Art Collecting: Are you an Art Target? Part II
Ever wonder how "sales consultants" sell art at some of the more aggressive predatory commercial art galleries? What you are about to read is a firsthand account that was emailed to Artbusiness.com in response to the article Are You an Art Target? Predatory galleries typically operate in popular tourist destinations like Soho, Fisherman's Wharf (San Francisco), Honolulu, Laguna Beach, Carmel, New Orleans and similar high-traffic districts across the country. Characterized by aggressive sales consultants, lavish interiors, art by "modern masters" and "household names," and by staying open late, they can be found in many other major cities as well-- typically in "Old Towns," expensive shopping districts, upscale malls, restaurant and nightclub areas, at or near large hotels and near scenic or tourist attractions. Some of these galleries use highly questionable tactics to sell art, tactics like those you're about to read. If you enjoy visiting these types of galleries, here's a little tale about what you may be in for...
I'm an artist, art collector, have represented artists for ten years, and once owned a gallery in Southern California for two years. The first time I visited Carmel, California (the Monterey Bay Area) was to find gallery representation for two artists, which I did. While there, I also sold three more paintings by three other artists to three different people. I had such a great time that I kept coming back. After a number of visits, I decided I liked the area so much that I made it my home.
One afternoon, I walked into a downtown Carmel gallery, looking for an artist friend, and found him talking about his art with a sales consultant. I joined in the conversation as I had a few minutes to spare. At one point, the sales consultant said, "See that $47,000.00 painting? How do you sell a $47,000 painting of cows?" I studied the painting for a few moments. I gave my opinion based on an artist's eye, an art collector's view, and a gallery owner's perspective. The consultant was so impressed that she arranged for me to talk with the gallery's director, thinking that maybe I could sell art there.
I told the director that I had no experience working in someone else's art gallery, but that I had been successful on my own as an artist representative and gallery owner. She listened and then introduced me to the owner. I once again talked about my art experience. The owner told me that I could work at the gallery, but added, "You do not know selling; you know art. You do not know how to sell."
She said, "You are like a baby when it comes to selling, we will have to spend a lot of time and money teaching you how to sell. Working here is not about art, it is about selling." I felt confused. I once again went over my background selling art and representing artists. "So how could I not know how to sell?" I asked. She gave no reply. So I decided to work at the gallery to learn what I supposedly didn't know about selling art.
My first day on the job, I was told, "You say no more than two sentences to a customer! You do not talk about the artists or the art!" I said, "But I want people to know about each piece of art and to know about the artists. Even though I might not make sales, I'll still educate customers and begin to establish relationships." I was told, "No! You do not talk about the art or the artists! We do not care about that! We do not establish relationships! You are not 'information central' or a museum curator!" I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
They showed me how to qualify a customer (how to make sure they can afford the art). They said that when a customer doesn't qualify (can't afford the art) that I should lie to them and say, "I'll check back with you in a few minutes." I was not to go back and talk to them, but to completely ignore them.
I said, "That's not right!" They said, "Don't waste your time. You're here to sell art, not to be friendly to people with no money." I said, "They may not have money today, but I have nothing else to do, so in my free time, educating someone about the art is my pleasure." They said, "No! Pretend to be busy and wait for the next customer to come in, you never talk to anyone who doesn't qualify! They are a waste of time!" The gallery's attitude was one of total disrespect.
Customers asked basic simple questions about the art and artists, but the gallery provided no documentation and had no one on the floor to answer any questions. When I came to the owner or director with customer questions, they said, "This is not important. Tell them anything or change the subject. We don't answer customer questions; we stay in control of the conversation."
They taught me how to "brainwash" customers. I wait and watch to see what painting a customer looks at twice, then walk up and talk about just that one painting, over and over, not letting them look at or talk about any other paintings or artists. I fixate the customer on that one painting and burn it's image into their mind, so that they can't forget it once they leave the gallery. Not allowing free choice forces them to keep thinking about that one painting when they walk into other galleries, go home or back to their hotel room, in their sleep, the next morning when they wake up, and so on.
According to gallery personnel, 90% of people don't buy paintings on their first visits. But when the gallery does a good job of brainwashing someone into believing that one and only one painting is right for them, that person either calls or comes back and buys it within 7 days, convinced that they love it, and that they have to have it.
The real brainwashing takes place in the "viewing room," a small room off of the main gallery, with comfortable couches, a coffee table, and a small shelf on the wall to place and show the art. I watched and listened as sales consultants lied to customers saying, "Let me take this painting into the viewing room so you can see it under better light." I said, "The lights are fantastic in the gallery. Why do you say the viewing room light is better when it's not?" They said, "We just say that to get them into the room, then one of our closers (experienced high-pressure sales consultants) finishes them off (convinces them that they have to have the painting and, if possible, makes the sale)."
I was not to ask customers if they wanted to go to the viewing room because most say no. "Just pull the painting off of the wall and take them there. Never ever ask their permission," they told me. "People like the viewing room because they think they're getting special treatment, personal showings, and extra attention that makes them feel important."
They told me not to sell expensive paintings (maybe they wanted to sell them instead so that they could make more money). "We do not want you selling expensive paintings; we want you selling 20 paintings at $900.00 each instead of one for $20,000." I said, "What? Why?" They told me that cheap paintings are harder to sell than expensive ones, and that teaching me how to sell means learning how to sell lots of $900.00 paintings. I realized that they might as well be selling used cars or pet rocks. They could care less about what they sold as long as they sold it.
They handled the art carelessly and with little respect. I watched as they punctured a master painting's canvas with metal frame clips, and then hung the piece on the gallery wall as-is. I got them to take it down and remove the clips, but they never repaired the canvas. They just hung it back up. Another frame was banged, chipped, and looked terrible. I said, "You have that art in a damaged frame, why?" They changed the frame only after I complained.
The gallery owner's "investment of time and money in my training" turned out to be ten minutes a day, for five days, and nothing more. Then they said, "That's it, we can't hold your hand, you have to do the rest on your own." Now that I knew how to "sell," I had to practice in order to be smooth (I call it cunning and deceptive so that customers have no idea what's happening to them).
On my fifth day, the owner told me I was not "fitting in" and I agreed; the gallery was not for me and I was not for them. We mutually terminated my working there. I felt relieved, but terrible for having wandered into that gallery in the first place. I had never seen such high-pressure negative sales tactics used to sell art, but I'm much wiser now.
The gallery owner told me I wasn't able to sell, and she was right. I couldn't sell lies, be deceitful, manipulate, control, brainwash, pretend, be a predator, stalk customers, blow off nice people, and sell, sell, sell without any care or interest in the art, the artists, or the customers. During my short stay there, several sales personnel told me they hated themselves for working in such a place, felt badly about what they were doing, but couldn't quit because they needed the money. I don't care how much financial trouble I get into; I never want to sell art with smoke and mirrors.
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