Today you know me as The Antiques Diva. I’ve lived in Europe nearly 20 years, having lived in Paris, Amsterdam and Berlin before moving to Venice last year. But I grew up in Oklahoma and rarely traveled outside of the state as a child and teenager. I didn’t have a passport until I was 21 and I decided to study abroad and in doing so, it changed my life. On that first trip abroad to London, I realized that “Dreams Do Come True” and my dream was to live and work in Europe. I realized if I wanted something strongly enough, if I worked hard enough, that I could achieve my dreams. And my dreams were big. Ten years ago when I founded The Antiques Diva® & Co I had a very specific vision of where I wanted to bring my brand – and I’m still working on achieving all those goals. Today I’m excited to announce that I get to check one more of those goals off my checklist. This Fall Aidan Gray Home is launching The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray at the fall High Point Market, Oct. 13-17, 2018.
If one phrase captures the essence of my mindset, it’s “You Mustn’t Be Afraid to Dream a Little Bigger Darling.” Thanks to the way my parents raised me, I have always believed I could achieve whatever goals I set for myself. My dad is the ultimate at giving encouragement. He thought I could climb the highest tree or run faster than all the boys… and because he believed I could, I did. As I was growing up my parents did not have much money and things were always financially tight in our house. My parent’s house was small, but it was a wonderfully cozy home. My mom didn’t have much money to decorate with but she had good taste. And more importantly, she has an ability to make anything look beautiful. I remember her walking into the fields near our house and picking wildflowers. She would bring them home and put them in a rusted vintage Folgers coffee can and they looked like a centerpiece for Country Living. She went to garage sales and bought second-hand furniture and paintings and our interior design was always the coziest of all my friends. Today I owe a lot of who I am professionally to who she was as a mother. She inspired me to live beautifully. My father inspired me to achieve my dreams.
When I met Randal Weeks, CEO of Aidan Gray, we connected not only in business but connected as friends who have similar roots. We understood each other. He’s a Texas boy. I’m an Oklahoma girl. He grew up as a military kid, with his family moving around the world from military base to military base and his mother was a magician. She could move into a house in a foreign country and perform magic on military housing making the spaces as beautiful as she was. He saw the beauty she created in her world. And he was inspired by her and the way she lived her life.
In university, he studied architecture – but he was always drawn to furniture and interior design. When creating the architecture plans for the house he couldn’t help but think how the people would live in the space, what the lighting would be, how the furniture placement would interact with the structure itself. For him, architecture, interior design and furniture were always in the conversation. By happenstance one day while getting his MBA, he caught an episode of Oprah. And something she said resonated with him, “You will never be happy if you are not passionate about what you do.” And he thought – “she’s right.”
And he made the decision to pursue his dream to start a company that produces European inspired home furnishings. Since 2003, Aidan Gray has grown to become one of the leaders in the home furnishings industry.
Randal and I first met 6 years ago when he approached The Antiques Diva & Co to help source antiques in England, France and Belgium to use as design inspiration for creating his collections as well as accessorizing and selling in his showrooms. And – the shoe fit.
We were fast-friends enjoying a mutual respect for one another’s businesses and over the years worked together when Randal had international antiquing needs.
When two years ago I was approached by a licensing agent to design a licensed line of furniture for one of Aidan Gray’s competitors, I prepared a powerpoint presentation. And I did what they say you should never do. I flew to Dallas and I showed my ideas to Randal and said, “I’ve been asked to develop a furniture collection, and if I am going to do a furniture collection, I want to do it with you.” Before I was halfway through the presentation he was taking me into his warehouse and showing me some feet for a chair he was working on and we were excitedly discussing the idea of “the chair as art.” He got my vision immediately. My initial ideas were too “Form over Function” and he gently informed me, “It must be comfortable to sell!” We discussed my ideas and decided eventually decided the best way to start our collaboration was to hit the road together – traveling throughout France, Holland and Belgium, seeking design inspiration to develop a line of furniture together – and a collection was born. The Antiques Diva Collection by Aidan Gray
The Antiques Diva & Co’s goal is to make antiques accessible. Aidan Gray’s goal is to offer this same accessibility for European decor and home furnishings, so this is a perfect partnership! Designing this collection together was a natural progression for The Antiques Diva brand. Just as Louis XVI was inspired by his Grand Tour and the discoveries of Pompeii when creating his Neoclassical furniture, I’ve traveled the world and have seen the best-quality antiques and gained global design inspiration. Antiques help us learn from the past to create for the future.
But I didn’t want to create a line of antique reproductions – I wanted to create something that was inspired by the past but made for today – mixing media to create unique looks for furniture, using concepts and materials not available in the 18th century – such as authentic hand-carved woods combined with Lucite and faux leather.
Years before I started The Antiques Diva & Co – when I was in my mid- 20’s living in Paris – I remember sitting one day at the Café Les Deux Magots and telling a girlfriend that my dream was to someday design a line of furniture. At the time I didn’t think it would actually happen – it was a far-out fantasy – but words have power. Speak the desires of your heart out loud… and then work your butt off every day until your dreams come true. It is my great pleasure to invite you to join me at High Point Market | The World’s Home for Home Furnishings for the Launch Party for The Antiques Diva & Co Collection by Aidan Gray Home. Aidan Gray is located in High Point at 201 North Main. The fête is Sunday October 14, 2018, from 9am to 11am, but you are welcome to shop the collection every day during market October 12-17, 2018 (or online on the Aidan Gray website after the product launch in High Point). If you’re in High Point, I would love to take time personally to show you the collection in a private tour – email me Toma@antiquesdiva.com to make an appointment. For those of you who won’t be at market, over the coming months I will share photos on my blog and tell the behind the scenes stories of various pieces.
Hope to see you at High Point!
Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva
I’m flying to New York to speak at Greenwich District Design Day of Design June 5: Mixing it Up:
The Art of Combining Antiques in Contemporary Spaces – and during my flight, I’ll be watching myself on United’s Inflight C-Suite Insights! My interview with journalist Nicole Sawyer premiered on United June 1 and will broadcast throughout June.
I’d love to see you in Greenwich! Tori Mellott, style editor of Traditional Home, along with designer Robert Passal and me – The Antiques Diva, Toma Clark Haines – delve into the topic of #MakingAntiquesModern through mixing pieces from the past with contemporary spaces. It’s all about the mix!
The Antiques Diva Reveals Secrets to Buy Timeless Treasures on Exotic Travel Tours
If you’re not flying on United in June, watch my interview here, or read the transcript below.
Journalist Nicole Sawyer interviews Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva for C-Suite Insights:
Nicole: She’s one of the most powerful women in the antiques industry. Toma Clark Haines, the founder of The Antiques Diva, the world’s largest antiques touring company, makes collecting cool modern and sexy.
Toma: This is a classic Hermes bag. Nothing says style more than Hermes
Nicole: She takes travelers looking for unique statement pieces to exotic places like Bangkok and Bali.
Toma: What’s trending when it comes to jewelry believe it or not is brooches. In the past, you know grandma wore them up here on her lapel. Now we are shaking it up – for example, the dress I’m wearing. I may wear one right here on the waistband of my wrap dress. And you know what, brooches are not just for women. Men are wearing them.
Nicole: I met up with her at the Eden Roc hotel to find out how this girl from a small town in Oklahoma built an international empire and.
Toma: I’m going to take you antiquing and it is going to be antiquing like you have never seen.
Nicole: Hi, we’re here at the U.S. Antique Show in Miami and we’re going to show you how to mix timeless treasures with modern trends.
Nicole: Why do you think the average person hears the word antique and it’s so intimidating?
Toma: I think you’ve been taught with antiques that you go into your grandmother’s house and you’re not allowed to touch things. And people have become afraid. They think of antiques as stuffy, as old-fashioned, as breakable. The reality is if an 18th-century chair has survived 200 years, don’t you think that they can survive you too? When you have antiques, they have patina. If it has a little scratch on it the fact is it’s not going to affect the value. It’s adding to the character of the piece.
Nicole: Walk me through what it’s like taking a tour with The Antiques Diva.
Toma: We meet up with the client and then we assess what is it that you’re looking for and then we’re going to custom plan the route, saving you the most amount of time and also saving you money
Nicole: I wanted to get a vintage purse. What’s in style right now?
Toma: You want handbags that are bold statement pieces and vintage handbags from the 1950s often have that great shape, the oversized skill and fabulous patina on their leathers. On our tours, we translate, we negotiate and then we help you ship the items home sweet home. Shipping large things can be a challenge.
Nicole: So what’s your advice for shipping antiques?
Toma: Shipping often is one of the most expensive parts when you’re buying antiques internationally. However, if you’re an American buying in France you can expect that the price in France is three to five times lower than you would ever find it here in the States. if you’re buying at the right price point, suddenly the cost of shipping isn’t as expensive because you’re still saving money.
Nicole: What is the most requested exotic place that you take people?
Toma: The most popular place is probably France. When you think antiques, you think French antiques. Belgium has incredible prices. At the moment what’s hip, what every interior designer in America is asking me for, is Swedish antiques. And actually, all the antique warehouses in Sweden are located down in southern Sweden. Knowing where to go is probably the most important thing we do.
Nicole: Is there are good times of year that you should be searching for antiques and when you should not go?
Toma: You need to look at when the public holidays are and the week surrounding it and avoid those periods. Otherwise, you’re going to show up and be disappointed. There’s nothing worse than getting to a destination and discovering everything’s closed.
Nicole: A lot of people think of Europe as the place to go to find fine antiques but you say that’s not the case.
Toma: I love antiquing in Europe but if you want to know what’s hot, what’s next – Southeast Asia has the two best destinations I think for what’s next in antiques are Chiang Mai in Thailand and believe it or not Bali! There is an entire strip in Seminyak, probably four miles long. You really find the Paris Flea Market of Asia.
Nicole: What do you think it’s the most challenging part about taking your clients on antique tours?
Toma: Clients don’t always know what they want. The first thing we do is say, show me photos. Pictures say a thousand words. If the client can show me what they’re looking for we can help them find it. But words alone often are not enough.
Nicole: So many people buy antiques as an investment. How do you know if it’s a good investment for the future?
Toma: Okay, the first thing I tell someone is buy it because you love it. If you love it, you’re never going to make a bad investment. Second thing is your research. If you’re buying antiques, it’s determining what price level you’re comfortable with and what’s your purpose.
Nicole: Many people have things in their home, maybe they inherit it from their grandparents or they found something really cool at a garage sale. if you’re one of those people – you’re not sure what it is or what it’s worth how can you find out more information about it.
Toma: When you’re trying to determine the value of an antique, the reality is you want to ask someone who knows more than you know. One option: you go to an auction house and you have them do an evaluation. But not everyone has time for that and often you have to pay for that. So there’s this great new app, it’s called Chattic. And all you have to do is take a picture, upload it to the app and a community of like-minded people will give you their advice on the piece that you’re looking for information on.
Nicole: Who are some of your clients?
Toma: Antique dealers, interior designers, architects, developers, hoteliers – I will tell you some of our best clients are those mere shopping mortals.
Nicole: Some of your core buyers are female baby boomers, an interior designer. But what about the younger generation – are you seeing that they have an interest in antiques?
Toma: Absolutely. Antiques are ideal for Millennials because they want their homes to represent who they are, where they’ve been and where they’re going. Some of the younger generation – they hear the word ‘antique’ and they’re like oh, that’s outdated.
Nicole: But isn’t it true that right now one of the hottest design trends is to actually take treasures that are old and mix them with modern design?
Toma: Exactly. What I like is when you take a Renaissance piece and then mix it in a room. So throw in a nice chair, throw in a grandmaster painting simultaneously – that’s what works with AMT I would agree and that’s what you’re seeing in a lot of the designer magazines these days. And maybe an 18th-century commode with a more contemporary painting. With antiques – it’s all about the mix.
Nicole: You also work with the Antique Young Guns – those are all dealers under the age of 40.
Toma: They’re preserving the future of antiques and they’re looking at antiques in different ways. They’re going to put an antique chest of drawers in a bathroom. They’re going to mix it up and take an industrial cabinet and add it into their kitchen. And so if you want to know what’s going to be hot in antiques you need to look at the young buyers. If you think about art communities – artists will live in a neighborhood, making the neighborhood cool and then the yuppies move in and the prices raise. If you look at this exact same mentality when it comes to antiques, you have the young antique buyers who are buying what’s inexpensive. They’re using it new and innovative ways. They’re making it hip, they’re making it cool and now older people want to be buying what it is they bought in the first place.
This is my favorite find of the fair by the way – if I were to pick my top item at the Original Miami Beach Show, voila! it’s your pink flamingo!
Nicole: You’re running a business. Everyone knows you could have the greatest idea but getting your business brand out there – it’s a challenge. What is the key to creating a recognizable brand?
Toma: When you have a company it’s easy to feel like you want to give up, and even on those down days saying I’m going to get up and continue working. And the thing that happens is over time you realize I have built something awesome, and it wasn’t one single step along the way did it, it was a series of steps towards my destination.
Nicole: You’re now launching your own furniture line as well.
Toma: The Antiques Diva Collection for Aidan Gray Home. So Louis 16th furniture is my favorite style of furniture. It’s neoclassical design. King Louis – he went to Pompeii, he saw what was happening in the ruins of Pompeii. He was so inspired by the them that he had his team of craftsmen build neoclassical antiques in France for Versailles. For the last 10 years I’ve been scouring the world buying antiques, seeking design inspiration and now for the first time I get to take that inspiration and turn it into creation.
Nicole: You also just launched your own jewelry line?
Toma: Yes, I have just launched my jewelry collection and our tagline is Lush Decadence. The goal is to create jewelry that is just a little bit beyond reality.
Nicole: So where does your inspiration come from?
Toma: Vintage fashion, also my travels. I’ve done a lot of pieces that are antique botanical pieces and they actually come from Art Nouveau architecture.
Nicole: Well thank you so much. Toma. I really appreciate it.
Toma: Thank you!
Thank you so much Nicole!
Toma – The Antiques Diva
Darlings, London is Calling… and you’re invited to join me – VIRTUALLY that is!
I am live streaming my LAPADA presentation Feb 23, 2017, when I broadcast on Facebook LIVE while I speak at the Houses of Parliament for the 9th Annual LAPADA Conference at the House of Lords!
My talk as CEO of The Antiques Diva & Co is on establishing client trust and creating international business relationships, addressing factors such as the influence a customer’s decision making has in buying from one dealer over another as well as what creates a sense of trust in establishing long-term international relationships with clients. I’ll discuss the main drivers in creating trusted relationships between buyers and sellers, offering tips on how to develop these relationships and how to best communicate with American clients.
This year’s LAPADA, the Association of Art & Antiques Dealers, Conference will focus on how art and antiques dealers can trade online more securely, better protecting themselves and their clients. Experts will impart professional advice on a range of topics from dealing with cyber-attacks and protecting clients’ data to how to comply with Distance Selling Regulations and understanding copyright laws.
How To Watch My LAPADA Presentation on Facebook LIVE
- When: Feb 23, 2017
- Time: 3pm-3.45pm GMT – For those of you on the other side of the pond: that’s 10am EST and 9am CST and 7am PST
- Where: Go to my personal Facebook page: Toma Clark Haines to watch my presentation live.
If you’re not available to join us live, the video will stay on my Facebook page after the live broadcast.
Read more about my LAPADA presentation on Establishing Client Trust here.
Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva®
Remember that line in You’ve Got Mail about the start of a new school year and the desire to buy school supplies? If a man wants to romance me all he has to do is send me bouquets of freshly sharpened pencils! For me, it’s New Years that gets my heart skipping a beat. Every year I excitedly buy a fresh, unmarked calendar months in advance – painstakingly picking out the best agenda to match the mood of the year. This year my friend Derrick with the Dallas Market Center gave me a PASSION PLANNER which is not just a calendar but a journal, a keepsake, a place to declutter one’s mind, to get organized, and to pursue your passions. In the back of the calendar in the doodle section I sat down with my pack of magic markers (I think in color) and began writing my New Year’s Resolutions – both personal and professional. I kept some of the oldies, but goodies… classic New Year’s Resolutions i.e., Lose Weight, Exercise More, Drink more – I mean Less, champagne. But I added in some new ones – very specific to this year.
My first resolution? Sleep More!! Luckily I happen to the brand ambassador for Pandora de Balthazár – so sleeping on the job is part of my job as I promote this European Sleep System! The first thing anyone comments upon meeting me is my boundless energy. With the right sleep accessories from Pandora de Balthazár I’m able to transform my life. Sleep is not a guilty pleasure – but good sleep is essential for me to do my job, to be and become all that I can be. With Pandora de Balthazár’s products it’s more than just therapy, it’s luxury married with gorgeous design and the highest quality Hungarian goose down and Italian linen. I’m successful… because I’ve come to understand that it’s essential I restore myself.
With that resolution comes a whole host of secondary resolutions. Do Less. Travel Less. Say No More Often. When you travel for a living it’s easy to find yourself constantly on the go. This year I want to nest and be a home body. It’s easy to go through life saying yes to fabulous opportunities that come our way. But not every opportunity is the right opportunity and as I get busier and busier as I grow my company I need to Prioritize More – both in my personal life and professional.
Personally – I want to make friendships count – taking time to deepen those core relationships. Professionally – we have had some phenomenal growth in 2016.
- We expanded into Asia offering Asian Antique Buying Tours in addition to our roster of European Antique Buying Tours.
- We laid the groundwork for launching our own Antiques Diva Antique Care and Restoration Products – the first product has hit the market, but a slew of others will launch this Spring 2017 #WatchThisSpace.
- While we’ve always helped clients with shipping through 3rd parties – this year we launched our own in-house art & antiques shipping division.
As the company expands we have to Re-evaluate Old Processes – and Implement New Ones which work for a larger company. Our team is now 24 people. We are no longer the one-woman-show I started out as. It’s no secret: I want an empire. I am building a Diva Empire. But part of building one’s business is evaluating it. Where are we strong and where are we weak? My main resolution professionally this year is to Grow Deeper Roots – Build better infrastructure to support our team and our clients’ needs. That means – this year in 2017 – I’ll find myself in the office behind the desk a bit more often. In essence, I need to Be More Organized.
I want to Live More Intentionally. Part of doing so means focusing on those things that make me happy. In 2017 I’m asking myself What are my Passions and Goals? I’ve always wanted to design both jewelry and furniture. These are dreams since my teenage years. And drumroll please… On Jan 2nd, 2017 a contract for a licensed furniture line showed up in my inbox. #WatchThisSpace as I unveil the first ever Antiques Diva Collection of furniture – where classic meets modern – to launch at Fall High Point 2017. But it doesn’t stop there. Those of you who follow me on Facebook and Instagram have seen some sneak peeks as I start a new venture outside of The Antiques Diva brand. While in Asia last summer setting up our tours I designed the first ever Toma Clark Haines TCH Collection of jewelry. Working with acclaimed photographer Jose Manuel Alorda we’re shooting the photography for our Lookbook now and will be looking for retailers in 2017.
All said… 2017 is going to be busy. But I’m doing it – as Frank Sinatra said – My Way
Toma Clark Haines – The Antiques Diva
I’m so excited to announce that I will be leading an online course for MyAntiqueSchool! #WatchThisSpace
MyAntiqueSchool is a fabulous resource for antique lovers whether you are new to the antique world or a connoisseur. It is quickly becoming the go-to place to learn from the world’s antiques experts and discuss topics with other antiques enthusiasts from around the globe.
MyAntiqueSchool has filled a need in the antiques world by bringing together experts on almost every niche antiques and collectibles subject. Launched earlier in 2016 through MyOnlineSchool LTD, MyAntiqueSchool has rapidly become the first online antiques school with a broad range of classes which are taught by an array of acclaimed authors, broadcasters, and dealers from around the world.
CEO and Founder Elspeth Briscoe says,
“MyAntiqueSchool solves an important problem for globally disparate enthusiasts in fragmented industries like antiques (ie there are millions of us foraging for information from a relatively few experts – but we are widely scattered!). The antiques and collectibles industry has literally millions of people passionate about niche topics, but who can’t easily get access to experts nor unite with one another in a single sharing community. We are giving enthusiasts a thriving place to connect, wherever they are in the world. A place where not only can they share questions and answers on a peer to peer basis, but also connect with world-class experts who they’d never normally meet. I’ve always been passionate that the internet could be used more effectively to unite people who are driven by a shared interest or cause. MyAntiqueSchool is the perfect place for these niche communities to aggregate, as we have the best experts in the world, a unique classroom, and now an area where everyone can share questions and answers. We even have a virtual antiques shop café so please do pop by and have a chat!”
What’s most exciting is that the students are as diverse as the teachers. Hailing from 55 different countries, students enrolled in the online courses have an opportunity to share with each other on the online forums and discover what’s happening in other parts of the world regarding the antiques industry.
Our friend, acclaimed author Judith Miller says,
“I’m excited about the initiative and believe that MyAntiqueSchool will give enthusiasts from around the world first class education at their fingertips. There is so much rich information and craftsmanship out there within our expert community that risks being lost if we don’t find new and innovative ways of reaching out. MyAntiqueSchool is the logical step to ensure that the world’s true experts can pass on their incredible knowledge to the next generation of enthusiasts worldwide.”
Expert tutors (in addition to moi) include:
Judith Miller – author of more than 100 books on antiques and interiors, including the highly acclaimed Millers Guides. Judith is a regular on the UK Antiques Roadshow, which is one of the BBC’s flagship programmes. Judith teaches ‘An Introduction to Antiques’ and ‘Art Deco’.
Expert dealer, broadcaster and author, Mark Hill shares his wealth of knowledge on Mid-Century Modern Design, with a very popular course.
Leading art and antiques specialist Marc Allum gives a fascinating insight on how to build a varied and interesting arts and antiques portfolio with his course ‘An Insider’s Guide to Building a Well-Balanced Art & Antiques Portfolio’, and with a complimentary course teaches both professional interior designers and enthusiasts how to combine the classic with the modern to create truly original interiors on ‘Buying Art & Antiques’ for Interior Design.
David Rago, one of the leading experts from the US Antiques Roadshow gives a rare insight into the Arts & Crafts Movement in the US, and based on his many years of experience teaches students how to spot good arts and crafts items for collection or for resale.
David Rago, Antiques Roadshow and new expert MyAntiqueSchool tutor says,
“I’m looking forward to being part of this global initiative and meeting my first students from around the world. My first course with MyAntiqueSchool is now bookable and is on Arts and Crafts for the US market, which for me has become a lifetime’s passion as well as work. I’m looking forward to sharing my knowledge with my students and plan to go on and develop more courses with my team of experts.”
Other courses include Fine Jewellery, taught by leading gemologist Joanna Hardy, How to Value Fine Art, Understand Ceramics, Buying at Auction, English Silver.
And last but certainly not least, me, Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva! We are currently working on a TOP SECRET TOPIC that Will BE REVEALED SOON!!!!! Hint… It may involve filming the course in South East Asia!
Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva®
As my niche brand has grown I’m being asked more and more to speak around the world at furniture fairs and interior design centers giving advice to other entrepreneurs on running and operating their niche businesses. One of the most frequent things I am asked to talk about is how I started my business. But perhaps just as frequently as telling my story of how I went from being a 1 woman firm to becoming CEO of Europe’s largest antiques touring company, I’m asked to explain what my job even is! This was perhaps the biggest challenge my business has faced since its inception—a lack of awareness that the service we offer even exists!
People have heard of tours and they’ve heard of antiques… But what are Antiques Buying Tours?
Educate Your Clients
My first job as an entrepreneur is to educate my clients – what I do, how I do it, what benefit my service gives them, and why they would want to use my service rather than attempting to do it themselves!
You’re already reading my blog so perhaps you’ve figured this out:
we take clients shopping on one-on-one customized antique buying tours to help both private clients as well as trade professionals shop for antiques overseas in 8 countries.
Our client tells us what they want and we make a personalized plan for getting them to the most number of potential purchases in the shortest period of time.
- We save our clients time and money.
- We translate.
- We negotiate.
- And most importantly, we have relationships.
I’ve said for years that “Antiquing in Europe” is a secret society and if you’re introduced properly by the right names in the industry you’ll receive better service, better prices and more access to even better inventory. When you walk into a dealer’s store (or their private home or warehouse) on the arm of your Antiques Diva Guide you’re not just walking in with your buying power – but the buying power of all our clients!
Communicate What Makes Your Service Valuable
More to the point… when a new antiques dealer opens shop in Europe we’re usually the first to hear about them… which means while you might be able to use Google to find some of the dealers we visit on our antique buying tours… there’s no way you would find all of them! Our database is always growing and we’re always one step ahead of the game. Because we know the dealers personally we’re not only able to get you better prices – but we’re often able to get after-hours appointments. On more than one occasion I’ve even been given the keys to antiques warehouse whose owner was away on holiday, and go in and poke around without the vendor! And we’re operating a turn key business here – once the buying is done at The Antiques Diva & Co we either liaise our clients with a 3rd party shipper or work with our own in-house shipping firm to help clients get their purchases home sweet home across the pond.
Educating Your Client
Getting the message out about what we do is as important as doing it – because if people don’t know what we do they won’t know to come to us to do it. In this month’s Entrepreneur Blog as part of our continuing series I want to talk about the importance of educating your client. As an entrepreneur in any niche market, educating the public and potential clients on what you do and how you do it not only adds value to your business but it is imperative for the success of your small business.
Ask For Help
Once people understand your services or product, it’s important that they are able to find your website so they can contact you! That’s where SEO (search engine optimization) comes in. For me, SEO feels like a foreign language. I am not a tech person… Heck, I work in antiques… I like old things and I still write my To Do List on sheets of paper! I’m an old fashioned girl living in a technology-driven world. So what’s my first rule of business? Ask for help. Set aside your pride and ask someone who knows more than you to help you with what you need. They can implement an entire SEO strategy for you – or they can simply write a plan that you follow yourself.
From the very beginning my blog has been essential in getting readers aware about our services. My business started as a blog and readers began emailing asking for a service and a business was born. More often that not clients find us not by googling Antique Buying Tours – but rather by googling one of their questions about their upcoming European buying trip they are desperately attempting to coordinate themselves. They stumble upon our website while searching for answers to their questions about shopping abroad and voila, we’ve got a new client!
Be Generous With Information
Whether on my blog or when I speak on where to go antiquing in Europe – I give away ALOT of INFORMATION. I tell people HOW they can do it themselves!! People often ask me why I share so much free information about antiquing abroad – where to go and what to do. The answer is simple. By sharing information, I am able to get more clients. It establishes me as an expert, thus giving potential clients more trust in the benefits of working with my company, and okay…let’s face it, I genuinely like helping people, so it’s my pleasure to share information. That’s why I got into this industry! At The Antiques Diva & Co we are INCLUSIVE. We are having a fabulous time shopping in Europe and we want you to come along with us and enjoy not only the fun but also the unprecedented access to the best antiques Europe has to offer.
PR has been imperative in educating the industry not only on what services we offer, but also what the advantages are of buying overseas. Just one example of those advantages is the fact that antiques purchased in Europe can get a markup of 3 to 5 times cost when sold in the USA. We also take the intimidation out of buying antiques overseas by taking clients by the hand to our vast list of sources.
People are often afraid of buying overseas… what if I get ripped off? What if a vendor tries to sell me a fake. While I can’t guarantee we won’t be fooled… I can guarantee that if we experience a vendor OUTRIGHT LYING to our clients… We don’t return to that vendor and that vendor doesn’t just lose 1 client… but potentially 100’s. All of these things make our services valuable! Being able to communicate that succinctly is so important, especially when your business is just getting off the ground. Think about what core benefits your company offers – write them out – ask clients for their opinion on what benefit you offer them – and then — USE that information to craft your company message.
Just Do It
For a niche industry like this, you’ve got to know how to get started. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – The best way to get started is to JUST DO IT! Don’t hesitate, don’t let fear of not knowing enough stop you – jump into the deep end and start swimming. You may need a flotation device at first… but you have to really do your job before you realize how little you actually know about it! You learn by trial and error. For me, the most important thing I do is build my little black book of contacts on both sides of the pond. I have to simultaneously keep building my potential client list as well as my vendor list. At The Antiques Diva & Co we don’t sell antiques – we sell relationships. We introduce buyers to sellers, bridging the international gap. If we were a dating service – we’d be matchmakers, madame’s of the antiques industry.
The most important asset we offer cannot be bought – you need relationships in order to be successful in this industry and many niche industries.
Get out there, make yourself known, go to the places where the people in your industry gather, meet potential vendors, meet potential clients. Network like you mean it. Meanwhile, learn all you can. Be a jack of all trades. In my industry that means I have to dip my manicured hands into antiques, learning the entire process – from how to restore antiques, to appraise antiques, to ship antiques. The more you know about all aspects of your industry the better you’ll be. Keep Learning.
Use All Your Past Experiences
I also recommend using all your past experiences when it comes to starting a business in a niche market. What have you done in a previous life that can benefit you now?? The best training I had for working in antiques was working in advertising and marketing in both Boston and Cleveland before moving overseas. I had big name clients such as Dunkin Donuts, Target, McDonalds and Pearl Vision. Doing their marketing was the best education I could have had before starting my own company. From the beginning I employed the same level of brand management and marketing strategies in my own campaigns as I would have with big brand clients. While today The Antiques Diva & Co is a small but international company – working with a team of 21 locally-based guides in 8 countries – as a brand we have a big brand presence within a niche part of the interior design industry. In fact, one of the leaders in my industry, Dwayne Clark, recently was quoted as saying I have one of the best niche businesses in this industry.
With a very small budget when first starting my company, I invested initially in graphic design. Giving my company a strong recognizable logo was key in building brand awareness. I was then able to employ guerrilla marketing techniques through social media to spread the word about our services, establish our brand presence and personality. When working in promotion marketing and advertising my strength had been in new business development, coming up with multiple ideas for campaigns and solutions to a variety of industry challenges. It trained me to have flexibility in my mind – in my way of thinking – aiding me to react swiftly with clarity of thought to changing dynamics and perhaps most importantly, to see clearly ways in which I can increase and broaden my current business portfolio. It also trained me to recognize when it’s time to change. We recently launched a new website which was desperately needed, and you’ll see we have a new logo. AD&CO is growing up and it’s time for a new look that represents our brand and our audience better. As always you have to be willing to change, to be flexible and roll with the times. As an entrepreneur running a niche brand your job is not to do everything, it’s not to know everything… all you have to do is know the right people.
Whatever business you want to start, as an entrepreneur it is important to be able to define your role in the industry, communicate the service or product you offer and why it adds value, and then get the word out there that your company exists! Most often, entrepreneurs are responding to a need they see—something that’s missing in the market that people can use. Remember, get in front of the right people, and then give them what they want! When your company is serving them and adding value, it won’t be long until others come knocking on your door.
Your CEO in Stilettos,
Toma Clark Haines, The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
get so many people asking me how I started my company. They are usually people who are wanting to start their own business but have doubts, which is totally normal! They have this great idea but aren’t sure about the details and have had others-often well meaning family and friends- tell them it’s too risky. I too had naysayers when starting The Antiques Diva & Co. People thought I was crazy when I told them I was going to start a luxury-based service involving both travel and interior design at the height of the global recession.
I originally was writing a series of books about antiquing in Europe, but with the recession of 2008, no one was publishing books. When my book series wasn’t published, naysayers encouraged me to throw in the towel and channel my energies towards more economically viable business models saying, “Forget antiques, design and travel – there’s no money to be made there.” And I ignored them. I learned early on that I had a vision that others couldn’t see. When you own your own company it’s imperative you trust your instincts. That may be one of the best pieces of advice I can give.
You absolutely should seek advice from experts – but recognize that just because an expert has good advice, it does not mean their advice is applicable for your situation right now. Some pieces of advice I save for later. Others I negate as invalid. Above all else – do not doubt yourself. No one knows your business as well as you do and the surest way towards success is PERSEVERANCE. Gage what you have control over, set a realistic target and then steadfastly walk in the direction of that goal each day. When that goal is met – move the target – and keep going forward.
That leads me to another very important piece of advice for young entrepreneurs. Just do it. A lot of people talk about starting a company – but the only people who succeed in business are those that just do it. Do not wait until you are an expert in your field. Do not wait until you know everything there is to know. Do not wait until you are perfect. Just do it. When it comes to brand evolution, perhaps the most scandalous piece of business advice I can share is this: Do not wait until you’ve got the perfect business plan in place to start your business. Yes, you DO need a business plan. But it doesn’t have to be perfect. A good business plan will evolve over time as you learn more about your market, discover hidden sources of incomes and grow into your service. A successful brand will establish parameters which stay consistent – within which to operate – but it will evolve with the market and economic environment.
By listening to your gut instinct, planning as much as you can, and just doing it, you will be well on the way to starting a business that is as unique as you are. It’s important to listen to the advice of others, but it’s just as important to listen to your own voice and do what you know you need to do.
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
Antiques Young Guns USA launched earlier this year after forming a strategic alliance with Antiques Young Guns UK. What a great way for young professionals in the antiques trade on both sids of the pond to connect!s the world becomes a smaller and smaller place, the importance of international business becomes greater and greater. This month as we are Going Global I’ve been on 3 continents! At The Antiques Diva & Co, one of our favorite things to do is introduce international clients, be they tourists, antique dealers, or interior designer, to our European sources. Often times, these become long lasting relationships, both personally and professionally. And speaking of international business and the future,
Antiques Young Guns USA promotes growth, education and exposure to those in the trade, 39 years old or younger, to a national audience of antiques enthusiasts. The program offers many member benefits, including online exposure through the Antiques Young Guns marketplace, several buying and selling events throughout the year, recognition in numerous trade and national publications, and much more.
I’m pleased to share that the 2015 Antiques Young Gun USA of the Year is Margaret Schwartz, owner of The Summer House. She is the first AYG USA winner of this award, and also happens to be a client of The Antiques Diva & Co! The award recognized Schwartz for her stellar contributions working as a young professional in the antiques industry.
Schwartz began her career working at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, which played a key role in inspiring and developing her passion for the home décor business. After four years, she left to open her own shop, The Summer House. Schwartz applies her signature styles and passion for home design to hand pick today’s best finds: upholstered furniture, fashionable jewelry, eye-catching lighting, exquisite rugs, fine art, and more.
Schwartz received a prize package valued at $10,000. The prizes, with significant contributions from the Antiques Young Guns’ industry partners, vary from complimentary booth space at U.S. Antique Shows events to free educational opportunities to advance trade knowledge.
Antiques Young Guns U.S.A. currently has more than 20 members and ten industry partners since the program’s launch this past March. In the last nine months, Antiques Young Guns has published their own website and merchandise gallery for members, set up multiple social media platforms, organized their first networking event, and provided multiple opportunities for its members’ onsite at U.S. Antique Shows’ nationally recognized events. To say the least, they have been busy creating and maintaining platforms for the next generation of antique professionals. And that’s music to my ears! To see young antiques dealers like Margaret Schwartz recognized for their vision, innovative ideas, and hard work means that the antiques industry has a promising future.
As we go into the new year, let’s all celebrate the fact that antiques are not only still relevant, they are a key factor in the decorative industry! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, “Long live antiques!”
Cheers and congratulations Margaret!
The Antiques Diva®
Dear Diva Readers,
To continue our Entrepreneur Series, I want to talk about something that all aspiring business people should be aware of: their Strengths and Weaknesses.
My Biggest Weakness in both my professional and personal life is Time. We all have the same 24 hours in a day, and it is crucial to identify what you can do well and what you can’t do so well in that time in order to grow a thriving business. Due to a constant travel schedule, time is one thing that seems to always allude me. I have to be aware of what I’m able to accomplish within a 24 hour period and what I need to delegate.
Running a company is a sure-fire way to guarantee you’re sleep deprived. In the beginning I didn’t have the money to hire staff or outsource certain services so I did everything myself. Today even with a team of 18 people, there is still never enough time to complete the tasks that need to be done each day. I spend more than 200 nights per year on the road traveling so managing my schedule takes a lot of prioritizing. And at the end of the day I’ve had to accept that some things simply don’t get done.
I have, however, created a system for organizing my schedule that time-blocks certain tasks so that I maximize my energy mode. For example, administrative tasks, when lumped together in an hour, go faster than if randomly done throughout the day. If I do all my creative tasks at the same time, my brain needs less “warm up” time when starting new projects and I get in the “mode” and am able to work faster. By time-blocking tasks by category – administrative, financial, creative, marketing, follow up/clients contact, etc I’m more productive and am able to get more done during the allotted time.
I’ve also learned to listen to my body in determining my natural rythym and thus work when I am most productive. For me it’s in the early morning hours – I wake daily around 4am and have 4 hours in my office before most people leave to go to work. During those 4 hours I am able to accomplish twice as much work as I’m uninterrupted and have high energy.
And believe it or not – one of the biggest solutions to managing my time crunch – has been learning to take a break. Each morning after my first 4 hours in the office – I go for a walk. Exercise gets the blood flowing and wakes up the brain. I’m able to use this time to process and think through things that need more dedicated time, while doing something healthy. It also enables me to think more creatively about work problems, finding solutions while in that new environment walking in nature or working out with my trainer.
While my company might be called The Antiques Diva® & Co but there is no room for being a diva when it comes to running a successful business. The key to my professional success has been an utter lack of ego. Yep! I catch the irony that I am BRAGGING about lack of ego…. but hey let’s face it – my company name Diva wouldn’t work if we really were divas in the shoe throwing since the word! Lack of Ego as a strength means recognizing it’s NOT all about me. The client comes first. And I dont always have to be right or know the answer – I’m not afraid to admit to myself, an employee, or even a client when I don’t know the answer to their question. While I may not always know the answer – I usually know how to find those who do know the answer – that’s another of my strengths – my global network. We’ve grown as a company because I’ve surrounded myself with experts who strengthen me and my brand. Externally we’ve hired graphic artists, lawyers, accountants, publicists and social media gurus, while internally I’ve hired a slew of people who have different skills, knowledge levels, languages and contacts to serve as our locally based Diva Guides as well as Office Staff.
A big realization that has allowed my company to grow is the realization that just because I can do something within my company doesn’t mean I have to be the one doing it or that it is the best place for me to be spending my time. I assess where my time is best spent and prioritize my schedule to align with what yields the greatest results for the company overall. Sometimes this means more time is spent on stage front and center while other times it means I’m stepping behind the scenes spending more time on strategy instead of implementation.
Regardless of what type of company you’re running, it is crucial to understand that time is one of the most valuable assets you have. Learning what you can do (and do well) in a day, and what needs to be outsourced or delegated can really give you an edge when it comes to growing a business.
Go Rock the World.
The Antiques Diva®