The Smaller Independent Retailer and Christmas

By Emma Bell
on October 02, 2017

I have a love / hate relationship with Christmas - there I've said it!  

The Mulberry Tree Gallery On a personal level I love waiting until December before I start buying gifts and deciding what we are actually going to do over the festive season……it feels more wintery and shopping to Christmas music gets me in the spirit of the season.

As small business owners we can bemoan the fact that retailers like John Lewis started their campaign in September. We can think no-one’s really going to be buying gifts now and people are already fed up of being bombarded with things they “must have” for the perfect Christmas.  Or we can take a different approach and make use of the buying knowledge and spending habits of the consumer that the big retailers have and make it our own.  We can decide to be organised and ready for the festive season and because we're more likely to know our customers’ names we can look to make the whole experience far more fun, personal and enjoyable - we small independents can make itDriftwood Sails, Ceramics and Notebooks from The Mulberry Tree Gallery a relaxing, rather than stressful time! 

The gallery's historical financial data shows that between now and the end of December we will turnover a large proportion of our annual revenue which will then hopefully see us through the quieter months of January, February and March. As with all retail businesses we've still got the same bills and wages to pay even though we might have much lower income in these months so a little cushion is needed! We're so thankful for a good summer as this means we have the cash flow to invest in new artists and products and to make the gallery look amazing for the festive season.

One of the small changes you'll see over the next week or so is the new, dedicated area for our stationery and smaller products such as leather bags, journals, notebooks, notelets, funny pencils, photo frames, photo albums etc.   We will also be sprucing up a couple of the alcoves and bays with a lick of paint and some ingenious LED lighting - hopefully making it a better buying experience for you.  

Jewellery, ceramics and carved stones from The Mulberry Tree GalleryOwning a small independent business can feel relentless at times, the constant re-inventing, keeping up with the beast that is social media, trying to make your voice heard amongst so many other amazing voices - trying to find that elusive “thing” that makes you choose us rather than someone else to spend your £s with.....but it's also the very thing that makes it all so exciting.....finding those products and artists that do exactly that,  make you want to step over our threshold, browse our web shop and ultimately take the decision that we've got the perfect gift for you and your loved ones.  

For those of you that know Swanage well you’ll know we’ve got lots of wonderful independentLaura Lane Ceramics, Sasha Harding and Joanne Cooke all at The Mulberry Tree Gallery shops and some personal favourites where you’ll certainly get unique and often hand-made products include The Eclectic Abode, Yellow Gorse, Chococo, Winston & Potter, Sticks and The Little Green Gallery

But even if you don't buy anything from the gallery I hope that you'll enjoy looking at all the amazing artists we will be promoting over the coming weeks on Facebook, Instagram and our webshop and the brilliant products that our contemporary craft makers have designed and made. Wherever you decide to spend your money this Christmas we hope you'll keep it independent and handmade wherever possible.

Owning an Art Gallery - The Rewards!

By Emma Bell
on September 05, 2017

Janine DraysonOwning your own business is incredibly hard work, it seems like your every waking (and sometimes dreaming) hour is spent consumed by what needs doing, placing ordering, paying artists, paying suppliers, making sure your cash flow is healthy and your accounts are up to date, looking after your employees, keeping your retail space fresh and inviting, changing windows, keeping all your social media channels up to date, fulfilling a multitude of roles from accountant, bookkeeper, marketing guru, cleaner, employer, investor and general dogsbody!    

There are times when I wake up and all I want to do is throw in the can and say this is just too much and I can’t go on……I’m tired, worn out and out of love with what I do!

Well that was a cheery opening to my new blog post…….I’m sure all of us who own businesses have days (sometimes weeks) when it all feels just too much and that it would be much simpler to just go back to being employed, getting your pay cheque every month, having paid holidays and sick leave and at the end of every day just go home and be able to stop thinking about work……

If I’m in this headspace I usually have to give myself a real talking too, pause and focus again on all the amazing things that come with owing your own business and in particular a gallery.   One of the biggest rewards for me is the relationships that we’ve built over the years with artists, some of whom have become our closest friends – where would we be without them in our lives today?   We can look back with huge pride and see how many artists’ and makers’ careers we’ve helped launch and others who have gone on to be picked up by well-known publishing and greetings card companies and whose artwork now reaches thousands of people across the world – it’s an incredibly privileged position to be in, to have been part of someone else’s success and yes it does overwhelm us at times – we’re a soppy bunch at heart!

It also means that we are rooted in our community – not just by the physical presence of the bricks and mortar that make up the building but by the fact that we employ local people, helping them earn a living, supporting their families and being part of their lives.    For our customers, we are often part of the happiest and sometimes the saddest moments in their lives whether it be through the purchase of a greetings card, a birthday present or the framing of artwork, photographs, cross-stitches, certificates or memorabilia – it can be really humbling and an aspect of our work that can easily be forgotten.

Choosing new work and artists for the gallery is a HUGE buzz, knowing that we not only to get to surround ourselves on a daily basis with gorgeous things to look at but we’ll be bringing a huge amount of pleasure to the recipient of what has been purchased in our shop – and yes it still tickles us when we look on Rightmove and see artwork and items in people’s home that we KNOW they bought in the gallery!

So the next time I get overwhelmed with it all……I’ll take a deep breath and remind myself of the above.

For anyone out there who’s thinking about starting your own business, it’s damn hard work, but the rewards are simply immeasurable and beyond price!

Why We Should Support Independent Businesses

By Emma Bell
on August 06, 2017

Sarah Nicol“Choosing to support an independent business is an act of respect; it’s acknowledging the tremendous risk and challenges inherent to starting your own thing.” - (Matt Kliegman co-founder - The Smile, The Smile To Go, Black Seed Bagels)

It struck me earlier this week that pretty much everything we sell in the gallery is either handmade by an actual person or produced by a small independent business and how proud we should be of that fact.   We are supporting these makers and businesses by stocking and selling their work and products – we are helping someone who has a passion and belief in what they do – striving to make a living for themselves and their families and what a privilege that is for us to help them achieve their dreams!

We’re lucky in Swanage to have a large proportion of small businesses on our “High Street” (well Station Road, Institute Road, Commercial Road and the High Street!) – these shops add character to our town and community – as local shopkeepers we’re part of people’s lives – their loves and losses and their highs and lows.

I believe independents can bring a sense of originality and variety to the town – whether that be through a secret family recipe for chocolate brownies sold in a local café or for us at the gallery, supporting a new artist and launching their work.

In this global economy we are fast going down the route of mass homogenisation (is that a word!) so it’s important for us as communities to look to preserve our independent businesses with their own distinctive characteristics which in turn brings us the economic advantage we need.

I recently saw a post on Instagram which had a photo of a sticker that local independents use in Bridport on a paper bag which read  “We’re a local shop, the money you spend with us makes a difference.  Your money supports our family, our staff and their families and is recycled back into other local businesses which benefits our community….which benefits you!”   What a great idea……and I’d love to do the same here in Swanage/Purbeck

“Support each other. Why do you need a reason to do that besides the fact that it’s the right thing to do?” - Scarr and Los Franco (co-founders - Scarr’s Pizza).

Top 10 Tips for Getting Your Work in a Gallery

By Emma Bell
on June 24, 2017

For the past 12 years we’ve received many an email, phone call and “walk-ins” from artists seeking representation.  I can’t imagine how hard it must be to just put yourself and your work out there knowing that you may well get a no thank you response.

So although there are many articles out there about approaching a gallery these are our Top 10 Tips for getting your work into our gallery and onto our walls……

1. Do Your Homework
If you’re able to visit the gallery then we’d really encourage you to do so.  Have a wander around, look at what we sell, who we represent, our pricing, how we interact with customers and ask yourself is this somewhere you’d like to see your work and does your work “fit” in?   If you can’t get to us in person then check out our online presence whether that be our website, Facebook page, Instagram feed, or blog posts – all of these will give you a feel for the type of gallery that we are.

2. How To Submit Your Work
Nothing is more irritating that an artist just showing up without an appointment and assuming we will have time to look at their work.  We only have one person on the gallery floor so simply cannot stop what we are doing to look at your work.  

What we prefer is if you sent us an initial brief email (not a generic one that you’ve sent to 100s of other galleries) which clearly shows that you’ve researched the gallery, include a small bio of yourself, says why you think your work would go well in our gallery space, how you heard about us and some images of your work.  In regards to images – don’t send huge files as they might not get through our email server – just create a simple PDF (which can be opened on any computer) that has a selection of your most recent work and includes sizes, medium and retail price.

3. Be Professional
Whether it sits comfortably with you or not, you are running a business so make sure you’ve got your paperwork in order, know your prices, are clear about your expectations, any conversations had on the phone, try to follow them up with an email summarising the conversation so each party is clear about what’s what.    The gallery/artist relationship takes time to build, we need you as much as you need us and it needs to be based on openness, honesty and professionalism.

4. Pricing
We have a very simple policy at the gallery – all your work needs to be sold at the same price wherever you sell it and this includes online, art fairs, studio sales and other galleries.   Therefore you need to be happy with the commission the gallery is taking and this can range from between 30 – 50%.   As a gallery that is VAT registered we calculate our commission rates on the net price so you’ll need to bear this in mind as well.

If we are going to buy your work upfront then your wholesale price needs to be in line with current practice.  So for our type of business a factor of either x3 or x2.4 is used across the board.   So if you’re wall price is £150 then your wholesale price should be between £50 and £62.50.

5. Framing
We are really fussy about the quality of framing on artwork and have our own framing workshop.  We do appreciate that framing your work professionally can be an expensive upfront cost but your wall price should reflect the cost you’ve incurred for framing – IKEA and The Range frames simply won’t cut it.   All original artwork that is framed should be done to conservation standards which means that your artwork is correctly preserved and all methods used are fully reversible.   If you’re just starting out then you can buy readymade frames from online framing companies but even these might need some attention to spruce them up.

6. Ask Us Questions
We’re happy to answer whatever questions you have along the way as it’s important that we establish an open and honest relationship from the start. We have a comprehensive consignment document that we use which pretty much covers everything about the relationship between the gallery and the artist – including who meets the cost of delivery and pick up, insurance, when you will be paid, how long the artwork will be at the gallery, what promotions we will do on your behalf, what we need from you and a whole host of other things.   We’re happy to send this out to anyone if they’d like a look.

7. Ask Other Artists
If you know any of the other artists represented at the gallery then contact them to ask how things work or ask the gallery to put you in touch with other artists so you can get an “insiders” take on working with the gallery.   The gallery/artist relationship is a precious one and we are always learning how to improve things and never ever mind an artist asking another what it’s like to work with us.  We know we’re not perfect and can always improve but I like to think we’re a friendly bunch who want to support you in being as successful as we possibly can.

8. Exclusivity
We’re pretty specific about this one as we pride ourselves on stocking unique work.  So on the whole we don’t accept work from artists that are also selling in other shops and galleries within a 15 mile radius.   It’s a fine balance for both the artist and the gallery – we want to have the exclusivity but also want to ensure that we give you all the available possibilities for selling your work and getting you out there!

9. Selecting The Right Artwork
Sarah Ross-Thompson's work is looks harmonious and is well framedIt’s really important to us that when a customer walks into the gallery there is a sense that everything works well together, that the gallery looks inviting and that even though we represent a diverse number of artists and makers that there is an underlying cohesiveness.  So the work that you select for the gallery should also have a coherency about it – don’t just put together a random selection of your work, try to choose work that not only goes well in the gallery but will also look good together on the wall or in displays – I’d even go so far as to say make sure that the artwork you select is all framed in the same moulding…..

10. Just Do It!
So now you know some of the things we and other galleries look for, we’d want to encourage you to be brave and get yourself out there – nothing ventured, nothing gained as my gran used to say!

Facebook for Art Galleries - Top Tips

By Emma Bell
on May 07, 2017

What the tweet has a poke, like or share got to do with good business practice? Don’t groan, it’s worth every minute of your attention, I promise!

Marketing has come a long way in the last few decades. The early seventies saw a shift in advertising trends from the stand-and-point style of the fifties, to a widespread attempt to tap into people’s emotions. Think 1973 - the famous Hovis advert on Shaftesbury’s Gold Hill for heartwarming nostalgia.

This aspect of marketing has lead to today’s viral networking, where companies with multi-million dollar budgets use the power of the internet to sell their products. McDonald’s GOL campaign a few years ago, featuring a 2 minute compilation of trick-shots from amateurs around the world went viral. The ad has absolutely no connection to fast food, but capitalizes on the speed at which feel good stuff is shared on the web.

So can a small business like ours do likewise? Absolutely, yes. The Mulberry Tree Gallery is based in a seaside town in Dorset, population 10,000. Several years ago, we bowed to the pressure of social media and opened a Facebook page for the business.

Relatively swiftly, we had 200 ‘likes’ on our page. This gave us an audience for information about exhibitions, new artists, special offers and the like, so we updated it regularly. So far so unimpressive. Then about 3 years ago I found a painting by an artist called Mani Parkes on Facebook and bought it as a Valentine’s present for my husband. It’s such a lovely piece that I invited her to contribute to a summer exhibition. She accepted and emailed a photo of a painting for the show. I posted it on Facebook and was astonished to watch the ‘likes’ reach 30,000. The exposure was thanks to Mani’s own page, to which a couple of high profile artists are linked. When one of them hit ‘like’, that artist’s 100,000+ followers had a chance to see it - along with The Mulberry Tree’s page where the photo was listed. Our followers have since risen to over 6,500 and we regularly sell work via Facebook. This captive audience have smartphones in their pockets and are bigger in number than our footfall. They share things they enjoy with their friends and want to be the first to know when something new is on offer.

So how best to keep these followers interested? A little reading around the subject lead me to the concept of synthetic personalisation. The idea is to build a relationship with these faceless masses. Using personal language, like addressing posts to ‘you’, creating familiarity and a sense of shared values, makes a potential customer enjoy your posts.

Art galleries are well positioned to make the most of Facebook as it’s a social space where lifestyle is the currency. People use Facebook to feel good about themselves. Art makes people feel good.

And then there’s Twitter! It’s on the to-do list, but does anyone have an app for more time?!

What is Great Customer Service?

By Emma Bell
on March 26, 2017

If customer service is one of the biggest selling points of an independent retailer, we have to ask, what is good customer service?

For us the answer is simply this - going beyond the customer’s expectations. It’s an approach we’ve tried to fulfill at the gallery and is based on the theories of Alf Dunbar, author of Just Looking Thanks!. Dunbar’s ideas are based on how we like to be treated as customers, and are behind the success of businesses with exemplary customer service like M&S, John Lewis and Selfridges. They have formed the basis of our customer service philosophy.

First, consider the value of the customer. If they spend a couple of pounds on a birthday card, is this their worth? Far from it. We work towards securing that customer’s return, in the hope that they becomes a champion of the shop and a lifetime customer. Think of it this way; if they buys items varying from cards to stationary, frames to original art, they might  tot up an average spend of about £30 a month. Multiply by 12 for a year’s spend and it’s £360. Times 40 for a lifetime’s loyalty and that person has spent £14,400. Put like this, we can’t afford to be grumpy when we sell that card!

At the heart of the issue is the sales person. Only we have the power to impress our customers. After all, it’s often their experience in the shop, not the purchase, that people talk most about afterwards. There are dozens of things we can do to create a positive atmosphere in the gallery, from playing toe-tapping music to remembering personal details about the locals - a simple “is your wife feeling better?” goes a very long way. As Alf Dunbar puts it “Good customer service is the cheapest and most effective form of advertising”.

At a minimum, we aim to say hello, smile and make eye contact (in that order!) with every customer who crosses the threshold, but where appropriate we try to give a little of ourselves too. Recently a couple came in, squabbling good-naturedly before enquiring about a painting, we chatted away to them about all sorts of things. The couple went away, made some measurements, then telephoned to order the artwork. At the end of that call, they thanked us for our openness and warmth the previous day. People don’t forget how you made them feel.

Fortunately the art world seems to be a place that attracts genuinely nice customers, which makes the gallery a wonderful place to work!  

Window Displays

By Emma Bell
on February 18, 2017

It is tempting to take a lofty attitude to sales in the art business. After all, it’s a luxury market, we can’t really steer people into a purchase can we?

It’s such a subjective market; we can promote the artists, but the paintings sell themselves, right?

 Wrong. As gallery owners, we are in the retail business just like our high street neighbours. It’s our duty to our artists and our obligation to customers to have them in mind at every stage of their experience.

Starting with first impressions; the window display. Retail experts describe your window as the ‘eyes of the store’. A display should tell a story, communicating the identity of your business and giving a taster of your merchandise.

We often chose an artist to display in our shopfront, but put their work into the context of home. An old armchair, a dresser, some cushions or a sheepskin rug are a simple, visual way to draw potential buyers into the lifestyle we are selling.  These suggestions of home also give us the opportunity to include ceramics, glassware or stationery in our displays, communicating from the outset that there’s more than traditional art on offer.

Then, consider the customer’s view from the threshold. A friend told us she found the experience overwhelming. When we looked afresh, it was obvious why. With stock brimming over out the back, we’d let the shelves fill up so that it was hard to take in what was on offer. Add to that the life and emotion humming from artwork on the walls and it becomes an onslaught on the eyes. People need time to acclimatise, so we’ve tried to push things away from the door, giving them the space to arrive. And it may seem an obvious point, but art needs to be looked at, so there needs to be enough room for people to stand back, consider, discuss and decide.

In retail, space equals luxury. So while trying to tackle the problem of an overwhelming amount of stuff on sale, we’ve resolved to declutter and stock rotate regularly. It costs us nothing more than our time, but keeps the gallery looking fresh and our local customers interested.  Another tip is to avoid ‘bottom bumping’. With our client base predominately female, we need to keep in mind their preferences. Research shows that many women will avoid entering an area where they feel personal space is lacking, so we’ve moved things around to open things up. Also, people shop in a remarkably uniformed way - in countries where we drive on the left, we move left on entering the store, in the US and on the continent, they go right. So for us, the sales ‘hotspot’ should be on the left.
At the heart of all this is a straightforward point about who our business is for.

We love it, we created it, we choose what to put in it, but it’s all for them - the customers.

So........we just have to give them what they want.

With thanks to Peter Cooper from ArtySmith2 for all his support and advice over the years!