Introduce your business and tell us your story: How did you decide on what to sell, and how did you source your products?
Hamilton had been developing an art gallery scene on James Street North for about 7 years. There were a lot of start up galleries that offered space to starting artists for one-off exhibitions with the onus on the artist to provide much of their own marketing and retail support. We decided it was time to open a gallery for established, mid-career artists in Hamilton that also included a selection of burgeoning artists across Ontario. The Nathaniel Hughson Gallery on John Street North was born, offering long-term local representation, guidance, a small store front, online retail and a place to store work.
As students of art and art history, we reached out first to people that we knew from our past, people we had gone to university with that we knew were talented but who were too busy making art to market themselves. We rounded out our roster with artists whose work we had collected on our travels and then finally those artists who our artists or our collector friends recommended to us. Before we knew it we had a strong roster of 15 mid-career artists from across Ontario.
How did you earn your first sales? Which channels are now generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Our first sales came through our first opening night. After the initial rush of well wishers, friends and local collectors sales started to slow down and we decided to switch our website to the Shopify platform after exploring a few other ecommerce options. It took a while to get the first online sales - people tend to want to see the work on a wall instead of a website - but the sales started coming in. Before the online sales, however, we were able to take advantage of the Shopify POS system. As a part-time art gallery in a market that was just starting to understand art retail it's saved us a ton in ongoing banking headaches and fees. It's been a wonderful experience.
Our opening nights are still our strongest source of sales followed by our website. The combination and ease of use of the Shopify POS and website have made sales for the gallery a much smoother operation.
Tell us about the back-end of your business. What tools and apps do you use to run your store? How do you handle shipping and fulfillment?
Essentially we use Shopify to manage our POS, our inventory and most of the nuts and bolts of our gallery. We rarely need to ship anything around as customers always want to come in and see the space, the artwork, and/or meet the artist after they make a purchase on-line.
For shipping we use the preferred method of our customers. More often than not they come to us, some even driving up to 4 hours. If we happen to be heading anywhere near where they are we will handle deliver their artwork to them and get a chance to meet and get to know them.
What are your top recommendations for new store owners?
We had a great space and we had great artists making great art. After that it's all nuts and bolts. Having a strong website off the bat is key. Our first site was just "ok" but we didn't have all the functionality we do now so getting people to come back and stay engaged was hard work. Having a POS and integrated ecommerce system was also tremendously helpful. Art is a tough sell in regional markets but with the right tools and a bit of perseverance you can make it.