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Louise Phillips, BADA’s new chairman.

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Second-generation antiques dealer Louise Phillips has become BADA’s first female chairman, taking over the reins during an exceptionally challenging time for the trade.

A council member and northern regional representative at BADA since 2012 and, more recently, chairman of BADA’s member-led PR & Marketing Committee, Phillips was voted to the honorary position in early December, replacing Michael Cohen.

After a career in PR and marketing in the fashion industry, she joined her mother’s antiques business, Elaine Phillips Antiques, in 1985. She still runs it today, specialising in 17th and 18th century oak furniture and decorative items.

Whenrestrictions were less stringent last year, Phillips had already begun travelling the country from her base in Leyburn, North Yorkshire, to speak with fellow dealers. “It is essential to go out and reconnect with members and to involve them in their association,” she said.

Here she tells ATG about her plans to support members, finding the balance between digital trading and human contact, and her vision for a “sportier” BADA.

The challenges

For Phillips, “planning when there is so much uncertainty” represents challenges for the trade not encountered since the 1940s.

“Even post-war the stock was there, and you had a traditional buying client base. Now our client base is so diverse and much of it is based on travel and the movement of people and goods,” she said. “Will the routes to market still look the same going forward?”

The cancellation of fairs – a significant source of income for many, the difficulties of buying stock without seeing it first-hand and the impact of Brexit on sterling are just some of the challenges and uncertainties facing dealers, added Phillips.

Restrictions on businesses during the pandemic have reinforced and indeed accelerated one essential area: the need for dealers to have a presence online.

“We have to get as many of our members as possible online and to support them through our online portal – bada.org,” said Phillips. “Reduced footfall caused by the lockdowns has been a hard blow for dealers with shops and galleries.”

But she stressed the digital switch should not come at the cost of human contact, which remains a vital part of dealing. “Even if it is just a phone call, I think it is essential that while we all deal online, we maintain human contact and talk to people.”

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The BADA website is “now delivering sales and the inventories are growing,” said Phillips.

Supporting members

Vowing to do “anything we can think of to promote the dealers and their stock”, Phillips said the association had been looking at a paper print campaign for 2021 and various ways to boost dealers’ use of digital tools.

She reiterated BADA’s previous commitment to invest in its online marketplace, bada.org, where members can already upload unlimited stock, free of charge. Phillips admitted it had “been a long two-year process” but said the website is “now delivering sales and the inventories are growing”.

Driving more traffic to members’ websites via bada.org and the association’s social media campaigns is “key” to the online strategy, she added.

Planning in a time of pandemic

In what Phillips described “as a changing world”, minimising the exposure to risk will be central to how BADA plans events.

“Probably a positive, if there can be one from the horrors of Covid, is the increased time people are spending at home. This has brought their surroundings to the forefront of their minds and this presents a big opportunity for the trade. They also now have funds which before would have been spent on holidays, travel and entertainment.”

Ideas include virtual fairs and pop-up exhibitions that will reach buyers and collectors throughout the year.

“You have to be adaptable and be able to change. Any established luxury British brand, like Rolls-Royce and Bentley, has to adapt to new tastes and new markets. I see BADA 2021 as being a sportier version that can react quickly and reflect people’s changing tastes.”

Among the plans Phillips hopes will come to fruition is for BADA to host a series of smaller regional events designed to be ultra-flexible if changes need to be made.

“These would be like the selling exhibitions we used to have marking the association’s various anniversaries and could be held in venues not used before. They would promote regional members as well as of course being open to London members.

“I think there is an appetite among the buying public to explore areas of Britain they’ve not visited before.”