By Regina Connell, Editor-in-Chief, Handful of Salt.
John Wiggers’ woodwork—meticulous, rigorous, luxuriously and sumptuously crafted—is an embodiment of his obstinate sense of integrity and his inability to tolerate BS.
It’s won him commissions throughout the world (currently: desks for executives in London and New York, a pyramid box in Australia) and has been featured in galleries and 5-star hotels like the Four Seasons and the Mandarin Oriental. Over the years, he’s also collaborated with Dakota Jackson and Lee Weitzman.
It’s also caused him to approach his business from a different perspective.
But it hasn’t always been this way. His career has traced the same trajectory that many high-end makers have faced over the years. In the old days (and for some today), marketing used to consist of making something fabulous, building up a portfolio, then getting onto the radar of gallerists or showrooms who had relationships with interior design clients and well-heeled customers—et voila: pieces would be sold and commissions would be undertaken. Along the way, the gallerists/showrooms and interior designers would take their cut. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
Now, however, things are different, due in large part to that great leveler, the web. Galleries and showrooms struggle, and certainly aren’t as numerous as before. (As John says, the internet is the global virtual showroom.) Interior designers, while incredibly important, have learned to find different ways to work, too, collaborating more with clients and makers. “To the trade” has come to mean something different than it once did, though it’s not quite clear what yet.
What’s really changed, though, is the client. They have a wealth of information available to them, whether it’s research on products, makers, or price. They demand transparency. And the emerging luxury client demands engagement. They like to collaborate with makers, rather than to point, pay, and, upon coming home one day, find their new table/sofa/humidor waiting and vaguely remember having ordered it many months ago.
And while the shift has put businesses like John’s through a bit of a roller coaster (since he thrived under the gallery model), it hasn’t been all bad, especially since John seems to revel in the engagement side of things. Thoughtful, garrulous, opinionated, and deeply passionate about what he does, he sure loves a client that does their homework.
“I once had a client who I met at a show, and we got to talking about techniques. He seemed really knowledgeable and I didn’t realize that he wasn’t in the business. After the show, the conversation continued. He asked a lot of questions, and the conversation went back and forth over a span of 3-4 years. And finally, I did a commission with him. By this point I knew the look he liked, how he liked to work, etc. He gave me full artistic license, but we collaborated on the exact look, and that was good because it was a fine line he wanted to straddle: something impressive but not overbearing. And we got there.”
John sees this engagement as being good for both the client and the maker in subtle ways. “There are so many makers out there, and you have so many options, and so many different takes on quality: it’s almost imperative that a client understands the process and quality issues. Knowing more protects a client. At the same time, when a client comes to me after extensive research, I take that as such an honor or high compliment that I want to go out of my way to prove to them that they made the right choice.”
Today, he’s creating his own mix of channels, as they say in the business world. He still works with galleries (though he’s choosier these days), but has increasingly been receiving commissions over the internet.