Posted: October 31, 2018 -
Shipping high-end goods is complicated, time consuming and expensive. ARTA founder and CEO Adam Fields experienced these frustrations firsthand. While running operations and logistics for Artspace, it became apparent that an unnecessary amount of time, money, and resources were focused on post-sale coordination for both online and offline sellers. He left to start ARTA and streamline this process, replacing pen and paper with modern technology and a team of industry experts.
Hi Adam, it’s a pleasure to speak with you.
To start with, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your career? What have been your personal achievements?
I grew up in Chicago, but I have called New York home for over ten years. Prior to launching ARTA, I worked for an ecommerce company called Artspace, which sold art and design objects from leading galleries, museums and institutions online. As we grew and became more global, it became apparent that we didn’t have an effective shipping solution for the types of objects we were selling—goods that oftentimes couldn’t be sent via common carrier (such as FedEx or UPS) due to the specialized nature of the packing, handling, customs, etc. As I continued to investigate the shipping and logistics space, it became obvious that there was a major gap in the market for items which could not be shipped via FedEx, and the lack of an efficient solution was becoming a sales blocker for both online and offline transactions. I realized that if there were a way to make specialized shipping easier, global commerce for these types of items would inevitably grow. This was a very exciting prospect, and I left Artspace to start ARTA. It has been crazy and exciting to see ARTA grow from an idea to a 4-year old company with 17 employees across two offices in NYC and London.
I understand that ARTA now works with hundreds of galleries, museums, advisors, collectors and institutions all over the world, including Massimo de Carlo, Levy Gorvy, Phillips Auction House and The Conservation Center. Could you please present your company and services?
When I launched ARTA, the goal was to make shipping fine art easier and more efficient. It was clear that shipping was the biggest pain point for galleries, museums, collectors, auction houses, etc., and a big blocker for global commerce of high end goods. Art businesses are and should be focused on selling, creating exhibitions, and nurturing and promoting artists’ careers, as opposed to dedicating time and resources to shipping and logistics. As such, ARTA makes it faster and easier to get competitive quotes from a vetted network of 350+ shipping and logistics providers around the world, saving hours of time for our users by allowing businesses and individual sellers to manage their shipping operation more effectively. Due to deep relationships with our shipping partners and the high volume of shipments we coordinate, we are able to negotiate the most competitive rates, often saving our users money as well. ARTA can assist with everything from shipping (we’ve shipped to nearly 50 countries and are well-versed with the nuances of international shipping), to packing and crating, installation, consolidated shipments, art fair services, loans and consignments, transit insurance, and more.
Please walk us through your business process, from creating an account to tracking a shipment.
We want to make shipping as easy as possible. You can sign up and request quotes for free on our website, or, you can call or email us directly with your request. Throughout the entire process—from request to shipment completion—our team provides real-time customer support and account management, so our clients only have one single point of contact for all of their shipments. If you are shipping within a single country, you can expect to receive 2-4 quotes within 24 hours directly to your inbox. For international shipments, we provide 1-2 quotes within 48-72 hours. Our quotes are incredibly competitive, derived from past data, our team’s expert knowledge of each of our partners and their service expertise, and our ability to coordinate consolidated rates. Quotes are also itemized for each service requested, and we make it easy to compare quotes based on costs and collection/delivery dates. When you are ready to book a shipment, you can check out with your credit card, or, share the quote with a 3rd party for easy online payment. Once the shipment is paid for, ARTA connects the client to the shipping partner selected, so they can be in touch regarding collection and delivery windows. Once a shipment is complete, all past shipments are saved and neatly organized in your dashboard with relevant documents (BOLs, PODs, AWBs, etc.) to easily reference in the future. We are truly making it as simple as possible to manage an entire logistics portfolio.
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Are your services targeted mainly to dealers and galleries? How big is your market?
While dealers and galleries currently make up a large part of our business, our services are used by a wide variety of customers. Within the art market, we also work with individual collectors, museums, art advisors, auction houses, cultural institutions, art insurers, art fairs, and art conservators. But we also service any person or entity looking to transport something valuable they don’t trust to FedEx. We’ve worked with fashion houses to transport vintage designer collections and hotels and businesses that move art, design objects, and furniture between their locations. In the future, we look forward to utilizing our services for selling and transporting other types of precious objects that require special handling – medical equipment, or cars, for example – which greatly expands our market size potential.
You have raised $4M from investors such as David Zwirner and Sotheby’s. Please describe your relationship with your investors. Are David Zwirner and Sotheby’s using your services?
We are extremely grateful to all of our investors who have supported our business and vision since we launched in 2014. I was looking for a complementary mix of venture investment and strategic investments from entities who could utilize our services to solve key business problems. As such, investors like David Zwirner have been ardent supporters of our business, since they see first-hand the benefit of working with ARTA.
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Clearly, you are navigating in a very competitive environment. How would you compare ARTA with its main competitors?
People often think that anyone who can or is shipping specialized goods is a competitor to ARTA, but that is certainly not the case. We work with a network of 350+ shipping and logistics providers around the world, but they are our partners in every sense of the word—not our competitors. We drive business to them and our tools also help them operate more efficiently, so this partnership is a win-win. What we are competing with on a day-to-day basis is changing people’s long-standing behaviors and operating procedures. We’d like to redefine the way selling operations think about shipping and structure their teams and businesses. Similar to how accounting software like Quickbooks changed how businesses allocated resources for accounting, we think we can do the same for sellers. ARTA can be a tool to help you sell more and minimize sunk costs.
Can you tell us about your hopes for the company?
Expanding on my last answer: we want to enable and expand global commerce and redefine how buyers and sellers transact. Our view is that if you can start with making shipping super simple, you can unlock transactions on sales in ways far beyond shipping and ultimately help everyone along the supply chain.$
Since May 2018, one of your competitor ArtRunners is no longer in operation. What is your personal take on their experience?
Start-ups are difficult and entrepreneurs take risks in trying to solve problems in their worlds. In this specific instance, it’s my view that we approached things from two different angles and timelines. A lot of our strategy was formed by the previous experiences our team has had in both art and technology endeavours. We feel confident about the direction our business is heading, but scaling and continuing to grow requires constant execution and focus across an entire organization.
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Christie’s Art + Tech Summit was an extremely interesting event that helped highlight issues around Art and Blockchain. Do you believe that blockchain technology will impact the art world? How will it impact the art shipping industry?
I think there is no doubt that Blockchain technology can be helpful across all industries. I’m less interested in the currency application and more interested in the ledger/system of record applications that blockchain presents. I think there is a lot we can do help organize information and documentation around shipping and, down the road, guard against fraud while adding more transparency around provenance and ownership of objects.
Many start-ups are embracing new technologies such as blockchain, artificial intelligence, virtual and augmented reality. Are you following any of these start-ups in particular?
We are interested in how blockchain as a ledger/system of record can make the organization of information more effective and efficient across logistics, commerce, etc. and can have many applications. Each time an object is moved there is a prime opportunity in updating certain information associated with it. We are interested in exploring how can we can organize information more effectively and efficiently to make to make people feel safer and more secure when they decide to buy or trade precious objects.
The General Data Protection Regulation (“GDPR”) is a new EU regulation on data protection and privacy for all individuals within the European Union. Have you been affected by GDPR?
ARTA is a global business. We have offices in New York and London and have shipped to nearly 50 countries across the world. The UK and Europe are a big market for us, so GDPR was on our radar long before the new regulations went into effect. Our team worked for months to ensure ARTA was compliant across all areas of the business. Rather than put new policies in place only for EU-based clients, it made more sense to establish new protocols for all parties we work with (this includes our direct clients, such as galleries or museums, the end collector of a work, customs brokers, shipping partners, insurance companies, etc.).
You worked previously at Artspace, an ecommerce platform for contemporary art. How do you see the art market evolving? How do you feel online art platforms have changed the way the users perceive art?
It’s obvious that the internet has helped change the high-end collectibles market over the last 5 years. There is more global access, which is leading to more global interest. Seeing what David Zwirner and Gagosian are starting to do in the ecommerce space further exacerbates that point. Online sales across all precious goods is where the market is going. Our bet is that the missing link in all of this is lowering the friction to transact and ship. If you can make it as easy to buy and ship a $50,000 painting or a Jean Prouve chair, all of a sudden you allow anyone to be both a buyer and a seller
What advice would you give young collectors trying to navigate the current art market?
It’s all about knowledge and passion. If you want to be good at something you need to immerse yourself in it and trying to be as knowledgeable as possible. Research artists, genres, mediums, etc. that interest you. Talk to people about them and try to plan how you can gain an access point and grow that access point. For example, starting in prints and working towards original works is a good on boarding strategy.
Any personal dreams for the future?
My biggest dream is a world where the people selling artworks (galleries, dealers, auctions, etc.) are pushing the boundaries of their craft as much as the artists they show. Galleries and dealers are so set in their operational and structural ways that it is holding back an industry that is so enamored by artists’s ability to push boundaries. If sellers are open to changing their ways, they can leverage some amazing tools available to them to operate more efficiently, create a better customer experience, have happier employees and ultimately operate more lean in a hypercompetitive space where many people are shutting down.
Cover Image: Molly Messersmith/ARTA