ATG brings industry together at 'Embracing the Future' conference

01/04/2022

ATG welcomed over 100 delegates to Glaziers Hall in London earlier this week for its ‘Embracing the Future’ conference for art & antiques auctioneers.

Bringing the art & antiques auction industry together in person for the first time following a tumultuous and transformative two years, the conference explored the key trends affecting the auction industry today, and how auction houses are seizing the opportunities presented by these recent changes. The event also looked at what ATG has been doing for the past two years, as well as plans for the company’s future.

Welcoming delegates to the conference, ATG CEO John-Paul Savant gave an overview of the biggest changes affecting the industry in the last two years, including: how the pandemic accelerated the trend of auctioneers becoming online businesses; new buyers and new collecting trends; as well as the growing importance of sustainability, and the role of auctions in the circular economy.

Speaking at the conference, John-Paul Savant said:

“This time two years ago we were facing unchartered territory. By the end of March 2020 almost all of our top 30 art & antiques customers in the UK had closed. Today, practices that were unthinkable before the pandemic have now become standard operating practice for many auctioneers – from stopping print catalogues, to virtual viewings, to live auctions with no room bidders, to the rapid rise of timed auctions”.

The shift online

Some of the biggest changes happening in the industry were discussed in the session ‘Online first: the changing world of the auction house’. Panellists Marc Sands, CMO at Bonhams, Aubrey Dawson, Managing Director at Dawsons Auctioneers, Ben Clark, Co-CEO at Gurr Johns International, and Richard Lewis, COO of ATG, discussed the changes that have taken place as a result of auctioneers trading as online businesses.

Keeping new younger buyers engaged

The second big change that the industry has seen is in the volume of new buyers and new collecting trends. U35s have been the fastest growing age group buying at auctions in the past two years, with nearly 7 million more visits to thesaleroom coming from under 35s in the past two years. The expectations of these new bidders were explored in the ‘New buyers; New expectations’ session hosted by ATG Account Director James Nickless-Allen, alongside guest speaker Greg Penn, aka interiors influencer @manwithahammer, who looked at what this new generation of bidders expect from their buying experience and how to keep them bidding.

Sustainability and the role of auctions in the circular economy

The past two years have seen the importance of sustainability come to the fore, driven both by legislation and consumer demand. ATG COO Richard Lewis led a session titled ‘The time is now: Putting sustainability front and centre’ explored how consumers are increasingly aware of the environmental and human cost of buying new, and how the auction industry can capture the opportunity.

Olivia Lidbury, who writes for Vogue, Stella and The Sunday Times, talked about consumer demand for sustainable products, while the session also explored how legislation is driving businesses to become more conscious of their environmental footprint and how auctioneers are rising to this challenge. Emma Pickup, Head of Sustainability at Sworders, gave valuable insight into how Sworders is addressing sustainability and taking tangible steps to lower its carbon footprint.

The conference was also an opportunity for auctioneers to hear the findings of ATG’s inaugural Carbon Impact Report, which shows how the auction industry prevents millions of tonnes of carbon emissions each year.

John-Paul added:

“As we know, our industry is the ultimate re-use industry, giving millions of items multiple lives each year. Together, the industry plays a vital role in accelerating the growth of the circular economy, with online auctions facilitating a growing market for second-hand goods.

“We are passionate about spreading the word that auctions - and buying second-hand in general - can massively help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Every business and consumer can make a real change by not buying new. We hope that auctioneers will use this report to demonstrate our industry’s environmental credentials to their customers and prospective customers.”

Collectables on the rise

In a session titled, ‘Categories and collectables on the rise’, hot categories were explored, including modern & post war design, NFTs and Pokémon, with the help of Philip Smith from Lyon & Turnbull, Nima Sagharchi from Bonhams, Aiden Khan from East Bristol Auctions and ATG’s own Matt Ball.

Exciting future for ATG

Delegates also heard an update on the progress that ATG has made since its public flotation in February 2021 – a decision that was driven by the growing importance of technology and ATG’s responsibility to the industry to step up and make investment decisions that support the growth of the auction industry.

John-Paul concluded:

“As a listed company, we have the investment to achieve our objectives: to be the number one source of auctioneers’ returning and new bidders; to provide an end-to-end integrated suite of services; to reduce auctioneers’ operating costs by products such as Live Pay; and to provide auctioneers with best-in-class digital marketing products.

“Tangible changes we have been able to make in the past 12 months include a redesign of thesaleroom.com website, to make it even easier for new bidders to engage, and a revamp of ATG’s email marketing and SEO, ensuring that auction catalogues and lots are quickly indexed on the major search engines.

“But perhaps most importantly of all, the IPO has had the benefit of raising the profile of the auction industry and the auction method of selling. It has also increased our level of transparency – giving our investors, our employees and our customers clear insight into our strategy – and has increased our focus on service delivery, raising our standards of professionalism higher than ever before.”