Dear Design Doctor
I was wondering if you also provide advice to craft galleries? I am a jeweller myself, who started a gallery in East London 3 years ago with two others. We exhibit and sell our own products and of other creatives. It sounded like a great idea, but to be honest it is very hard work! How do we get visitors to our craft gallery? More sales?
We are close to Central London, but it is so hard to get anybody to come to our gallery, let alone sell anything. Especially now, outside of the Christmas period. Can you give us any advice please?
Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust, answered this question as The Design Doctor in Crafts Magazine March/April 2016:
‘Thank you for writing in, and it’s great to hear from a jeweller/gallery owner!
In the last 20 years that I have worked in this field the ‘market of craft’ and how craft is being sold has dramatically changed. Craft was sold in specialist galleries in a handful of cities and towns. There used to be only a couple of prestigious craft shows around, but if you would get into those you would have ‘made it’ for the year. There was no online selling obviously.
And the recession has had a major impact on sales too.
But in recent years I have seen an increase of creatives starting to take their destiny in their own hands by starting their own creative selling events, and opening galleries, (online) shops and boutiques.
The reality is that there are a lot more makers and products out there, and a lot more opportunities to sell.
And although the interest in crafts has increased dramatically, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people are buying (much) more.
One of the big issues for you as a brick-and-mortar gallery is how to attract people to come to your place specifically.
And although being near Central London is an advantage, you still need to persuade people to come, and ideally buy from YOU.
Building up a reputation with local clients through specialist and creative events is obviously key. I have noticed increasingly that galleries do not just organise exhibitions and private views, but practical workshops and talks with their designers to attract visitors. Creative popups and exciting (short term) window displays are also more common now.
Destination marketing is key to get visitors further afield to come and visit too.
It’s not just about your gallery, but the coffee and lunch places and other attractive places nearby.
To stand out in this increasingly overcrowded market place you need to become known for something specific.
What are the products you sell and the creatives you represent?
What are your (brand) values, and are you communicating what is important to you (through your displays, social media and events)?
Do they know your story and background?
Who is your niche audience and why do people buy from you (instead of online or direct from the maker)?
How important is the local connection?
Can you attract ‘tourists’?
How knowledgeable, friendly, colourful, trendy or passionate are you and your team?
Finding out who your audience is exactly and WHY they want to buy from you instead of the creatives themselves can really help you to create a thriving gallery, which is very attractive for both visitors and creatives.
Can you create unique partnerships with creatives, giving them open access to your creative space? Or create a range of exclusive products?
Can you get more repeat business by staying in touch regularly through your professional newsletter, series of regular events and clear social media presence? How can you encourage visitors to come back and let them bring their friends too?
Could you create a membership-based organisation for either your creatives or your clients? I recently have come across some exciting membership box schemes to receive regularly a secret craft gift in the post. This can work well if you have ‘fans’ who trust your taste.
Or can you get additional income by creating a successful online gallery too, based on your brick-and-mortar reputation?
Can you create an online reflection of what you are creating in your space? Can you add practical blogs, opinion pieces, maker’s interviews and even videos to your site to attract clients from all over the world?
I know, running your own craft gallery can be tough at times. I know, because my mother ran a craft gallery/gift shop in The Netherlands when I grew up. It wasn’t easy in the 1970’s either and we had to survive various recessions then!
But as a creative I think you can see the potential here:
What are you really creating here with your creative space?
There are so many creative opportunities these days to create a successful place to show, promote, talk about, and ultimately sell craft. It’s about so much more now then ‘just selling craft products’.
Create that experience and tell people about it.
And they will come. Again and again.’