What do you need to think about for your art gallery’s future?
The current art gallery business model has many shortcomings that conflict with the way today’s art buyers expect to do business. A few pioneering galleries are stepping outside the white cube to experiment with new ways to present art by increasing awareness about the gallery and its artists. These galleries are also finding innovative ways to reduce the crippling expense of renting a gallery space in a prime location.
These changes are a great start to resolving the outdated practices in the current gallery business model in an age where there are significantly more sources to purchase artworks and a decline in art connoisseurship.
Thus far a lot of the innovation taking place in the gallery sector is happening outside of the actual gallery, i.e. art fairs, online sales platforms, virtual exhibitions. There is nothing wrong with that, but wouldn’t it be nice if we could bring innovation home again.
Now let’s explore some ideas that could make an impact on the success of your future gallery.
Changes for Running the Future Art Gallery
Thinking outside the box that your comfortable in is difficult. If you have been business a while, the changes to how people view and acquire art may be disheartening. Galleries that are just beginning are looking to innovate how they promote their artists and meet collector needs. Below are a few observations of where the gallery sector needs to evolve for the future. These observations are certainly not all-inclusive, but I hope they will be inspirational.
Hire Skills in the Gallery
The roles and responsibilities of gallery staff should be clearly defined. To be a healthy business, gallery owners should consider hiring a marketing expert to manage how the gallery communicates to different segments of their collector base.
Maintain consistency across all marketing channels: website, press releases, newsletters, social media and face-to-face with gallery sales staff. A gallery marketing person can ensure that messages are customized to different audiences to have the most influence.
There should also be a sales manager to ensure that each step of the sales process is efficient and reflects the gallery’s brand. Databases need to be meticulously maintained, so leads are handled appropriately. True sales skills tend to be lacking in the gallery sector. Smooshing is not the same thing. Hire experts.
Form Gallery Partnerships for your art gallery future
Your artists will need to become a more integrated partner in the gallery as a business vs. just being a supplier. This is essential if you have a small staff. Artists should be asked to take on more responsibility in the promotion and selling of their work. Examples might include:
- providing regular images and videos of art creation in progress
- doing video calls with the gallery and a prospective buyer
- creating more detailed descriptions of a series of work
Both the gallery and artist should also strive for better communication. It’s a critical element for any partnership to work. Always have written agreements clearly outlining each player’s role in the business relationship.
Your artists may also have different needs. Offering options on commission structures and defining what the gallery will or will not do for the artist for different commission percentages could foster a more mutually beneficial relationship.
Embrace collaborations with other galleries. Make them an ally not a competitor. Art dealers will need to become very proactive about forging partnerships with other galleries in new markets to expand their collector base and the reputation of both gallery and artist. Many galleries are already experimenting with this by sharing a booth at an art fair or loaning their gallery space for a pop-up show. These collaborations among galleries allow you to find new art collectors and can create a compelling public relations opportunity. Of course, the goal is also a potential boost in revenue for both galleries.
Who you choose to partner with should, of course, have a compatible gallery program and art collector base. The agreement for the collaboration should be clearly defined and cover such issues as cost and revenue sharing, shipping, insurance coverage, timing, marketing efforts, and staff support. Review successes and lessons learned so your art gallery’s future relationships can be more productive.
Create New Sources of Revenue
New revenue could be found by expanding your gallery program. Offering both emerging and mid-level primary, along with secondary market artwork, you are meeting a whole range of collector’s needs. Your gallery will attract both young and seasoned collectors and their dollars. This option may not be right for every gallery program, but there could be opportunities to customize this strategy in a way that helps boost revenue.
Another interesting idea that has not been tried in the gallery industry is franchising to new markets. If your gallery has a strong stable of artists and a well-defined, documented gallery processes, offering franchises might be an excellent way to expand to different markets while creating a whole new revenue stream. Look at other industries for examples of how to structure a franchise program that could work for your business. You don’t have become a chain, and you can still maintain the character of your gallery.
To sell a franchise of your gallery, you must have a track record of success and have established a repeatable formula for how you run the gallery.
Using sales agents is another way to generate new revenue with little expense. Sales agents are people who are well connected in their community and act as champions of the gallery by selling outside the gallery on a commission basis. They could be retired art world professionals who want to continue working with flexible hours or long-time collectors/supporters of the gallery. A gallery sales agent might even be an artist spouse.
Rise to Meet New Art Buyer Needs
Wine and cheese receptions are may not always to cut it anymore. Not everyone who wants to collect art can jump on a plane to attend an art fair. Galleries will need to create more opportunities for collector participation and new ways of experiencing art in the gallery.
One example might be holding annual exhibitions where your collectors collaborate to curate the show. This could all be done online and through meetings in the gallery. It could build a lot of excitement. If some artists all live fairly close to the gallery, an example of an experience might be offering a multi-studio tour event instead of a group show. Music, wine and socializing happen in a rented van or limo between stops.
Art gallery future buyer needs are going to require a more interactive and positive experience online as well. New tools are rapidly being developed to add a level of personalization to your gallery website. There will be a cohesive feeling across all your digital channels. You want to plan for the whole customer journey from discovery to purchase. Much of that journey is online.
Services is another area that will help a gallery stand out in the future. Examples might include offering collection management, restoration advice, and storage. Survey your customers to see what services might best meet their needs.
Not sure what your buyers wish for from your gallery? Ask them. Send an annual survey.
Not all of these ideas are going to fit your gallery. I hope they plant a seed as to what might be possible for your art gallery’s future growth and continued success.
To the Point
Look to other industries to see how they are evolving their business models to meet the ever-changing affluent customer demands and attracting the loyalty of the next generation. Companies are becoming very creative with encouraging better participation with their customers and finding new revenue and marketing opportunities.
Don’t limit partnerships to just other art organizations when trying to expand your market. Also consider working with other high-end business, such as car dealerships, real estate agencies, clubs and professional associations, local authors and fashion or jewelry retailers. If you feel that the same people attend your art events as well as other art events, expanding outside the art world will contribute a lot to grow your potential collector base.
It is heartbreaking to see an art gallery close. When that happens, the artists and the community suffer. Auction houses and top-tier “brand” galleries are already revising their business models for future success. Your gallery can also do a lot to stay relevant and thrive for years to come.
I would love to hear what your doing to shake things up of your art gallery’s future. Comment below and share your genius.
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