Aspiring to be an art dealer? Eric Smith, CEO of Redwood Media Group, sat down with Art Zealous to give us his tips on how to be the next best art dealer.
So, you’ve decided to become an art dealer. What’s next? Well, let me tell you, it takes a lot of hard work, long hours, and knowledge to make it as a professional, but if you’re passionate about art, this is a dream job for you. Below are a few tips to help you become a successful art dealer, and by following these guidelines you can be on your way that much sooner.
1. Be prepared to pick great work: Of course, you want artwork that will sell, but it’s much more than that. It’s important to look for artists that have a story behind their work. Collectors love to hear about the meaning behind the work they might potentially buy—it causes them to have an emotional attachment to the piece. It will also be a great conversation starter when someone comments on the art. Make sure your artists are also friendly and relatable. A lot of times collectors like to meet the artists, and personality compatibility can make or break the sale.
2. Establish your brand: You have to have business cards, a logo, a letterhead, printed material, postcards, etc., and it all must be cohesive. Your branding should tell your story and give insight on the type of art dealer you are. This has to also carry through to your website—remember to embrace the power of your computer. Your website is essentially a modern-day business card; it must be the perfect representation of your business, because it will be the first thing people see. Ensure that you are constantly updating it, even if it has to be on a daily basis.
3. It’s not as sexy as it seems: Yes, you might get to go to swanky art parties and gallery openings, but juggling it all can be a lot of work. An art dealer’s schedule isn’t 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday through Friday—expect to work in the evenings and on the weekends. Remember that it’s the extra hours that will make you successful.
4. Be prepared to do home shows: You’ve taken the art off the wall and you got the clients into the viewing room—so why aren’t they buying? Early on in my career as an art dealer, I learned that if I offered to take pieces to a prospective client’s home, my chances of closing the sale increased exponentially. Home shows can make all the difference. This will require you to have a van or some sort of transportation that can carry artwork so that clients can see what the art will look like on their wall.
5. Sales are king: Revenue solves all problems, so get creative on how to achieve sales. Do art shows and fairs, reach out to the community and try to get as much art on the wall as you can. All in all, be a hustler. This is the best way to increase exposure for yourself, your business, and your artists.
6. Be prepared to do the back-end work: There is a lot more to being an art dealer than selling the art. To be able to successfully sell art, you must be willing to do the back-end work that goes along with it—framing the work, stretching the canvas, shipping it, getting insurance, etc. Make sure you do your research on what needs to be done before a piece is ready to be sold and be prepared to put the time and money into making it perfect.
7. Work in a gallery: Before you step out on your own, take three to six months and work at a gallery. You need to understand how the industry works, and there is no better way to do that than by putting in some time at a gallery. Not only will you get hands-on experience, but you may also make contacts that will be useful once you are out of the gallery setting. Relationships matter in this industry.
8. Have a strong art knowledge: When I first started in this industry, I read every book I could get my hands on. You need to become an expert because the second your client or potential client knows more than you, you have most likely lost the sale. People will be looking to you to know the answers to their questions, so you’d better have them.
9. Structure your business properly: The 50/50 model with artists is dead. You need to be able to have open, honest discussions with your artists about how much it costs for you to run your business and what it will take for you to remain profitable. In today’s market, you should be receiving 65–70 percent of each sale. This ensures that you’ll be able to uphold a proper marketing budget, travel to art shows, host gallery events, advertise in art industry publications, and still walk away with a profit.
10. Establish a collector base: All of the above tips will help you establish a collector base, but this should be an overall goal when beginning your career as an art dealer. In the long run, your collector base will be the most important thing.
About Eric: As CEO, Eric Smith oversees all creative aspects and the production of Redwood Media Group. Previously, Smith served as Vice President of Summit Business Media, the leading worldwide producer of art shows and art-related trade publications including Artexpo Las Vegas, Art Miami, Art Business News, DÉCOR, and Volume magazines. A true art insider, Smith’s expertise ranges from buying and selling art to framing and hanging, as well as navigating the auction world. With over 20 years of experience, Smith is a leading expert on the art market and the latest trends and forecasts.
images // courtesy of Steve Smith
originally published February 2, 2016