BUSINESS is holding up well for members of the British Antique Dealers’ Association despite the recession. With a projected combined turnover of about £752m, the impact of the downturn has not been as heavy as feared.

However, respondents to the latest BADA annual survey say there has been a significant increase in customers delaying payment, with more than half of such incidents causing cashflow problems.

Another significant issue has been access to borrowing, which dealers depend on when sourcing stock. It led BADA chairman Ian Walker to warn: “Whoever wins the election needs to ensure that banks, which often do not understand the antiques trade, channel funds through to the businesses that need them.”

BADA Secretary General Mark Dodgson noted that the period covered by the survey – the first six months of 2009 – saw 45% of members experiencing a fall in sales compared to only 28% the year before.

“This was undoubtedly a difficult time for many, particularly furniture and picture dealers, although the Asian art market appeared relatively buoyant,” he reported. “Since then we have held the BADA Fair in March, which demonstrated a definite improvement in the public’s appetite for antiques and a greater willingness for them to reach for their wallets.”

A quarter of respondents actually saw sales rise, but this was down from 34% in 2008. Other headline statistics from the survey, which just under half of BADA’s 335 trading members took part in, are as follows:

• 24% of all business was conducted at fairs (28% in 2008). Shops and galleries remain the main points of sale, accounting for 60%; this is a marked increase on the 49% of the previous period. Internet sales remain around 4%.

• Since the current economic downturn began, 29% of members have experienced noticeable delays in receiving payment from customers; in 59% of these cases causing cashflow problems.
• 38% of members felt that banks had an insufficient level of understanding of the financial requirements of their business. Nearly one third found borrowing for their business had become more difficult in the current economic climate.

Looking at the spread of turnover among members, a third registered annual revenues of between £100,000 and £500,000. Another 19% took £500,000-1m, while the same percentage achieved £1m-2m. With 12% turning over less than £100,000 a year for 2008/9, that left 17% who took more than £2m. Of that slice only one or two soared over the £20m mark.

There was little surprise when it came to which regions which turned over the most, with 43% of members in Greater London achieving sales of more than £1m, down from 48% in 2008/9. No member in the South Central or Eastern regions recorded a turnover of more than £1m.

The hardest hit speciality was pictures, which saw an overall fall of 6% turnover year on year, while furniture, silver and jewellery fell by 3%. Other disciplines fell by no more than 1%.

Exports proved particularly resilient, possibly at least partly due to the weakness of the pound against the dollar. These held up at 55%, down from 56%.

The prospect of the Export Licensing office moving to Birmingham is an important issue for BADA members as 11% of them made more than ten applications during the year. The inconvenience and delay the move would cause for dealers in London – from where the bulk of applications are made – led to 40% of survey respondents saying that it would make their lives more difficult.

BADA dealers seem to be bucking the trend of moving business online or to fairs and by appointment only; 60% of those who took part in the survey said that a shop or gallery remained their main point of sale. This was up from only 49% the year before.

Meanwhile, in terms of where dealers acquire stock, auctions (26% in the UK and 18% abroad) and private clients (24%) are still the most common sources.

By Ivan Macquisten