Not too long ago I was having a conversation with a number of friends who are artists, and we were talking about the struggle to get into good galleries. One friend posed a really interesting question that I’ve been mulling over in my mind ever since. It was truly profound and showed just how savvy she is at the business end of art. She asked, “Once I get into a really good gallery, how can I become a great business partner to the people representing me?”
First response: Wow! Second response: There’s so much you can do!
The best gallery owners work really hard to sell our work and make us successful, and there are definitely actions we can take to support them in achieving our mutual goals. Based on my experience of working in a gallery, here are a few suggestions for behaving like a great partner:
- Tell them your story.When someone comes into the gallery and starts admiring one of your pieces, the gallery sales crew would love to be able to engage with the collector and extend the conversation by telling your story. But they can’t do that if they don’t know you and your story. Articulate the story you want to tell about yourself and share it with the gallery staff.
- Provide your own marketing materials.Along the same lines as telling your story, you should record it (along with your resume) in a well-designed one-page promo piece that you provide to your galleries. They’ll be delighted to hand out copies to interested buyers. You might even consider putting together some kind of printed portfolio that the sales staff can keep on hand to share with visitors.
- Be sensitive to their schedules. Although you should absolutely try to hang out in the gallery occasionally and get to know the sales staff, try to visit during the slow periods, like just after opening on a weekday. And if a customer comes in, hang back and let the sales team focus on that customer. Time your phone calls for slow periods, too, and be patient when you’re waiting for email responses from them. Be friendly, not a pest.
- Deliver great work every time. The first time your gallery representative saw your work, he or she saw something special in it, something that would appeal to the people who frequent that gallery. Find out what it is, and consistently deliver more work that has it. Of course, various elements of your work will evolve over time, but that special something should remain.
- Be willing to take work back.Sometimes a piece just doesn’t sell for whatever reason, but after a certain period of time (six months to a year) retrieve that piece and send it on to another gallery where it might have a better chance of finding a good home. Your gallery should not morph into a warehouse of your unsold work.
- Present your work beautifully.If you’re a painter, invest in excellent frames. If you’re a sculptor, invest in gorgeous pedestals. The extra investment you make in presenting your work will pay off in spades. The gallery sales staff will be proud to showcase your work, collectors will see just how fabulous it is, and everyone will agree that it’s worth a good price.
- Give back by offering to be part of an event.What about offering to do some kind of afternoon event, like a demo or brief lecture? If there’s room for it in the gallery, an event might be a great way to attract more traffic, which is just what your gallery rep wants.
- Promote your galleries. Chances are good you’ve got your own website. Even if you’re selling artwork direct from your site, it’s just good business to embed live links out to your galleries’ websites as well. It’s a goodwill gesture that can also help would-be buyers discover where they can see your work in person. And if you’re represented by a local gallery, consider promoting the gallery’s exhibitions to your personal mailing list of art lovers, even if you’re not in the show.
- Don’t undercut your galleries.Thanks to the internet, it is very easy for buyers to find you directly after they’ve seen your work in galleries. And some of them will even contact you to ask you for special offers. The deal goes like this: “Hey, I saw your painting on sale for $4,000 but if I buy it from the gallery, I know you’ll only get $2,000. How about you sell it to me directly for $3,000?” Don’t do it. The little extra you earn on those sales is not worth the loss of trust between you and your gallery rep. As a general rule, the prices on the works you sell directly to collectors should be about the same as the prices on your works for sale in galleries.
- Share the wealth.This goes hand in hand with the previous tip. Occasionally you will have buyers seek you out who say, “Hey, I saw your work at such-and-such gallery, and I really like your style but none of those pieces was exactly what I’m looking for. Do you have anything else to show me?” In this situation, when you know the sale is directly linked back to a particular gallery, you really owe it to the gallery owners to give them the same commission as if they’d sold the piece. After all, it was their marketing and promotions that allowed you to connect with that collector.
Like all great relationships, we get out of them as much as we put into them. So if you’d like your relationships with your gallery representatives to be awesome, consider what you can do to nurture them. What do you think of these tips? What else can we do to assist our gallery reps in marketing and selling our fine art? Let’s connect!