December 1, 2010
By Lynne Bowland
I figured I might as well blow my own horn this issue! Last summer was my 11th summer running a gallery featuring work done by Canadian women.
My biggest issue since I moved the gallery to New Brunswick six years ago has always been getting people to stop their cars and come in! The five previous years I inhabited a little shack on a beach in Saskatchewan. There I got walk-in traffic who could stick their greasy little noses all over my windows prior to making the decision about whether to come in or not! I owned the building but leased the land, so after four years the village, who owned the land, decided they wanted me to operate the business for six months instead of two and a half. Well since I don’t see the point in sitting in an unheated building by myself for three and a half months of the year shivering, and after arguing with the council the entire fifth summer, I sold the building. The new owner turned it into a coffee shop, which is now open four or five months.
For three of the five years I ran the gallery in Saskatchewan I was living in New Brunswick, so I commuted 4000 km twice a year. Living at the beach was great. The cabin was 1 km away from the gallery. I locked the door at night and went home!
In New Brunswick we built a room onto the house to use as a gallery. Big mistake; it doesn’t matter how many “Closed” signs you have out, if you’re home and they can find you, YOU’RE OPEN! Never count on sitting and eating supper in peace. I’ve been gotten out of bed at 7:15am because the prospective customer was sure I’d be there. However, the nice part is that I can spend time between customers working in my garden or making glass beads. So that I can keep track of visitors I have a baby monitor inside the door and receivers all over the place.
I also think there is a stigma attached to coming into a business inside someone’s house. For myself, I’m more likely to stop at a gallery that appears to be a stand-alone building than a house. We just had a wonderful summer. I thought that that would generate more traffic; instead I think everyone was so thrilled to see the sun that they spent the summer beachcombing!
I think I survive and actually make a profit because I don’t hire anyone to work for me (yes, I am open 7 days a week in the summer; this year that was 98 days straight!). I buy almost all my stock outright, I have a theme, and I don’t just sell local work, so my stock is different from all the other maritime galleries.
I also have a lifetime guarantee on all of my jewelry and beads. If a glass bead chips or breaks I will replace the entire piece for free. If the cable that a bracelet is strung on breaks I restring it and replace missing pieces for free. I feel that though glass is fragile, if it’s being made into jewelry it should be durable enough to be worn (sales of my work in the gallery usually end up being close to 40% of total sales). I also knit and felt. It’s amazing how many felted hats you can sell on a hot summers day!
The only advertising I’ve found that actually draws in customers is road signage. I do get return customers but most people in the summer just see the signs and stop. I’d love some feedback on what other small-out-of-the-way galleries do to lure in the elusive customer!
Lynn Bowland lives and works in Deer Island, New Brunswick. You can find her website here www.fireballbeeds.com and her blog here here http://islandgirlsinsights.blogspot.com/. She welcomes your comments.