Jay Brown was in first grade when his mother proposed an art sale to help raise the money needed to open a school library. She had stumbled across a Chicago company willing to load a truck, drive to Ohio and donate a portion of its proceeds from the sale.
Two years and several art sales later, the library was completed and Norah Lynn Brown was in serious discussions with the Chicago company about opening a location in Cleveland. But when she couldnt find a building that suited her potential business partners, she decided to go it alone.
In 1974, she and her husband, Alan, opened Gallery One in a tiny house with 500 square feet of retail space and even less room to work. Jay Brown was 13 years old then and vividly remembers the cramped quarters.
To give you an idea of how small it was, the oval matte cutter was upstairs on top of the bathtub, says Brown, who was named company president in 1988. That was the only room or space we had for it. And to use it, you had to sit on the toilet. Thats the only way it would work.
In 1976, Gallery One moved to Center Street, where it still is today. The gallery now spans 20,000 square feet. In 1996, Brown opened a second location at the South Park Center in Strongsville. Brown chalks up his companys steady success to forward thinking and not being afraid to change his marketing plan.
I think a lot of what we do here is based on fun and if we enjoy what were doing and if we enjoy the direction, says Brown. Marketing to me is a giant puzzle. You always have to try to figure out, if I push this button, will this work?
Create a buzz
On most Friday evenings, when the rest of the business world is starting its end-of-the-week trek home, Brown is plugging in the coffee pot and uncorking bottles of wine. For years, Gallery One has scheduled weekend events highlighting a particular artist or genre, giving people a reason to stop by and look around.
We are trying to make our place a form of entertainment, explains Browns. I dont know many people who go to a shoe store to entertain themselves, but you can definitely go to an art gallery, like you would an art museum, to entertain yourself.
Many times, an artist will stop by to discuss his or her work, while other evenings are festival-type events highlighting certain styles. There are no hard-sell tactics Brown just wants his visitors to enjoy themselves.
I encourage people to do that, because I know a couple of things, he says. If they come in enough times, eventually they will see something they like, which is great, because thats how we stay in business. But I also know if they enjoy what they are doing here, they will tell someone else.
Cure customer amnesia
Even after providing good service and quality products to customers at fair prices, there are no guarantees you will ever see them again. Not even being one of the leading art dealers in the country has allowed Brown the luxury of letting his guard down.
People in business take for granted, I think, that the customer can easily forget you are the source for something, he says. We are the source for art in the Cleveland area. We are actually one of the major sources nationwide.
I think people should come here, but on the other hand, if I dont remind them occasionally that I am here, I cant expect them to remember on their own.
Browns main weapon against this consumer amnesia is a direct mail marketing campaign that reminds customers of gallery events. He also sends postcards to customers when new artwork is released.
In 1996, Brown launched a Web site, hoping to jump on the first wave of the new technology. Today, it serves as an online catalog, with more than 2,000 works of art by more than 100 artists. In addition, customers can order online, giving them the option to browse or buy from their homes.
Put your expertise in print
Soon after Brown took over as president of the company in 1988, he began fielding dozens of questions about collecting limited edition art prints. He didnt mind the questions, but thought that maybe he could refer them to a collectors guide.
There wasnt one.
You would think that would be a given, says Brown, who still seems amazed no one had thought of the idea. So five or six years ago, I tried to collect the questions people were asking me. I would write them down on little pieces of paper and put them in my filing cabinet in a folder marked book.
In 1998, Brown finished his manuscript and sent it to the largest publisher of collector and hobby books in the United States. The Wisconsin firm jumped on it, and earlier this year, The Complete Guide to Limited Edition Art Prints hit the shelves. Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com carry the book, which has already sold 40,000 copies.
It exposed Gallery One to an even wider audience of art collectors, who are not bashful about calling and asking for the guy who wrote the book if they need guidance.
The whole point is this is just another thing we did to increase our position nationally, says Brown. It wasnt intentionally done that way. It was intentionally done because I wanted to write the book, but it has helped us out.
You can use it from a credibility standpoint.
How to reach: Gallery One, (800) 621-1141 or www.galleryone.com
Jim Vickers (email@example.com) is an associate editor at SBN.