Advice on presenting yourself to art galleries, stores, interior designers, etc.

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Forum topic by alexsutula posted 03-11-2010 06:03 AM 2683 views 5 times favorited 18 replies Add to Favorites Watch
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96 posts in 3321 days

03-11-2010 06:03 AM

Topic tags/keywords: question

I started a woodworking business about 10 months ago. In that time I have had a couple commissions and spent a lot of time building my portfolio. I only have a shop with no area dedicated to displaying my pieces. I am located in a the historical district of Cleveland which is very active in the art community with a dozen or so art galleries and small stores.

I contacted one store owner and was able to set up a meeting, which lasted for a whopping 5 min. I got the feeling that she had her mind made up to not help me out prior to our meeting. This was later confirmed by another woodworker in the area.

Best way to make first contact
Phone call or email? both?
ask to talk to manager? then to owner?

I am looking for advise of how that first meeting to go.
Length of meeting?
How do you negotiate terms?
Do you have a contract?
What is a fair commission percentage?
What issues and points should be discussed?
What about jobs obtained from this display?
Should I also leave brochures and other marketing material?

If anyone has had any experience doing this I would greatly appreciate any guidance. Also, If you have any relevant information I could use that would be great as well.

Thanks for reading


-- You can't stand apart unless you're prepared to stand alone. Alex, Cleveland

18 replies so far

View Fireguy's profile


132 posts in 3503 days

#1 posted 03-11-2010 10:34 PM

take a look at Charles Brock’s blog (3parts so far). It is really good and may give you some direction.

-- Alex

View Moron's profile


5032 posts in 4161 days

#2 posted 03-11-2010 10:59 PM

Charles Brock has good advice

I used to make at least one “cold call” a day,just pic a tele number from the yellow pages and call them. I would drop by with pictures, I would almost beg but what I did notice is that they either like “you” or they dont. All the most beautiful professionallyphtographed pictures wont meanm a hill of beans if they dont like you. In the even they “dont” like you then give it 2 weeks and send some one else, sooner or later they gotta like some one?..............I found that if I could make them laugh, I had at least one foot in the door.

terms vary so much pending what you make

commisions are the same, 2% of a million dollars is a lot better then 10% of 100.

-- "Good artists borrow, great artists steal”…..Picasso

View hObOmOnk's profile


1381 posts in 4395 days

#3 posted 03-15-2010 02:10 AM

Pardon me for being blunt—- just do it.

Turn off your computer and go mix and mingle with artisans and gallery owners in your “art community.”
You’ll learn self-marketing by doing, by making mistakes and by being persistent.

Example: Last Friday evening I went to a party hosted by a local artisans and art merchants group.
I gave out about twenty business cards and I carry a small video picture frame of examples of my work.
The owner of a gallery that I’ve always found to be unapproachable asked me to stop by and bring samples.
Another person that is planning a mixed exhibit likes my stuff and we’re talking.
IOW, a cold call isn’t cold if they know who you are.
Best part is that they bought my beers.

Get busy, get seen and do some face-to-face networking.

-- 温故知新

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile


18461 posts in 3943 days

#4 posted 03-15-2010 04:22 AM

Just a thought, ever think of making some small item out of really nice scrap such as a pencil holder with your name and contact info on it and gift it to the store owners?

-- Bob in WW ~ "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View JimArnoldChess's profile


210 posts in 3262 days

#5 posted 03-17-2010 02:53 PM

So much to say on this topic!

To be successful at Galleries (at least in getting your work inside the door) you have to do your homework on each gallery before ever making your first direct contact. Each gallery owner has a target audience THEY are trying to reach.

If you have a specific gallery in mind go see it. Walk around and see what they are trying to sell, not so much the media, but the themes they are trying to sell. Each and every different geographical location will have a different leaning towards what they are selling. For example, in Florida, its fish and sea life themes. If your inventory consists of Cowboys and Moose work, they won’t be interested no matter how good your work is. So you need to make sure your work will coincide and compliment each gallery’s specific theme.

Many galleries are also media specific, if during your initial walk around, you see they only sell paintings, they will most likely not be interested in woodwork. Often times, woodwork takes up room (lots of it), its especially difficult, if not impossible to get a decent display of your work in a big city gallery where the owners are paying huge sums of money each month in rent.

You have different types of gallery ownership too.

Depending on who owns the gallery, your commission percentage will vary widely. You can expect to pay 50% in the best galleries (and you’ll also pay 50% in private commissioned works you get on other projects generated by your gallery display). No need to negotiate terms and commissions, etc., they will tell you what they are. There are lots of art co-ops and collectives out there. The % can also vary widely there, but expect to pay around 20% in those places. Sometimes you can reduce the 20% to 10% or even less if you volunteer to staff the co-op one day or night a week. The co-ops are both good and bad. Good because your commission % is low, and you have some leeway in the size and scope of your display, and you can be there selling your own work, bad because its staffed by other artists. Other artists will ALWAYS try to sell their own work first especially if you have work that is in direct competition with theirs. Even if they are fair and scrupled, artists don’t make the best salespeople (except , MAYBE, when its your own work you are selling).

In any gallery, you want to choose one by its location and reputation (ie. the one that has the most visitors). To enhance your chances of being represented, you have to do your homework and research first.

Your work is beautiful! Fine furniture galleries will be interested. Have a nice portfolio with you with big professional quality photos with you when you get to the meeting stage. Yes, they’ll have you sign contracts. Also, in Philadelphia, they have the largest fine furniture show in the US every year. You might want to consider getting a spot at a big show like that. Do you have a website? A combination of shows, on-line marketing, word-of-mouth, networking, and gallery representation will make your bizz fly, it’ll just take time (and money) to figure out how much emphasis to put into each area to make it all work best for you. Of course the hard part is that you have to figure all this out while you’re producing your work too.

Again, great work!
Best of luck,



View BertFlores58's profile


1698 posts in 3189 days

#6 posted 06-03-2010 05:16 AM

Thanks for all of you,
I learning a lot. My fear is that, I may ran out of SCRAPS, RECLAIMED WOOD, and LEFTOVERS. LOL..
Anyway keep it going, LJs are there for me to supply those materials, .... not really… I am still a hobbyist.

-- Bert

View dan abalos's profile

dan abalos

106 posts in 3250 days

#7 posted 06-03-2010 05:41 AM

I have been selling for about five years now and it seems impossible to get a good following. I have built custom doors, cabinets and shelves and have yet to get a reference. I do nice work and I don’t charge too much. I have found the key to success is to get your work into somebodys hands who will sell for you. That somebody is VERY difficult to find though. Keep trying and try not to spend too much money in the process. Skarp may have something with his box, it’s very beautiful and shows all of the woods available. Selling is hard and never ending. Keep it up and one day you may find that person who will get you on the way to an island ownership. Best of luck to you.

-- Beer is the reason I exist on this earth, that and my family! (Aurora, IL) my blog:

View a1Jim's profile


117464 posts in 3844 days

#8 posted 06-03-2010 06:21 AM

Wow lots of good info.

-- wood crafting & woodworking classes

View Mary Anne's profile

Mary Anne

1058 posts in 3476 days

#9 posted 06-03-2010 07:22 AM

I owned a successful retail business for 15 years. Long story how I ended up with it since it was a business I would not have started on my own in a million years. I sold very high-end collectibles, about a third of which were artist limited editions. My shop was more of a boutique or gallery than a regular retail store. Maybe I can give you some insight from the gallery owner’s point of view…

The obvious thing that struck me in the original post was this: ”I got the feeling that she had her mind made up to not help me out prior to our meeting.” Businesses are out to help themselves out. If you produce something they think will improve their business and are willing to make a deal with them that will make them a profit, then they’ll “help you out.”

First thing, assuming your work is gallery quality, you have to sell yourself as well as your work. As Moron said, if you can make them laugh (make them like you) you have a foot in the door. I had a steady stream of artists wanting to sell their creations through my shop. I had more really good artists than I had room to display. Given 15 artists with equally salable work and available space to showcase only one or two, I chose the one or two that I “clicked” with.

It is also important to be clear on what you have to offer and if it suits the gallery you are targeting. I had a look at your projects (nice work!) and see a variety of projects and styles. What will be your focus—your niche? Cabinets? Tables? Andy boxes? What is your passion? Check out the gallery(s) and see if your stuff is a good fit for them.

First contact—
This is assuming you are talking about a small gallery where you will have a chance of meeting with the owner or decision maker. Make the effort to stop by in person. Try to show up during a slow part of the day. Look good – dress appropriately, be friendly and chat up whoever is there. If it is an employee, make a good impression – good enough that they might mention you favorably to the boss or at least clue you in when the boss will be available. If it is the owner, that’s great! Tell them who you are and ask if they can spare a few minutes. If not, politely inquire when would be a better time. Be prepared with a portfolio of your best work, and be prepared to be brief in presenting it—if they are interested, they will ask for more. It is far better to have them asking for more than realizing too late that you have overstayed your welcome. If you have something small enough that you won’t look awkward lugging it around, bring it. If you have something bigger, but still transportable, be prepared to offer to “run out to your car” and bring in a small piece for them to look at so they can see, touch, and experience the quality of your craftsmanship. Also very important—while you are talking, be sincerely interested in them and their business. Ask questions and be a good listener. Keep in mind that their primary interest is in what is best for their business. If you can give them that, you are both winners.

If you have some really good brochures or marketing material, by all means, leave it with them. Tip: make sure there is a picture of you in your brochure so the lightbulb of recognition goes off in their heads when they are shuffling papers later. “Oh, yeah, that’s the guy who was so passionate and made the most beautiful and unique….”

If you don’t hear anything from them in a couple of weeks, stop by again. Keep making contact as long as you think there is hope. If they haven’t given you a flat out “NO” you might wear them down.

Contracts and commissions… they will tell you what their terms are.

Good luck! Keep us updated on your journey.

View alexsutula's profile


96 posts in 3321 days

#10 posted 06-04-2010 05:52 AM

Thank you all very much for your advice. Making contact with Gallery and Retail owners is my next big step in getting my name out there. For me, it is also the most intimidating. I know I am good, I know I have what it takes. People tell me that all time… but thats the thing, they tell me. It is going to take some getting used trading places

I have, literally, been thinking about this everyday for 7 months now. And I am eager to get things rolling. As soon as my website is done I can begin to make contact. Thanks again for taking the time out of your days to help me.

-- You can't stand apart unless you're prepared to stand alone. Alex, Cleveland

View alexsutula's profile


96 posts in 3321 days

#11 posted 06-04-2010 05:55 AM

i also bought and read “Crafting as a Business”. It is written in text book form and contains a ton of information about many aspects of making a business out of art.

-- You can't stand apart unless you're prepared to stand alone. Alex, Cleveland

View rusticandy's profile


110 posts in 3797 days

#12 posted 06-04-2010 06:26 AM

Okay- I viewed your stuff and it is certianly gallery quality. I’m in three galleries on the central coast of CA that fit with coastal and wine themes. My experience in the current market is small things are selling. (things under $300) Getting your stuff in a gallery as props for smaller items may eventually yield custom orders, but tables will sell at 2-3/ yr if your are in 3+ galleries. Have cards made up- bring by small transportable sample that apitomize your style- Like everyone said- get out there at talk to people, ask for feedback why, swallow hard and learn from it. It usually is that the stuff does not fit into the concept of the gallery from the owners’ point of view- nothing more nothing less. Expect more nos than yeses, and each no will get you closer to a yes.

Interior designers are often (but not always) PITA’s who work you- and many seem to be wannabes around here. I hope thats not too harsh.

Your stuff will sell…..slowly…. but it will sell. Once you get it out there! Best of Luck! Its a buzz to sell your own creations!!!

-- rustic andy

View Div's profile


1653 posts in 3208 days

#13 posted 06-05-2010 11:21 PM

Hey thanks for asking the question Alex. And thanks for all the responses…so much good, this site is simply amazing!!!!

-- Div @ the bottom end of Africa. "A woodworker's sharpest tool should be his mind."

View tyskkvinna's profile


1310 posts in 3253 days

#14 posted 06-06-2010 12:27 AM

good luck!

I have been selling in galleries (not woodworking) for several years. It’s a tough gig. A couple of places consider me somewhat “seasonal” – the work I make sells best for them at certain points in the year, so every September or so I get a phone call asking if I’m ready to bring more.

As far as designers go – I also work with a couple of designers. Find out if your city as any sort of guild/association/etc for them. For example, I am also a member of my local Wedding Vendors Association. From there I met some interior designers and became introduced to the Designer Association for my city. Both orgs have parties, events, meet-and-greets… Go to as many as you can. With shiny business cards. I prefer a card that stands out – it has my information and photo on one side (so they remember the face!) and the back of the card has an image of my work. (I get them from – not cheap, but worth every penny) I like this over other card styles because you say hi, introduce yourself, and hand over a card. With a clever picture! “Oh, so YOU’RE the one who makes blahblahblah!” Eventually you’ll get a reputation. I will get contacted by designers looking for something of mine. They go to my website and browse around.

I hope you have a good website?!

Last – be sure to be very generous and genuine in other peoples’ work. While your end-goal is to sell your own stuff, nobody is interested in a peddler. If you are interactive, and compliment the other people you are mingling with at these events, it makes suuuuuuuch a good impression! Who knows, you might even learn things. Every time I compliment somebody on their art I learn a little more about the subject. A shop owner who sees that you have good taste in other areas may feel they “click” with you more than just knowing about your woodwork.

-- Lis - Michigan - -

View Kelly's profile


2205 posts in 3211 days

#15 posted 06-13-2010 03:38 AM

[A simple point that may, or may not apply]

Years ago I had a picture and frame on display in my studio. It was one of my favorites. It stayed on the wall for a long time, until I got a wild hare/hair and more than doubled its price. Interestingly, it was bought by an individual who had been through the studio countless times, so had seen it countless times.

The reason the picture sold after the price was raised seems supported by what I was told at my first art show (small desert town called Desert Aire, in Eastern Washington). I was a kid and a old guy (probably forty or so) came up to me and said: “Kid, I like your work, but it’s too cheap.” He went on to explain. He said people would value my work at the level I did (I had a habit of way underpricing my stuff). He said: “I’ll buy it for your price, put it up on my wall for a few years, then take it down and put it in a garage sale. On the other hand, if I have to shell out big bucks for it, I’m going to put it on my wall, drag my friends over to see my art, shove their noses in it and it’s going to stay a center piece on my wall for years.”

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