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Opening A Gallery, Part One, The First Steps

Heather asked me to do a series of posts on opening a gallery over at the Art Bead Scene Blog. At first I was a bit hesitant to do this. I have felt out of my element this past year getting it up and running. I have a much better grip on things now and am ready to take you on the journey of opening a small gallery. By no way am I an expert, this is just my experience.

I found everyone has a different approach, ideas, and circumstances. My gallery idea has been in the back of my head for about ten years. There was a jewelry artist in my college town that got too big for her house. She rented a space downtown and worked and sold her work in the space. She told me that she paid for the space with her walk in sales. I thought that would be the perfect situation. With kids, moving, etc, the time was never right to take the leap. I did know that one of these days the time would just be right.

It came last year when I had taken over the studio, garage, rec room, and more with button making. I had two employees and craziness in my house. That's when I knew it was the time. I started looking for a space. There are many different ways to look at spaces. Before you commit to one, you have to consider some things;

1. How much can you afford? You won't automatically have customers, you'll have to advertise, work on your orders and show that you are already committed too, etc. I chose to rent something I could afford without much walk in business.

2. Are you in an area that will have walk in business? Will you have open houses? How will you get customers? You can spend more money and be in a prime location, if your goal is to support yourself mostly by local sales then spend the money to be in a prime location. If you're hoping to have a few open house a year then go off the beaten path and save some rent money.

3. How many customers do you want? Remember customers will need help selecting items, checking out, etc. Make sure you have enough time in your day to add service in.

4. Don't forget you'll need rental insurance, electricity, phone, water, internet, and signage. Make sure to add them in to your budget.

It is a lot to think about. I did a lot of "shopping research" at stores around town. I would see how many customers folks had in stores, what kinds of items were being sold, and how things were being displayed. I also asked a lot of questions, people are usually very generous with there information.

I happen to live in an area where the arts are appreciated. There is a fantastic yarn store down the road, and art gallery around the corner, many local potters, and a fabulous art center. It's not a very big town, but I felt more comfortable in a smaller place. I did make sure I wasn't going to be selling anything that stores were already selling, that's not good for anyone. You want to have something different to offer.

I ended up finding a store that was just a block off of main street. I don't have a prime location but I am in an easy to find spot. This way I could afford more space than I would have been able to in a prime location.

While you're doing your research to see if you should open a store another valuable experience that has helped me immensely is retail experience. Make sure that you have worked in retail. I have worked a lot of retail from high school until I started my business. I have worked for large and small stores. I have been able to think back about how things were done in these stores and tweak it to fit my gallery. If you haven't worked retail get out there and volunteer to work in store! You will be so thankful you did.

Once you have taken the plunge and signed a lease, the list of things to do becomes very long. First of all check with your city on zoning, signage, and permits. Every place will be different. I had to get a local business permit, stand up and tell the city my plans at a council meeting to be approved, draw out my signage and have it approved, and prove that I was insured to my landlord. Whew...

After ALL of those things are out of the way, start moving in, I will be back soon with another post with your look, what to sell, and more.

Have a great day,

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