Byline: SUSAN MOORE
IT took a while to work out why toga-clad, ivy-wreathed gods were welcoming guests at Sotheby's annual summer bash in Bond Street. Of course!
Sotheby's was about to open a second London saleroom at Olympia. On Monday, the doors to this new collector heaven in Hammersmith Road open for business.
It has taken just eight weeks to transform 54,000 square feet of cavernous exhibition hall on the second floor of Olympia 2 into a state-of-the-art saleroom - and once Sotheby's has succeeded in luring clients, new and existing, to its coolly modern west London premises, it is doing its utmost to keep them there.
Inside, there are sofas to sink into as you browse through catalogues, a cafe, bar, restaurant and a bookshop. Clients, unusually, will be able to view the lots in a sale right until the moment they need to bid on them - and carry off their purchases as they leave.
"It's one-stop shopping," says communications director Jackie Quilter, "and people can bid at one sale and view the next."
The whole operation is based on how, and what, Sotheby's believes its UK clients want to buy and sell at auction. That explains myriad conveniences, from giving out bleepers so that people can wander off to view a sale or buy a cup of coffee while they are waiting for an expert to give a valuation, to having regular weekend openings, a local delivery service and more competitive commission charges.
It also explains why Sotheby's is in west London in the first place.
At the height of dotcom mania, the firm made the mistake of believing that its clients would prefer to buy and sell middlemarket works of art on the internet. It transpired that they did not. The auction house subsequently spent the past few years watching its competitors increase their market share of the lucrative midrange business.
Perhaps most interesting of all, Sotheby's decision to expand its UK business by opening a second London saleroom was made at exactly the time its chief rival, Christie's, elected to close its secondary rooms in New York and London and consolidate its business into a single site - in London, at Somerset House.
Certainly, Sotheby's labyrinthine Bond Street premises - 36 per cent of which are stairs and corridors - were crammed to bursting with both staff and, during the season, sales. Viewing time was short and costs were high - not least since views had to be installed at night and objects had to be moved 16 times between their arrival and sale.
"We had to turn so much business away," explains Paul Sumner, managing director of Sotheby's Olympia and the former MD of Sotheby's Australia and New Zealand. …