Few entrepreneurs have the opportunity to say they have transformed an entire industry.
But for Tom Johnson, whose name may not immediately evoke recognition for some readers, transforming the digital antique marketplace stands out as just one of the many achievements of his illustrious career.
Similar to many Harvard students, Tom Johnson is a multi-talented genius. But perhaps even more impressive is the high esteem Tom’s colleagues have for him—it’s impossible to speak to someone who has worked with Tom without hearing about his warmth, team-oriented leadership, and genuine passion for bettering the lives of others. Even at a young age, it was clearly apparent to those around Tom that he was well rounded and properly equipped to soon change the world: he was particularly skilled in mathematics, impressive in his command of foreign languages, and even performed as a talented pianist.
Tom continued to impress others throughout his educational career, graduating from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in Computer Science as well as minors in both Mathematics and Music—all with top honors—before taking on a role at IBM in New York. He soon after began living in various destinations around the world, continuing to build his business acumen through work with clients such as Nissan and Honda.
In 1998, building upon his decades of technical expertise, Johnson embarked on his journey with Ruby Lane, which has since grown to be the world’s largest curated retail online marketplace for antiques and vintage collectibles. Tom created the site after struggling to find the final pieces necessary to complete his 1950s dish set, an experience that opened his eyes to the lack of vintage and antique shops in the online marketplace environment. Instead of waiting for another company to fill this gap, Tom took action and pioneered a company of his own. He named it in honor of his mother, Ruby, and later introduced Ruby Lane’s widely-recognizable tagline, “Vintage Begins Here” in 2013.
Johnson has stayed true to Ruby Lane’s humble origins since its inception. While other comparable platforms have resorted to venture capital-backed funding, Johnson ensured Ruby Lane maintained its sole-proprietorship model, preventing external companies from diluting his vision. Tom’s loyalty to this vision has earned Ruby Lane a loyal clientele that you can depend on and trust when searching for unique collectibles.
When the coronavirus pandemic shocked the world in 2020, in-person antique shows became an impossibility. Seeing the struggle of those within the industry and staying true to his character, Tom jumped at the opportunity to help those around him, collaborating with in-person antique shows to assist them in shifting their services online through Ruby Lane. Klia Ververidis, CEO of Brimfield Antique Shows, encapsulates Tom’s selflessness best: “When the pandemic arrived at our doorstep we had to really think outside the box and pivot as many businesses did. Our entire business model was based on assembling large groups of people in one place. That was clearly not an option. We had to very quickly figure out how to do an online antique show that had the same effect as an in person show. As we navigated through this process, Ruby Lane became an invaluable partner, not only understanding what we were trying to accomplish but also creating real world technology based solutions that allowed us to move forward with a revolutionary and forward thinking model of how to transport the excitement and anticipation of a live show to the Internet.”
Harvard students, as ambitious as they are, can appreciate Johnson’s dedication to transform his ideas into a reality. Johnson, driven by passion and vigor, worked tirelessly to craft the brainchild that is Ruby Lane. He wanted every user of the website to feel the same level of joy that he felt when buying and selling antiques. Suffice to say, Johnson succeeded in his journey of bringing vintage and antique goods to the masses. Now, with over 1.7 million site visitors per month, Ruby Lane is an immensely successful service with a wide variety of products. Whether you are looking to sport artisan jewelry on campus or spruce up your dorm with vintage furniture collectibles, Ruby Lane has you covered.
As the premier online marketplace in the antiques industry, Ruby Lane takes pride in its commitment to providing the highest quality possible for its customers. It hosts over 2,000 unique shops that are individually pre-screened and hand selected by a team of various seasoned professionals.
However, Ruby Lane’s dedication to customer satisfaction does not stop there. In addition to their standard quality guidelines that ensure everything depicted on their website is authentic and accurate, the Ruby Lane staff has established a Secret Shopper team that regularly makes random purchases from the site to assess the received products against their expected standards. Over the past several years, Ruby Lane has been rated Top in Customer Service and Communication by the eCommerceBytes Sellers Choice Awards, which was voted on by more than 10,000 online sellers.
Customer satisfaction and maintaining the reliability and security of the site is at the core of everything Ruby Lane does. Its highly trained staff delivers top-notch customer service, ensuring that every query and concern is promptly addressed. Whether through email or live chat, Ruby Lane goes the extra mile to cater to the diverse needs of its valued customers.
Ruby Lane is the one-stop site for Harvard students and faculty, offering unparalleled options for those looking for the perfect dorm room decoration or even a gift for a loved one that will truly stand out. And for those students looking for new adventures in Massachusetts, the Brimfield Antique Shows are just a short drive away from campus.
As we commemorate Ruby Lane's 25th year, here’s a toast to Tom and his leadership. Under his guidance, the platform has grown to be more than just a marketplace; it stands tall as a melting pot of history, culture, and artistry. Looking to the next 25 years, Ruby Lane will continue to bridge the past with the present, one antique at a time.