A Suffolk saleroom set to hold their first auction in May are going for a new business model of flat vendors’ fees based on reserves rather than the hammer price.
Clare Auction, located in Clare itself, is the
brainchild of Robin Stone, a dealer who runs Market Hill Antiques
in the same town. He believes vendors will be attracted by a deal
where they know exactly what commission they will pay before
It also means that the auction house would
not benefit, at the vendor's expense, in the event of a sleeper
being uncovered at a huge price.
The fees are payable on consignment so when
the hammer falls the vendor will receive the entire value of the
However, the fees will not be refunded if an
item fails to sell. If the auctioneers acknowledge that the failure
to sell was the result of them overvaluing it they will reconsign
it at an adjusted value for the next sale for half the fee.
Otherwise, reconsigned goods will be liable to a new entry fee.
"I don't think anyone has done it before,"
said Mr Stone. "I spent nearly a year working out a business plan,
to come up with something unique. I've been dealing since 1979 and
haven't seen anyone do it.
"I knew we had to be different to enter the
marketplace. It is generating a tremendous amount of interest. With
the flat-fee system the vendor knows where they are."
He said that one of the main reasons the
auction house can offer such a fee structure is by keeping
overheads as low as possible. The biggest outlay is insurance, but
the auction house rent the town hall in Clare to hold sales when
they want it, for four days. Utility bills are included, along with
phone and wifi costs. The second biggest outlay is storage, said Mr
Stone. They will use part of a former high street bank and the old
prison and court rooms for storage.
Above: Dealer turned auctioneer Robin
"Staffing costs are as and when," he added.
"We just call in the 12 staff members for three days, no permanent
heavy staffing, but 12 top consultants... such as clocks and
watches, books, film memorabilia, comics. We have a good team, a
major list of consultants we can get to. They will be invited to
valuation days when we run them, but my payback is simple - if they
have something they want to buy they can bid for it."
Mr Stone feels the big auction houses have
neglected dealers - a disputed if not uncommon sentiment these days
- and his fees system and buyer's premium (10%) are geared towards
a "more dealer-focused approach to auction trading".
"When I sat down to try and work out the
business model I knew what I wanted on the 'other side of the
counter', if you know what I mean. I know what I wanted when I go
to a sale... in the last four to five years buyer's premium has
been whacked up."
He is also advocating a discounted buyer's
premium for the official trade: "If I was a builder and went to a
builder's merchant I'd pay a trade discount, but I'm paying the
same as Joe Public in a saleroom. I just sat down and thought what
can I do, and thought of starting auctions with a flat-fee
There will inevitably be doubt over whether
such a system is realistic for larger auction houses with greater
overheads even if they wanted to adopt it.
However, Mr Stone told ATG: "If it's working
we'll stick with it. If we get inundated with lots we can always
run extra sales. We have only booked in the four sales for this
year but next year I hope we can get where I want: monthly sales in
the second week of every month."
Rejuvenating the town of Clare is also a
strong motivation, he added. "The real reason we're running it is
to bring back business to Clare. I've got to make money - I'm not a
numpty, don't think I'm doing it for nothing, I'm not - but the
main thing that made me sit down and think is we miss the auctions
Clare hosted auctions run by Mike Dyson from
the 1980s until five years ago, while Boardman auctioneers held
sales from the 1920s to early '90s.
"When we lost those the town started to
suffer," said Mr Stone. "Something had to be done. When Dysons
packed up I wanted to do something, but to get into the market I
needed a unique selling point. I came up with this flat-fee
• What do you think? Send letters to us at email@example.com
Above: the new fee structure at Clare Auction.
Antiques Trade Gazette is the weekly bible of the fine art and antiques industry. Read articles like this every week in the Antiques Trade Gazette or ATG app. Click here to subscribe today.