Cotton & Quail: Lasting and enduring friendships

William Counts still remembers the numbers of miles he and his staff trekked during the 13 years he was associated with Cotton & Quail Antique Trail: 880,000.

Month after month he traveled the Southern magnolia speckled highways linking hundreds of small antiques shops, group malls and auction houses. In those days businesses relied on two things to stay alive – the trails that brought them customers and the magazine that showed their customers where to find the trails.

“There was not a single advertiser with us that we didn’t walk through the door and say hello,” Counts said. “We would hand deliver 50 percent of the copies and send the other 50 percent by UPS. We’d switch every other month.”

News that Cotton & Quail would no longer be published was met with understanding. For a variety of reasons, the antiques business has changed drastically in the last six or seven years, Counts said. The market of 20 years ago is a different story.

Counts launched Cotton & Quail Nov. 1, 1988 after he cultivated 20 years of experience in journalism and publishing. At the time, he and his wife Derylene were lifelong collectors with a small selection in an area antiques mall. It didn’t take long to connect his talents and their passion to the obvious lack of a paper that covered the antiques business in the Southeast.

Counts bought a building and moved his family to the second story. Below, the paper was produced, addressed and mailed. He hired his family to sell advertising and help deliver the issues each month.

Counts took pride in the personal attention he could give his customers no matter what changes took place in the economy or the antiques trade.

“People like people,” he said. “We may read in the papers that people don’t like to have a lot of friends or that people like to be left alone, but people like people. We’d walk in, hand them their paper and say, ‘Thank you.’” We filled a niche with advertising every month, but during the entire year we made them feel like they were somebody.”

Counts’ Southern hospitality and optimism extended through every part of his business. The publication’s name was based on honoring the past but looking forward to the future.

“The Cotton referenced the Old South and the Quail was to describe how those cotton fields have now all been turned into bird sanctuaries and hunting preserves,” Counts said. “It was to describe the Old South and the New South.”

By the end of his first decade running Cotton & Quail, Counts saw a change in the type of advertising passing over his desk. Ads for mom and pop shops gave way to ads for dotcom Web sites.

“I could see it,” he said. “It was the downfall of the print business and the antiques shops. Everyone switched over to the easy way of doing things and you knew it couldn’t last. People didn’t even shop like they used to – drive 200 miles to pick up some antiques.”

Counts prophosized in an editorial published in 2000 the Web would distinguish true collectors from casual buyers. For Counts, the business of antiques is more about the search and discovery than it was about the acquisition or the dollar.

“During the last 15 to 20 years we have changed gradually with the times and “go with the flow” has prevailed,” Counts wrote. “Individual online sites are hawking their wares to individuals across the world. Speed is what everything seems to be about these days. My thoughts center around the old adage of the fifties: “Speed kills.” Will electronic speed “kill” the antiques business? I don’t think so. If they are true collectors they will still want to enjoy the search for treasure, hear the chant of the auctioneer, view the thousands of items displayed neatly along rows of tables and booths ant shows, and walk the aisles of malls trying to spot the item to finish their collection, or a piece of furniture to complete the living room decor.”

Cotton & Quail was first sold to Landmark Publishing in 1998 and it was quickly picked up by Krause Publications in a deal that included Antique Trader magazine and the Ohio Antiques Review. Counts and his wife was then hired back to run the paper for two more years.

Reproductions. Online sales. The economy. All had a part in the eventual slowdown in the overall business and hundreds of Counts’ former advertisers going out of business.

Through it all, however, one part of the antiques business never seems to change, he said.

“We met some of the most sincere, honest people we’ve ever known,” Counts said. “They were great people. They kept us alive and we kept them alive. It gave us lasting and enduring friendships.”

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