Viyet’s Second Act At Sotheby’s

A common problem tends to crop up when it’s time to move: perfectly good furniture and home decor won’t fit a new space.

For the “handcrafted” masterworks built out of Ikea boxes and clever renderings of particle board that define most of our national furniture castoffs, Craigslist, OfferUp, LetGo and Facebook’s Marketplace are all perfectly good places to find furniture a new home.

But Viyet Founder and CEO Elizabeth Brown, told Blouin that solutions are more difficult to come by when dealing with high-quality, designer furniture — great pieces, she said, that may not have a home with their original owner, but deserve a placement with a pedigree.

“A high-end designer sofa or table will be valuable to someone,” she said, “but how do you connect to that person? We knew an amazing product was out there; it just needed the right digital channel.”

And so, Brown decided to build one — originally out of her Upper West Side apartment in New York City in the early days of the business, when she was establishing a proof of concept. The goal: to construct a seamless platform for sellers of secondhand luxury furnishings to easily connect and transact with buyers of high-end consignments.

In practice, Brown explained in an interview, that involves offering a full-service solution that runs all offerings on-site through a network of over 30 content curators specifically tasked with reviewing, photographing and verifying every piece sold — as well as recommending a pricing plan.

Viyet also is in charge of pickup and delivery — a concern Brown noted is crucial when it comes to attracting buyers who “don’t want to be in the boxing and shipping business.”

Buyers, on the other hand, can access a large selection of designer items with quality and authenticity guaranteed — not by the seller but — by the curator of the platform.


The Acquisition 

Flash forward five years, and the website has came a long way from its apartment-based roots. In fact, a few week ago, Viyet announced it had been purchased by veteran auction house Sotheby’s.

The move, according to reports, comes as Sotheby’s is trying to capture an emerging generation of antique and high-end interior design enthusiasts.

The Viyet buy seems to be the latest step in Sotheby’s CEO Tad Smith’s stated plan to make a move on the “middle market.” Middle market in this context, however, is a demographic that’s probably a bit less frugal than one would typically associate with the term — ranging from $5,000 to $50,000 for decorative arts and $25,000 to $1 million for fine arts.

“For us, it’s about being there to service existing and new customers when, where and how they want to buy or sell in different categories and at different price points,” said John Auerbach — general manager of Sotheby’s Art & Objects Division — who’s directing the company’s great middle-market expansion.

From Viyet’s point of view, Brown noted, the combination of the brands is a natural expansion for both companies’ ambitions. Viyet offers Sotheby’s an opportunity to reach the customers it wants to recruit, while giving Viyet the signal boost and gravitas that can only come from a name as well-established as Sotheby’s.

“The challenge of a startup is rising above the noise and catching people’s attention, so to immediately align with a historic, well-known brand like Sotheby’s gives us an added layer of trust and allows us to reach a global network of clients that would have taken many years to build,” Brown said.

Sotheby’s declined to provide details of the acquisition, noting that the cost of buying Viyet was not material to its financial position and did not require disclosure.

As for what’s next for the pair-up?

According to Brown, among Viyet’s first contributions: making it simpler for Sotheby’s to accept entire estates at once. The brand is currently oversupplied with income inventory, and the secondary marketplace will allow the auction house better control over how it manages its goods. Some items will go to auctions; other “incredible pieces from Sotheby’s decorative arts and furniture categories” will migrate to Viyet, where they will retail for less than $5,000 in most cases.

“In the future, we may offer even more items from other categories, but for now, we’ll be concentrating on those particular ones,” Brown said.