I am planning to participate in "Open Studios" next week. I am worried about security, studio pricing (discount or no), and whether this is the best way to bring in new customers. What do you advise?
Dear Open Sesame,
There are lots of Open Studio events during the holidays. This can be an excellent way for you to meet the public, educate your visitors about materials and processes, and hopefully, sell you work.
The Professional Guidelines has an Artist Checklist to help you make your Open Studio a successful event. This is available for free in both Word and as a PDF.
You’re right to think about security before your Open Studio. Your personal safety, the safety of your visitors, and the safekeeping of tools and materials are all important considerations. Start early to plan for these contingencies.
If your Open Studio is advertised and “open to the public”, plan to have at least one other person with you at all times. If necessary, hire an assistant or ask a friend to keep an eye out whenever you are engaged with visitors. (If you can’t afford to pay your assistant, consider offering credit towards a purchase based on an hourly rate.) If the studio is in or near your home, there should be an additional person inside your living space at all times for security.
Money and checks should be carried by one person at all times; never store your money, checks, or credit card receipts in a box that you put down or hide (someone may be watching.) It is best if your assistant is responsible for all sales so that you can be the artist talking about your work. The assistant should wear a name tag that says "sales" under her name and should be familiar with your pricing, payment plans, and discount policy (in case someone asks.)
Store all valuable materials, highly desirable items, and small tools out of sight. Don’t leave anything out that might get picked up.
Clearly mark areas that are off-limits to visitors with ropes or obvious signs. Unplug all power tools so that they can not be turned on by accident. People may not be familiar with tools and touch a button, step on a floor pedal rheostat or rotate a lever without realizing they are starting a motor. Chemicals should be stored out of sight in sealed containers.
Have you considered what happens if young children come to your studio? Frequently, I have been asked if school groups or girl scouts can visit my studio space. My rule is that children must be 12 years or older for public groups. Younger children can be decided on a case by case basis, but you never know what will happen if your studio is open to the public. Be prepared and post an appropriate sign if you are concerned to limit your liability.
Is your studio handicap accessible? If yes, or no indicate this on your announcement? Steps, narrow doorways, or uneven pavement may present difficulties to your visitors, but the impact on your Open Studio may be disastrous. When you are trying to make your Open Studio a financial and professional success, spending a strenuous half-hour sweating out whether a visitor can navigate your steps is not a wise use of your time.
Uneven pavement or unexpected steps should be marked with signs on the walls and highly visible tape on the floor. Low ceilings or low thresholds should also be indicated with signs, tape, and maybe even foam on the edge.
Do you have business insurance to cover your liability if someone is injured at your studio? Scary thought, but your homeowner's insurance does not cover business-related activities.
Studio prices should be the same as retail prices at the galleries or stores that show your work. An open studio represents a significant investment in retailing. In addition, in is unwise to under-price the retail locations that exhibit your work. Sell the unique features of your work, not the price. Can you offer another incentive for purchase that supports your retail prices? (Read the discounts document in the Professional Guidelines for more information.)
Decide your Return Policy in advance and post your Return Policy in a visible location in the Studio. (If you do not post your Return Policy it will be assumed that you have no restrictions on a return which is probably not the case.) Your Return Policy should be at the location where you are most likely to make a transaction such as your sales counter, cash register, or packing area. It would be a good idea to post an additional sign in another visible location. In addition, informing customers in advance might make them more comfortable knowing your Return Policy before they decide to purchase an item.
Prepare your invoices in advance with your Return Policy on the invoice. This can either be on the invoice on your computer, (ready to fill out with the customer's name and the items purchased) or have a pre-printed invoice ready. Print, stamp or use a sticker label of your Return Policy on the preprinted Invoice book or sales receipt.
You asked “whether this is the best way to bring in new customers. What do you advise?” Really, this depends on your objectives and how much you will spend on the Open Studio. Keep in mind you need to consider your time invested in the Open Studio event instead of making new work. Would your time be more productive at a retail show or on making new work for your gallery? Generally, an Open Studio event during the holidays is more successful if you have seasonal themes and items suitable as gifts in a modest price range.
How are you going to find “new customers”? I do not recommend paying for a mailing list of names and addresses and prefer the idea of targeting a select group of people interested in artist-made or hand-crafted work. An ad in the newspaper to the general public can be scary, possibly inappropriate! Can you share an Open Studio with other artists where you can pool your mailing lists? Start small with your friends and build a network each year. Good luck.
This post was updated on December 15, 2021