What Did You Change? A Special Economic Stimulus Series by ABN's Trusted Advisory Board

Article excerpt

Although the buzzword for 2008 was change, some of our businesses have been changing in ways we'd rather they didn't--namely in the figures of our bottom lines and the sheer number of people who seem to have disappeared from the fine-art market.

I've heard it from gallery owners across the country as we continue to witness the equivalent of a faucet being turned off. Some saw it coming and made adjustments, but I haven't spoken to anyone who hasn't been more severely impacted by this recession than they thought they would be. Of course, many galleries and publishers will make it through this period; others have already thrown in the towel.

The hard truth is that most galleries have had to make difficult, immediate changes to their businesses in order to survive the downturn. All of a sudden, change is pretty scary, but it has also become necessary for survival.

It helps to have friends and colleagues who have real-life experience making changes in their art businesses. The best way to learn is by experience, and that is exactly what this column is about. Instead of "the expert" coming down from his or her computer to bestow wisdom and advice that seems easy to follow from a keyboard, there is a particular comfort and strength in sharing insight and advice with the same people living it in real time.

"What Did You Change?" is a new print and online forum for galleries, publishers and artists to share what they are doing specifically to deal with the challenges in their respective businesses. Some of their stories will be inspirational and enlightening--some painful--but it's healthy to have as many examples and ideas in front of you as possible when making decisions about your company. During times like these, only the healthiest and hardest-working organizations will survive. The art community has always been one of generous spirit and encouragement. Helping others who might learn from your experience will strengthen and invigorate the industry as a whole. I'll go first.

ADMINISTRATION & OPERATIONS

As a gallery owner and publisher, I will tell you that we've made many changes in a short period of time. When the bills are coming in at their regular rate, and the sales aren't, it doesn't take long to feel extremely uncomfortable. Don't wait until your money runs out! There are actions you can take today that will help shore up your bottom line.

HERE'S WHAT WE DID:

Renegotiate with your vendors for a lower price--on anything. For instance, we negotiated for partially deferred rent during our slow tourism season in one of our galleries. It never hurts to ask?

We aren't hiring much work out right now. My recent philosophy is: If I can do it--right now--I should. It's time to be hands-on in every facet of your business, from selling the art to buying office supplies.

If, like us, you are faced with having to lay off members of your sales staff during this slow period, try offering them twice the commission against a minimum draw instead. They won't have to search for a job in this economy, and you aren't paying for your sales staff unless they sell. When they make a sale, it's an exceptionally good payday for them. Is it scary at first? Yes. But no one wins if the company runs out of money trying to cover payroll. We've adopted this with our sales staff, and it seems to be working out far better than any of us imagined.

We changed our gallery hours. When the weather is good, we keep our gallery open late in the evening to capitalize on any traffic from couples having dinner in area restaurants. I'd rather have the gallery open at 8 p.m. on a Saturday and meet new potential clients than at 10 a.m. on a Tuesday when we would be less likely to see customers. If these people are spending $100 on a nice dinner in this economy, they are excellent prospects as art collectors. Plus, you'll usually have both of the decision makers there during these evening hours. …