We just finished Mikki, my mate's, 21st annual gallery event in Santa Fe. Before the event we put on a two day painting and art marketing seminar for artists in the Hilton Hotel. Our first and probably only one. I’m not sure my health is up to such strenuous effort.
We began each day eating breakfast with artists, had lunch in our room where I examined portfolios, then dinner with half of the group one night and the rest the following evening. In all, we invested about 14 hours each day trying to help our artists. The Hilton provided a private dining room so we could all visit noise free.
Thanks to FASO we had full class of 30 people. In truth, we had to turn artists down because of space limitations. We wanted to keep the number reasonable so we could spend a lot of individual time with each participant. I guess we were a success because no one asked for their money back. (smile) We had some amazing artists from all over the country and Canada.
I opened our seminar with a story of speaking at the Cattlemen’s Association in Denver about 25 or 30 years previously. If my memory is correct there were over 5,000 ranchers in the audience. The president was an old broken down, bow legged cowboy. He waddled to the podium, tapped the mic, then reached in his pocket and pulled out a small piece of paper along with his Wal-Mart reading glasses. Coughing to clear his throat, he placed the crumpled paper under a light and began to speak, “It says here our speaker needs no introduction. I sure as hell hope so cause I ain’t ever heard of him.”
It’s amazing how much that old, weather beaten cowboy humbled me - which was not easy to do with a proud, cocky Texan who had achieved a nice level of success by that time.
Another thing that can humble you quickly is to be part of a show that fails. At the prime of my career, I once did an art show and no one came. I sat in an empty room with my staff and more food than the entire Dallas Cowboys team could eat. My people felt the invitations had all been lost in the mail, having been sent at a street corner drop box. They were being kind. I honestly have no answer other than the empty feeling I experienced when we packed up about 10 PM. That was my one and only total failure doing shows. From that day forward I made sure never to leave an option for failure.
That failed show is the main reason I go to such an extra effort to make sure all of Mikki’s events have a high level of success. The first one we did for her was a joint show with an artist who painted chewing tobacco brown art. He sold nothing and we sold out. He was devastated, we felt sorry for him and did our best to console him. That’s when I understood we cannot do joint shows. Mikki’s high key, double primary palette drowns out most artist‘s work.
If I may say so, without sounding Texan, we are both fairly charismatic. Many in the past credit my success with my charisma - a charge I strongly deny. (smile) I will concede having a Texas Ranger with a pistol on his hip at many of my shows didn’t hurt. Rangers are idols in Texas. After my career was in full swing I had NFL and NBA players come as special guests when I did shows. We don’t have those kinds of stars for Senkarik; therefore, much more effort and planning is needed to insure she doesn’t repeat my early failure. I wouldn’t want an enemy to feel the emptiness I experienced when no one showed up.
Which is a nice segue into why I switched Mikki from doing shows to EVENTS. I saw a sign at the old New York Yankees baseball field. “Any moment can be a great moment.” I think art shows are passé. I find it harder and harder to give collectors an exceptional moment of memory at art shows. In an event, we can brand experiences in the minds of those who buy as well as those attending who don't purchase. We make no distinction between buyers and lookers. Many times a looker gets home, then calls back and buys or commissions a painting. They are so ebullient from the event they cannot stand to go another year without a Senkarik on their wall. After spending three or four hours with us, we want them to recall the entertaining experience like a great movie.
About eight months before the Senkarik Collector Event, we did a blanket snail mailing to all of our Team Senkarik Members. We encouraged them to schedule their vacation over Labor Day weekend and come to Santa Fe. We know 9 to 5 families plan their vacations well in advance. We are laying the groundwork for them to make us part of their free time. It’s not easy to compete with Disney or a Caribbean cruise; however for us to be successful, we have to entice art buyers to choose us over dazzling and exotic ports.
Three months later, we did an e-mailing with Constant Contact, with a link to pictures from last year’s Event. In the message we included a call to action pointer. We emphasized the importance of an RSVP, telling them the event is so special they will need to reserve a place. The RSVP allows us to pre-determine how many will come. We want to make sure there are adequate amounts of food and wine. Especially wine - letting them drink freely for an hour or so before the event begins. Mikki and I don’t drink, but we know a lot of people do; therefore, we make sure and have plenty of white and red wine along with tons of snacks.
Seven weeks before the event, we did another snail mail to the entire mailing list. A 6”x 9” jumbo size post card with an image of Mikki making the showstopper painting for the event. We emphasized FUN and once more encouraged them to RSVP their spot for the Saturday night event. We also asked the gallery to make at least two mailings to their area client base. Since the gallery is in Santa Fe, they mailed people in New Mexico, West Texas, Oklahoma and Colorado.
The effort paid off. The gallery was crammed full of art collectors. I can’t estimate the exact number, but I will say this. It is the most people we have had at an event in a long time. Friday, the day before our big Event, the Dow dropped 350 points. I had a sleepless night, concerned some of our collectors might be afraid to purchase. I woke up with a determination to double the fun for that night. It worked. No one mentioned the stock market and I forgot to remind them.
At the beginning of the event we asked the gallery to lock the front doors. Did I tell you only collectors are allowed to attend our event? However, we do permit real prospects to be present if they beg (smile). The gallery says to prospective clients, “Jack will give you a Texas passport so you can come and be part of the excitement.” Note the word excitement. We want them to come expecting something extraordinary. From our initial invitation, we begin implanting the idea they will have an incomparable encounter. The seed is planted that they should expect more than a typical art show. When the doors were locked, the owner got everyone’s attention and asked the group to move forward into the two large open areas. My instructions were to not begin the event until we had the attention of all. After a few words of welcome, Mikki was introduced. A raised platform in the front of the gallery allowed her to be seen by all. Near the end of her five minute address, Mikki explained that being an artist is a solitary job and we hardly ever get to meet our collectors . She went into some depth about the isolation felt in making art.
I seized the opportunity for some fun. I spoke up in my extra loud Texas voice, “Thanks a lot, Mikki.” Perhaps guffaw is a good word to describe their laughter. The banter between Mikki and I gave permission for a night of laughter and enjoyment. Several laughed so hard they choked. When the buzz died down, we drew names to sell a few unique miniature paintings made especially for our Team Senkarik Members. Only past collectors could enter their names in the drawing for a chance to purchase. Those little gems flew off the wall as soon as a name was drawn. I’m not sure those in attendance would have been so quick to buy if we had not taken them off the market until the night of the Event. People tend to want what they cannot have. The paintings had been displayed in the gallery with a sign saying they were for the Collector Event ONLY. There was a rumble of excitement when the first name was drawn. A doctor and his wife from Oklahoma dashed over, grabbing two. We could hear a sigh of disappointment when folk’s names were not drawn.
Our next memory maker was a drawing for seven collector gifts we provided for the occasion. Among the gifts was a Limited Original Senkarik, one of my Texas Ranger giclees, a framed set of her old brushes and two different bottles of Senkarik wine. In our promotion of the Event, we constantly talked about these free collector appreciation gifts. Each year we do something different. Last year we gave a serigraph of Mikki’s portrait of the great race horse Secretariat signed both by her and Ron Turcotte, the jockey who rode him to win the Triple Crown. The serigraph is an edition of 100. We still have 98, which we are saving as an investment. They are a treasure. Ron never signed many pieces of art which makes these even more rare.
An Event is more than a show where you hang your art and hope folks purchase. An Event is where you orchestrate the evening. You move people from location to location so they can participate. We don’t turn them loose hoping they discover the art. For us an Event is a live performance. For instance, at our Event the auction came next. This is always one of the most exciting things we do. People come expecting to be able to “win” the demonstration painting made in the gallery. The two days we are in the gallery before the event, they wander in and out. Friday and Saturday, they watch the art come together, standing and looking. A brave few even ask questions. Mikki tells them the piece will be auctioned off at the Collector Event, with the stating bid under a quarter. You can see their eyes brighten up when they hear “under a quarter“. Mikki painted a $2,000 piece for the auction. We know the art will sell below retail value but that is part of the fun. We make the event our own mini eBay. One of the gallery owners worked as the auctioneer. We started the bid at 21 cents for Mikki‘s 21st year in Santa Fe. Bidding was fast with several fighting for the art. Almost as fast as one hand went up, you could see someone else across the room raise theirs. A neat young couple from Denver was the last standing. We have a picture of her making the winning bid. I don’t know if I’ve ever seem a broader smile. This was the exceptional experience we were both hoping to achieve. The energy was so thick, you could have cut it with a butter knife.
After the auction the gallery staff, Mikki and I mingled, selling the big pieces. A great artist and good friend, Robin, came to the show. We put her to work taking images of us and the individual painting owners. We feel there is an importance in us taking photos with the collectors. This is an excuse for us to make another contact.
Once home we make sure all those who attended receive a personal, handwritten notecard. And that means everyone, not just buyers. In many cases, for those who purchased a piece, we do a 4” x 6” glossy photo of the image of their new painting, tipping them onto a Strathmore deckled edge card. Mikki has amazing handwriting. Mine looks like I’m a doctor. If I ever signed my checks legibly the bank would think they were forged. We did a blog with many images from the event and also emailed individual images to everyone we had email addresses for. We also sent a Constant Contact newsletter to our entire collector list so everyone could see what fun the Event was.
In the crush of the moment we missed photographing several people. Big crowds are nice, but they can also prevent us getting to spend time with everyone. Mikki is also writing notes to many of our collectors who were unable to come, telling them how much we missed them and inviting them to mark their calendars for Labor Day weekend next year. Three have already said they’ve made reservations to come.
The final step in our plan is to thank the gallery owners. We found a colorful JAMS WORLD dress for one of them. The other two owners of the gallery are a married couple. So we had a large variety gift box of Omaha Steaks delivered to their door.
Looking at the pictures taken at the Event when we got home, we were stunned by the number of people. We were also stunned by the number of sales. According to one of the gallery owners, we sold 18 original oils and took 8 commissions. The gallery called today telling us they sold two more commissions. Needless to say, after our Saturday night Collector Event, the owners could had flown home with their arms. It’s amazing what a few sales can do for your psyche. The only thing that can increase our euphoria is for you to take my ideas and do the same. How wonderful it would be to hear from several dozen of you with success stories using my ideas.
On the serious side, there are sales to be made if we don’t get down in the dumps. We sometimes get caught up in the daily negative news and think all is lost. Please let me remind you, only 5 percent of the folks in the United States have ever walked into an art gallery. I don’t know the number of those that buy. Artists are already dealing with a precious few. Even that few leaves us several million people who love art enough to walk into a gallery. All we want is 50 new clients and 50 old buyers each year and we can live pretty high on the hog. For those of you much better educated than me, that means the meat is more tender higher up on the leg.
Link for Mikki’s blog about our Collector Event:
Jack White has the title Official Texas State Artist and recently Governor Rick Perry appointed him an Admiral in the Texas Navy. Jack authored six Art Marketing books. The first, “Mystery of Making It”, describes how he taught Mikki to paint and has sold over six million dollars worth of her art. You can contact Jack at email@example.com.