Published: July 29, 2020
Review by Greg Smith, Photos Courtesy Dealers At #TheBrimfieldShow
ONLINE — There’s a new marketplace in town, and it’s on Instagram at #thebrimfieldshow.
There are certain hashtags on Instagram that gain enough popularity where they become selling vehicles for dealers. If you’re selling an antique, you’ll probably use #antique — it has been tagged 12 million times. Enough times that folks take notice and they start following the hashtag, meaning when any seller uses #antique, that post will appear in the follower’s feed, even if they don’t follow that specific account.
Effectively born just two months ago, #thebrimfieldshow now has more than 15,000 posts on it, about 9,000 of which were tagged after its adopter’s premier May show. The idea for this kind of selling and buying community was not so much invented as it was tapped. The mechanics all exist on Instagram. But central to the momentum and the community are its promoters, Emily Brandenburg and Adam Irish, who run Chance & Patina. They organize the event from start to finish including its marketing, guide first time sellers through the process, promote their featured dealers’ listings and steer folks to the curated show before, during and after it happens.
While any dealer at any time can use #thebrimfieldshow to tag their items for sale, the curated online shows were presented through unique hashtags July 13-17. About 100 dealers total posted their inventories to one of the five scheduled shows, a new themed show opening each day of the week. On Monday came the “Vintage Clothing & Antique Textile Show”; Tuesday, “The Pickers Show”; Wednesday, “The E-Tent: Art, Design, Eclectic”; Thursday, “The Americana Show”; and Friday, “Modern/Timeless: Objects & Design.” Just over 5,000 posts were created between those five shows.
Adam Irish said both he and the dealers learn something new each event. While it is always hard to gauge a rhyme and reason as to why folks buy this and not that, online selling seems to have a few general guidelines. For one of the five Brimfield shows, Irish noted that the most successful sellers were those who created outdoor booths and group shots to mimic a real Brimfield booth. In other words, those who were willing to recreate the magic.
“With the outdoor booths, they feel like real life, like you’re encountering them,” he said. “The early buyers want to shop quickly and if you’re only taking pictures of individual objects, you’re going to be posting until 5 pm and the buyers aren’t going to stick around that long. Group shots are key. Beyond that, its experiential. One of the primal elements of the hunt is scanning. When you go to a flea market or a show, you’re looking, looking, looking — attempting to pick out objects from an array of things. That’s the pleasure, you don’t know what you’re going to see. There’s a dopamine hit when you do find something that you’re able to pluck out of some random stuff: something of value, something of interest. One of the greatest issues with online retail is it doesn’t have that pleasure point of being able to scan or hunt in a way that isn’t a search term or going through a catalog.”
A key point that Irish and Brandenburg repeat to their sellers is “do not post studio photographs with whiteout backgrounds.” Take the buyer away to a distant place. Make them feel something and let them relive the glory of antiquing. The experience is paramount.
So is the price. While there were reports of things selling into the mid-thousands, many of the sales by quantity were priced in the low hundreds.
Kate Hackman sells online through Critical Eye Finds out of Ipswich, Mass., promoting her inventory on her website and Instagram (@criticaleyefinds). When we called, she said she was knee deep in packing some of the 70 orders she received through the show. All of them were fairly inexpensive and topped out at $200, which she said was the sweet spot for her. “I’ve priced things to move,” she said, noting that there’s a lot of interest out there for her look. She had also done the show in May and nearly sold out then, too. She said, “I think for somebody like me who is accustomed to selling on Instagram, the show is an ideal platform because it brings people to me and it’s already in line with what I’m doing,” She said she had customers from the May show who continued to buy from her between and into the July show.
Susan Wechsler of South Road Art & Antiques (@southroadantiques) was selling at the Americana Show and related that she did well, still selling here and there on Tuesday — a full five days after that show went live. “It was successful,” she said, “and certainly for the cost and the amount of effort that you need to put in. You get a good return.” Weschler said she sold from her inventory of paintings, signs and folk art, including a group of three stone monkeys, a leather mask form and a set of stencils. “They were all new customers,” she said, “which is great. I picked up a lot of new followers and they’ll continue to buy I hope.”
It was a first time selling at the show for Erin Waters of Erin Waters Fine Photographs (@efotographiya), and the Lancaster, Penn., dealer said she plans to do it again. “I already had my Instagram up and running, but from the moment I started using the hashtag I started getting new followers — new antique and vintage people,” she said. “I didn’t have any expectations, but I ended up selling a number of things to new customers. That’s what I wanted to get out of it. I also reconnected with someone I sell to on eBay and with two people who I sell to at shows.” Waters said she went for a diverse offering and buyers responded by buying across the board. “I was on my phone so much, getting so many hits, that I had to charge my phone in the middle of the day. I haven’t had to do that since I got a new phone in the fall.” Many of her photographs — from photo booth series to daguerreotypes to men’s fashion silver gelatin prints — were priced $10 to $125.
Emily Brandenburg said that going online has had the effect of promoting the Brimfield brand to those who would normally not sell or travel to buy at the show, including those from the South or West Coast.
“I can think of a number of people who messaged us saying they hadn’t been able to go to Brimfield in years and they were now able to shop and bring a piece of it back home,” she said. “They lived across the country or they couldn’t drive or didn’t want to fly and they were excited to be able to shop the shows from the comfort of their own home.”
One of the show’s sellers who fits that category is Kirk Albert of Kirk Albert Vintage Furnishings, Seattle, Wash., who related, “It’s the best visibility and marketing for the dollar that I’ve ever spent. There’s just no way that somebody out on the other side of the universe like I am, in Seattle, can get their product in front of a really sophisticated East Coast clientele — it’s the best way I’ve ever seen.” Albert did the show in May as well and he related that while sales weren’t enormously strong during the actual show run, it has succeeded in creating clients for his business.
“It’s a trickle effect. After every show, if I can walk away with one or two clients, it’s worth more than the event itself. One good client can last a lifetime, and I’m all about getting a new client, not a new customer. The effect was immediate after the May show. Direct sales were relatively low, but it was the residual that has been fantastic.”
Nick Heywood, who runs Nick Haus in Warren, R.I., has shopped at Brimfield, but says he never had an interest in selling at the fields. “It’s been an amazing experience in terms of extending the reach of my contacts,” he said. “The overwhelming number of my sales have been to people who have never been to Brimfield or used to go long ago and don’t anymore — people in California, Washington State, Louisiana, I’ve sent things all over the place between both shows. I don’t think it’s just tapping into the existing Brimfield market, it’s pulling a lot of people who maybe have an interest in going but haven’t gone. It’s opening up more avenues.” Sales are still ongoing for Haus after the show has ended. He said, “Because of the nature of the medium, it doesn’t have an end date. The contact continues. When I posted things between the May show and the July show, people were still engaging with me and wanting to buy things that I had up for over a month. So it created an ongoing dialogue.” He said the show has been a lifeline for him as his shop has been closed on account of the pandemic.
Other sellers also talked about the client-building aspect of the show. While the @TheBrimfieldShow account gained 6,758 new followers this event, many sellers reported an increase of at least 100 followers to their accounts — people who have an interest in antiques and vintage, and who are comfortable buying online. The show then splits its purpose between selling and mailing list building, though instead of the old-fashioned direct mailer or email, these are “followers,” and they function in much the same way when they see the pieces dealers post for sale regularly.
Brandenburg reported that the show’s posts made a total of 3,579,083 impressions on Instagram. Its dealers reached over 100,000 unique accounts each day between July 12 and July 18.
When thought of in context, it really is no surprise that Instagram is a prime conduit for selling antiques. It is a platform for curated visuals. And while it was once thought of as a mecca for savory food shots and jealousy-inducing vacation scenes, is it any wonder that the beauty of historic design and artifacts has landed? And here’s the kicker: these things will look just as good in the home as they do in the picture — try to squeeze that out of your leftovers.
Irish and Brandenburg’s Chance & Patina has more Instagram shows in the pipeline through the fall and winter, apart from Brimfield.
For additional information, www.thebrimfieldshow.com.
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