Verizon Stock – Inside the Digital World of Vintage and Antiques Shopping
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Despite the seemingly unfavorable circumstances, Americans started more businesses at a faster rate in 2020 than in the last 13 years, with millions of entrepreneurs opening bakeries, virtual fitness platforms, telehealth-based practices, and design-related businesses, among a plethora of other categories. One such small business owner is Tori Jones, a former editor, stylist, and art director for design-forward publications (like VERANDA!) whose passion for antiques led her to launch her eponymous studio in September. Tori Jones Studio is a digital platform for discerning customers to discover one-of-a-kind vintage and antique art, objects, lighting, furniture, and other housewares, which Jones says was a conscious decision to have things that are one person’s alone with a story behind them.
“I’ve always loved vintage—it’s always been my passion and the business I’ve wanted to have, so I”m happy it’s very much part of the whole zeitgeist right now,” says Jones. “I inherited that gene that loves discovery and the thrill of the hunt.” Tori Jones Studio also offers interior design, editorial styling services, and trade accounts for designers.
While Jones says she spent most of her early career days as an editorial assistant wandering through Manhattan flea markets with her little free time and dreamed of having a shop of her own one day, the plan was always to go digital. While that may have seen absurd a decade ago, some of the biggest names in antiques, like John Rosselli, have shifted business strategies to digital-driven commerce platforms (though Rosselli still has several showrooms open). Renowned designer Rita Konig even has a separate Instagram account dedicated to her favorite sources to shop through the app.
“As much as I love hunting, I wanted to simplify the hunt for people who don’t have a lot of time and still foster that excitement while breaking it down and distilling to just a scroll or a couple of clicks,” says Jones. “The website launched in September, and all the items are sold through the site and a Chairish shop, which has been a great way to learn about the business, and it has become such a mega platform for designers and enthusiasts alike.”
Jones notes the luxury market has been quick to turn to digitally driven sources of revenue in the last few years, as sites like TheRealReal, 1stDibs, and Chairish have become wildly successful. She says that while for so long, many of these luxury companies didn’t want to be associated with a cyclical or vintage market, these days, everyone is on the hunt for a good find and our society is becoming more aware of the environmental and ethical dangers of fast consumerism. Sustainability is en vogue, and the appetite for second-hand luxury items is bigger than ever—especially through digital platforms.
The Chairish Revolution
When Chairish co-founder Anna Brockaway and her husband, Gregg, first launched the site in 2013, the world of antiques and vintage was an entirely different place with little to no presence online. The only real competitor was Michael Bruno’s forward-thinking 1stDibs site, which launched in 2001 and is recognized for bringing the antiques business into the new millennium.
“The landscape [at the time of launch] was comprised of either small shops run by lovely owners with inspiring aesthetic points of view but not much access to large audiences of shoppers or vast, un-curated online marketplaces where good and bad furniture were offered alongside car parts and sweatshirts,” says Brockaway. “Chairish has used the internet to connect the exceptional curated inventory of 10,000 small dealers and galleries to a large audience of sophisticated design lovers and made shipping easy in the process.”
Eight years later, the site offers nearly 600,000 curated pieces and is visited more than four million times per month by designers and enthusiasts alike. And Brockaway says the company has seen record growth since the onset of the pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, home furnishings was already the fastest growing e-commerce category in the U.S. and over the past year, due to COVID, that trend has further accelerated,” she says. “Chairish’s sales and listings have more than doubled. The increased importance of home, the necessity of e-commerce, and a growing understanding of the value of buying resale are important trends driving Chairish’s success.” The brand’s Instagram account is trending towards 500,000 followers and The Chairish Podcast launched in January 2020 to further grow the brand’s recognition and offer insight into the rapidly changing, ever-disrupted design industry.
The Rise of Instagram As a Gold Mine for Vintage and Antiques Shopping
If you’ve noticed more and more vintage and antiques dealers—veterans and newbies alike—taking to Instagram to sell their unique finds, you’re not alone. Our “Explore pages” are filled with post after post from chic and discerning social media-based shop owners from across the globe, many of whom we would have never had the fortune of discovering otherwise. And the same is true for small business owners and side-hustlers who now have millions of Instagram users at their fingertips.
“We wouldn’t be where we are today without Instagram; it’s been the primary way that we’ve sold antiques and vintage items for more than two years,” says Birmingham-based purveyor Sonia Davis of @FoundBham, which has amassed 12,500 followers on Instagram that extend far beyond the reaches of Alabama state lines. “It’s such a great tool because you can reach so many people at once and especially reach people simply going about their normal lives at home or while they are already online shopping for something. Instagram is just such an accessible way to shop with everyone’s busy schedules, and I think most people actually prefer that these days.”
Interestingly enough, Davis’s Instagram-based shop has led to the opening of a brick-and-mortar showroom in her hometown where shoppers can come by on one Sunday per month to discover and purchase new pieces before they are posted on the social media platform. She notes that most of her followers are return customers, but many of the people she connects with time and again at the showroom aren’t the same audience buying pieces from her Instagram account. While the items for sale on Instagram sell often within minutes of posting (Davis advises turning on notifications to be the first to see a new piece), she says the biggest challenge of having an Instagram-based shop is the ever-changing algorithms.
“We try to be consistent with posting and stay on top of peoples’ feeds as best we can,” says Davis. “We’re very aware of Instagram’s back-end functioning which helps us plan our posts and really engage with followers over social media to stay relevant, which is something we’ve learned as we go. The algorithms change all the time, but we’ve learned to have other ways like encouraging followers to subscribe. We have to appreciate Instagram and where it has brought us while pushing ourselves to keep growing in other ways.”
Megan Dorsey is the owner of Etsy-based Circ Antiques, which she runs from her home in Rancine, Wisconsin. Her parents introduced her to the joys of antiquing at a young age, and she became mesmerized by 100-year-old-plus pieces that were full of history and that’s exactly the type of item you’ll find in her shop, be it ephemera, tableware, or artworks.
“I found Etsy in high school and didn’t have a lot of money and was tired of not having any, so I found a few things at a flea market and sold them all,” says Dorsey. “I started doing this about 10 years ago and it has just kept growing. I bounced around a lot with platforms but loved Etsy because it was so easy and user-friendly.” As a working high school-then-college student, Dorsey says this was the perfect way to foster her passion and create a little extra income but knew she needed to expand her digital presence a few years ago. “Connecting yourself personally with your brand and pieces is what draws people in, but I’m pretty private and shy,” she says. “I saw a lot of people creating this amazing connection with shoppers by showing how they source items and style various pieces, so I took the leap and built my own brand through Instagram.”
Dorsey’s father also turned to antiques dealing around the same time, and she has enjoyed working with him to source and sell high-end furniture, artwork, and other one-of-a-kind pieces. “At least in the Midwest, it often feels like we are past the estate sale glory days, and it takes longer to find good things and the prices aren’t as good,” she says. “Not everyone was doing it just a few years ago, and if so, it was more of a side gig for people so they weren’t hustling as much. It felt more fun and light back then, but sourcing pieces has gotten more intense. But online, it’s plentiful and there is so much out there.”
Dorsey says it’s fun to scour the internet and Instagram to discover new purveyors and study their aesthetics, how they display pieces, and how they showcase their new finds. As Circ Antiques is a side business for Dorsey, simply shopping online or via Instagram offers great inspiration on how to boost her business without taking too much of her free time.
But What About the Customer Experience?
Dorsey will be the first to admit her aesthetic is very niche and she knows the types of people who follow her on Instagram and shop her pieces have an appreciation for bygone eras. She’s certainly doing something right, as her Etsy shop has a five-star rating and rave reviews.
“I work so hard to get five-star reviews and it’s not easy,” she says. “I like to mirror what the Victorians did: everything was so personal from the letters to the handwritten autograph books and they often added flowers or poems. I always add a handwritten letter with flowers from my yard that I’ve dried and paste one to my note.” She’s also fascinated by penmanship and has honed her skills during the pandemic to help elevate the experience.
“I do hope they keep the letters as I take the time to say more just than ‘thank you,’ and they absolutely love it,” she says. “I had no idea what taking just a little more time writing a thank-you note could to do brighten their day.”
Jones of Tori Jones Studio says she spends a great deal of time on the photography for the site, styling each piece to contextualize it and make it that much easier for prospective buyers to picture it in their own homes.
“We also offer really detailed product descriptions,” Jones says. “Nothing we sell is perfect, and I’m not interested in that anyway. It all has some kind of patina, and we help customers really understand what they are getting and showcase these pieces in real, natural environments.” Davis also prioritizes her time on taking pictures of every angle of each piece and writing carefully thought out product descriptions that answer the questions she would have about a given item for sale.
The Future of Antiques and Vintage Shopping Is Digital and IRL
“The future for antiques is very bright,” FoundBham’s Jones says. “My goal has always been to bring antiques and vintage furniture within reach and more people than ever before are investing in timeless pieces that are comforting and beautiful. Trends come and go but the idea of mixing your grandmother’s china with a modern piece of art and antiques in the same room is really growing right now, even with young people, and they understand it brings character, warmth, and a story to even a new-build, which is something that new furniture just can’t do.”
All our purveyors featured here believe the future of antiques and vintage shopping (and selling) will be both a digital and in-person effort. While the pandemic created the perfect storm for driving an antiquated antiques industry into a gold mine for millennials and tech-savvy matriarchs alike, it has also created a desire to get back out in the world and interact with people who share the same passions as us again, to feel these one-of-a-kind pieces and connect with those selling them.
“I don’t think the allure of the physical ‘thrill of the hunt’ will ever go away,” says Chairish’s Brockaway. “Treasure hunting at fairs, shows, and local shops is a part of the fun, but I do think that the shift to e-commerce is enduring. Once folks get a taste of the chic curation, diverse selection, and the ‘click a button’ convenience of shopping online, they never fully return to their old offline habits.”
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