PERSONAL VIEW: ATG Editor Ivan Macquisten at the LAPADA conference
Last week I got it in the neck from a dealer
who was very upset about a letter we published from someone roundly
condemning the negotiation skills and pricing of an unnamed
The letter questioned how a price quoted for
a painting could be cut so substantially in next to no time by the
gallery when he challenged them over it.
What did this tell us about the gallery and
the validity of the original price quoted? he demanded.
Our inclusion of it on the letters page was
an outrage in the eyes of the complainant, because he felt we were
condoning what he saw as an extremely unfair view of the trade that
went as far as questioning dealers' honesty and probity.
I'm glad to say that, after some discussion
- which included the point that correspondents' views were not
necessarily our own and that one of the purposes of the letters
page was to stimulate debate - the conversation ended on friendly
terms, but the passion with which the complainant had spoken
reminded me once again that there are certain taboos in our
industry which one raises at one's peril.
This does not mean that they should not be
discussed, however, a point driven strongly home the day before
that phone call at what I am delighted to laud as the best LAPADA
annual conference I have ever attended.
In fact, the very subject of my caller's
complaint, price negotiation, was at the heart of the first
presentation of the day, given by training consultant Chris
Merrington in the Cholmondeley Room at the House of
Improve your profitability - how much
are your negotiation mistakes costing you? focused
firmly on the issue of trust. Unveiling the results of a snap
survey he had undertaken 'undercover' at the LAPADA Berkeley Square
fair and the recent Olympia fair, Mr Merrington gave half a dozen
examples of where dealers had cut prices by between 10% and 22%
from the original quote they had given him, in some cases only a
matter of seconds later and with little or no prompting from
While this may be a traditional way of
negotiating terms at fairs, it sends out the wrong message to your
potential buyer, he advised. What would you think if someone
offering a flat for sale at £250,000 immediately accepted your
offer of £200,000? he asked delegates.
"Generosity in these circumstances is seen
as weakness, not as a good deal," he said. And certainly some
delegates agreed, saying that as the buyer under such circumstances
they would be asking themselves what was wrong with the flat, had
it been overpriced, could they have bought it cheaper and just how
trustworthy was the seller?
Mr Merrington had been impressed by one
dealer he had spoken to on his tour of the fairs. They had refused
to budge on price, telling him that they did business all over the
world, this was their specialist field and what they were asking
was a fair price. "Qualify, qualify, qualify," he said. "Do it with
confidence and you will come across as believable and
He did not advocate abandoning negotiated
discounts altogether, but warned that rushing to close deals did
business people no favours.
Price is important but it is only one factor
in the buyer's decision making, he explained. Expertise, listening
to the customer and building trust have to be in the mix too.
"Be prepared to lose sales to increase
profits," he added. "Profit is a reflection of value for your
customers. Negotiated money is the fastest money you will ever make
Transparency must be at the heart of deals,
delegates were told. "Have a good reason for the price you are
asking, aim realistically high, know when to walk away and base
your price on the value to the customer rather than the cost to
Anticipating challenges to the price being
asked and being prepared to say no were also important, he said,
and if you do reduce the price, do so in small increments.
This was undoubtedly a brave session for
LAPADA to have staged, but the lively involvement of the 120 or so
delegates packed into the room showed that Sarah Percy-Davis and
her team had chosen well.
Above: LAPADA chairman Lord Chadlington
introducing the speakers at the recent conference.
If Transparency was the buzzword of the
first session, Technology was the byword for the rest of the
ATG Editor-in-Chief Mark
Bridge got the ball rolling with a brief introduction to
the basics, advising delegates on cutting through jargon and giving
a potted guide to hardware, software and social media, including a
useful rundown on the differing profiles and usefulness of
Facebook, Linked In and Twitter, as well as image, video and blog
hosts flickr, YouTube and tumblr.
Jill Perry, director of the
Decorative Collective, followed with an introduction to the range
of online portals for dealers, such as Antiques Atlas,
Antiques.co.uk, the Decorative Collective, The Hoard and
This was extremely useful as it gave a
breakdown of how many dealers used each portal, what disciplines
they tended to specialise in, who the sites target as buyers, the
volume and range of stock available, how the sites are marketed and
also the costs of membership and uploads. Importantly, all of the
portals appear on the first page of Google.
Jill Perry's key pieces of advice?
Join more than one portal for better
exposure and answer enquiries immediately, especially as they may
be from countries in different time zones, such as the United
States; any delay could mean the enquirer not seeing a response for
more than day and losing interest as a result.
Victor Benady, Head of
Social Media for Huntsworth, the PR and Communications group run by
LAPADA chairman Lord Chadlington (another consummate performance as
chairman of the conference), revealed that 2013 was a watershed in
consumer spending terms, with a shift in buying power away from the
Baby Boomers to what he called the Millennials, those born from the
1970s onwards. This is important because of their outlook on
society and spending, views on privacy and use of the internet and
social media, he explained.
Engaging them as customers will depend on
Education (providing rich content online in context), Aspiration
(positioning yourself as a cultural tastemaker and a source of
"life-enhancing" goods and services) and Inspiration (telling a
great story and bringing your audience into it).
Mark Hill, known for his TV
programmes and books, has recently started dealing and takes his
online activity seriously. A regular blogger and tweeter, he seems
a long way ahead of many others in our industry when it comes to
understanding how to exploit a properly integrated online interface
for raising one's profile and doing business.
He's also a very good speaker.
His pithy advice on website clarity - "Say
who you are and what you do immediately" - was authoritative and to
He went on: make sure people know how to
contact you; spend well on images; label items properly, giving
size and price, for instance; only use video if you can do it well;
create unusual blogs; adopt a descriptive but brief name for your
website; harvest as much rich data as you can, such as email
addresses; and let that database of contacts know what you are
doing on a regular basis.
Most of all, tie all your channels of
communication together: feed your website from Twitter and
Facebook, and supply each with content from the other.
He also underscored the message on price
transparency delivered by previous speakers: when it comes to the
Millennials, if you don't put a clear price on items you are
selling online, they will simply go elsewhere.
Keren Lerner runs Top Left
Design, a Soho-based company offering social media training.
What a refreshing and reassuring approach
she takes! For those daunted by everything from blogging to linking
in, the words "There are only seven things you really need to know
about Twitter" were manna from Heaven.
Her briefing, the last before the lunch
break, warned us against delegating social media to interns before
mastering it ourselves. They may know technology, but they do not
have our expertise or knowledge when it comes to dealing with
customers and the public.
Linked In is one of the best sources of
contacts and business. Keep your profile fresh, write it in the
first person and update it with information that brings out more of
your personality. All this attracts more of the right sort of
Blogging is what powers your website and can
drive more traffic to it, and there is all sorts of software, such
as Buffer, that smooths the path and reduces maintenance
Keren is offering cut-price training
packages to LAPADA members until the end of May. I'm booking
All this, and we had not yet arrived at the
keynote speaker for the day, David
Rosenblatt, who swept in from New York as the new chief
executive of online luxury goods portal 1st Dibs.
On the board of Twitter and recently arrived
at 1st Dibs having made a fortune for himself and others via Group
Commerce Inc, the ecommerce go-to firm for publishers like
the New York Times, if there is anyone who has the
keys to the city when it comes to making money via the internet it
must be him.
Delivering a slew of extraordinary
statistics - $650m of sales in 2012, 29% of 1st Dibs dealers making
a third of all sales online, etc - he set out a seven-point code
for his future vision of 1st Dibs success, which ran from making
inventory easy to find and easy to understand through building
trust to practicalities such as a reliable payment methods, a
comprehensive shipping service and dispute resolution.
He was calm and confident when it came to
answering the inevitable torrent of questions, and his audience did
not give him an easy time of it.
How do you know that buyers are going to be
looking at your desk when there are 400 others on the site? asked
It's a numbers game, came the reply. Put in
the context of 700,000 potential buyers on 1st Dibs - a figure
growing at a rate of 10% a month - 400 didn't seem that much
competition, argued David Rosenblatt.
He, too, stressed the importance of trust
and transparency. When asked what predicts success, he replied:
"Mindset. A willingness to embrace transparency, which means being
willing and able to show prices. The internet rewards
Carmine Bruno, formerly
managing director of Online Galleries and UK MD of 1st Dibs since
the recent takeover, rounded off the formal sessions with a
bullet-point lesson in how to be successful as a dealer via the
Content, images, marketing and being
proactive all provided headings that drove home, once again, the
message on clarity, detail, transparency and communication.
Preparation, measuring your activity through Google analytics and
keeping stock fresh and updated all the time are also key, he
In all then, I can't think of a more useful
six or seven hours spent at a public forum.
The LAPADA conference aimed to set out a
vision of the dealer of tomorrow. I expect that not all of what
delegates heard would have been to their taste, but the consistency
of message throughout from a first-class set of speakers who are
all experts in their own fields is one that only the foolhardy
As I said higher up this piece, Sarah
Percy-Davis and her team, together with the board of LAPADA,
deserve our thanks and congratulations for an excellent day.
They also deserve our praise for sticking their heads above the
parapet and challenging traditions that may prove very hard to
abandon, even if our heads are telling our hearts that we should do