As part of our regular profiles of established and startup businesses, we caught up with husband-and-wife team Trevor and Joanna Woods from Gallery Plus in Norfolk. They run what is for many a dream business – an art gallery.
Joanna told us a bit more about what it’s like in practice.
What’s your business?
Gallery Plus is a contemporary art gallery with original paintings, original prints, ceramics and jewellery by artists and makers from around the country. We have a professional on-site picture framing service too and it’s also the home of Trevor Woods’ Contemporary Art Studio.
We use QuickBooks Pro. It’s easy to use, the navigation is simple, and it does everything we need for running our business on a day-to-day basis. Generating reports on any aspect and at any time enables us to monitor exactly how we’re doing weekly, monthly and annually.
We opened in April 2009. Many people said: “Are you mad, opening at the beginning of a recession?!”, but we knew we were doing the right thing.
We both have a background in the arts and a real interest in design, so when the premises came up in such an ideal location – on the busy North Norfolk Coast Road – it made perfect sense to open this business together.
What’s interesting about it?
The gallery itself is open and airy and boasts unrivalled natural light – an accolade we believe no other East Anglian gallery can claim! We are quite different to other galleries, not only in the excellent mix of work that we sell – you’re unlikely to find any of it in another gallery along the coast – but in that we enjoy working with and for all of our artists and we actively promote them.
Further, Trevor’s onsite working studio engages customers in a new way – not only can they can see his paintings in progress, but they can chat to him directly about his inspirations and background, and the conversations very often develop and progress onto all kinds of subjects – places, holidays, life, cars and so on! This has also produced many useful contacts and lots of new friends.
How’s it going?
Obviously it’s hard during a recession as art is a luxury item, but we’re getting return customers and it’s all heading in the right direction. The feedback we get is extremely positive.
We’re always on the lookout for new artists and makers whose work will sit well within our gallery space and complement the existing display. We also want to continue developing our client base, both for the gallery and the picture framing. At some point, if there is enough demand, we may look into the Own Art Scheme.
We also want to look at new ideas for how the gallery space can be utilised, such as renting it out for specific shows. In addition, we want to develop how we can alter the look of the gallery with different displays.
What are the highs of running your own business?
Being your own boss is obviously high on the list! Being in control of everything, from what we sell and how we promote it to managing the finances, is great.
I think most important thing, though, is that we know how we want to approach our customers.
We’re not salespeople – we never put pressure on anyone to buy something. Art is a very personal thing after all and it’s very important to us that our customers buy art from us, as opposed to us selling it to them.
And the lows?
It’s tough sometimes on quiet days when there’s hardly anybody around and it proves difficult to get yourself motivated, but there’s always something going on in the background, whether it’s keeping the websites updated, painting or framing.
What has been your biggest success in business to date?
Starting up a business with no bank loans and remaining that way, as well as opening the gallery and being successful in hard times. In fact the whole venture for us has been extremely positive.
What mistakes have you learned from?
A very basic but simple idea came from one of our customers…have something to occupy children! We found that, naturally, children mostly get bored in galleries and subsequently start touching things and the parents (and we!) get frustrated and they make a hasty departure. Now we have colouring-in books, pads and coloured pencils so the children can sit and draw while the parents take their time and have a proper look around.
In order to encourage the children to engage with the art, we usually get them to select a painting within the gallery and copy it. With the child’s permission, we can scan their image and share it on our Facebook page.
Which businesses/entrepreneurs inspire you and why?
Two quite different people: Orla Kiely and Sir Alan Sugar. Both have worked, and continue to work, extremely hard and have made a huge success of their respective businesses, whilst constantly maintaining their integrity.
What’s your top tip?
Always have your eyes and ears open – you never know when a new opportunity might present itself.
What would you like help/tips from other small businesses on?
How can we make links with the press and glossy magazines? We’d love to be featured and tell our positive story and prove that redundancy or recession doesn’t mean the end.
Find out more
Do you have any questions for Joanna and Trevor? Can you give them any tips on getting press and media coverage?