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Re-‘framing’ the art business

Impressions looks to better serve the art community by changing their focus
Pete Davies is excited about the changes coming to Impressions Custom Framing and Gallery

There’s a reason people have been walking through the door of Impressions Custom Framing and Gallery and immediately asking “what’s going on?”

That’s because they are working on a major revamp that will see a number of significant changes come to the downtown store this year, according to owner Kris Sand and manager Peter Davies.

They’re keeping the name. And they’ll still be selling art supplies and doing custom framing work.

So what could they possibly be changing? That’s what they already did, right?

Well, the most significant change is that the store – which literally has “gallery” in its name – will soon have much less art on the walls. While this will surely be disappointing for local artists who already struggle to find places to show and sell their work, Sand says it just wasn’t worth it for them financially to keep offering that service when they could better utilize the space.

“It’s always been a service we provided for the artists rather than a benefit for the business,” Sand says. “And it’s a tremendous amount of work on our end to maintain it for very little, if any, benefit to us as a business.”

Yes, Impressions charged a commission on art sales that came off their walls – and they made some money by doing that – but when you’re looking at two or three sales per year coming out of about one-third of their space – leased by the foot – you can understand why they needed to make the change, Sand says.

“The gallery, whilst it was great in supporting the artists in giving them a place to show, the sales just weren’t happening,” Davies agrees. “I always told people, ‘if you want to actually sell your paintings, don’t hang them here,’” he says. “I told them it was good for displaying and getting them in front of the public, but don’t expect them to sell.”

And it’s not that they won’t be supporting artists in the showing and selling of their work anymore. They just won’t be by giving up the walls of their store.

They plan on doing this not only launching what Sand is calling a “virtual gallery” for artists to contribute to, but also by throwing some of their weight behind other show and sale endeavours.

“Rather than having stuff here, taking up a third of our real estate, we’ll have people put their stuff in our virtual gallery online,” Sand says. “We haven’t sussed out exactly what that’s going to look like yet, but it’ll be another avenue for people to show their work. And I think there could be enough avenues in Campbell River for people to show and sell their work if people would support them.

“Personally, I’d like to start supporting more of these pop-up galleries and that kind of thing. I think everyone should be working on that. When a building or storefront downtown goes empty – what’s uglier than an empty building? – what if we could talk to these building owners and say, ‘let us go in there with some art and if you rent it, well, we can be out of there in a couple of days.’ It’s good for art and it’s good for the community.”

So now the front third of the store – which was gallery space up until the start of 2017 – will become additional retail space to allow them to expand their offerings.

“We needed to expand on our product delivery to make sure we were giving people access to what they need in terms of supplies,” Davies says. “And we’re doing that based on what we’ve heard from people about what they need.”

Another big change coming for Impressions, Davies says, is their communication and cooperation with the local art instructors.

“Another thing we’re trying to do is to link up with the various people in the community who give art lessons and that kind of thing, because we get a lot of students who come in with their product list and there might be a small discrepancy between the name of what’s on the list and what we actually stock, and first time artists, for example, if they have a list that says ‘Winsor-Newton such and such a colour,’ they don’t think it can be anything else,” Davies says. “So we’re hoping to touch base with these people offering these courses and make sure that we know what they’re asking people to get and to let us know when they’re going to be needing it so we can make sure we can get it should the students come dashing in here looking for it.”

Sand says they will also be broadening the number of services they offer.

“We’re definitely making to look to make it a more interactive store,” Sand says, “rather than a place where you just go in to buy art supplies.”

One of those “interactive” aspects will be the creation of an online database of tips videos and in-store tutorials, and making much better use of their social media platforms to tighten up the local arts community and get communication going.

And that’s not the only change coming online for the store. They’re also looking to create an “Amazon-esque” kind of shopping experience on their website for people who may prefer to do their shopping that way.

“It would be a place online where they would be able to fill a virtual cart of our products, and then when they want to check out, we’ll go around the store and make them a box, so all they have to do is come in and pick it up,” Davies says.

This all takes time, however, and there’s no real timeline on when all of these changes will be fully implemented. They still have to run their business, after all.

“Softly, softly, catchy monkey,” Davies says.

Wait, what?

“I don’t know where it came from,” he says, laughing, “but the idea is that if you want to catch a monkey, you have to go, softly. Softly. We can’t just go jumping into all of this feet first. We have to work through it one step at a time.

“Softly, softly, catchy monkey.”

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