Something to Remember us by: Marketing Crafts to Corporate Clients

Originally published in Niche Magazine

Of course, you value your customers. And of course, they are the key to your gallery’s success. But if you are looking for added revenue streams to bulk up your gallery’s bottom line, you really should look into corporate gifts.

To the uninitiated, ‘corporate gifts’ conjure up the image of a wood-and-brass engraved plaques handed out to attendees at company events. To savvy retailers and sophisticated businesses and associations, corporate gifts go hand-in-hand with the words “special,” “handcrafted,” and “unique.” In other words, what you sell in your gallery and what the artists you work with create are exactly what businesses are looking for – often in large quantities – to give as gifts for special occasions and company events.

Corporations and associations, for example, may need anywhere from a dozen to a few hundred gifts to honor outstanding employees or to thank volunteers, fund-raisers, and clients. Usually engraved, the gifts are purchased with the intention that they will be displayed in an office or at home, and companies are waking up to the fact that handcrafted wins out every time over manufactured and mass-produced.

The trick for gallery owners is to extend your reach and make the initial business-to-business connection. A quick survey of retailers across the country shows that many galleries have already done so, with appreciable success.

Charles Reinhardt, co-owner with Sami Harawi of Mostly Glass in Englewood, NJ, offers corporate gifts as part of his menu of customer services and says that his corporate clients often buy more than a hundred gifts at a time.

“Our clientele is looking for something unique. They can afford Tiffany-priced objects, but they often find that Tiffany’s little blue boxes just aren’t distinctive enough. And that’s when they come to us.”

Functionality is often a prerequisite, says Reinhardt. Corporate gift givers want to know that the firsts they give will be used and displayed. Mostly Glass works to march the artist with the giver’s intentions.

“One customer, for example, wanted to send gifts to all the Asian embassies and consulates in New York and Washington,” Reinhardt recalls. “We worked with him through the available options, and he decided on stacked plates by Kurt McVay. They were sculptural and functional at the same time. Each gift ended up being about $500.”

Each company has different needs. “A local real estate agency may want a small item to give each new homeowner, which is going to be totally different from what a large local corporation may want to hand out at its annual stockholders’ dinner,” says Jill Daunno of Timothy’s Gallery in Winter Park, FL. She says that requests her gallery has fielded from corporate clients can also be quite personal, such as the special pieces of jewelry created by a gallery artist under a client’s direction given as sales awards. “There is an enormous range of possibilities under the corporate gifts umbrella,” she says.

“It depends on the purpose of the gift and the quantity,” echoes gallery owner and artist Seranda Vesperman of Vesperman Glass Gallery in Atlanta, GA. “Are they honoring an employee? Is the CEO retiring? It’s like any other gift shopping. It depends on the need. And we work to satisfy whatever need a company brings to the table.”

According to Linda Finley, assistant manager of Seekers Glass Gallery in Cambria, CA, another gallery that offers corporate gift services, paperweights are very popular with business clients. “As are handcrafted candlesticks,” she says, “with sales of often half a dozen pairs at a time.”

Ted Ney of Gallery 7 in Portland, Maine, recommends office-related gifts that can be personalized to his corporate clients. “At Christmas, for instance, we’ll get orders for 20 to 100 business-card cases.”

Smaller handcrafted objects are one side of the corporate gift equation. The other runs to limited edition or one-of-a-kind commissions. These are artworks intended as gifts for retiring CEOs , seminar speakers, or special dignitaries. “Many high-level clients are getting more than a little bored with calculators and clocks and that kind of thing,” says Joanne Zaytoun-Penny, owner of Jazmines, Inc., a marketing and corporate gift business in Raleigh, NC. “Crafts open up a whole new world of unique options.”

Yet a third type of corporate buying involves purchasing artwork for corporate offices. This type of sales is the focus at Gallery 7. Ney draws on 20 years as a furniture maker as well as his position as a gallery owner to make contacts with designers and decorators that turn into business leads. “There are offices in town that we decorate with three-and two-dimensional pieces,” he says. “For example, we did the entrance to a lawyer’s office. They purchased the art, but we also provide some changing artworks that carry our Gallery 7 tag. The rotating art keeps the office fresh, and we get to advertise where it comes from.” Ney also runs ads in the local newspapers advertising his corporate services.

For some galleries, though, corporate business “walks in through the door and through word of mouth,” according to Seekers’ Finley. For Reinhardt, most corporate business comes from customers who have already frequented Mostly Glass to make purchases for themselves. “I have good customers who come in asking for help in making gift purchases for their special clients at work,” he says. That’s the pattern for most galleries.

One gallery that consciously goes after corporate business is Phoenix Rising Gallery in Seattle, WA. Steve Dickinson and his brother, David, who took over the gallery from former owner Maureen Pierre, have a long-term plan for capturing that market.

“I decided that sitting and waiting for people to show up at my front door is not the way to approach it,” says Steve. “I’ve hired a full-time outside salesperson whose job is to create relationships with designers and architects and to sell to corporate accounts.”

The strategy includes cross-selling with other suppliers who have different product lines. “I hope that the whole program combined over a five-year period will generate as much sales as we now generate from the gallery alone.”

Having a plan is important in developing a corporate clientele, according to Roberta Nadler. Her firm, R.L. Nadler and Associates in Pasadena, CA, provides business consulting for women-owned businesses. She suggests starting locally. “Assess the businesses in your area. Go through a company and its different departments,” says Nadler. “Find out what sorts of programs within the company lend themselves to gifts. The marketing department may have one set of programs; human resources may have another. A mid-sized company could have 20 or 30 different programs.”

But before making those calls, understand the corporate structure. “I review organizational structure with my clients,” says Nadler, “to make sure they know the corporate vocabulary.”

Phoenix Risings’ Steve Dickinson agrees. He has 15 years of experience as a corporate attorney, and his new salesperson has 20 as an architect and construction salesman. “Corporate people may initially feel uncomfortable with artists and other non-business types,” he says. “I think that’s what has prevented this market from really going anywhere.”

Most galleries are too small to afford hiring a separate salesperson just to cultivate accounts in the corporate world. At Timothy’s Daunno says, “there is a lot of footwork that often needs to be done before you can offer the service. We have seven employees. When you have three associates on the floor trying to help customers and you take one of them off the floor for three or four hours to do research, you have to balance the potential return.”

She sees other means of attracting corporate business in smaller, less time-consuming ways. “Most galleries, if they are very customer- and service-oriented, know their clients,” explains Daunno. “When it’s holiday time or you remember somebody coming in for a gift or you have something that might work for a sales meeting, you can get on the phone and call them directly with your ideas.”

At Mostly Glass, Reinhardt does some direct marketing. “We do a couple of corporate mailings in September and October. The mailings help, but mostly, the corporate clients come to us.” He also promotes the gallery’s client services on the Mostly Glass website (www.mostly-glass.com) with a page dedicated to corporate gifts.

Not all galleries show artists whose work is suitable for corporate gifts, and not all artists want to become involved in that sort of order. For galleries, the key element is knowing your artists. “Once placed, you want to make absolutely certain that you and the artist can complete the order,” advised David Dickinson. “Make sure your infrastructure is in place. Take stock of your artists and look at what they specialize in.”

Daunno also keeps track of artists interested in corporate work. “If artists tell us what their capabilities are and what they are willing to do to customize a piece, it makes it very easy for us to go to them first when an order comes in.”

At Mostly Glass, “we build relationships with artist to get extra bowls or pieces on short notice if we need them,” says Reinhardt, who notes that corporate sales account for about 20% of the gallery’s business. Most galleries peg the figures at less than 10%. Like Daunno, they know the profits are just waiting to be made. “There’s an enormous opportunity there,’ says Reinhardt, “an untapped one, I have to say, that we don’t fully take advantage of.”
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