28/01/2011 - 00:00

Interactive approach to online gallery

28/01/2011 - 00:00


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Fleur Allen met some sceptical responses when she floated the idea of starting an online art gallery in 2007.

Fleur Allen met some sceptical responses when she floated the idea of starting an online art gallery in 2007.

How could an online sales site work when you’re selling art? Taste in art is so subjective, isn’t that going to be a barrier to success? How was it going to work logistically?

But Ms Allen, who has been involved in the arts one way or another since childhood, thought nothing of it, knowing the arts scene could translate to the digital world, and clients and artists would follow.

“They said, ‘you can’t sell art online’, I said ‘why not?’ We buy our shoes online, our clothes online, some people even date online. There are no holds barred,” she said.

“It is the way of the world now to go online, a lot of galleries are going online in a different way.”

Ms Allen hasn’t totally abandoned the traditional ways of running a gallery; she still holds three exhibitions a year and meets with clients and artists regularly, showing the artwork in person and building relationships.

“The crux of my business is an online gallery, but I manage artists as well. Artists who work with me, they don’t just give me the paintings and I sell them, I develop a relationship with them,” she said.

And while her business, Interactive Arts, has grown strongly during the past three years (it now has the sponsorship support of property developer Hawaiian), bucking the traditional trend of selling art in gallery spaces hasn’t been easy.

To begin the business on the right foot, Ms Allen went about pinpointing her target artists and clientele.

Ms Allen decided her goal was to bring art into the lives of people who hadn’t necessarily been involved in the arts before, at the same time supporting upcoming artists.

“I basically market to the people who aspire to or are curious about art, but haven’t necessarily had the opportunity or know how to buy art. A lot of my clients are art buyers, but I am not marketing to the traditional art buyer,” Ms Allen said.

She now facilitates the sale and purchase of art between emerging artists and emerging art admirers.

“I always knew I had a passion for the arts, and I knew I seemed to be able to speak well to people who aren’t in the arts, and I can encourage them to give it a go,” she said.

Ms Allen used her networking skills to build her contact list, with Interactive Arts having 1,500 ‘clients’ on its mailing list within a couple of years.

However, Ms Allen saw that not all of those people were interacting with Interactive Arts and decided that creating relationships was not all about quantity of clients, but more the quality of the relationship.

She wrote to all those on her database, asking whether they were finding it useful receiving correspondence from Interactive Arts; when some said no, she moved them to her ‘general’ contact list.

The mailing list went down to 300 contacts initially, but that figure has slowly grown to 500.

“Gradually they are all coming back onto the mailing list, when they choose to,” Ms Allen said.

It also took some time to develop a business model that would be a commercial success.

Traditionally, galleries represent artists on an exclusive basis, where artists are obligated to their gallery. Any other art gallery that makes a sale on behalf of that artist pays commission to the representing gallery.

Ms Allen didn’t adopt that model because it goes against what she is working primarily to do – raise the profile of artists.

“I offer ongoing marketing, publicity, promotion services which aren’t necessarily converting to sales every day, but I am raising their profile,” she said.

But because she doesn’t have that exclusivity, Ms Allen introduced a ‘membership fee’ for the artists on her books.

She has 30 member artists across four levels of membership, ranging from ‘bronze’ in which artists have their work exposed on the Interactive Arts website to ‘exhibition’ status (of which there are only five), in which artists are represented by Ms Allen.

Things were looking good for the business, but the global financial crisis caused clients’ discretionary spending to fall significantly.

“We were a new business, sales were increasing and then suddenly they fell through the floor. I thought there had to be some way we could survive, so I adapted to the market,” she said.

Ms Allen developed the Interactive Arts ‘rent to buy’ system, where clients rent an artwork and if they decide to buy it, the rental cost comes off the purchase price.



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