Business Plan Challenge

The HighBoy: Online antiques marketplace reflects results

Business Plan Challenge winners: Olga Granda-Scott and Douglas Scott founded The HighBoy, an online marketplace for fine antiques.
Business Plan Challenge winners: Olga Granda-Scott and Douglas Scott founded The HighBoy, an online marketplace for fine antiques. Miami Herald Staff

The HighBoy’s founders are on a mission to modernize an antiquated industry.

The HighBoy is a curated online marketplace for high-end antiques and fine art, and it’s the brainchild of husband-wife team Douglas Scott and Olga Granda-Scott. In just a year since the Coral Gables company launched, The HighBoy has already attracted more than 100 dealers and $25 million of inventory, and traffic is growing at a 35 percent month-over-month rate, the company said.

And today, it’s also the winner of the Miami Herald Business Plan Challenge.

Judges were impressed with the team’s traction in such a short time and the opportunity: With more than 15,000 antiques dealers and art galleries, the total U.S. art and antiques market is an approximately $25 billion industry and growing. Yet it’s estimated that less than 5 percent of this business is happening online, their plan said.

That’s where The HighBoy comes in. The founders’ strategy for tackling the market is anything but traditional, starting with the site itself. No stuffy, dark antique look here — the site is modern and elegant. That is all by design.

Olga Granda-Scott grew up in the antiques industry. Her father was an antiques dealer and her mother a historian. Before launching The HighBoy, she worked in her family’s longtime antiques business, Coral Gables-based Alhambra Antiques, as director of sales and communications. In 2001, she and her husband took the reins in doing what few antiques dealers were doing back then — putting their collections online.

Douglas was a consultant for Cap Gemini Ernst & Young and a project manager at Mount Sinai before coming aboard Alhambra Antiques as director of marketing. He helped Alhambra’s online site become one of the top-ranking single-dealer antique websites in the U.S. Together, Douglas and Olga bring deep expertise in the industry, as well as business know-how.

After seeing that online selling was working at Alhambra, Douglas and Olga decided to develop a marketplace for multiple dealers that takes advantage of their expertise in marketing. While HighBoy’s editors won’t completely rewrite marketing copy, they will tweak it and make suggestions. “We’ve had dealers say no one can sell my stuff like I can. Well, we probably can,” said Douglas, The HighBoy’s CEO. “I understand where they are coming from, but we are pretty good at it. We know the merchandise, the time periods, the styles, the craftsmanship.”

The site goes beyond listing merchandise to explaining why each piece is interesting, said Olga, COO. “It is about story-telling and connecting the dots for people — they love history, they love poetry, they love a movie, and it comes together with the decorative arts as part of the whole experience. The experience of living with beautiful things affects your everyday life.” (She personally prefers 19th century French furniture, while Douglas leans toward modernism.)

Not that building a company from the ground up has been easy. “It’s challenging every day,” Douglas said, sitting in the company’s conference room, where the walls are lined with handwritten charts, lists and brainstorming notes. “It’s stress, but it is a good stress. It’s gratifying seeing your dream come to life. We try to stay focused on that, even when we’re having a rough day.”

The dealers acquired so far have been through the founders’ professional network, trade shows, city visits and event sponsorships. Each dealer is fully vetted so that only the most reputable professionals are represented on The HighBoy. The young startup already has seven employees.

There’s a big world out there — a $65 billion market where only 5 percent of those sales were online, but for now The HighBoy is focused on the U.S.

Up next: high growth. The founders raised angel funding to get started but now are seeking to raise $1million to $1.5 million to fund their customer acquisition strategy. Their goal is to attract 1,000 dealers by 2018.

The HighBoy has competition nationally, including 1stdibs in New York, established in 2001. But there is room in the market for multiple players, believes one of The HighBoy’s first customers.

“We were already on 1stdibs, but I think The HighBoy’s platform is equal to 1stdibs in every way,” said Michael Flick of Bonnin Ashley Antiques in Miami. “The HighBoy’s visuals are excellent, the presentation, the resolution of the photography, it pops off the page. The articles — you want to open them up and read them. It’s working for us.”

Flick also appreciates that The HighBoy isn’t a faceless company. Douglas and Olga are featured in the marketing materials, they blog, they go to shows all over the country, they sponsor events — and personally interact with their customers. “They have a lot of energy, they can take this to the level that will knock it out of the park.”

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