IKEA You Not. We Want Your Parent’s Stuff: A Vintage Response
By Melissa Sands with Duane Scott Cerny
For 24 months there has been an influx of articles about how nobody wants their parent’s old stuff. Every time I see this and read how IKEA has killed our industry, I wonder how much two years of misinformation from influential publications has hurt the vintage and secondhand industry.
We are a niche market without the marketing budget of IKEA. We’re a “David” with a retro slingshot battling a "Goliath" who holds 10 million spatulas and acres of particle board. It’s not fair, but this is what’s happening.
There are thousands of vintage sellers who hunt for pieces of nostalgia and history. Items collectible, wearable, useable; things made of higher quality materials. Objects that not only hold their value, but that can be resold in a collectible future.
I know IKEA is cute. I won’t dispute that. But other people want your parent’s stuff even if you don't: people like me, who paid $350 for a couch that was first purchased for $12,000 at the Chicago Merchandise Mart out of a pristine estate in the North Shore.
I am part of that weird Generation-Y that no one really understands or cares about. Millennials are now the biggest working segment in America. However I must point out that Millennials would care more about vintage if everyone would stop with IKEA. It’s bad enough this behemoth has an advertising budget so large that they could promote themselves beyond forever on every and any medium. I get it. But why is major media always their best cheerleader? Reporter's mouths full of meatballs and cinnamon buns perhaps?
I'm a show promoter of vintage markets, a small fish in the big pond that is Chicago, but still my shows have managed to make their resale mark.
We don't have commercials. We can't afford to run radio ads or buy billboards. Vintage Garage is open on the 3rd Sunday every month and I'm competing with innumerable other venues. On any given weekend there’s a “Taste of” on some street or another. Still I’m proud to say my show attracts 2000+ people to an empty parking garage in Uptown each month.
Yet according to the New York Times, August 18, nobody is interested in your parent’s or grandparent’s stuff.
Well, major media, I say: Bullshit.
I am convinced that more of the public would come to my vintage show—and to other vintage stores and markets-- if they just knew about us; if they understood there was a thriving secondary market of stylish and well made used merchandise waiting to be discovered. Every show I produce is a veritable treasure hunt of serious fun, and better still, serious savings. In this sagging retail environment, vintage is a steal.
I must confess, there is very little that I will buy brand-new. I'll even buy cleaning supplies at an estate sale or garage sale. Why should it go in the garbage? No, it’s not sexy, but it’s damn smart and there’s zero shame in this. So why aren't we talking more about the economic options of the secondary market?
You see, vintage matters to those who buy it, use it, love it, live it. Vintage matters to those who embrace our consumer history. But perhaps most importantly, vintage matters to our environment and landfills. Did you know furniture is the number one LEAST recycled item in a household? Did you know in 2009, U.S. EPA reported that furniture accounted or 9.8 million tons (4.1%) of household waste? If you don't give a damn about the planet, you should.
I firmly believe the reason this secondary market is often overlooked by major media is that it takes money out of the mouths of big box retailers.
The antiques/vintage/resale business is multi-billion dollar marketplace. Why do the writers at the NYT, Washington Post (oh here’s their article about the exact same thing) and others not look at the economic flip side of the big “resold” elephant in the room? I believe it is because it has an agenda against small business.
Why should you buy in the secondary market? Hand-me-downs no longer have the bad rap passed down from our parent’s and Grandparent’s generation. Thrift stores are quirky. Vintage is cool. Even Hollywood loves it. Retro never goes out of style. Hell, it’s literally timeless.
Let's not forget the most important word in this discussion: Quality. They don’t produce clothes like they did in the 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, even through the 90s. Everything was better made in decades past. Remember, after 1990 it all went overseas for production. Yes, there was once an incredible world of high quality fashion in the United States--- but the good news is, it’s still here! You just need to know where to look.
Example: We see hundreds of designer pieces at Vintage Garage selling for a fraction of the price of retail. The styles are appealing and highly sought after. Vintage is special. It’s unique, just like the people who sell it. Designers and decorators, the people “in the know,” fight over better pieces. It’s an underground secret that professionals such as these seek out vintage markets to influence their future lines. Further, costume designers and set decorators scour the markets for the fashions and props they need on for their TV, film, theatre and print work. There’s a small but influential army of such vintage fashionistas who “get it” in the most wonderful way of all: they’ve found a way to make a living shopping for what they love. Just think about that the next time you ponder how much you hate your 9-to-5 job.
Vintage is a business that moves—and moves fast. We don’t have three dozen bookshelves to sell: we have one killer mid century mod bookcase; it’s well made, fabricated in real wood and has lasted some 50 years. The lucky one who scoops it up, wins. Everybody else is runner up. Now that’s American competition at it’s finest!
Personally I find today's retail world offensive: the overpriced garbage becomes ever more obvious when you’re exposed to the counterpoint of quality vintage being sold by dealers who know their stuff and price accordingly. It’s painful to watch particle board furniture sell for hundreds of dollars, especially when it collapses in its first apartment move. With vintage we are saving and selling solid wood pieces that can be used again and again, painted and repurposed. So attention: America. We dealers want your parent’s stuff, so do our customers! We want everyone to know it. We buy so that all these things your parents/grandparents don’t want can go on to their next incarnation, their next resale life, your next coffee table.
For the first time in history two generations are simultaneously downsizing. Millennials are about to experience a vintage marketplace so large it may be beyond their comprehension, but not necessarily beyond their budget. The secondary market is not only a world that is design-oriented and aesthetically pleasing, it can also save you money. Suddenly Millennials have a staggering number of vintage options via their fingertips and a smart phone.
A few fun vintage facts:
1) Millennials earn 20% less income than their parents did at the same age. How do they get that 20% back? Vintage.
2) Millennials are more likely to use the Public Library than any other competing demographic? Now that’s smart… and vintage.
3) Millennials are supposedly in it for the “experiences.” But is a Millennial experience buying the same thing that everyone else is buying at IKEA? Should their “little boxes of ticky tack” match that of their Millennial neighbor? I don't think so.
What’s lost in the big picture is the false narrative of abundance. No, I couldn't afford to walk into Bottega Veneta and buy a brand new handbag. Yet at the same time, I wouldn't. I know if I were in the market for such a bag I could find it elsewhere for a fraction of the price.
But where to go? There are plenty of vintage markets and vintage stores in your area. Start there and ask for contacts, referrals, and experts in your area of collecting desire. You will soon discover a secret world of treasure hunts - with discounted treasure at that.
There are countless people who specialize in vintage clothing, jewelry and accessories, those who handle vintage furniture and decor. Meet them locally and they'll direct you to their online presence. Voilà! A relationship has been born with a dealer who can locate a vintage treasure for you that is way more interesting than anything IKEA is offering up beside their fragrant food court.
You see, vintage matters to the people who buy it, the people who sell it, and the planet from which it was created. To me, everything else is moot. Especially IKEA.
Melissa Sands is the owner of Vintage Promotions LLC, producer of Vintage Garage Chicago and Chicago Vintage Clothing & Jewelry.
Duane Scott Cerny is the co-owner of The Broadway Antique Market and author of the upcoming book “Selling Dead People’s Things.” Both are buyers and sellers of vintage and are kicking ass in Chicago. BamChicago.com