Net gallery and auction help sell art online

Heffel Gallery has changed the way fine art is sold in Canada

Business in Vancouver
May 30-June 5, 2000, page 11/12

Robert and David Heffel have developed a fine art auction house and an online auction that are changing the way fine art is bought and sold in Canada.

The brothers, operators of the Heffel Group of Companies since their father passed away in 1987, established Heffel Fine Art Auction in 1995.

Heffel Fine Art holds live auctions in May and November.

Based on the success of the live auctions the duo created Heffel. com On-line Auction last September. The free monthly auctions start on the first Thursday of the month and end on the last Saturday of the month. The auctions have been averaging between $10,000 and $20,000 in sales per month.

"They (the Heffels) have done a really good job of making use of the technology," said Diane Farris, owner of Diane Farris Gallery. Farris' own experience is that having a Web site pays off.

"It's a lot of work, but it takes your art inventory into peoples homes," she added. Farris displays art online, but does not sell art or conduct auctions online.

Heffel.com's online auction has a number of features.Visitors to the auction can browse the catalogue and view quotes from other bidders. Once registered collectors choose a password and are assigned a unique paddle number, enabling them to place bids on different lots.The auction site keeps track of all the bids made on an individual lot and automatically notifies previous bidders if they have been outbid.

For bidders worried about time running out, an auto-bid feature enables the computer to bid for them, a feature the Heffel's learned from eBay.

But Heffel is quick to point out that Heffel.com is very different from the trading community.

"EBay is more of a classified ad," said Robert Heffel."People can't just post work on our site; they have to actually send it to the gallery and we inspect it."

One room in the gallery is dedicated to the current online auction so potential buyers can see the works at the gallery or view them on the web.

"Our Web site works in conjunction with our bricks and mortar business," said Heffel. "We integrate the web in everything we do."

Most of Heffel Gallery's inventory is also available for view and purchase online.

The number of visits to Heffel.com has been steadily increasing.  In May, the site averaged 350 unique hits a day, peaking at 950 hits.Six months ago . The site averaged 100 unique hits daily, peaking at 500.  The numbers are higher in May and November, when more people browse the live auction catalogue.More importantly, people from throughout North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East are visiting the site.

"We sell paintings all over the world," said Heffel."The web has increased our exposure, our site gives buyers confidence and a better understanding of what we do."

The company's Web initiatives have also increased the number of people who come through the gallery.

Since spring 1999, six programmers have been building and designing Heffel's Web site. The newest feature on the site is a Canadian Art at Auction Index.It shows the price at which various works have been sold for at least the last five years. The index is free, at least until November, for those who register for the online auction.

The company is currently working on an Associate Artist and Gallery Program whereby it can host the Web pages of artists and other galleries on its site.

"For us, the Web works well as part of the big picture," Heffel said.  "I could see there being virtual galleries, but there's always going to be room for good dealers and good galleries."

Although potential buyers can't bid online for the companies two annual live auctions, they can view catalogues of the works at the Heffel Web site or subscribe to receive glossy, full colour print versions of the catalogues.

The last live auction, held May 10, broke seven records; most of them centered around a 1912 scenic oil painting by Emily Carr.The painting, which shows three canoes on a Kwakiut beach, set records for the highest price for a B.C. 's artist's work and the highest price at auction for a work for a female artist in Canada.

The auction also brought in a record take for a fine art auction in Western Canada - a sweet $2.4 million.

Faranaaz Alimohamed

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