One of the most pressing issues in our industry today, and one near to my heart, is how to engage the next generation of auction goers and antique collectors. I have read a good many articles on how the younger generations; the millennials in particular don’t care about antiques. All too many times I’ve heard “kids these days would rather have a cell phone than a bedroom suite”. Frankly I am starting to take offense. I am a millennial. I am 25, and yes, I own an IPhone, but I also work for an auction house. I care about antiques, vintage, and preserving our material culture for the next generation. Maybe I’m an anomaly, but I don’t think so.
We have been accused of being the “Ikea generation”. I’m just as guilty. Sometimes it’s easier to buy a cheap but functional piece of furniture that you can easily load into your Honda Civic and drive to your college apartment and throw it out at the end of the semester. However, to say that our generation amounts to 30 dollars of prefabricated particle board is selling us short. There has been a huge move with against waste and against big box stores. Here is the perfect opportunity for auctions and other secondary retailers to step in. Buying antiques is green and helps reduce waste. In addition, secondary retailers should capitalize on the popularity of all things vintage. People are buying brand new furniture that is made to look vintage. It seems silly when you could buy something that is actually aged.
I think the number one thing we can do to bring the next generation into the fold, as an industry, is climb down our ivory tower. We should begin to show the younger generation that the word “antique” doesn’t always mean pricy period pieces. An antique doesn’t have to be Baroque period or made by Tiffany’s to be of value or worth owning. These pieces are out of reach even for some of the most seasoned of collectors, let alone to most young people. Also many of those antiques just aren’t practical for most young household. Can you imagine baby proofing a Belter piece of furniture? Frankly our generation values both form AND function and although some high end antiques are beautiful they often lack that function quality that our generation seeks.
So where is the disconnect for the millennials? I think it is two-fold. The first one is easy to address, it is a simple lack of education on the part of the younger generation about the value and accessibility of antique and vintage items. I think very few young people realize how accessible antiques are to them at very reasonable prices. To address that problem we as an industry should work towards rebranding ourselves to make us more appealing to the next generation. For us it really a situation of adapt or die. The consignments will keep coming, but without a new buyer pool we will be dead in the water. We need to work on rebranding the word antique. If you ask any millennial what they think of antiques they would say something along the lines of old, stuffy, and VERY expensive. Ask the same person what they would think of vintage items and you get a very different answer. Items that are marketed as vintage usually do a very good job attracting a younger crowd. It could be the same exact object, but calling it an antique gives it an aura of old-fashioned and impractical either in price or usage. Use the world vintage, however, and it has an instant appeal. Vintage somehow seems younger, hipper, and much more sexy. We need to capitalize on the popularity of the vintage trend. We need to market antiques as the solution to box store fatigue and as answer to overflowing landfills. Working to engage the next generation for us will ensure a healthy industry for generations to come.