In the blog "The Five Minutes that started Macandmor" We have told you what started it all and how we came to be called Macandmor. Starting is good but how do we keep it all going? We'll tell you that right here and tell you what we have learnt along the way.
How do we operate?
You need to know this up front so everything after this makes sense. We don't own any of the stock - artists hand it to us to sell at a price they nominate. We take a margin from that sale price. Most galleries operate this way although some will buy the art from the artist and put a sales price on it that they think it will sell for.
There are two reasons that we went for model we operate with: we couldn't afford to buy the works, and we had absolutely no idea what would sell and what wouldn't so we weren't prepared to take the risk. That choice came with some downsides - artists could set unrealistic prices for their work and it would sit, unsold, for months. We have gotten much better at managing that risk - but it did take time.
This happy team is the most unusual thing about the way we operate. All the staff are volunteers - they are all artists that give their time and in return get charged a lower margin when one of their pieces sells. "So you are a collective then?" the question usually goes. Well, strictly speaking, no. There is no group that makes decisions, there is no shared risk, there is no committee.
We do work collaboratively though - more so now than in the formative times - and there is a real feel of ownership from everyone involved in running the gallery. There is a lot of knowledge in those heads so I'd be silly not to use it.
What are we here for?
Our goals... - actually, mistake 1, they were my goals. I should have shared them and made them our goals much earlier. So; my goals were to create an avenue for artists (including me) to get their work in front of people and to get good art on the walls of people's homes and businesses. To create the art business around Macandmor I knew I needed the support of other artists - I wanted Macandmor to support them and help them have viable careers. That meant the margin Macandmor took from the sale had to be as low as possible - I settled on 30% when other galleries were charging 40 to 50% (we raised it later to 35%)
That low margin meant we had to run on the smell of an oily rag - which we did. Our first sales counter was a 1200mm wide desk from the Warehouse.
It was also important to me that we weren't pretentious and snobby in any way. It was important that we, and the art we had, related to a lot of people in a clear, honest way.
Our tiny counter
Working with Artists
Right from the start I would say to artists; "this is a sales space not and exhibition space", meaning that the space wasn't to show the world how clever they could be but to sell work that the average citizen would buy. The experimental, fringe, or esoteric work could be handled by other galleries. Most got that but it is something I still have to say occasionally - sometimes just to make sure that we stay true to our goals.
The artists have been great though - bringing us new work when they have it, supporting our efforts in improving the gallery, and being tolerant of the times we've not given them the answers they wanted to hear.
How did we choose the art?
For a start it was a few phone calls to artists that I knew to get as much good stock as we could. I was conscious that we needed work that would make people stop walking by and come in to the gallery. The choice of what to accept was all mine (and still is) and I made some mistakes (and still do). Early on I didn't recognise the need to have an even, high standard through the gallery nor did I recognise the importance of what is behind the paint. Shall we call that Mistake 3 (or just lesson 3)?
Almost everyday an artist would come into Macandmor and ask about getting their work into the gallery. Telling people I didn't want the work that they had poured their heart into is the hardest part of running the gallery but I had a responsibility to the artists already in the gallery to not reduce the value of their work by having below par work in the same place. This lesson took a little while to sink in. (Our processes on this were ad hoc but they are now very set - if you are an artist; see this on our website)
Early window display. Note the crowded wall in the background
The decision to stock a piece of art is simply one of "do I think we can sell this work?" That simple phrase has a lot of facets to it - can we sell it at the price they want?, is it a style/genre of work that customers seem to want, is it a subject matter they might want, is it presented professionally, is it technically good? I think I'm only just now getting all those judgments right most of the time.
It is important to me that the gallery doesn't just contain art that is to my taste. We need to cater to a wide range of tastes. There are styles and genres of art that I don't have a lot of knowledge of and I rely on the team to help me in those decisions.
When we started I had in mind some artists that it would be great to have in the gallery - the top local artists that were firmly entrenched in other galleries. We are pretty proud that now they are coming to us to offer their work to our gallery. This is great feedback that we are doing it right.
We started quietly. No big bash when we opened - we just opened. We were simply not there one day and there the next. We'll never know if this was a mistake or not.
So we knew we would be a place that people just 'discovered' until word got around. We started a Facebook page and had a few exhibitions to kick us along a bit. Later we added a website, did some Facebook ads, did some print ads, had competitions and giveaways, started an email mail out, and did some google ads.
It all seems to have worked but retail is a tough and never-ending gig. I do know that we have people that come in from time to time just to see us - we are becoming that 'destination store' that the gurus talk about!
Other lessons along the way?
The name was problematic: Macandmor Art Space. The "art space" component confused people - do you do art here? is it studios? Is it a gallery? I just used "Art Space" to be self-indulgently different. It didn't work so we now refer to ourselves as "Art Gallery". Just straight up, simple, confusion free - it fits with us much better.
First branding on the left and updated on the right
A lot of people, especially the artists, couldn't grasp that our name was one word. Our first logo had the name split in three parts stacked in a pile so it is my own silly fault really. I counted seven different ways our name had been presented back to us.
Not my best hanging effort ever! From 2016
Less is more - really. We've had phases where we have crammed too much in to the gallery and nothing looks good then. Art work needs to have room apart from other artwork - especially if it is of clashing styles/colours/genres. Every time we have made a concerted effort towards removing the clutter it has worked out well.
It is all guess work. What doesn't sell and what does sell can still deliver surprises.
People often visit multiple times before purchasing. And we have people just coming back to see what is new. We love that.
What is next for us?
It is tough being a retailer in Tauranga CBD at the moment so we'll be doing a lot more work around being noticed. We'll strengthen our on-line efforts, we'll improve the gallery with some added features that other galleries don't have, we will scout for even more great art.
We have never had a policy of just Bay of Plenty artists but it was just that for a while. That hasn't been the case for over a year now and I expect we'll get more in from further afield.
We'll make more and more use of the network power of the 50 or so artists that we have.
But we won't change the basic recipe that works - being open, honest, friendly, welcoming, and not at all pretentious.
There you go. Our Story so far. Thanks for reading. Next time I'll tell you about the people that are behind the counter - each has an interesting story!