Category Archives: Respect Your Collectors

RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 4: More Papas, Fewer Babies

Don’t let your cheaper work devalue your finest work. More papas, few babies.

Fourth in a series on how to think about your true collectors.

I have a friend who’s been in the fine craft biz for over twenty years. He’s in the very best shows. He’s an astute businessman as well as a talented artist. The first time he came to my open studio, he shared an insight I’d never considered before:

Offering too much lower-priced work to attract a wider audience can actually diminish your value for serious collectors.

Human nature being what it is, people won’t think your cheaper work is “a bargain”. They’ll perceive your higher end work as “overpriced.”

I favor the papa/mama/babies model in my display. I show one high-end piece—my biggest and best work of the year. That’s the ‘papa’ piece. I’ll add in three to five mid-range pieces—things that echo the same spirit and flavor but in the $150-$500 range. These are the ‘mama’ pieces. Then I fill in with a large selection of items under $150, down to $25. These are the ‘babies’.

The theory is that the ‘papa’ piece is the attention-getting show-stopper. It rarely sells, but acts as a major draw. Well-heeled and confident collectors will then readily purchase the ‘mama’ pieces. People with smaller budgets, or who are unsure of their choices, will load up on the smaller ‘baby’ pieces.

It works pretty well in stores and galleries, where stores have to appeal to a wide range of customers and sizes of pocketbooks. But is it the right model for an open studio, or a booth at a show? What are the pros and cons?

My friend believes that mixing our high-end and our low-end work sends a bad message to our serious collectors. It signals confusion on the part of the artist, a lack of focus and intent.

Someone who’s thinking about buying a $5,000 or $10,000 piece from you does not want to see a $50 pair of earrings next to that piece. Their thinking? “Why should I invest five figures in you, when I can have a piece of you for $50?” Or worse….”If this piece is only $50, then that $5,000 piece must be overpriced!”

Eliminate the ‘babies’?? It’s a hard concept to embrace when times are tough. Sometimes those $50 sales were all that kept me afloat. It’s tempting to stay with the safer strategy of ‘something for everyone’.

But building a business model that relies on the sale of lots of $50 has its drawbacks, too.

The biggest drawback? It’s soul-numbing.

This is not conjecture. I’ve been there. You focus totally on what sells. It becomes all about the “small”: Small in price, small in stature, small in risk.

Soon you feel your creative self and artistic vision getting small, too.

I’ve been there–and I never want to go back.

So….How to proceed?

Offer fewer ‘babies’.

In an open studio recently, I simply didn’t have time to set out lots of lower-priced work. The ‘mamas’ took the place of the ‘babies’.

I sold more ‘mamas’ than ever!

So my advice to you: Consider your venues, and these economic times.

In the past, I could easily do the ‘all papa’ strategy at the tried-and-true big shows in my industry. The shows had the great reputation and reliable attendance, and targeted the right demographic, for those big, wonderful works. Money flowed more freely and people loved the attention that came from their spectacular purchases.

Things are different now. Show attendance is down. People hesitate to flaunt their money when their friends are hurting. They’re cautious about what they invest in.

The internet has changed things: Buyers are more comfortable buying on the internet now. It’s secure and the selection is limitless. It’s also more discreet. No need to reveal just how much money they spent on that new piece of art.

When money is tight and sales are slow, maintain your confidence in your work. Focus on keeping your technique sharp. Be patient. You still need face time with collectors to build a relationship. But also give them more opportunities online to buy.

If you love your lower-end pieces, that’s okay. I love mine, too! Instead of mooshing them in with your finer work, try this: Separate the lines and market them differently.

Or try using a different venue for them. I have one line of jewelry that’s decidedly out-of-sync with my “ancient art” aesthetic. I now market that under a totally different business name.

In the end, we all have to ask ourselves: What is the highest and best use of our time and talent?

I still keep a few smaller, less expensive items available. But I’ve slowly raised the bar by raising the prices on them. I’m asking my collectors for a bigger commitment to own one of my pieces. I’d rather sell one $250 item than ten $25 items. I focus on making those more expensive pieces even more special–more one-of-a-kind, more daring, more unusual.

Interestingly, when I look back at my sales over the last 15 years, I’m not selling more items. I’m selling more expensive items. The demand has remained constant but there’s less resistance to my prices. My friends who assist me in my booth say this all the time. I worry about charging too much. “Luann!” they exclaim. “People know your work is worth it!”

The energy is better, too. People don’t buy my work because ‘it’s a deal’. They buy it because they love it and they see it as worthy of owning.

By valuing my time and my skill, I’ve encouraged others to have respect for my work.

Remember: When we have an open studio, or a solo show, or a booth at a fair, our audience is self-selected; that works in our favor!

A store or gallery has to appeal to anyone who walks by. They don’t care which artist’s work sells, as long as the customer buys something.

As an artist, I have a style, an aesthetic and a story that connects people to my work. If the buyer wants to buy my work, I have more leverage.

Is the just papas, a few mamas, no babies approach for everyone? Of course not. Have I embraced it 100%? Nope. But I’m inching my way there.

And let me be clear: This is me in my “business hat” talking.

I’d never disdain someone who loved my work but cannot afford a few thousand, or even a few hundred dollars, to invest. I love my ‘smaller’ collectors. I’m just as grateful for them as I am for my ‘bigger’ collectors.

My prices aren’t arbitrary. I’m confident they reflect the skill, time and passion necessary to create each piece. In fact, many collectors start small and then move on to more expensive pieces.

I would never twist a collector’s arm to buy more than they are comfortable with. I’m honored when someone chooses to spend their hard-earned money on my work. I love it when customers come back the year after they invest in a major piece and tell me how much joy it’s giving them.

Ask your true collectors to step up to the plate and commit to you. The worst they can say is ‘no’.

And it’s simply wonderful when they say ‘yes’.

Respect Your Collectors Part 4
by Luann Udell originally published on the Fine Art Views website on January 10, 2011.)

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

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RESPECT YOUR COLLECTORS Part 2

This article was originally published for Fine Art Views.
I forgot to republish this on MY blog!! My bad.

Respect Your Collectors Part 2
by Luann Udell on 12/23/2010 9:56:04 AM

This post is by Luann Udell, regular contributing author for FineArtViews. Luann also writes a column (“Craft Matters”) for The Crafts Report magazine (a monthly business resource for the crafts professional) where she explores the funnier side of her life in craft. She’s a double-juried member of the prestigious League of New Hampshire Craftsmen (fiber & art jewelry). Her work has appeared in books, magazines and newspapers across the country and she is a published writer. She’s blogged since 2002 about the business side–and the spiritual inside–of art. She says, “I share my experiences so you won’t have to make ALL the same mistakes I did….”

Don’t leave your early collectors behind.

Sometimes artists, in their haste to “get big”, blow off the very people who helped them get there in the first place.

In my first article in this series, I explained how I was introduced to the joys of collecting original works of art. Today I’ll show how—and why–you must honor those early supporters of your work.

In educating me how to find ‘real art’, my friend pointed out a rich source of original art in my own backyard—the prestigious Ann Arbor art fairs. These fairs are a series of 3-4 fine art and craft shows (depending on how you count them) that take place concurrently on the campus and in the town streets.

Taking my friend’s advice, I visited the shows that year with new intention—not to just be amazed and entertained by the beautiful work, but with an eye to actually owning some of it.

I was no longer an ordinary browser or casual shopper. I was an art collector! I had money in my pocket, an open heart and a passion to learn. It was a heady feeling.

There was one artist whose work I fell in love with. I spent quite a bit of time in her booth talking to her, and admiring her work. We talked about the inspiration for her charming motifs, the materials she used to create the enchanting details I loved, her lovely, delicate use of color.

She had work in a range of sizes, but she’d already sold all the pieces in my price range. “I’m just so excited, this has been a GREAT show for me!” she exclaimed. “I’m definitely coming back next year, and I’ll have lots more smaller pieces, too—they’re selling like hot cakes!”

I was pleased that someone so likeable, whose work I really liked, was having so much success. In my budding connoisseur-like mind, it confirmed my instinct to support her art. She didn’t take layaway, and this was before most artists took credit cards. But she assured me there would be ample opportunity to own one of her pieces the following year.

For that entire year, I set aside money, enough to acquire one of her smaller pieces. I kept her postcard on my bulletin board where I could look at it every day. I circled the dates for the next art fair show on my calendar.

When the happy day came, I sought her out. I had my hard-earned money in my hot little hands, all ready to buy something. I was determined to leave her booth with something this time.

To my dismay, things had changed.

Her work was bigger, for one thing. It was bigger. Much much bigger. And consequently, much more expensive, too. Not a single piece was less than several thousand dollars.

It was different. The small, intimate, intricately detailed work was gone. Strong, bold, monochromatic abstract work had replaced it.

Something else was changed, too. Her attitude.

The gushing, friendly, warm, enthusiastic emerging artist I’d met the year before was gone.

Apparently she’d been ‘discovered’. She’d had a great year, sales-wise. She’d juried into several prestigious exhibitions. She now had a following.

She was, indeed, a successful artist—one whose success had evidently gone to her head. Because she was also haughty, disdainful, and dismissive, to the point of rudeness.

She didn’t remember me. I didn’t expect her to—I knew she’d talked to hundreds, if not thousands of people in the past year. But she wasn’t apologetic (as in,“I’m sorry I don’t remember you, I meet so many people–but please refresh my memory…”) Her attitude was, “Why should I remember you?! You didn’t buy anything!”

She was scornful about her former work. “Yeah, I’m way past that stage now. I marked it down and got rid of it. I’m into this work now.” Her tone almost seemed to say, “Get over it!” She didn’t care to explain it, either. You either got it—and bought it—or she didn’t have time for you.

I inquired about smaller works. She practically sniffed. She said she couldn’t be bothered with making small pieces anymore. It was much more lucrative to make bigger pieces, and charge more.

Someone else entered the booth, someone who could obviously be taken more seriously as a prospective buyer. She turned her whole attention to them. I left her booth, crestfallen.

I kept my postcard of that artist for many years. I kept track of her progress as best I could (pre-internet days.) I’m not sure why. Maybe I was hoping for a glimpse of that sweet, more accessible, more grateful young woman I’d admired so much before. Artists change, their art changes—I got that. Maybe I was just hoping her next sea-change would be for the better.

In time, though, the memories of that last day I saw her, overshadowed the first. I tossed the card. I’ve all but forgotten her name.

At the time, I was bewildered. Now that I’m an artist, too, I can sympathize…a little.

I’m not always crazy about my older work. But I respect the fact that I loved it when I was making it, and that people that bought it, liked it, too.

I know there is more money to be made with the wall-sized fiber work. I know that I couldn’t afford my work! But I know there is worth in my smaller work, too.

I know I can’t support myself just on sales of $25 necklaces. But sometimes, when things were really tight, it was those same inexpensive items that kept the cash flow going.

I know many of those people purchased work back then for less than my wholesale prices now. Still, it was their hard-earned money, and they chose to spend it on my work.

As far as my collectors go, I appreciate what they ALL did. They all loved the work. They all believed in me. They all wanted to support my efforts. They bought something because they loved it, and they wanted it, and they felt it was worth it.

I may forget their names, but I am astonished and delighted that they have not forgotten mine. When they share a story about their piece, or even bring some of those ‘ancient works’ back in for repair or a redesign, I make a point of thanking them for collecting me from the beginning.

They are the people who helped me get where I am today. And I will never forget them for that.

Perhaps we all have days we dream of being so financially successful, so famous and respected, that we don’t have to worry about the tedious little things in life anymore.

But people who love our work, people who support us in so many ways—by purchasing it, by recommending it to their friends, by telling us what it means to them—these people are not the “tedious little things in life. They are part of the “big thing”. They are what got us to this wonderful place, a place where we can make the work we love and share it with the world.

Remember that, and you will always respect your collectors, large and small.

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