This Post is by Lori Woodward Simons, Regular contributing writer for
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Note to readers:
I am suffering from Jet Lag today, but feel I must write right away about my experiences while in Tucson last month. So please do me a favor and ignore typos or repetitive ideas in this post. My mind is downright fuzzy! However, It's important to me that I get this message out while it's fresh in my mind.
My Annual Trek To Tucson
Each February, I get away from New Hampshire's cold and snow for a month long hiatus in sunny Tucson. I stay at a B&B that is situated near Saguaro National Park, and for the past decade, I've been that B&B's sole artist in residence
. While this venture has not been a “get rich quick” scheme in any way, the opportunity to befriend the Inn's clientèle has led to lifelong friendships – and in many cases, lifelong and loyal collectors of my paintings.
Business is Down But My Sales Went Up
This February, attendance at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show was considerably down. This event normally brings Tucson more than a million attendees and salespeople, filling every available room and accommodation in town. Attendance was also slightly down at the B&B; however, the February regulars there are people who come for their annual "away from it all" vacations. These are typically folks who vacation through thick and thin. Many of them are retired couples who have no debt, and enough income to enjoy themselves while away. More than a few returning clients try to coordinate their stay with my arrival, and in most cases, they have become my friends.
Being in Tucson for a month – mostly on my own – gives me time to paint and ponder my life and art. This year, I was to meet with a gallery owner; however, the economic downturn has caused many galleries to stick to selling the work of artists they already represent. Initially I was disappointed because I'd like to see my name on the roster of a well known gallery; on the other hand, this rejection enabled me to display my best work at the B&B.
As the gallery opportunities closed for me, doors to the homes and walls of people I've actually met and befriended, face-to-face... swung wide open. This year, I took the road less traveled and believe me, that has made all the difference. Sometimes, we artists get so busy striving to fulfill the big dream that we miss smaller, yet fruitful opportunities that lie right under our noses.
My Collectors Have Become My Personal Sales Force
You see, these B&B collectors are familiar with me. They've become my friends, they like my artwork and have a sense of loyalty to me. These folks have the potential to become my lifelong collectors. What artist could ask for more than that? While it's taken me nearly a decade to build a following at this one location, I now have the means to stay in touch with them via e-newsletters.
Ten clients who really love and/or own my art is worth more than a thousand who see my work in an ad or at a gallery where my work is competing with hundreds of others. At the B&B, I have a personal, captive audience. Why? Because these folks like me as a person, become interested in supporting my efforts, and ultimately, when my work is in their homes, they show and brag about it to their friends and colleagues.
Yes, I still feel the emotional pull to show my work in a prestigious gallery, but the reality is that I can and do sell better on my own.
I like working with people, keeping in touch and know how to offer my work without making them feel like they've been pushed into buying.
Advantages Of Selling at the B&B:
I have the opportunity to cultivate friendships with the guests – especially if they stay for 4 or more days. They don't usually buy art from me the first or second day, but generally decide to buy the day before they leave. By this time, they know a great deal about what I do and I know a great deal about their lives as well.
Interestingly, my work rarely sells at the B&B when I'm not present. Just being there increases the likelihood that interested parties will want to collect my art. The B&B owners introduce me to their guests as their artist-in-residence, and that usually leads the guests to ask me questions about what I do. Meanwhile, I display my paintings near the large, communal breakfast table. Along side of the paintings, I strategically place magazine and book publications where my work has been featured -- along with a short bio. Price tags are posted below the paintings. The B&B owners and I decided that putting my paintings in the rooms with prices seemed tacky. I want the rooms to feel like an oasis, not a shopping mall.
I don't have to verbally sell my work, but I do sell myself by being friendly. I get to know these folks by asking about what they do, and why they are visiting Tucson. I learn their names. Because I went to high school and college in Tucson, I can help them plan their days or provide directions to events, restaurants or scenic areas. Sooner or later, they express interest in my life, and eventually, they begin to take a longer look at my artwork display.
When they decide to purchase my work – usually after 3 or 4 days, I ask them if they'd like to join my e-newsletter list and offer to ship the painting to them on the day that they leave for home. I can use Pay Pal from my web site if they would like to pay with credit card. By the way, I give the B&B owners a 20% commission – with this low commission, I can make my work affordable. In some cases, the guests visit galleries around town and upon returning at the end of their day, decide to buy one of my paintings - since they like what they see in my work better or as well as the high priced work at the galleries. Besides they now have a personal interest in my career.
When their vacations end and they return to home, I send them a follow up email to touch base – see if the painting arrived to their home safely and ask how they're doing. Because these folks are now my friends, I can ask them specific questions about their families, grandkids, or other travels. However, I never stalk them with numerous emails. My periodic email newsletter is sufficient to post new work, and this mailing offers them a chance to respond if they like.
Building Bragging Rights:
Many times, these B &B guests become my lifelong collectors and advocates. They show my work to their friends - who sometimes buy my work at their recommendation. Additionally, I offer my former collectors incentives to buy again. For example, If a friend or acquaintance of my collector buys one of my paintings, I automatically give my past collector (the one who made the referral) a 20% credit of the sales price toward a future painting of their choice. You see, when my collectors are loyal to me, I am loyal to them.
Last but not least, I consider it my responsibility to continually improve my work and build my resume – not necessarily to get into galleries, but to increase the value of my work for those who've already invested in it. By gaining entrance into national competitions and thereby getting my work into publications, I know my collectors will be delighted, and it gives them confidence in my work and cements their interest in my growing career.
So, if you are currently thinking that working with galleries is the only way to make a good living with your art, don't underestimate opportunities that allow you to sell via friendships - face to face.