, founder and
chairman of 1stdibs.
"We could take them all in tomorrow," he
says, but that might have a detrimental effect on quality control.
Instead, the company spends a great deal of time assessing its
existing offering and deciding which markets to build on, whether
by collecting discipline or geographical location, and this informs
the selection of recruits from the waiting list.
Carmine Bruno has taken a similarly
controlled approach to expansion of the operation that was
initially created by St James art dealer Peter Nahum five and a
half years ago. In Online Galleries' case, dealers must be members
of one of the leading recognised associations.
"We have probably turned more people away
than we have accepted over the years," he said.
Above: Carmine Bruno, managing director
of Online Galleries, who has now become managing director of
As well as their mastery of the web, both
Brunos come from an arts-based dealing background. Michael
initially marketed classic antique furniture from dealers in the
Marché aux Puces in Paris to US buyers, while Carmine worked as a
dealer in mainly mid-century art in both the UK and US.
With the financial muscle of venture
capitalists Benchmark Capital behind it, 1stdibs now has the money
to develop its design and technology teams, as well as its
software, all of which have been very much the focus of activity
over the past nine months.
"Billionaires, millionaires and the ordinary
intrigued buyer increasingly like to go online to look at things,"
says Michael Bruno. "We are going to make it easier to find things
and buy things, and our challenge is to connect to the buyer's
first impulse before they hit our website."
How he intends to do this is not yet clear,
and he is enigmatic about what will happen next: "In a year's time
you won't recognise us," he adds.
Money, technology, advanced support teams,
the right standard of dealer and quality of object, as well as a
global market reach are all assets that 1stdibs brings to the table
in the deal, as well as the ability to move quickly. The company
runs global advertising and promotion campaigns and has now
developed a bespoke shipping service with Hedley's,
with whom it has worked for 12 years, offering preferential
"The challenge initially is to ship stuff
from Europe to the US at a reasonable cost," explains Michael
Bruno. "We now give a calculation on shipping costs for
transactions based on container rates."
Hedley's use warehouses in Long Island City
near New York to streamline the process.
Online Galleries, as a comparatively small
company that also custom-designs websites for dealers and trade
organisations, has been unable to develop as quickly as it would
like, according to Carmine Bruno.
The deal will change all that. In its turn,
it brings the standards of dealer and stock necessary to maintain
the level of profile 1stdibs insists on, as well as local knowledge
of the UK and European markets. It represents more than 21
countries, offers more than 35,000 antiques and works of art from
more than 5000 dealers, showcasing stock through CINOA-affiliated
Perhaps most importantly, it will act as a
stepping stone to speed 1stdibs' entry into the European market. By
adding over 200 leading UK dealer members of Online Galleries such
as Adrian Alan, Koopman Rare Art, Mallett and Ronald Phillips Ltd,
1stdibs has now more than tripled its European dealer
Michael Bruno revealed that his team were
already looking at Italy as their next target.
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