Nostalgia partners graduate from home showings to gallery

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 December, 2003, 12:00am

Until recently, to view the wares of Picture This, a company specialising in Hong Kong and Asian nostalgia, one was shown into the dining room of Pamela and Christopher Bailey's home, or attended occasional exhibitions at the Mandarin Oriental hotel and pre-Christmas fairs.

Encouraged by customer response over two years to an inventory that comprises antique maps of Asia, prints and photographs of bygone Hong Kong, vintage posters with a leaning towards local travel and film, vintage product advertisements, luggage and hotel labels and limited-edition children's prints, the Baileys sought a permanent space. All was packed up and transported to the walls and racks of a gallery space along Queen's Road Central, which opened in October.

The Baileys' previous careers were far removed from their joint enterprise. Mr Bailey, a Briton who has lived in Hong Kong for 12 years, spent most of this time as an investment banker, while Mrs Bailey, born under Lion Rock, sold advertising for business and travel publications.

Now they say this combination of experience has been an obvious asset in their start-up.

'We invested $400,000 to $500,000 in the fitting out of the space alone,' Mr Bailey says.

The Baileys have had little time to get the business fully operational since they moved in.

'Opening at our busiest time - the run-up to Christmas - means we have really been stretched,' admitted Mrs Bailey, gesturing to a space on a wall. 'We sold a map this morning and have not yet had time to replace it.'

A plan to create a soothing atmosphere, enabling customers to relax in cushy armchairs, remains on hold in packing boxes, as does the office computer system. Despite rather laid-back opening hours, trading just four days per week, establishing the business has consumed a lot of man-hours.

'We are putting in a lot of time sourcing products, in the morning before the gallery opens and after hours,' stresses Mr Bailey, noting the business as yet employs no other staff. 'The month or so before we opened, I was working from 6am till midnight, seven days a week.

'Sourcing is the most important element of our business. Except for the children's prints, our products come from so many separate sources and not all are replaceable quickly or even at all.'

Mr Bailey says his network of suppliers - dealers whom he has nurtured over nearly three years - is part of what Picture. This offers in its price tag to the customer.

The Baileys' three years in the business has also educated them in the area of counterfeits, and offers customer assurance in purchasing a genuine article.

'The basic knowledge in this area is movie poster and map dimensions and paper type,' he says. 'I have rarely come across fakes but was recently sent a [James] Bond poster unseen, which I knew was not the genuine article as soon as I opened the package; the paper and printing was all wrong.

'Movie posters, especially very popular international ones - and we stock a few of those, such as Pulp Fiction and Star Wars - are the main ones for us to watch for fakes.'

Mr Bailey says the couple's original projection of recouping their initial investment in three years may be feasible in half that time.

Location is key. They looked at about 15 venues in the hub of Central district, says Mrs Bailey.

'This building connects to The Landmark and Prince's Building, which are popular gift-buying malls,' she says.

Over time the client base has shifted towards Asian buyers, as cultural interest in memorabilia becomes more popular.

'One of our goals now is to consolidate our gallery here and have people think of us as a gift and home-decoration destination.'