Selling Antiques Online to a New Generation of Collectors

profile_Publicity_photo by Katherine Gustafson on April 11, 2014
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Douglas Scott thinks that analog treasures and digital media are a perfect match. Through his new venture, an online marketplace for antiques and fine arts called The HighBoy, he aims to redefine how relics are sold online and make them relevant to young collectors.

Scott got involved in the antiques industry when he took over online marketing for Alhambra Antiques, his father-in-law’s shop in Coral Gables, Fla. He says it was a much-needed change of pace from his previous job as a business consultant at Cap Gemini Ernst & Young, which required a lot of travel. He moved on to become marketing director for two other antiques businesses.

After that, Scott started an online marketplace, On Antique Row, for a select group of antiques dealers in West Palm Beach. The venture had challenges, but it taught Scott the important lesson that, contrary to popular belief, antiques sales can work well on the web.

The HighBoy Launch

He took his experience into The HighBoy, which he launched in January with his wife, Olga, three full-time employees, a team of freelance writers, and an impressive set of advisers.

Scott and his team aren’t the first to sell antiques online, but The HighBoy takes a fresh approach to how to go about it. His company makes a point of knowing and respecting the perspectives of antiques sellers while trying to breathe new life into marketing their wares to buyers.

For example, The HighBoy’s inventory is smaller and more carefully vetted than that of competitors, he says. Whereas other sites offer a range of furniture and housewares, including contemporary products, The HighBoy focuses solely on antiques made before 1960.

The site is unique in that it is run by antiques insiders, and focuses on keeping suppliers happy by allowing them to link from TheHighBoy.com to their own websites and by handling shipping logistics for goods sold through The HighBoy. Dealers pay a relatively low fee for listing inventory, which is made up for by a relatively high commissions on sales, Scott says.

The Future of Antiques

Of course, the site doesn’t just cater to dealers. Scott seeks to be a part of a thriving industry that’s reinventing itself for the future. “We care about the overall success of the industry, not just a few dealers or ourselves,” he says.

That means making antiques exciting in a way that will appeal to a younger demographic. “Your marketing problem to solve is to grow your base and to encourage young people to become collectors,” he says.

“As people come up and start making a little more in their careers, [we] encourage them to invest a little bit in things that are interesting. We want to have an artsy edge and bring a new perspective to an older industry.”

Advice for Entrepreneurs

Scott says he has learned a lot during his journey from business consultant to owner. His biggest advice for other entrepreneurs is to just jump in and get going.

“You just have to do it,” he says. “You learn so much. I think that you’ll find that if you are just passionate about it and get out there and start making mistakes, it’s fantastic. You’ll learn so much more from your mistakes than you’ll ever learn from reading books.”

Scott says he got a tremendous boost from finding the right partners, people who understand his vision and bring positive energy to his endeavor. He finds working on a team to be motivating and useful in keeping him accountable for the project’s goals.

“If you want to do [something], start tomorrow,” Scott advises. “Write down what you need to make happen, who you need to get to help you make it happen, and go at it.”

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Katherine Gustafson is a freelance writer based in Seattle, Washington, who loves writing about small business and entrepreneurship. Her first book, Change Comes to Dinner, explores the way entrepreneurs and other visionaries—from greenhouse innovators to no-till wheat farmers—are changing the business of food.

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