The idea of home furnishings retailers—chains and local specialty stores alike—selling one-of-a-kind vintage goods has been around for a long time. In the past, usually it was just an extra little something that required a lot of effort and accounted for a minuscule amount of a retailer’s business. That’s changing.
Over the past year or two, we’ve seen an ever-increasing number of retailers in the home space start to ramp up these offerings. Big national brands like Ralph Lauren, CB2 and RH—as well as smaller specialty operations like Hudson Grace and startups like ZZ Driggs—are joining long-time vintage sellers like West Elm and J. Peterman in offering growing assortments of one-of-a-kind home decor, accessories and even furniture.
Why? For starters, it gives all of these retailers a point of distinction from competitors and allows them to tap into that “treasure-hunt” school of merchandising where the shopper knows if they don’t grab the item right away, it probably won’t be there tomorrow. For retailers who struggle to keep their assortments fresh and increase merchandise turns, vintage is a way to have a constant supply of “new” goods, both on the physical selling floor and online.
One of the newest entrants into the game is RH, which in its most recent earnings report, announced that RH Antiques & Artifacts was in the works and would be debuting soon. RH stores have always had some one-of-a-kinds, but now the retailer is expanding and institutionalizing that program, CEO Gary Friedman said on his call with analysts following the earnings release.
“RH Antiques & Artifacts will be limited to a degree, because you can’t go manufacture them,” he said. “What makes them unique and special is there are not that many. And I think we’re good curators of it. I mean, we have warehouses of antiques and artifacts. We’re probably, as a buyer of antiques and artifacts, the biggest [in] the world. If I told you what we spend on a new store in antiques and artifacts, you’d be shocked at the number. But if you really look at it, they help us look unique. And our customers want their homes to be unique.”
“We believe things like RH Antiques & Artifacts will—just like they render our galleries more valuable—[render] our customers’ homes more valuable,” he added. “And our designers would tell you they are going to close a lot more sales. They are going to sell a lot more furniture.”
Ralph Lauren has always featured vintage pieces in stores, but over the past year, has begun selling them online. On any given day, the offerings could include large furniture, smaller home decor items and tabletop. Recently, the dedicated vintage offering featured several Beacon blankets and some desktop pieces, including a Hawaiian souvenir ashtray.
Having one-of-a-kinds is also part of the business strategy of ZZ Driggs, a startup that began in the rental sector for commercial and hospitality properties but is now expanding to residential as well. Founded in 2015 by former Wall Streeter Whitney Frances Falk, the online seller believes in the mantra “Furniture Where and When You Want It,” and has found a niche leasing both one-of-a-kinds and antiques to model apartments, lobbies and photo shoots. It didn’t take too long for it to move into collectibles.
“If you had asked me three years ago if we would be in antiques, I would have said definitely not,” says Falk. But it seemed to fit the product assortment: ZZ focuses on midcentury modern, including Eames furniture and Thonet chairs, as well as old farm tables and butcher block items.
Of course, online sites like 1stDibs and Chairish are specialists in selling vintage one-of-a-kinds, basing their business around the concept. Chairish recently released the results of a new survey suggesting that 66 percent of all U.S. homes have “resale” furniture and home goods—not making a distinction between traditional “used” products that might have been bought at a secondhand dealer (or even picked up at the curb on trash night) and more classic vintage or antique goods.
Chairish said it had supplied more than 550,000 vintage, antique and pre-owned items since its founding in 2013, noting a 60 percent increase in sales just in the past year.
That boost could be directly attributable to both the at-home pandemic conditions and supply chain logjams that are reducing the amount of new merchandise in the marketplace. “Vintage is available and ready to ship,” said Chairish co-founder and president Anna Brockway. “People have been stuck at home, and there’s a huge renewed interest in making [the] space as great as it can be.”
What’s that saying about everything old is new again ... ?
Homepage photo: The exterior of RH Dallas | Courtesy of RH