What Do Galleries Want?

Many artists are nervous about meeting with gallery owners, craft retailers, museum buyers and others who make decisions about carrying their work.


What you may not realize is that many of these retailers got their start in the business as working artists themselves. They understand your challenges.

In an honest conversation about the fear of rejection, many gallery retailers have compassion for artists who put their work out in the marketplace, and would give them feedback about their work or suggest how they may improve their line.

Hearing “no” from buyers and gallery owners may mean that you need some improvement. But it may just as likely mean that your work doesn’t fit into their store collection, or that it doesn’t fit the wallet or tastes of their clientele, or that they have a similar line already which they have no need to replace.

So, what do galleries want? 

Saleable work – Gallery owners look for work which fits into their niche, and appeals to their clientele. Is your body of work mature, in a cohesive signature style? Are you technically skilled? Retailers need to present an exciting experience for shoppers, and need to stock art and craft that stands out because it’s not only creative, but beautifully made. Collections which are large enough to make an impact when displayed, and are versatile so that a sale of multiples can be made (earrings that go with several different necklaces, for example) help them sell more products.

A partner in promotion – Build your gallery relationship by working together with them to assist in selling your line. Ways you can partner:

  • Offer professional shots of your work for use in advertisements and promotional emails
  • Make yourself available for in-store appearances or trunk shows
  • List your retailers on your website, with address, phone and a link to their website
  • Help promote your work in their store and events by sending press releases
  • Promote your retailers on social media
  • Consider co-op advertising

Excellent customer service – Retailers need to provide great customer service to keep their fan base, and that means that you have to step up, too. Custom orders have to be confirmed, and shipped on time. What about repairs- do you guarantee your work and provide repairs free of charge or for just the shipping cost?  Do you have a policy of answering all phone messages and emails within 24 hours? Today’s consumer expects to be treated well. Your galleries are already challenged by having to sell in a tough economy, and they can’t afford to disappoint hard-won customers.

Your relationship with galleries and retailers is based on trust. Many store owners have, as some point in the past, been burned by artists and craftspeople who were irresponsible. And artists themselves have at times felt unsure about whether certain wholesale buyers or gallerists were “the real thing.”

This is a time when every artist must also be ready to defend the idea of outright purchase instead of consignment.  The best reply is that what you consign will probably move slower than what you can purchase.  Artists’  work that has a great track record is rarely available for consignment, because there is too much competition for representation.

Building trust works both ways. Artists bear half the burden of making the relationship successful, so communicate your willingness to work together with your retailers. It can result in a long-term financially beneficial partnership that you can take to the bank!

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  1. Cindy Plunkert says

    Your article was well written and I completely agree with MOST of it, however, being an Artisan myself I don’t feel the shop owners relate to us AT ALL. The hardest thing is picking up the phone or emailing a shop only to be told NO right off the bat OR never even returning an email with a simple No Thank You. I think they forget how hard it is for us out here just trying to share our talents and gifts and make a living at all. It seems in this day and age if you are not a “brand” name, no one wants to see you. My work is every bit as outstanding as some leading brands, AND it’s made in the USA, NOT China! All we want is a chance.

  2. Cindy, thanks for your response. I understand your frustration. It can be difficult when you don’t receive a response to a solicitation.

    Actually, many gallery owners are artists who have moved into the retailer role, and they certainly do relate to their vendors. Sometimes it can be overwhelming to get unsolicited emails from artists (and we get many of them here at ABI by the way) and although it would be best to respond to every one, that doesn’t always happen.

    Regardless of your past experience, I would suggest that going forward you try to look at your wholesale customers as being on the same side of things as you are. It is in the best interests of both of you to sell as much of your work as possible. Working together to enhance those sales is a good move on both the part of the artist and the retail buyers.

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