Tag Archives: jenny

Who would start a gallery with the economy the way it is?

It’s a good question – who would start a gallery with the economy the way it is?

I intended to write this a year ago, when our gallery-workshop was just a few months old.
Back then we felt full of optimism but still heard nagging inner voices telling us we were a bit daft for even thinking of setting up what was effectively a shop, just when so many others were going to the wall.

On top of that, it was necessary for Jenny to leave the stability (and predictable income!) of a regular job. What were we thinking?

One year on from that part-written blog post and nearly a year and a half since we got our slightly sweaty hands on the keys to unit 4 Wakefield Country Courtyard the optimism is still there, the inner voices have been quelled and our early marketing efforts have paid off.VitreusArt-gallery-studio-Wakefield-Country-Courtyard

We’re delighted to have regular customers who seem to come in just after we’ve put new stock on display.
Our classes are steadily drawing new would-be and established artists and crafters keen to develop their skills or gain new ones.
Our studio is being used to create interesting (sometimes amazing) projects by students.
And we’re finding that folks who used to visit the Courtyard have started returning, having discovered that there’s more to see, do, eat and drink than there used to be.

So of course we’re optimistic – we’re working hard to make our business a success and seeing that pay off.

Some of the things that have really worked for us include:

Having a mix of income – we sell our own stained and fused glass, we sell other artists’ work for a commission, we run a host of our own classes in fusing, stained glass, glass appliqué and more.

We also have a talented band of artists who teach their own art forms to students for us, and we make our space and facilities available for a small fee to those who want to create but lack the tools or a suitable place to work at home.

We’ve built up a really good mailing list over the years. Our regular emails get open rates and click-through rates (which is actually much more important than opens) that are significantly higher than is common in our line of business.

A testament to this is that we’ve just taught a couple of ladies who joined our mailing list after attending our third ever class about 10 years ago; they’ve been receiving our monthly emails ever since and got in touch to ask for a private class at our studio this year.

We keep up our advertising in local magazines. When we get visitors telling us they saw us in a local magazine we know our adverts are being seen. Of course this doesn’t translate in to ROI, but we’re still ‘young’ and working to build our footfall.

We’ve also taken a leading role in encouraging our neighbouring businesses to join us in co-op advertising and that’s making a noticeable difference to the footfall across the site. It’s tempting to ease off on the advertising now we’re in our second year –it costs money after all – but we plan to keep the momentum up.

Running demo days and taster days to show visitors what we’ve got going on. These have been a huge success for us, and are a blast to run too. We invite our artists to join us for our demo days, and show off their skills.
Visitors get to see artists in action and are often inspired to join a class and have a go themselves.

The outcomes of our taster days are similar – we give customers the chance to try one of our glass crafts in a short session for just a fiver. Many then book a place on a full class knowing that they’ll enjoy it, thus reducing the risk!

Listening to customers and hunting out work we think they will like. We’ve tried hard to find work that synchronises with what our customers tell us they like, or actively looking for. We’ve also had to learn that what we like may not appeal to our customers. We remind ourselves every now and again that we are not our own customers!

Of course there’s a lot more we do that’s helping bring in customers – giving talks at WIs for example.
It’s all part of doing what we can to build our gallery, grow our reputation and help our lovely customers own or give art as a present, or even make their own art.

We’d love to hear from you if you’ve seen art you like, have tried a class and enjoyed it, or if you’re an artist yourself.

If you’d like to visit and find out about art and craft classes or check out the art we’ve got on display you’ll find us here:

Vitreus Art, Unit 4 Wakefield Country Courtyard,
Off the A5, near Potterspury, Northants NN12 7QX
Tel 01327 810320

Join our email newsletter group here…

VitreusArt-mapWakefield-Country-Courtyard

 

Small retailers – it’s time to smile!

Yes, a lot of retailers are finding it tough out there.VitreusArtGallery

Despite recent reports that new car registrations are higher than ever suggesting that the UK economy is booming, the underlying story is that cheap finance is driving much of consumer behaviour, but that’s only benefitting sales of high-value goods – like cars and kitchens, and white goods and massive TVs too big for most UK living rooms!

Down at the lower-cost end of the scale, shoppers are being careful what they spend their disposable income on and that’s affecting many smaller shops.

Today we learn that M&S has had a woeful set of Christmas results; even my beloved Waitrose didn’t have such a brilliant Christmas, which was a surprise to me.

Doubtless there are lots of reasons for the prevailing sense of doom among many retailers but not being qualified in economics, I’m going to refrain from speculating. What I do know is – there’s a lot we can all do to help ourselves.

Part of this is marketing – I’ll come back to that.

Most immediately for me, having experienced extremely lack-lustre service in more than one smaller shop lately, and with Jenny prodding me to write about some of her experiences too, I’m going to ask you some questions…

  • Do you greet a visitor to your shop (or your stand at a craft fair?!) when they first step inside?
  • Do you offer to help, or ask a friendly question a minute or two after?
  • Do you manage to smile when on duty, and especially when customers are present?
  • When you see a potential customer is in need of help, do you get up off your chair and talk to them?

I hope so, but on the example of shops I and Jenny have visited recently not all independent shopkeepers do…

A key part of the appeal small, independent shops have for customers weary of high-street homogeneity is friendly service from people who are willing to help.
Product knowledge, genuinely helpful service and a cheery welcome are key differentiators – essential when we small retailers really need to stand out!

In our case, as a working studio-gallery with our own and other artists’ work on sale, going the extra mile to help a customer choose, or transport a piece of art, finding out if the artist has ‘something similar in different colours’  or getting something broken fixed efficiently, these are all aspects of service we consider to be the minimum necessary – not extras.

Given a chance, most consumers will moan and complain about the service they receive in our chain stores; I hear that and think – then come to our little shop and be treated like a human!

And that brings us to marketing. We need to get that point about treating customers as humans across to our future customers, and gently remind our current customers about it too.

So many small retailers are hoping that customers will find them, and then spend money in their shops. For me, hoping is not a strategy.

I do detect an element of ‘I have a shop – people will come in and buy things’ without the ‘I need to make sure people know about my shop’ among some of the small retailers I know.

Again, in our case, we advertise locally, we use national and local ‘what’s on’ websites and Facebook pages, we continually develop our email subscription and regularly (about every two weeks) email our list with news, questions, updates on our art courses and much more.

We speak at WI and U3A events about our craft, we take part in craft shows and cultural do’s.

We host events where visitors can see art being created and even have a go themselves, we get together with our neighbouring retailers to put on open days and outdoor events, we use our own social media pages too of course, but we don’t rely on them, and we do everything we can to encourage word-of-mouth promotion.

This is especially important – although we’ve only been in our gallery for a year, we’re increasingly getting visitors who tell us their friend (or relative, partner, neighbour) recommended us. Lovely!

But this only happens if we give good service and make our gallery a fun and interesting place to browse. And on top of this, we make sure we always have some work in progress on the bench. We’re a working studio-gallery and it’s proving to be a real winner for us – seeing work being made is a great conversation starter, it allows us to demonstrate our competence.

And another blessing – when we’re running classes at our studio visitors see what we’re doing and some of them want to get involved; we almost always take booking for classes when we’re running a class that day!

So the take-away from this last point is – activity. What can you do in your own shop to get activity going, get interest going, get customers asking you for more?

Demos? Have-a-go sessions? Events and talks, taster days?
Special products that the chains don’t or won’t stock?
Offering true expertise in your field that the staff in the chains just can’t provide?

An interesting, fun, quirky environment far removed from the corporate boxes on retail parks?  Yes, that all might sound like a lot of work, perhaps?

Maybe a better way of thinking about this is – marketing is a fundamental component of every business; just having a shop and putting things in it isn’t going to cut it any more (if it ever did).

It’s tough out there so get on with the marketing, make your offer really distinctive and fun, and remember to smile!