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American

Building a business to survive for multiple generations is a daunting possibility. Bill Gates hasn’t done it yet, but he certainly has everything in place for Microsoft to be passed on to a next generation. Could he perceive how Microsoft would be operating in a 3rd or 4th generation? The antiques business might not seem nearly as significant, but the future promise is there too. Newel has reached its 4th generation, and the possibilities now become more exciting than ever.

The fact that we now have a family member in the firm is thrilling and offers many opportunities for an unbiased viewpoint of how things are done and what alternatives could be explored. However, the decorative arts business is based on knowledge and gut feelings; one could be taught and the other has to be in your passion for the objects. But those skills don’t guarantee a business lasting more than one generation.

The issues of capital, market trends, and management are more central to the foundation of a company’s ability to survive. Those three factors have caused many dealers in the last 10 year around the world to exit the industry, while auctions seem to not only endure but actually grow. Along with their deceptive practices, the deck seems pretty stacked against any future continued existence in the trade.

The world for all decorative arts dealers has been and will continue to evolve just as style and taste change. And there is always the “X” factor of technology. Walking the store with an iPad is going to a reality (for a while at least) and competition for the attention to well educated affluent consumers will be necessary to survive. Therein lay the real realities for any immediate future prospects in this field.

The decorative arts have a clear deviation from the image of fine arts. Furniture and accessories done by the most outstanding designer of their time pale with great artists who painted canvases. Were Jacques Adnet’s decorative arts designs no less important than any mid-20th Century artist; how about commissioned works by Robsjohn Gibbings, Gio Ponti, or Frank Lloyd Wright?

The image issues with the decorative arts require a “makeover”. The next generation at Newel will have to deal with this supreme challenge. Building a new public perception and acceptance for my inventory won’t come from dealer organizations. The next generation in this business must have entrepreneurial imagination and creativity, along with knowledge in the field. If not, how will it survive?