The jockeying around London’s new Antiques and Art Fair Month, which is what June is shaping up to be, has become fairly intense. The Financial Times covers the behind the scenes machinations. Just to recap the background, the collapse of the Grosvenor Hotel fair and the Olympia fair has spawned several new attempts to bring buyers together. Here’s what the Lesters are doing with the Olympia exhibitors:
One new idea is a £1,500 “refundable co-operative marketing levy” that each exhibitor will have to pay. In return, they will get an unlimited number of complimentary tickets which will earn them a £5 refund for every one used – the aim being for each dealer to attract 300 visitors to the fair and create a total attendance figure of more than 60,000. Stand prices have been raised to between £475 and £625 per square metre, depending on location. The minimum cost of a site in the main part of the fair will therefore be £12,500.
Of course, not all dealers want to get involved in a big ticket event:
According to the silver dealer and experienced fair organiser Caroline Penman, whose Penman Fairs company is behind the West London Art and Antiques Fair, both dealers and buyers are crying out for such an event.
“What we have been hearing is that the re-vamped Olympia Fair is simply going to be too expensive and too grand for the smaller dealers to take part in, and what we are offering is something far less expensive and far quicker. Stands will cost from £1,100 to a maximum of £7,000, and the event will last four days compared with the 10 of Olympia. We’ll have room for up to 80 exhibitors and it will just be a more practical event,” she says.
“And as far as finding buyers is concerned, I don’t think that will be a problem – the antiques trade has certainly been suffering, but things are changing. It is all about tangible assets now and people have realised that antiques have probably reached rock-bottom, meaning the only way is up.”
Even the ones who are joining the Lesters Olympia event have expressed doubts as can be seen in this AntiquesTradeGazette report:
Cambridgeshire dealer Mark Seabrook took the gloves off straight away, saying prices should remain as they were and before they went up Mr Lester should show what he could do.
Mr Seabrook said what Olympia exhibitors wanted was to “get rid of furry stands and get 400 dealers back”. He said signing a three-year contract in a recession was folly and in dramatic Dragon’s Den fashion declared: “I’m out”.
When the applause died down, David Lester, stirred but not shaken, insisted his was a competitive price and lower than the other summer fairs (which caused some quiet debate around the tables).
He said Olympia was a high-priced big building and that no prices can remain static.
To further questions the organiser explained vetting would remain and be rigorous and he would seek cooperation with LAPADA and BADA.
In conciliatory mode, David Lester said he was flexible and positions taken earlier might have to be reversed, even a few times. He agreed that perhaps there was a case for putting the name Olympia back in the title of the summer fair, and he also suggested some wavering on the three-year commitment issue.
David Lester, though, does have his admirers who will follow him in changing the old Olympia. Harrogate picture dealer Ian Walker welcomed the American intervention and Olympia veteran, Kensington furniture dealer Patrick Sandberg declared: “I’m in”.
Fair Competition (Financial Times)
Lesters on a Learning Curve (Antiques Trade Gazette)