Man sitting in an art gallery.

How to Keep Art Galleries Happy

Learn how to take control of your art business while keeping the galleries who represent you happy.

Many artists have been asked by a gallery owner not to have their own art gallery website, or at least not to sell from it.

This has put some artists in a precarious position. They need to do both, but they’re not quite sure how.

In this post, we’ll explain the critical importance of having your own art gallery website, why traditional art galleries don’t want you to sell your art direct, and how to negotiate with the art galleries who represent you to maintain control of your art business and create a win-win situation for both sides.

What you will find is that creating a win-win situation is very easy to do.

Letting a Gallery Control You is a Path to Starvation

Artist standing by easels.

Our mission as a company is to solve the starving artist problem. So we have to be realistic here about what a single art gallery brings to the table, which is very limited.

First, they aren’t going to showcase/offer your entire body of work – maybe a few pieces. So you can’t give up the opportunity to sell your entire body of work just for a few pieces.

Second, art galleries are limited to their local clientele (and that’s precisely who they focus on) — the people who live nearby and can actually walk into the physical space. This means your art is not getting out there to the entire world, and you have a limited market opportunity.

Third, while they might offer to sell your work today, there’s no guarantee that they will tomorrow. So what might be a sales channel for you now could dry up a year from now.

Therefore, if you allow a gallery to stop you from building your own business, you are severely limiting your opportunity to make sales and are taking on great long-term risk. You absolutely cannot allow this to happen, until you have exhausted the negotiation completely (which we will help you with below) and you still feel that you must work with this gallery.

Understanding “Re-Seller” Psychology

"Why does everything have to be so complicated?" gif
Re-sellers, or dealers, are those who buy products from a manufacturer and re-sell it to others.

They are a layer of distribution that is common in every industry. Although, this distribution layer is precisely what is being disrupted all across the world — we covered this in Episode 15 of the Art Marketing Podcast.

If they are going to put in the effort to sell your work, they don’t want you to compete with them for the same sale.

In a perfect world, they want “exclusivity,” meaning they are the only place selling the specific product. This ensures that all the sales go to them.

But manufacturers have been selling direct to their customers for many years, as well as through their dealers. They realized at some point that they needed to do both, and in the process, have figured out ways to make all parties happy.

The main way this is accomplished is when the manufacturer agrees to price their products slightly higher (say 10%) than the reseller. This way, the re-seller always has an advantage and there is no real benefit to buy the product direct from the manufacturer.

When a manufacturer breaks their word and sells at a price equal to or below the dealers price, they usually burn the relationship with that dealer. The dealer no longer trusts them and will no longer sell their products. This happens all the time, so it is important to know that this scenario is what the dealer fears. You don’t ever want to burn this bridge, and you want the dealer to know that upfront.

So Why Does the Art Gallery Want You to Not Sell Your Own Work?

Artist sculpting wood.

An art gallery is a “re-seller” and has the same psychology mentioned above.

They don’t want to put in the work of selling your art, just to have the customer buy from you direct.

So if you really want to sell to that gallery, you need to find a way to make both sides happy.

Your Negotiation Options

"If you help us, we'll get you what you need." gif

Before you start negotiating, express to the gallery that you understand and are sensitive to their position.

Tell them that you love your dealers, that you view the relationship as a partnership and that you will never undercut them but instead will try to help them grow their sales.

This will give you more credibility in the negotiation, because they will feel more comfortable that you will uphold your side of the bargain.

If the dealer has to teach you about the nuances of the re-seller distribution model, and they think you are a novice — they will likely only work with you if they can fully control you. They do this because they think you will cave in to the temptation when someone comes to you with an offer to buy your work.

Once you open a dialogue with your dealers, use these negotiation points to reassure them that running your own art gallery website is a win-win situation for everyone involved:

1. Agree to Maintain Higher Prices

Photographer shaking hands with another man.As mentioned above, if a gallery is offering your work then you should always sell at a higher price than the gallery. 10% is usually enough.

This way, even if a customer finds you as a result of the gallery, they will have no incentive to buy direct because it will only cost them more. This is the ideal scenario for the artist and you should always start here in the negotiation.

If the gallery only offers a few pieces, let them know they can also direct the customer to your own art gallery website where they can see all of your pieces. The gallery should be able to give them a special price on everything you sell — something they cannot get on your website.

So for example, say you offer a 20% off first time customer coupon for your email list in your lead capture tool. The gallery should be able to get that customer an ADDITIONAL 10% off of whatever price they are being offered. In this case, it would mean 30% off their first order.

By doing this, your website and your offers will never compete with the gallery. The customer will also value their relationship with the gallery, knowing they can always get a better deal by working through the gallery.

This is a huge win for the gallery. They don’t have the wall space to showcase all your work, but you have given them not only a way to sell all of your work, but a real incentive to do so.

If the gallery doesn’t get excited with the 10% difference in price. Try 15%, then 20%. At some point it will work.

2. Agree to Share Commission on All Sales

Handful of money.This is not something we recommend doing, but offering this will work pretty much every single time. Here, you tell the gallery that if you make a sale from your own art gallery, you will still give them a commission — even though they did nothing.

This deal is bad for you and great for the gallery (which is why they will jump on it), but if the gallery is that important to you then it is a card you can play.

Here, you should try to negotiate a smaller commission on the sales from your site. This is only fair, and they will probably agree to that.

For example, if the gallery normally takes a 50% commission, you should try to negotiate a 25% commission on an item not currently being offered in their retail location.

This agreement should always have a fixed term of say one or two years.

Never, ever should it be a perpetual agreement without expiration.

Remember that the shorter the term, the better it is for you if this turns out to be a bad deal. Whatever you agree on, make sure it is very clear and in writing.

Overall, If you give the gallery a way to ride your wave while limiting their downside risk (by using the aforementioned negotiation tactics), you should have no problem getting them on board.

Your Own Art Gallery is Your Future

Website depicting your own art gallery.

In a previous post, we listed all the benefits of running your own art gallery business, online. It has been widely discussed and documented that this approach is what will ultimately bring you consistent sales.

Therefore, you can’t ever let any art gallery force you into giving this up. If you do, at some point that sales channel will dry up and you will be starting over from square one.

That said, it is extremely important to have your own established art gallery online before you start negotiating.

The worst thing you can do is approach galleries without having your own online art gallery first.

It will become a point of negotiation, because they will make it one. Without your own art gallery website, you will be in a weak position during any negotiation, and you’ll have a very difficult time overcoming this.

You can take this issue off the table completely just by having your own art gallery first.

When you walk into a negotiation already having your own legitimate art gallery online, that you are already selling from, the discussion will revolve around how to find a way to work together.

You will also come across as someone who is already selling, which is a really good sign for the gallery owner.