Dear Design Doctor
I am a young ceramicist and I will soon have my first appointment with a gallery owner, and I was wondering how to prepare before going? What do I need to prepare, what questions should I ask, and what can I expect?
This real life question is answered by Patricia van den Akker, Director of The Design Trust:
‘Really well done, this is such a big step on your journey as a professional maker!
By inviting you to the gallery they have already shown a strong interest in your work.
The selling process is about building a relationship with your clients, both trade and consumers. Having a meeting is half-way through this selling process, and a good opportunity for both you and the gallery to see if you can work with each other.
I often quote the marketing mantra:
People only buy from people they know, like & trust.
The gallery will be looking if they like you and your work, and if they can trust you. Is your work as good in real life as it is on the pictures? Are you professional?
But this first meeting is as much about you as the gallery, and it should be more a conversation than a dialogue.
In advance you do need to have done your research:
Get to know them and their background story: Who runs the gallery? How long have they been going? Where are they based?
What are they known for? Who else is showing with them? Are there specific disciplines or themes that they are interested in?
Who are their customers? What’s their price level (approximately)?
Do they sell products only or take commissions? Do they organise solo or group exhibitions?
What promotion and marketing do they do? What’s their reputation with other makers? Do they do Sale or Return or purchase or both?
Try to find out as much as possible about the gallery and its clients in advance of your meeting, as it will make you feel more comfortable and confident. It will help you to ask better questions and show that you are interested in them too, and that you have done your homework.
When they responded positively to your approach did they ask you for something in particular or did they just want to meet? Ask them in advance on the phone or by email if there are particular items they are more interested in, and what else they would like to see (for example your portfolio and price list). Also check if they would like you to leave some pieces (to save on transport).
Think about some questions you might like to ask them, and what you would like to tell them about yourself and your work. Work out how you will introduce yourself – what would you say in 30 – 60 seconds to introduce yourself?
What do you want to be known for?
What do you want to do in the future?
You might only get a short meeting so ensure that you know what to say and ask. First impressions count!
Indeed try to find out how long the meeting will be. And try to find out who you will be having the meeting with in advance, and what their role is within the gallery. You can Google them in advance so that you can find out more about them, and look at potential connections you might have.
Asking these questions will make you look like a professional maker and will help you to be as best prepared as you can. Don’t worry if you think you are asking too many questions, as every meeting and buyer is different, so you will be asking the same questions in 20 years time!
It’s really great news that you got your first meeting. This is the first step in building your relationship with potential trade clients, so make sure that you are prepared.
Bring the information that they need, and also create a good visual price list.
Make sure that you understand the differences in pricing terminology, and that you understand their markup or commission rate. If you wonder why galleries charge 200%-300% commission then read this blog post.
Think in advance how you feel about Sale or Return and how you would make that work for you, an exclusivity agreement, and your terms and conditions (such as min. orders),
Prepare a couple of questions that you would like to ask them.
Talk about how you potentially can help them. To negotiate delivery times, and package your work well. Educate their staff about your background and inspirations, about your potential commissions or new products you are thinking about, how you can promote them on your website or through social media.
Get feedback about who they think your work would sell to, what other products they might be interested in, and if your pricing is suitable. You don’t necessarily have to ask them this directly, but from their response (body language!) you can learn a lot.
It’s very likely that they won’t make a decision there and then. Don’t take that personally, or as a negative.
It might be that they will say ‘no’ as it isn’t actually suitable for their gallery or they have no opportunities coming up.
Or more likely they will ‘not yet’ order from you, because they want to see who you are as a person and how you will be developing in the future.
See this first meeting as a first step and a great learning opportunity. It’s very very common for galleries to wait and see and only order from you when you are more established.
Whatever they outcome be friendly and professional. Don’t express your excitement or your anxiety or frustration on social media!
and do stay in touch, as very often trade buyers might be interested in the future when your profile has grown a little bit.
Good luck, and do let me know how you get on.’
Want to learn how to sell to shops & galleries more confidently?
In this very practical online course and 135page ebook What Retailers Want design shop owner Clare Yuille explains step-by-step how to get ready to sell to shops and galleries. From what to prepare to the best ways to approach them and how to negotiate successfully, and continue to selling more.
Clare shares very generously and gives you lots of practical advice with a strong sprinkle of her Scottish dry humour!
And you will get lots of handy templates (incl. a visual price list, a wholesale brochure, an intro email and even a cheat sheet of when you need to talk to them on the phone!) that will help you feel more confident and professional, and will save you lots of time.