Published: June 28, 2000
BATON ROUGE, LA. – If mention of a new “.com” on the Internet scene makes you yawn, perhaps one that caters to dealers will grab your interest.
GoAntiques.com, according to its own press, is striving to “bring organization and structure to the antiques industry, a fragmented industry consisting of a handful of larger stores and nearly 50,000 small antiques dealers.”
To accomplish this organization, the firm is developing and will maintain a massive database consisting of the merchandise of all of its member antiques dealers. This merchandise – now provided by some 500 dealers – currently has a $50-70 million price tag. Almost $300 million worth of antiques from 3,200 members may actually be juggled by GoAntiques.com at the end of year one.
The company, which hopes to officially launch at the beginning of August, will provide a retail Internet sales outlet for member antiques dealers to sell their merchandise to consumers. It will also serve as a cooperative for member antiques dealers to use the virtual warehouse to locate and obtain, at wholesale, specific items for their customers; act as a discounted source for interior designers to locate and purchase furniture and decorative items for their clients; and will be a resource for antique repair and care.
GoAntiques representatives have aggressively courted dealers around the country since late last year, when the company’s president and CEO, Kenneth Buhler, owner of Ken Buhler Auctioneers, came up with the idea in November. Potential members will also be wooed by advertisements in nearly every publication remotely related to the antiques business.
Typical behavior for a start-up, certainly. But in this case, the firm has taken an unusual grass roots approach for a “.com,” visiting shops and the press in person rather than waiting for business to come to them.
At the offices of Antiques and The Arts Weekly, Tim Gray, Northeast regional manager for Goantiques, and Mac Buhler, father of Ken and the company’s senior vice president and COO, stopped by to hand-deliver the media package. We couldn’t help but sit up and take notice, as we usually chat only with UPS and Federal Express guys when receiving such material.
“We do everything for the dealer,” said Buhler. “We handle shipping with registered customers and will automatically hold money in escrow until everyone is satisfied. For a flat fee, we can also create a website for a dealer with a link to our site. The link will connect customers only to that dealer’s merchandise – ecommerce for practically nothing.
“Dealers won’t have to spend as much time out of their shop looking for inventory, and it will still be a good deal,” he continued.
Buhler insists that only “reputable” dealers may become members. This requires two customer and two dealer references. GoAntiques staff will visit a prospective shop personally to see its merchandise.
“We will maintain a tight control over the inventory,” he told us. “Any dealer caught selling a reproduction will be out the second time.”
Each object offered at the site will be checked by GoAntiques, starting with as many as five staff members on each shift, 24 hours a day. “An rdf_Description submitted by 6 pm will be reviewed and on the site by 6 am the next day,” said Buhler. At this writing, the site itself boasts, “every rdf_Description is guaranteed to be exactly as described in its listing. Internet fraud is simply not an issue.”
The GoAntiques press release explains the process at its website this way: “Any consumer can log [on] and search for a specific type of merchandise or simply browse the entire inventory by various categories. Only the retail price of products will be available to potential retail purchasers. The discounted price [20 percent lower than retail] will be available only to dealers. In both cases, members will be given access to hundreds of millions of dollars in inventory that is accessible without the need for travel. The availability of prices other than the retail price will depend on use of a personal identification number.
When merchandise is sold, the purchaser will submit payment to GoAntiques.com via credit card or wire transfer. GoAntiques.com will deposit the conveyance into its account. When the method of payment has cleared the bank, the seller will be notified to ship the merchandise. Upon notice that the merchandise has arrived at its destination, payment will be made to the dealer that listed the merchandise. The payment [via credit card or wire transfer] will be the selling price less any commissions and credit card or other financial fees due.
Member dealers will be charged a monthly fee [$149] based upon their level of participation. They will also be charged a commission on all sales generated through GoAntiques.com.
GoAntiques.com is ensuring its success by establishing a sales force to reach antiques dealers and designers and to enroll them in its cooperative. Regional managers are recruiting independent sales agents to call on dealers.”
However, a dealer will not know the identity of the person from whom he is buying, nor will there be any negotiation for a piece.
Via email, Buhler told us, “We do not think of ourselves as a ‘.com’ company. What we are doing could be done on the local level without a computer. It would not make much sense to do so because the potential is too limited, but the Internet allows us to operate on a large enough scale that we can have the critical mass necessary.
“One of the differences between GoAntiques and most other websites is the fact that our concept was developed by an experienced antiques dealer, one who knew what was needed and created solutions.”
Buhler refers to his son, Kenneth, who has entered into a five-year agreement with the firm to act as president and CEO. Ken Buhler will resign as president and CEO of Ken Buhler Auctioneers, Inc., and Design Warehouse, Inc., businesses he founded approximately ten years ago. Dun & Bradstreet lists Kenneth as the 72nd largest antiques dealer in the US.
Mac Buhler recently left Market Data Retrieval, a division of Dun & Bradstreet, where from 1992 to 2000, he served as special markets manager and developed new business outlets for that companys products. From 1987 to 1992, Buhler served as vice president for products development at Windsor Publications. At Dun and Bradstreet, Buhler received several awards for service from Dun & Brad-street. Last year, Mac was named as one of Dun & Bradstreets Best of Best, as one of the top 60 managers in the company.
Leonard Brown will serve as the Chief Administrative Officer of the Company. From 1987 through the present, Brown has served as a Controller/Credit Manager for Ferguson Enterprises, Inc. James Winner will serve as Vice President of Strategic Alliances. For the last 18 years, Winner has served as the President of Winner Institute, which holds the license for Dale Carnegie programs in the state of Louisiana. Richard Spaulding will serve as a director, as will Richard C. Bland.
There will, of course, be an IPO in GoAntiques’ future.
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