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Setting-up & Opening-up a gallery, need help on technical and business aspects

Discussion in 'General Discussion' started by Wail, Aug 4, 2008.

  1. Wail


    Aug 14, 2007
    Saudi Arabia
    In a few months time I am moving back to my home country (Saudi Arabia), and am planning my “retirement” project of setting-up my own gallery to display, and sell, my photos.

    This is a whole new business for me and something new to the Saudi market as a whole; especially with the concept(s) that I have in mind.

    My career has spanned numerous senior positions in international companies, so I have been able to devise a rough draft of a business plan for this. Never the less any business & technical input on the gallery will be of great help.

    There are two aspects to this, the business side where I’m marketing the “end products” and how I will sell them; and then there is the technical aspect of printing, framing, copyrights, etc.

    As myy move back home will not be for another few months, early to middle of March 2009. Never the less, I will need to build-up knowledge and do my homework before I am over there. I will be able to travel between here (UK) and my country on a regular basis (5 ~ 6 times a year, or thereabouts).

    So, please give me whatever input, pointers, head’s-up that you may have; as nothing’s better than getting it from a fellow-photographer.
  2. Hi, Wail, this sounds like an exciting time and new adventure for you. I'm an amateur photographer (serious, though), and my work is counseling small businesses so I'll speak to the business aspect.

    Peter Drucker, whose reputation was that of "the man who invented management" laid out three critical questions for any business:

    1. What business are you in?
    2. Who are your customers?
    3. What do they consider value?

    The first step in setting up your business should be to determine what market there is for your product. Do people in Saudi Arabia regularly buy photographs as art? How many? Where are they in relation to your proposed gallery?

    Are other people selling photos in galleries? Are they making any money? Why or why not? How will you be better than them? How will you let prospective customers know that?

    If part of your business is a new concept for Saudi Arabia you have the additional hurdle of customer education before you can sell them anything. How will you do that?

    For most new businesses in the U.S. it takes about 18 months to break even and longer than that for the owner to safely withdraw money from the enterprise. Are you budgeted for that? Do you really need to make any money from the business?

    A start up business's financial plan should have at least two years of month by month projections for sales and expenses. Of course no business plan survives the first ten minutes after it's written, but at least there is the planning process that can then be honed.

    A gallery that only sells photos and from only one photographer is a fairly narrow concept. I would look around in London or other large cities you travel to and see if there are similar galleries. How are they similar to what you want to do? How different are they? Who are the people who shop there? How will you reach those types of people at home? A year or more of deep market research for a new concept business is not too much.

    I hope I am not giving the impression of pessimism here. These are questions I ask of all my clients while I am cheering them on to be successful. Best of luck!
  3. Wail


    Aug 14, 2007
    Saudi Arabia
    First off, thank you so much for all that input, a lot of great tip there and I assure you I am covering all these. Many of that which you've said I am already looking into, and there are many points that you've mentioned that just skipped me ... so, thank you so much for this.

    With regards to the part that I've quoted, this is one of the two parts that is giving me greatest worries. I still am not sure how I will market my products (the photographs / frames). Should I set-up a gallery to establish a name and from there on sell the end products; or should I just sell them via the luxury furniture outlets (most of those in Saudi I have very close ties with the owners due to my years in banking etc.).

    If I go with the gallery route, I am thinking of setting up my own space (long lease) and then I could sub-let the space to other photographers and artists. I could also enclude in the location cafe (again, I have a lot of contacts with some international branded cafes) and may be even a space to cater to other services.

    The other concern I have is what / how do I set-up the gallery? Are there "industry rule and guidelines" that I should adhere to? I have visited 10s of such galleries but it's not the same as having to set one up!

    All in all, I think the most important thing is to get myself a good market research, as you've suggested, to see which approach I will head for. That done, I have to complete my business, marketing, and financial plans to assess the viability of the whole idea.

    I am more than happy to have this run for the first couple of years to just establish the name, and then to start to see some income to cover "general" expenses before I think of making any serious money out of it.

    Ultimately, my real aim is to promote photogrpahy to the new generations, and to share what I've shot with others .. the income is primarily to aid in what has been a very expesive hobby thus far!

    Again, thank you so much for the input and head's up.

    If you can point me in any direction that can assist me with the business of the gallery, I would be very obliged :smile:
  4. Wail, thanks for reading all of that.

    I'll go back to Drucker's first question: "What business are you in?"

    Are you a photographer or a gallery owner? They are completely different businesses. A photographer sells photographs and/or his (her) services. In addition to shooting he or she must research markets, talk to galleries, network, keep track of the submissions, keep books, and keep shooting.

    A gallery owner must pay rent, hire and train staff, advertise, sweep, dust, polish frames and counters, keep books, set up exhibits, tear down exhibits, hold openings, schmooze the press, circulate in the right social set, network, and, oh, yes, make sure there is enough interesting art to satisfy the clients. How much time would you have to actually shoot? Most successful small business owners spend 60-65 hours per week in their business. Much more than that leads to burnout; much less usually means that there is not enough entrepreneur energy in the business to make it go.

    A gallery set up for an educational mission will probably not make very much money, if any; unless there is also a paying school attached.

    In the US there is a great deal of technical business assistance through the Small Business Administration and Small Business Development Centers - both government funded and which provide services at no charge. The SBA has an extensive website that is available for anyone: http://www.sba.gov There is also another one that is easier to navigate through: http://business.gov. Mostly the sites have general business info on small biz, with some US specific things on there about taxes, etc. I don't know what the analog would be in Britain.

    I am sure there are many books about running a photography business and also about running an art gallery. Unfortunately, I don't know of any that I would recommend. I would get acquainted with books on general small business. Try http://www.nolo.com, it has mostly US legal books for small business, but also a lot of general business publications. Very high quality.

    I would also ask every and any art/photo gallery owner about their business. Sometimes if you are very open with them: "I want to open a gallery in Saudi Arabia, thousands of miles from here and no competition to you, what can you tell me?" you will get a surprising amount of information. If you're in a gallery ask the customers what they buy, why, and how did they learn about this gallery. Ground level market research, direct from the mouths of customers, is the best.

    I hope this little bit helps. Check in from time to time and let us know how you're doing!
  5. Wail


    Aug 14, 2007
    Saudi Arabia
    Again, thank you for all of this, and for the links.

    What business am I in .... a very good question indeed!

    I have visited 10s of galleries all over the UK, and in other countried too so that I get a "look" & "feel" of how things are set-up and organised. But what the patron sees is just the tip of the iceburge! I was hoping to learn about how they archive things, how they choose to change the desplays, what do they use for wall desplays (other than just hanging things off a nail on the wall!) etc.

    I haven't approached any gallery with direct questions, and may be this is what I ought to do .. as you say, since I am setting this up 1,000s of miles away the owner may not feel threatened by "competitoin". I also need to do as much reading, again, as you've suggested, and I've got myself a book (just the one) that is ok ..

    So, it seems I will start to list the galleries that are near-by and make an appoitment to get with the owner(s) for a cup of tea :smile:
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