07 December 2006

Where Do Loyalties Lie...?

I am wondering about human nature as related to my world. Fine Art.
People that come through my gallery, or any gallery, look at us as sales people. No different than cars, vacuums or household fixtures. I have spent my life studying art. And yet, sales are sales. To most.

The difference is that I will not say things just to make a sale. No matter what gallery I have work for I have a terrible habit of telling potential collectors exactly what I think of a work or of an artist. Often it has cost me sales. In my mind, I want the collector to know they can trust me. I would rather they passed on something now if it meant they would come back to me later. A lie now might make a sale. Truth will make a client. I want clients.

The art business is about relationships. Art is unlike anything else people buy. Art can be immortal. It will(if cared for) last for hundreds of years or more. Art will almost always hold its value. Quality work will hold its value at worst. At best it will grow to limitless amounts. Art is a reflection of ones personality. Most will go through several sofas, chairs, window treatments etc over the years. The art they will keep. It will become a family heirloom and be passed down from generation to generation.

One of the things I have a hard time with in this business is client loyalty. I expect clients to be loyal to me, because I have earned it over the years by being honest with them. Even if they want to buy a work that I don't handle, I always think they should ask my opinion or ask if I can get them the work. If I think it is a good work at a good value I tell them to buy it. Keep the client, build relationships.

Being an art dealer I get to know some clients very well. We are a part of their lives in a personal way. We are invited to their homes. We know the families. We talk to them about getting married, divorced, having kids and sometimes death. When was the last time their car or refrigerator salesman was involved in their lives like that?

We had been in San Diego for eight years before coming here to open our own gallery.
Eight years is longer than most marriage's last. They stop being clients and become friends. At least, to me.

Having been in this same business for as long as I have, I realize that when I change galleries, most of my clients will not follow me. No matter how well I know them or how long I have know them. They will stay with the gallery not the consultant.

Every time this surprises me. I still think to myself, they should be loyal to me. Not the gallery. Clients are all over the world. They very seldom came to the gallery in person. They would call, ask for me. Or email. I provide the service for them. And yet they are loyal to the gallery, not me.

When we decided to move from San Diego to come here, I talked to the Director about clients. He was worried that we would take all of his business. I remember telling him that most of them would not follow us. And now, I am still surprised that they didn't. Even though I knew I shouldn't, I expected their loyalty.

We still talk with many of them. It's awkward now. Like talking to an old lover. It's polite but with a nervous tension. You both know it will never be the same. Eventually we will stop talking.

I know that the longer we are here, that we will make new clients and friends. I know that when we leave here, that most will not follow us. Each time this craziness starts over from the beginning.

I don't get it. Never have, most likely never will.

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