Published: September 22, 2020
Review by Madelia Hickman Ring, Photos Courtesy Facebook, Ruby Lane & Instagram
BRIMFIELD, MASS., & ONLINE – Covering auctions, antiques shows and antiques-related events remotely has a strange way of distorting time. It seemed as though the July edition of the Brimfield antique flea markets had just wrapped when it was time to once again look to what was happening online, September 8-13, on Facebook, Instagram and Ruby Lane.
It has been discussed – in these pages and in others – how the Brimfield antique flea markets, known simply as “Brimfield,” are not just a nearly weeklong string of shows but an event. The slow-moving snake of traffic that inches along Route 20, slowed by streams of shoppers hauling hand-wagons laden with all manner of goods to parked cars and trucks. The sounds of sales being made and the mouthwatering smells wafting from food vendors. The adrenaline rush of a field opening after a lengthy wait in the wee hours, the sense of impending discovery watching a vendor unpack their van or the thrill of falling in love with something before someone else does. All of that – and much more – creates an event that cannot easily be replicated virtually or an experience that can be enjoyed on a laptop or tablet, from an armchair or office far from South Central Massachusetts.
But the show must go on. When the town of Brimfield had to cancel the May edition because of the COVID-19 pandemic, a few dedicated field owners, organized largely by Hertan’s owner Klia Ververidis Crisafulli, persevered to create an online version – and subsequent July and September editions – that has made a valiant attempt at keeping the spirt of Brimfield alive. An Instagram event – the brainchild of Adam Irish and Emily Brandenburg of Chance & Patina – has co-existed, now with five different shows – Modern & Timeless, Americana, a Pickers Show, a Vintage Clothing & Textile show, and an E-Tent. Virtual booths have been created, videos of goods on offer were made and posted to attract the maximum exposure and sales have been made.
Each edition of Brimfield has seen modifications, subtle tweaking here and there in an attempt to improve the event for both buyers and sellers. Online selling platform Ruby Lane came onboard for the July edition and launched more than 25,000 items; in September, the number of total offerings was down to about 10,000.
In July, the individual “fields” were not individually distinguished on Ruby Lane and all 25,000-plus items were offered immediately at the start of the show. Sellers returning for the September edition lobbied to have the various fields open on consecutive days, emulating the live field openings that are a key element of the live Brimfield flea markets. To that end, Ruby Lane made about 3,000 items viewable on the first day of the show, Tuesday, September 8. Another 1,500 went live on Wednesday, September 9, with the remaining 5,500 items or so accessible to buyers from Thursday, September 10. Once open, all booths remained online through the duration of the show.
Traffic on Ruby Lane was about 20 percent lighter in September than it was in July but it was reported to have been more consistent throughout the September event than the July edition, when the first day of the show saw twice as many shoppers than it did on the second day, with subsequent days seeing decreasing traffic.
In hindsight, Ververidis Crisafulli was not convinced the staggered opening was a successful as people had hoped. “It was a little disappointing for me. There was not the same exuberant shopping on Ruby Lane that we saw in July, though, overall Brimfield did well.” She also noted that many shoppers were confused by not being able to see a dealer’s entire inventory but were instead required to enter a dealer’s online booth through different virtual “fields.”
The statistics for the shows are worth a close look. For traffic, the combined online pages – Ruby Lane event pages, Facebook’s Brimfield LIVE Online and Ververidis Crisafulli’s website www.brimfieldliveonline.com – saw a total of nearly 430,000-page views with Facebook having a slight majority of about 170,000, while Ruby Lane fielded about 141,000-page views and the Brimfield LIVE Online site receiving less than 120,000-page views. Those numbers are down a bit from July, which attracted a combined total of about 500,000-page views, with Ruby Lane and Facebook being viewed more or less evenly.
Brandenburg reported similarly impressive numbers for views on Instagram, with 530,094 unique accounts viewing Brimfield posts and more than two million impressions on both Instagram and Facebook from September 7 to 13. That number handily doubles the approximately one million impressions for the July edition.
In July, the number of vendors on Ruby Lane clocked in at about 175; that number fell to about 80 in September although the show attracted between 20 and 30 new vendors. Ververidis Crisafulli attributed the reduction in returning sellers to a couple of things. “The timing was difficult; a lot of people were busy getting ready to go back to school. We also required everyone to pay the registration fee.”
Gauging sale volume can be difficult. An item on Ruby Lane can sell but be in “pending” status until the buyer has received the item, at which point it can vanish from a dealer’s online inventory if the dealer marks it as “sold.” At press time, Ververidis Crisafulli was still waiting on firm sales numbers from the July show, which she estimated to have been about 2,500 from vendors selling on Facebook and Instagram, Ruby Lane and the onsite auctions she conducts through Crown Company Auctions. In the September event, her rough approximation was that the show had seen trading of about 1,800 items.
One metric that never seems to go down is the number of online followers Brimfield has, and Ververidis Crisafulli said the Brimfield LIVE Online Facebook page added about 2,000 followers to their roster between the July and September shows, which now boasts nearly 10,300.
A new vendor to Brimfield was Jewelpigs, who is based in Southern California and who has been selling online since 1999, with a shop on Ruby Lane since 2011. We reached out to Carrie and Christine for their thoughts on their inaugural Brimfield.
“We sold eight items that were in the Brimfield show, ranging in price from $24 to $85. The items were purchased by five different buyers, two of which are existing customers. We were fortunate enough to have an item in one of the Ruby Lane promotional emails for the Brimfield show; it sold shortly after the email came out.”
Brimfield’s Instagram presence “has definitely grown,” Emily Brandenburg of Chance & Patina said in a post-Brimfield phone call. “We had about 90 dealers in May and now we have about 118 dealers. One thing we did differently for September was to keep track of how many followers each dealer added between the time the dealer signed up to do the show to the time the show closed. Our 118 dealers added more than 14,000 followers. Our account has now grown to more than 25,000 followers in less than six months,” a number she considers to be a solid indicator in the future growth of the market.
The Instagram show organizers allow vendors to choose what level of promotion they want; Brandenburg commented that they saw more dealers opting to pay more for increased promotion. The relatively small investment reaps dividends. Brandenburg said she had talked to many dealers who were reporting sales between $2,000 and $3,000 in the first day.
Deirdre Healy, who many readers will know from Earle D. Vandekar of Knightsbridge Inc., has recently joined Instagram (@healydecarts) and the Brimfield Instagram Modern/Timeless show was her first digital show venture, which she sees as an extension of being a brick-and-mortar business owner and a new way to reach clients.
“It was a really fun interesting experience. There was a huge rush of activity, lots of inquiries; it was really like a real show. I’m keenly aware that for an upcoming generation of collectors, this is how they shop, this is what they are accustomed to.”
Healy’s Instagram site features a variety of things – both large and small things, antique and contemporary – that can bridge traditional and modern styles in a home. She sold a handful of midcentury pieces, all to new customers, in New Mexico, Georgia, California and New Jersey.
Matt Greig has been participating in Brimfield online, on Instagram (@mattgreigantiques) since their inception in May. He reported doing well in all three shows, most notably with signs, folk art and game boards; most of his sales range in price between $50 and $800. “May was probably a little better but all three shows have been pretty good equally. In the first show, I sold more to other dealers; in this show, it was about 50-50 between dealers and private buyers.”
He was quick to point out the exposure the Brimfield Instagram shows bring, noting a sizeable increase in online followers. “I’ve sold to new customers in all three shows. That’s been the most exciting thing about these shows.”
Trading at Brimfield is not limited to dealer-buyer transactions; there are opportunities to compete for merchandize as well. Prior to the coronovirus, Hertans’ field owner Ververidis Crisafulli and her auction company – Crown Company Auctions – conducted a live in-person auction on Thursday evenings, a sale that typically attracted 100 people. When Covid dictated that the state of Massachusetts limit the number of gatherings to 50, she opted to forgo the in-person event in favor of multiple online evening sales, which were live-streamed on Facebook. Beginning at 5:30 pm for most nights of Brimfield, she offered between 30-50 lots of vintage clothing and jewelry to people bidding through comments on Facebook. Each of these sales took a couple of hours to sell with the lag time for comments to post. No buyer’s premium was charged for lots in those sales.
The top lot to sell in one of the Facebook Live sales was an Italian 18K gold brooch with sapphires, rubies, diamonds, turquoise and enamel that sold for $875. “We had some really good pieces in that sale, which brought several hundred dollars,” Ververidis Crisafulli said. “Most of the bidding was from across the United States, all 50 states, and we had some buyers from Canada. We had a lot of new people, in addition to our regulars who have been doing all of our shows. We have a very loyal group of participants who have gotten to know each other through the auctions, so we have a lot of fun.”
Crown Company also conducted two sales on Invaluable and AuctionZip. The first – which closed on September 12 – featured nearly 120 lots of no-reserve vintage clothes and jewelry. The second online sale of more than 110 lots was also sold without reserves and featured antique and vintage advertising and medical collectibles, oddities, toys and more. A buyer’s premium was charged by the online platforms. Leading the clothing and jewelry sale was an Italian Lederer brown leather belt with an H-buckle that finished at $165; a 1920s-30s cast iron arrow bus stop sign led offerings on the second day, selling for $605.
Ververidis Crisafulli continued her popular game-like “Virtual Fill-A-Bag” series, in which she starts to fill a bag and sells it to whomever first bids $20 for the bag, regardless of how many pieces are in it. The first event took place at 11 am on Saturday and she filled 55 bags with vintage clothing; she followed that up on Sunday, filling about 60 bags with vintage and costume jewelry. “It was the first time we did it with jewelry – wow, was that very popular, and very competitive.” She noted that the majority of the bidders were trade buyers.
Ververidis Crisafulli quoted an approximate total from all the online sales she conducted – including the Fill-A-Bag – to have been about $35,000, encompassing about 500 items.
Think Brimfield is just a venue for selling? Think again. Ververidis Crisafulli has added a few things to keep people clicking on the show sites. Two Do-It-Yourself video workshops were posted on Facebook. The first went live at noon on September 8 and featured Beth Melfi from the Silver Hippopotamus in Swansea, Mass., whose video showed people how to make upcycled textile carts. That was followed up on September 10, when Travis De Lange from Embassy Antiques in Seekonk, Mass., made bottle vases with faux barn board. A tutorial on how to test Bakelite was posted the afternoon of September 12.
Another new element of this virtual Brimfield edition was a live-streamed appraisal event on September 11 with Dr Lori Verderame, who hosts an appraisal show on the History Channel. Viewers were invited to send in photographs and Verderame would appraise items for ten viewers, free of charge. More than 100 photos were submitted and while Ververidis Crisafulli was not certain how many people watched the live stream, a screen shot showed the link had been viewed by at least 2,500 people.
There are a few more changes afoot. When asked if she planned to take a break between now and the May 2021 Brimfield, Ververidis Crisafulli did not skip a beat. “Actually, we’re having the very first Holiday Brimfield, November 27-29. Registration for that will be free. It will have the same format, just shorter, focusing on seasonal items or things that will make great gifts. And then we’re doing another three-day Brimfield, February 5-7.”
Anticipated additions to the May edition would be the introduction of a Brimfield Wholesale Marketplace, which would be a place for the dealer and design trade to connect with Brimfield sellers.
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