Handle with Care: Interview with an Art Shipper
From antiques and fine art to covetable rare pieces, if you’re looking to ship something precious, you want to do it with care. That’s where the experts come in.
"… buying a valuable piece of art is not like buying something from Amazon."
Antiques, fine art, covetable rare pieces from around the world – these all need the utmost careful handling when they’re moved from seller to sale, that is, from auction house to collector. That’s where the expert shippers MBE Auction Logistics come in. Here, we take a look at the company’s story and ask Country Manager for the UK & Ireland, Francis Laryea, three key questions.
MBE Auction Logistics was created by shipping experts Mail Boxes Etc. in 2016. Its mission is to make auction shipping simpler, safer and more economical for buyers.
The firm has long-established relationships with over 300 auction houses and nearly 2,000 fine-art dealers and antique specialists around the UK and Ireland. It also has a nationwide network of more than 150 Mail Boxes Etc. centres.
Customers can use the MBE Auction Logistics’ website to request collections from upcoming sales, where its delivery solutions are offered. MBE Auction Logistics works with all the leading carriers, including FedEx, Parcelforce Worldwide, TNT, DHL and UPS, to offer an end-to-end logistics solution.
We wanted to tap into Francis Laryea’s in-depth knowledge to find out more about why a dedicated delivery service is so important in this sector.
Barnebys: What’s something that art buyers don’t often consider when it comes to shipping, but should?
Francis Laryea: I think it’s vital, in these days of online shopping and next-day delivery, to remember that buying a valuable piece of art is not like buying something from Amazon. What the customer is paying for with our bespoke auction-house delivery service is our knowledge, our relationships with auction houses, the labour involved in managing the shipment, packing it safely, providing compensation cover, selecting the carrier, handling the paperwork and arranging safe delivery.
Our knowledge and experience come into play as soon as the customer asks for an estimate. We review the digital information on the auctioneer’s website to provide this. If approved, we will collect the item after the sale has concluded – we’ll have a collection schedule with the auction house, so generally we won’t collect immediately. When we do visit, we could be collecting up to 50 items, which can help keep collection costs down, but it does mean we don’t offer a next-day service.
On collection, we pack the item safely for transportation to our centre. Once there, we’ll assess it properly and provide a precise quote based on the actual weight and dimensions. This will include handling costs, packaging materials, expert packing and transit costs. We pack each item with great care, boxing and double boxing for safety and often creating custom crates for thorough protection.
We will also give a price for our comprehensive compensation cover, MBE CoverProtect, which provides ultimate peace of mind in the unlikely event of loss or damage in transit.
"[Our] expert service is painstaking and labour-intensive. But it’s a labour of love for us."
Once the customer has approved the quote, we will release the item to the carrier network, making sure it’s described in the correct way, and present the paperwork to the carrier electronically, so they can pre-clear through customs if possible.
This expert service is painstaking and labour-intensive. But it’s a labour of love for us – our teams really enjoy the challenge of taking items that might be difficult to pack and doing an excellent job.
What’s the most important piece of advice you would give to someone who needs to ship something bought at auction or from a dealer?
The key thing, really, is to have patience. It’s important to appreciate the complexity of what you’re paying us to do, and to trust the professionals to do a professional job.
How long has MBE been in business, and how are you different from other shipping companies out there?
Mail Boxes Etc. has been in business in the UK for about 30 years. We have been supporting auction houses, dealers and their customers throughout that time but we decided to launch MBE Auction Logistics in 2016 as a sub-brand that would differentiate our white-glove service and be instantly recognisable to people in the sector.
Other shipping companies might be good at sending items from A to B, but they can’t offer the bespoke service we provide, which is based on years of knowledge, great relationships with auction houses and sale rooms, and in-depth expertise. We go the extra mile. We’ve even built the network so that we have centres close to all the auction houses we work with. Nobody does auction shipping like we do.