The Theta Charity Antiques Show has come and gone, and amazed it’s been a year since the last one. Keith and I love to spend time in Houston, with Houstonians unbelievably hospitable. This year was no exception, with both of us topped off with gulf seafood and barbecue for another year.
Or so I hope. Frankly, although we have some very good Houston clients, our results at the Theta Charity Show have been, shall we say, spotty. Very, very spotty. Unfortunately, attendance this year was light from the gala preview through the close of the show on Sunday evening. We saw a few interior designers, but very few, and a few collectors that also come to see us in San Francisco and London. Still, it is worthwhile to wave the flag and we make every opportunity to stay in front of our client base. Having said that, not all clients buy all the time, and there is some attrition amongst collectors, so we never don’t need new customers.
While it is unusual for us to make any significant sales during the run of any show- as it is for almost all other dealers, if they are willing to tell the truth- we are able to get a sense of what goes on and the energy that is present during the show’s run. While our business was built on collectors, we find increasingly that sales made through interior designers now form a significant percentage of our revenue. And here’s the problem- shows like the Theta Charity Show are designed to be social events, with the society types attending to be seen and have a good time, and, incidentally, maybe buy art and antiques. Certainly, we know what the rules are, and are happy to have our show booth serve as an exquisite setting for a wonderful party. Ogden Nash’s squib ‘Candy’s dandy, but liquor’s quicker’ only rarely applies at gala previews, though, with sales resistance high no matter the number of cocktails the punter’s drunk.
Still, we do need to have somebody come back and buy, even a few months hence, and here’s the problem: the charity shows are geared to the collector, but it is the interior designer who’s making the purchases. And, interior designers want to be stroked, not by the antiques dealers but by the show itself. Discounted admission? Coffee mornings? That doesn’t count for much amongst designers. Private, hosted designer previews, preferably prior to the gala, work the best, even if sales are forbidden. Indeed, the most significant gala sale we made was through a designer who saw a piece at the designer party the night before, brought his client to the gala, and bought the piece. We’ve been believers ever since. Does a ‘pre-preview’ lighten attendance at the gala? Not a bit of it, as designers who attend the designer preview probably wouldn’t attend the gala anyway, but they will attend, and bring a client or two, if they’ve sussed something out the night before. As well, designer previews, with no sales, or clients, allowed, gives the designer a no-pressure opportunity to view the show. As much as designers like, and need, to advertise their work, either completed or in progress, they are notoriously shy when they don’t have work- and, more importantly, don’t do any shopping- or attend antiques shows.
The ladies of the Theta Charity Antiques Show have, mercifully, cottoned on to a lot of what I’ve written here, and thank goodness. As much as I like Houstonians, and gulf seafood and good barbecue, without the show resulting in good sales, participating becomes, shall we say, problematic.