Rebecca Davies, CEO of LAPADA.

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More than 30% of the 550- strong membership of the UK’s largest dealer association responded to the survey that has run since the late 1980s.

CEO Rebecca Davies believes challenging times have created a more engaged trade.

“The responses convey a very strong sense that high standards of service and transparency are absolutely essential to future prosperity, not something that needs to be imposed on the trade by regulators.

“I am particularly excited by the growing sense that these are positive business attributes rather than inconvenient burdens that must be endured at the behest of regulators.”

A new section in the survey garnered almost 300 separate answers to three open questions designed to spotlight key issues of the moment.

Better marketing

Asked about their main priority in the year ahead, the bulk of responses focused on being more proactive, changing with the times and better marketing rather than macro issues such as Brexit and ivory.

Introducing authenticity certificates, a proper returns policy, clear pricing and transparency were all cited as ways of improving service to clients – an understanding that the buying experience can be as important as the object.

This is of particular importance in the light of members’ response to questions about clients. Most customers are now described as decorators and furnishers rather than collectors in the traditional sense.

Asked ‘what measures have you taken to improve consumer confidence or adapt your business?’ many dealers said their focus had been upon upgrading websites and social media presence.

“For a number of years, many dealers saw the internet as an unnecessary additional burden on their time and resources,” said Davies.

“Now that has changed and there is a noticeable acceleration in the desire not just to have a website, but to make it one of the central planks of every business.”

Local trade in decline

Regular questions regarding sales among LAPADA members in 2016 suggested that local or ‘passing’ trade is dwindling. A majority of members said they now had more overseas customers than those in their local area – a stark figure some respondents were seeking to address in the coming year.

The US accounted for a third of all foreign clients, with just under 30% of customers coming from the EU. A distant third and fourth place were Australia (8%) and China (7%). On average, LAPADA dealers import just under a quarter of all overseas purchases from the EU.

The past year has also seen a greater emphasis on higher-value items being sold. Over 60% felt the trend was towards higher-value items and more than 30% said their sales were typically in smaller items of stock rather than furniture.

Close to 80% voted for a ‘members only’ feature on the LAPADA site that would provide advice and information on topics such as CITES, export licensing and VAT.