Over the past five years it has been fascinating to observe the many different types of client businesses that Webreality supports and how they have adapted to the changing business climate during the recession.
Some industries have suffered more than most. We've seen businesses in the recruitment, training and property sectors having to make particularly radical changes to adapt. Some haven't survived.
So which businesses have best weathered the storm? Indeed, are any businesses ‘recession proof’?
One that really stands out in our experience is the auction room sector.
I am not suggesting that a poorly run auction business couldn’t fail, or that running a business like that is easy. Indeed, most are run buy well qualified specialists who have an incredible wealth of knowledge on what they do. But when it comes to defining what makes a business ‘recession proof’ I would say it comes down to having something people want and need in both good times and bad.
Think about it: it appeals to both buyers and sellers in good times and bad.
In the current climate, many people are looking to free up cash by disposing of possessions they don't really need.
Buyers who are looking to save some money on the things they need, furniture for example, can pick up some great quality second hand items for a fraction of the price of the new equivalent.
Those who have money in the bank and are looking for a return aren't going to get it with their cash sitting in their account at current all-time low rates. Many are turning to buying assets at auction that will increase in value over time.
That isn’t always easy. It takes some skill and experience to know what to buy that will either increase in value, or at the very least not drop. The key factors are an item's rarity, its condition (generally don’t buy it if it is damaged) and desirability (you need to be able to sell it!)
At Webreality we have four clients in the auction house trade, ranging from prominent and respected regional houses in the UK to a relatively new business that started in Jersey in the middle of the recession in 2011 (www.rdauctions.co.uk).
We have been working with auctioneers since we redesigned and built a new website for Woolley and Wallis (www.woolleyandwallis.co.uk) in 2009. Since then we have been continuously developing our product - uAuction - that integrates Umbraco, our favoured web content management system, with specialist auction catalogue management software (Bidmaster and PACTS) used by auction rooms to produce their traditional paper catalogues. This software takes the data from Bidmaster or PACTS and creates the catalogue on their websites in the correct category (or department).
Auctioneers are perceived as a very traditional and perhaps sleepy industry. But they have a massive opportunity to grow the reach and size of their business through the effective use of web technology, and those who lead the field are gaining great competitive advantage.
The websites we build allow auction room customers to browse, favorite and bid on lots in forthcoming auctions as well as (in the case of www.goldingyoung.com) browse sale lots and research historic sale prices dating back as long ago as 2001.
More recently we have developed an email marketing integration that allows auction rooms to quickly create a fully branded email, featuring selected lots from the forthcoming sale, to be sent to a targeted list of signed-up recipients. Once the email is sent, the auctioneer has access to data telling them who has opened the email, which links they have clicked on and who has viewed the online catalogue. This has become a valuable sales tool for auction room specialists who can see which of their customers have shown interest in featured lots and follow up as necessary.
It's a fascinating and exciting market to be part of, and one that looks set to thrive regardless of what the economic conditions throw at us all in the next five years.