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Hang the Mystique – Use it for what it is!

By Cathy Allington, Chief Editor
Email: awwful@camtech.net.au

Capturing 70% of London’s top antique dealers within 6 months is no mean feat.

Add to that a technology illiterate antiques dealer selling Internet marketing in 1995 to a market where 98% didn’t even use a computer, and you have the basis for an Internet marketing success story which renders much of today’s theory obsolete.

Gary Mason – originally from New Zealand – had established himself well within London’s antique industry. He had a thriving antique business consulting to the hospitality industry – hotels and restaurants undertaking period-style renovations. With 20 years’ experience in antiques, he knew his market.

Like most with an entrepreneurial bent, he couldn’t help but see other opportunities. He explored the idea of establishing a buying service for international buyers. London’s antique market was respected worldwide. He could meet them at the airport on arrival, take them to dealers who specialised in their particular interest area, and earn a comfortable living for himself in the meantime.

He investigated ways of advertising the potential new business. The cost of advertising – in the traditional sense – was prohibitive. To reach an international market, he needed international exposure. Prices ranged from 800 to 3,500 pounds for ads of up to a quarter page size in the international antique and decorating magazines which catered for his particular market. One ad, for one issue – big upfront cost on what was essentially an unproven idea. He thought twice.

An accounting colleague suggested he look at the Internet. Gary had never used a computer, let alone explored the Internet. But he liked what he saw. And the cost was minimal compared with other advertising medium. "If I can advertise myself all over the world this easily at minimal cost, I could put together something for all antique dealers in London," the entrepreneurial mind thought.

The Internet was very new in 1995 – there was nothing comparable around – only one antique dealer in London had a web site. Although he tried a search on antiques – nothing came up except US sites.

Another colleague was a guard at London’s historic Stone Henge. He had put together a basic website, and put Gary in touch with a young couple who designed websites from their spare room at home. (Indicative of the growth of the Internet, the couple are now working with one of England’s biggest web design companies!)

Gary knew antiques, and he knew what would sell to other antique dealers. If he couldn’t understand the terminology, there was no way he could expect his market to understand what he was trying to sell.

He briefed the designers on the layout he wanted – in layman’s terms. Each directory page was to be the equivalent of an A4 page. The basic directory listing would be the equivalent of an 1/8th of a page, which would include a scanned business card entry on the left-hand side of the page, and a text entry of the right hand side. To minimise time and creative input from the designers, dealers could select from a number of pre-defined formats, in a choice of 6 font styles only. The benefits of this were two-fold: programming costs were minimised; and dealers did not get bogged down in design issues – making it easier for them to say "no".

Other static formats in page and 1-page sizes were also available. For dealers who wanted something more – the "top of the range" was an interactive second page, where they could display up to 25 thumbnail photographs of specific stock items. Interested buyers from anywhere in the world could then simply click on the appropriate thumbnail, and send an email with the stock number and dealer already noted within the email.

As 98% of dealers at that time did not have a computer, Gary offered an email response service, where all e-mails were sent to his office – where they were forwarded by fax or telephone. (Not only did dealers not have an email address – a lot did not even have a fax at that time!)

To complete the service, Gary sought out one of London’s top period style building artists, and commissioned her to reproduce an existing historic photo in watercolour, which was then scanned in as the home page. Windows were added which formed the entry to the various components of the website.

As far as Gary’s market was concerned, the site – although using technology which they could not understand –looked and felt familiar to them, and was couched in language they could easily understand. The name of the site was simple: "All About Antiques".

Other features such as a stolen furniture listing, restoration and repairs, shipping and freight services – amongst others – turned the site into a service which lived up to its name.

Prices were pitched reasonably – from 26 pounds per annum for the basic directory listing, to 156 pounds per annum for the full A4 page, plus a second interactive page for stock. All that was left for Gary was to hit the road!

Within 6 months, he had 70% of London’s top dealers signed up, with the site achieving 25,000 hits per week. But how did it actually sell for the dealers?

Within 12 months, 75% of dealers had made contact with potential buyers as a direct result of an enquiry generated through the website. Around 25% of dealers had been strong enough to convert those leads into sales. Not a bad closing rate when compared with traditional means of advertising!

US buyers in particular found the site of interest when seeking hard-to-find collector’s items for their clients.

Gary’s office also provided them with individual reports on the number of hits to their particular section. The advertising was geared to the needs of the market – in terms of both buyers and dealers.

Gary’s thoughts on the Internet and e-commerce are refreshingly simple "All it is, is advertising – that’s it!" he stated emphatically. "Like any other advertising, if you do it well enough – it will generate leads – it’s up to you what you do with those leads and what success you achieve in converting them into sales. The ‘net is brilliant, but needs to be simplified for the man in the street. IT people talk in IT jargon to the average person, who doesn’t want to appear ignorant. Of course, that simply makes it easier for them to say no."

The basic rules behind Gary’s success are common to any business marketing its products and services: Know your industry; know your market; give them a product which they are likely to buy; and price it correctly.

For a guy who knew nothing about computer 2.5 years ago, and who is now designing WebPages for some of South Australia’s most progressive corporations, the rules seem to speak for themselves!

Gary can be contacted through Co-Editor in Chief, Cathy Allington at awwful@camtech,.net.au. He is no longer involved in All About Antiques – family commitments necessitated a move back to South Australia 12 months ago. The URL for the site is http://www.all.about.antiques.co.uk