Thursday, May 09, 2013
Notes from the Other Side of the Counter: Part 2: Doing Homework...
2. Doing Homework.
Not all stores, shops, and galleries are created equal. That's what makes them beautiful. They all represent different facets of a creative community. Your job as the artist and free agent is to do your research on which ones will be the best fit. Doing a little homework beforehand will save a lot of time and heartache in the future.
Scope the prospective shop out and see if you can envision your work being sold there. Do you like the owner and/or the salespeople who will represent your work? For instance, if you are the maker of pearl-studded leather cuff bracelets, it might be best to avoid pitching to a shop run by a vegan animal activist wearing your finest fur coat and crocodile pumps. (It's a pain getting red paint out of vintage furs.)
It's not just the people and the ambiance. You've also got to consider the other artists being represented. Are there others who are making something in a similar vein? Does your work fit the average price point in the shop? If your materials of choice consist of pony beads and stretchy cord, you might pass on high-end jewelry boutiques that sell diamond-encrusted gold bangles. It's true that some shop owners will try to represent a wide range of price points to appeal to the widest audience, but a quick survey of tags will swiftly alert you to the average median range.
If you're curious about the relationship between the artists and the shop owner, make a mental note of the various artists that they represent and contact them. (Keep in mind that a quick way to make an owner mad and/or get escorted out of a store is to bust out the cellphone camera and notepad.) When approaching the established artists, tell them that you're considering showing with the particular space and ask them what their experiences have been with this particular shop. Remember there's a fine line between being curious and invasive. Respect their right to privacy if they don't care to share.
Another way of getting the low-down on a shop is to talk a little with some of the neighboring shops and see what they say. Don't grill them like an interrogation on a primetime police drama, but causally bring it up. If they have an opinion, they'll let you know! Small towns and gossip go hand-in-hand, and while this might not be the most reliable form of research, it'll key you in on how the shop fits into the local scene and what challenges the area might be facing that the owner might not readily admit to.
And remember, for the latter two forms of "homework" take the opinions you uncover with a grain of salt. Not everyone has the prospective store's (or your) best interests at heart.
This step is really an intuitive one. It's sort of the dating (and healthy Facebook stalking) phase before proposing marriage. The more you know, the better you can make informed decisions.