Toma Clark Haines - CEO of The Antiques Diva & Co has a tenant - “Follow Your Heart.” Her constant advice to antique dealers taking her international antique buying tours is “If you don't love what you’re selling - then dont sell it.” Belgian Antiques Dealer and 4 Rooms TV Star Bie Baert is a prime example of how selling what turns you on is the foundation for success.
Bie Baert is one of Belgium's most famous antique dealers, and she always follows her heart which is why Toma chose to interview her on Valentines Day (even though this episode drops a few weeks later). Bie explains that she's an autodidact - a self-taught dealer having learned how to be an antiques dealer with hands-on training. And she’s convinced that the Business of Antiques can be taught. Antique Dealers are made - not born. Her biggest piece of advice? Make mistakes. You learn the most by the things you do wrong.
She and Toma discuss how her eponymously named business has evolved over the last 28 years. Lucky for Bie, when you google her name, she's the only Bie Baert who shows up. She was an early adapter to the world wide world developing her first website over 20 years ago when her competitors said… “no one will buy antiques online.” It took time to develop her following, but Bie has developed one of the most loyal followings in the world.
Her clients love her. They love her charming personality and quirky style, and they love that she can always explain why she bought a certain object.
Bie currently sells antiques in a multi-prong approach - on Instagram, her website, and 1stDibs - as well as out of her home near Antwerp. Inviting customers into her home to see inventory in situ and how items look in a home has always been a hallmark of how she does business. This means she is constantly redecorating her house with inventory that is coming in and out of the door. Toma asks Bie’s zodiac sign and Bie confesses that change is in her nature. She's a Gemini.
By having a business model that sells antiques direct from her home, as well as extensively online, she has been able to continue to operate during the pandemic - socially distancing with clients allowing them the opportunity to source antiques even when antique fairs and stores were closed due to lockdown. When asked about her best investment back into her company
- she explains that investing in the cost of a booth rental for selling at antique fairs in the beginning helped her build her following and gain exposure. Today she only does one antiques fair at Chateau Deulin. It's an intimate fair and a great way to connect with her retail clients.
Bie understands her demographic - which means she sells to both the trade and the end buyer. But what the end user buys is really different from what her trade clients purchase. Understanding her target market is one of Bie’s secrets to her success.
Her decision to establish her store in her home started long before the pandemic. She talks about the pros and cons of selling antiques from your house, how it’s not for everyone - imagine one day waking up and not having a dining room table! She explains how being an antiques dealer is an act of love. “It’s like raising a child,” she says and Toma concurs saying “The Antiques Diva is my baby - well it’s become a teenager, as AD&CO has grown up.”
As the old saying goes, “If you do what you love you’ll never work a day in your life”. Which is not to say Bie doesn’t work hard - in fact, Toma wagers that Bie is one of the hardest working people in this industry. Bie talks about how when you’re an antiques dealer, you need to respond to clients night and day. As she’s going to bed, sometimes a client from Japan texts or a client from the USA inquires about an object before she wakes. Bie explains, “Good customer service is essential if you want to be a successful antiques dealer.”
A Dutch newspaper wrote, “Bie Baert is one of the few women who stands her ground in the antique business.” While Toma says there are a lot of women globally in antiques - including many of her clients - who do this, she understands what the article meant when it described Bie this way. Bie is a force to be reckoned with. She has been fearless over the years and her contribution to the antiques industry has paved the way for many more women antique hunters to be bold and follow their dreams.
Toma tells the tale of how Bie Baert is 1st in line at the antique fairs - and Bie says “Like the postman, when buying antiques you stand in line to be first in the trade fairs come wind or rain.”
For the last 30 years Bie has been traveling Europe, following her nose, as she selects inventory for her store that makes her heartbeat a little faster.
Sidenote: She got her start buying in the UK - and is a fan of the Bath Decorative Fair as well as IACF’s Newark, Ardingly etc.
Her colorful (and charming) personality is felt in everything she buys and sells.
Toma has long been convinced that energy is infused in antiques - and Bie’s energy attracts just the right buyer. Bie specializes in 20th century European furniture and special objects, but she is always open to exploring new horizons. Whether selling 18th or 20th century - Bie takes care to photograph the inventory with care to show it’s true colors. Her photography studio for antiques is in her home. She photographs 3 days a month, and all photography is done with natural Northern Light. She uses props in the photos - her nieces and nephews - as well as herself to show scale and to give depth and personality to the pieces. Having the right team behind her - a great photographer and restorer - have been key elements to her success. Toma advises that if you want to learn how to be an antiques dealer - “Remember it takes a village.”
Bie Baerts' business has evolved from being behind the camera to in front of the camera over the years. This is especially since 10 years ago when she was hired to be a star on the popular TV series 4 Rooms. She confesses that antiques TV has become the new porn with millions of viewers watching antiques TV! She explains what she’s learned about the need to change your business as your brand and antiques business grows. Evolution is essential.
Bie has chosen to keep her business small as she wants to touch and feel antiques every day - and doesn’t want to become a glorified manager - but she understands that you have to evolve if you want to be a successful dealer. “These aren’t your grandma’s antiques,” Toma quips as she explains, “At The Antiques Diva & Co, we are on a mission to make antiques modern, sexy, fun, and profitable.”
Thanks for listening to another episode of the Business of Antiques. As always Toma asks wherever you’re listening to this podcast that you leave a 5 star review - but, more importantly, write a written review to let other isteners understand why you like this podcast. Your review and your comment helps The Antiques Diva & Co to continue to produce each great episode.
Visit Bie Baert https://www.biebaert.be/ Or on Instagram @BieBaert
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