I was reading a letter the other day published in a well-known weekly antiques trade publication. It had been sent in by the owner of a recently opened regional auction room. He was asking readers how he could obtain more clients and make the residents in his catchment area more aware of the new business so that they would consign a continuous supply of goods to his sales. At the same time, he was seeking advice on how to attract buyers so that he had a good crowd from the local community and further afield.
This somewhat unusual plea to the readership took me back to when I trained as a Fine Art Auctioneer and valuer some 45 years ago. This was a time when advertising and marketing was an inexact science and there was only one reliable method of measuring how effective the outcome – recommendation, leading to repeat business. Recommendations and repeat business, of course, are the essence of every successful business – not just the auction house – and the foundation for ongoing success.
Today, students of marketing learn that there are three vital aspects for a successful business: customer service, customer service … and customer service. No business can survive and thrive without caring about and looking after its customers. In our business, this means everything from the prompt response to a customer’s initial enquiry to ensuring that any unsold items are re-entered into a forthcoming sale or returned to the client promptly in the original condition as consigned. These days it is the friendly, helpful attitude of the valuer, together with ‘old fashioned’ values of courtesy and trust that make the difference when the client has sought the opinion of more than one expert to value and sell their goods. This is especially true when the average age of my clients is 60 plus – an age where they have been brought up to live by traditional values – and expect it of others..
By far the greatest percentage of the suitable, saleable and marketable goods that are entered for sale come from clients that are between the ages of 50 and 60 – and upwards. The majority of this group are not necessarily aware of what they have stored away in drawers, cupboards, the garage, attic or a shed – or that old pine box full of china and other bits and bobs that mother in law gave them many years before of things her grandmother kept. Often, it’s remained there for years; fusty, musty and dusty. Perhaps they have been loathe to open up the box because of the possibility of insects – dead or alive – taking up residence. Sometimes, the memories are just too much.
Many of our clients live alone. They are anxious to discuss the value of the possessions they think they have and unwrap potential treasures in front of a reassuring, knowledgeable and non-judgmental eye. Occasionally, a client will mention – in passing or hint at – boxes kept in the cellar or that black deed box in the garage that I haven’t opened because it ‘doesn’t appear to be very interesting at all and contains some worthless old papers’.
Chatting with clients and listening carefully to them talking about their family, their history and related stories over several cups of coffee, can be very revealing.
The other day I visited a client in Solihull. When I was about to leave, she asked if I would call on her friend, another lady, south of Birmingham. ‘I’m not sure whether this will be a wasted journey,’ Mr Bruce. She said defensively as I arrived. ‘I’m not sure what I have and, if anything, it’s unlikely to be of much value.’
She then led me into the garage to find the step ladder so I could reach some items on a shelf. It was then that I noticed the old pine blanket box. ‘Nothing of interest in there,’ she commented. ‘But if you want to take a look, go ahead.’
After I’d removed some dusty old newspapers and kitchen glass ware, I found a small selection of costume jewellery. As I picked through paste and Bakelite boxes of little value, I came across a pretty, circular blue velvet box. As I revealed the large brooch inside, the lady exclaimed: ‘Oh that’s probably rubbish!’
Back to the living room over a well-deserved cup of coffee, my client revealed that her family was rather well connected and had lived in a stately home – and the brooch had belonged to one of her relatives. All this information confirmed my belief that this incredible brooch was made up of rubies and diamonds – not paste – and that this was, indeed, a remnant of that estate.
As I later reflected on the few hours I had spent at her property, which I consider had been very well and enjoyably spent, I realised that, not only had I thoroughly enjoyed my visit but so had my client.
Mid-20th century Ruby & Diamond brooch. Estimate: £600 – 800.
Steven B Bruce & Associates
Tel: +44 (0) 1926 641548 / +44 (0)7778 595952