Changing tastes and business

In the past few years auctioneers, antique dealers and others have noticed a change in consumer tastes. Many things that were commanding good prices 5-10 years ago are now bringing far less. In our part of the country large antique furniture prices have decreased dramatically. Antique prices in our area are down about 70 percent from what they were just a few years ago. One individual recently asked me what they might get for their nice china. They were shocked when I told them their complete set of china might bring $5-20 at auction. Many collectibles routinely now bring a fraction of what people paid for them originally.

There are a number of reasons for this, but the basic reason is that people’s tastes have changed. Many of the things I sell at auction come from older Boomers (like myself) who want to downsize. They ask their children to take whatever items they want only to find out they don’t want anything. They’re not interested in the family china, the family heirlooms or the collectibles their parents acquired over the years. I often say that younger people today would rather go to a big box store and buy furniture they have to assemble than to own a solid piece of antique furniture.

As a result of these changes I spend a lot of time explaining to potential new clients that their expectations of the value of their items they want to sell may be unreasonable. Sometimes they get very upset when I tell them this, but I would rather they be upset with me at the front end than when I give them a small check after the sale.

One elderly lady walked me through their home pointing out the history of the things she wanted me to sell at auction for her. When she told me that a certain dresser belonged to her husband’s grandmother I stopped her to remind her that it didn’t belong to anyone else’s grandmother. I tried to explain that the sentimental value she had for her items would not be felt by anyone attending the auction, and she was unlikely to receive anything close to what she thought her items were worth. She went with another auctioneer, and I was told she was very unhappy with him after the sale.

Anyone in business has to deal with changing tastes of the public. No business can continually offer the same products and services to their customers and hope to stay in business long-term. People’s tastes change. Their expectations change. We have to give them what they want, not what we want to give them, if we want to remain profitable.

Several years ago I owned a heating and air conditioning company. Our primary salesman was convinced that people wanted to pay as little as possible for their HVAC systems, and since the product line we sold was more expensive than most, he would not offer the customer the more efficient systems which cost more. Our equipment vendor kept telling us people wanted the more efficient systems, but he refused to offer them to our customers. We sold a lot of systems, but when we finally convinced him to begin at least offering the more efficient systems he found out that a certain percentage were willing to pay more for the better systems. That translated to more money to our bottom line. Give the people what they want, not what we want to give them, and remember that people’s tastes change. It’s vital that we keep our fingers on the pulse of our customer’s tastes and expectations if we want to serve them well.


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