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!