An Interview With DVCJ’s Eric Miller

An Interview With DVCJ’s Eric Miller

28 February, 2016

I’ve been around antiques for a long time, mostly the old fashioned kind. There’s something about the smell in an old room that’s been closed up for a while that makes me feel good. A few years back I became involved in doing the promotion for some shows along the East Coast and in the Midwest. That lead to launching a show called Antiques in Charlottesville which is now a fundraiser for Preservation Virginia.

Life events brought me to Texas and I started looking around for a place to have a show here. I knew old-fashioned antiques shows weren’t doing so well, and even less so in Texas. People here like most anything they spend time on to be fun. I had known Melissa from doing work with Randolph Street Market in Chicago and started bumping around ideas. That’s how we arrived at the vintage clothing and jewelry show.

What is your background?

That’s a big question.

Since 1999 I have been a web publisher and today have a number of popular sites including the Calendar of Antiques, Urban Art and Antiques and The New Colonist. Plus in another venture I am launching a number of educational and promotional sites including AmericanaWeek.com and NashvilleAntiquesWeek.com.

Aside from that, my working life has been mostly in writing, editing and public relations for a number of industries. I have a masters in urban studies and also write a good bit on cities, as well as art and antiques. I’m also a dealer in paintings.

How do you think social media and the antiques and vintage world can come together better?

With the antiques world it’s difficult. If you’ve been to a traditional antiques show, you know many of the people are older- both the dealers and the patrons. While more and more seniors are beginning to use the Internet, there’s still a long way to go. It’s one of the reasons I think young people are not connecting to traditional antiques- the people who know a lot about them aren’t speaking to them through the right communication channels. By not adapting, there’s a big risk that a generation or more may not be interested in antiques.

The vintage world is a different story. The people out there at vintage shows are much younger. They’re all using the Internet and social media. So much so that some shows have been launched without even advertising. The other thing is the generation of people known as Millennials is huge. The vintage world is really in tune to talking to them. They hear and respond well to the message about vintage- it’s unique, its sustainable, it’s often better quality than what you can buy at the mall. And finding it is fun. Vintage shows are fun.

That message is there and its being heard loudly. There’s some work to be done in getting more dealers involved online and in social media. The real work to be done, however, is on the old-school antiques show side, but I think it may take the next generation to rediscover antiques to make it happen.

I should mention that lots of older people love vintage too and the ones online and engaged in social media are a real force in the industry. The products at vintage shows are collectible as well as wearable and usable, so unlike the many browsers at the antiques shows, these folks are the youngest-acting in their age group and are very interested in buying and taking something home.

You recently moved to Texas what do you think is the difference between the east coast vintage world and the Texas one?

The first thing I learned about Texas is the people here decorate, rather than collect. That’s not universally true, however, and historically there are many notable collectors from Texas. Amon Carter with his western paintings for example. And Ima Hogg with her American furniture collection. I hear Alice Walton has a pretty nice American painting collection and she lives in Fort Worth.

So don’t believe everything you hear. There are collectors here. I imagine Jewelry collectors too. It’s one of those categories that is wearable and collectible. The Dallas International Art, Antiques and Jewelry show recently came back for another try at the Dallas market and from what I’ve heard most of what sold there was jewelry.

As far as vintage, Texas is wide-open. I think the shows in Brooklyn, Los Angeles and Chicago are ahead of what we have here in Texas. Vintage is still here and there in antiques shows here. It can be front and center. That’s why we’re bringing Dallas Vintage Clothing and Jewelry here.

What do you collect?

I guess it depends on what you mean by collect. I don’t have any desire to have every possible kind of any one thing. I have some postcards, some stereoview cards, a painting or two, enough furniture to fill the room. I don’t feel the need to have more than I can see around me and actually use. I think a lot of people are like that now.

Do you own anything vintage?

Vintage is a nice word. I think it just means from a particular era. Vintage to means that its styling resulted from some other zeitgeist outside of our own. It’s really hard to recreate that. They do a good job on Mad Men, but its still different.

I do have some clocks from the 20s, a few sport jackets from the 60s and 70s and a few other clothing items. Vinyl records are another thing. I love those.

Where do you see shows going in the next ten years?

That’s a really hard question to answer. The funny thing about shows is its the big stuff like furniture that can’t be sold easily online, yet we’re seeing more and more smalls at shows. I think that’s as much because dealers are getting older and don’t want to move furniture around as much as it is about consumer demand.

I think right now shows are being used to promote a dealer’s business and brand as much as they are to actually sell things. At the same time a new breed of dealers who actually got their start online are coming into shows. They’ll be doing things differently, taking on different roles and having different expectations of promoters. There’s sure to be an occasional clash between the old and tried and the new and different.

As far as traditional antiques shows, I think there will be fewer, larger shows mostly in major markets. There will also be more specialty shows. The range of products offered in terms of price points and age will continue to broaden. Fewer consumers care about how old something is, they are focused on the look and the quality. They like to mix things from different eras to create a personal look rather than recreate a time period. Dealers used to doing mid-range shows are saving money and going to lower-cost shows without formal walls. Everyone is coming armed with information about what they want and there’s less of a reliance on the dealer as the style guru of what to purchase or collect. That’s not to discount the dealer, the buyers are seeking dealers who they know have what they want.

Where do you go out hunting for stuff?

I love shopping online to be honest. I could spend half my life looking for one plate from a particular hotel driving around to antiques shops. With the Internet, there it is! I go to shops to break out of the mold in my mind of what I am looking for- I go there to look for ideas. That’s one of the shortcomings of the Internet. You usually go there knowing what you want. I also love shows- I love that a lot of the stuff has been weeded through by dealers. There are a lot of good dealers out there who can quickly tell the good stuff. It’s nice to look at mostly good stuff.

What advice can you give dealers to better utilize the Internet in their businesses?

Be active. Don’t think so much about why you should join a social network, just do it. It’s free- what’s the downside? Use it to build your business. Make friends. Find people with similar interests. If you sell on ebay, keep a record of what people bought and their contact information. See if you can find them on Facebook. It’s all about building relationships- the same as with a brick-and-mortar business. Don’t go to a show without a QR code in your booth allowing customers to easily find your web site with their smart phones. Make as many connections as possible and build those connections into relationships.