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That’s the proud boast on the billboard as you enter the Hemswell compound, located on a former RAF base in Gainsborough, Lincolnshire.

Owner Robert Miller is in command of the four centres, involving 65,000 sq ft of space, some 375 different dealers, a storage facility and two on-site coffee shops.

If that doesn’t sound like a big-enough commitment, he is also on a mission to turn the centres and their 17th-20th century wares into a go-to destination for the Instagram generation. Over a year ago, Miller relaunched the decade-old Hemswell website as a fully transactional portal, with improved search capability and dealers able to do their own uploading.

Since then, the number of unique visitors to the Hemswell site has increased 40% to more than 1000 a day, partly thanks to increased spend on targeted digital advertising.

Hemswell’s dealers are playing their part too. While the Lincolnshire centres remain the ultimate showcase for its dealers, who can remain offline if they wish, they are encouraged to list their best objects on the website to reach a wider audience.

The nudge to do so includes Hemswell’s provision of training on the site’s ‘dealer dashboard’, included in the site’s £100 joining fee.

The dealers can also upload a 200-word description of their business. “Though Hemswell handles customer service centrally, the dealer’s brand needs to be visible too,” Miller says.

Outside of the website, dealers at Hemswell pay 6.5% commission for each object sold, while tiered website membership – Bronze, Silver, Gold – gives varying amounts of credits for object listings.

Physical first

Site membership comes with rules, of course, such as a requirement that objects listed must be physically available in the centres first.

However, dealers can remotely de-list objects they sell – a necessary feature, Miller says, given the overlap between those with Hemswell pitches who also stall out at nearby IACF fairs in Newark, Nottinghamshire, and Arthur Swallow events in Lincolnshire.

Miller himself exhibits at these fairs, to promote the centre and encourage cooperation between fair organisers and centres “to keep buyers in the area for longer”.

Meanwhile, sales at the centre are logged daily on the password-protected portal, which dealers can view along with management updates and offers of objects the general public want to sell.

Miller acknowledges that his digital push won’t win over every Hemswell dealer; just over half (55%) are listing online but this percentage is rising. To encourage participation, and for a higher fee, the Hemswell digital team can upload on their behalf.

The mission is not just to help selling, Miller says, but also “to take some of the back-office headache away from running a dealer business – for those who don’t have the time or perhaps the inclination” to go digital.