The 3rd March 2020 saw members of London’s network of art and antique dealers gather for the annual LAPADA Conference, held at the Royal Society of Arts. This year’s line-up of speakers was diverse, presenting on topics such as sustainability within the industry, the potential of social media, and the future of luxury consumer trends – each pronouncing an optimistic outlook for the future of the trade.
First up was Ben Mason, Director at The Tom Sawyer Effect, imparting his knowledge on ‘Growing Your Business on Social Media’. Though the art and antique industry may well have embraced platforms such as Instagram and Facebook, knowing how to harness the ever-shifting potential of these media is the real challenge. This was the premise of Mason’s talk, which emphasised the importance of devising a social media strategy that is tailored to specific business aims. As Mason dispelled certain myths surrounding how to use these platforms, what became apparent is the importance of quality over quantity: it’s less about enormous followings and daily posts, and more about sharing thoughtfully-produced content with a relevant audience base.
The next discussion invited Ewan Venters, CEO of Fortnum & Mason, to share his insights on the luxury consumer market. In conversation with Katy Wickremesinghe of KTW London, Venters – under whose eight-year lead F&M has gone from strength to strength – stressed the importance of emphasising value over price, and how this narrative change has resonated with consumers. The talk, entitled ‘Evolution Not Revolution’, also advised how companies must honour the legacies and foundations of their brand, while remaining innovative and adaptable in the face of present commercial demands – a balancing act which F&M has achieved with clear success.
In terms of future trends, Venters was particularly excited about the emergence of the Gen Z consumer and their love of craftmanship and authentic story-telling. In a more eco-conscious world, he also predicted a huge consumer shift towards buying second-hand – music to the ears of a largely antique-dealing room.
These latter remarks led appropriately onto the final panel discussion of the day on ‘Embracing Sustainability’. Chaired by Antiques Trade Gazette editor Noelle McElhatton, the speakers included Kelli Ellis, eco-friendly interior designer; Adam Hills, director of architectural salvage business Retrouvius; Nigel Warboys, founder of Antiques Are Green; and Ed Bulmer, creator of plant-based product Edward Bulmer Natural Paint. Despite a variety of different opinions over whether image, provenance, packaging or cost was the main factor in sustainable purchase decisions, the panel were all in agreement about the growing intelligence of consumers and the need for the industry to continue spreading awareness about sustainability.
To top off a hugely insightful day, the conference’s Keynote Presentation was this year delivered by Dr Xavier Bray, Director of the Wallace Collection. He gave a fascinating lecture on the past, present and future of the museum’s collection, from the life and background of its founder, Richard Wallace, all the way through to the challenges of making a permanent collection feel new and alive for visitors in the years to come.
By amplifying so many different perspectives within the art and antique dealing sphere, this conference was an illuminating event. It succeeded in providing a panoramic snapshot of many of the challenges facing the industry today – but, more importantly, reminding us of the exciting opportunities these challenges in fact present.