This Is What Happens When Things Are Not as You Think

Have you had this experience? You have a strong intuitive feeling that a situation is one thing. Then you find out it’s the opposite. It’s puzzling and startling a bit to learn your radar is not as reliable as you think.

Perceptions are not reality!

We all walk around with pre-conceived notions. We all look for the facts that support our point of view. The recent presidential election is a perfect example.

This post is not about politics – really!

I have family members and friends who are avid Trump supporters and others who abhor him. These are intelligent people who have access to all the same facts. It’s just they interpret what’s going on with opposed beliefs.

Please save your rants. Despite the comparison, this post is NOT a forum for debate about politics.

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How my perceptions were warped.

Here’s an example that happened to me years ago. I was working in St. Louis, MO as a senior account executive for Decor magazine and Decor Expo tradeshows.

My wife and I had seen some beautiful stained glass pieces at an outdoor art fair. The exhibitor owned a couple of galleries in the nearby suburbs of St. Louis.

stained glass flower - barney davey At the show, we fell in love with a stained glass flower with curved glass. It was already sold. The exhibitor invited us to come to the gallery and see other similar examples. He gave us his card with both addresses.

The next day we went to the one closest to us. It was in an upscale area further west of downtown with lots of new home construction.

The gallery was a visual delight. It had a clean, modern vibe and the art on display was excellent. It turned out the piece we liked was at the other location. It was in a more established area closer to the city. We drove the ten miles or so to get to the other gallery.

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Like the first gallery, this one was in a strip mall. But, the second strip mall had a bit of a worn feel to it. That happens when you are working with structures built in the 1950s or earlier.

The gallery was the opposite of the modern one went visited first. It had low ceilings and a bunch of rooms that you had to wander through to see the art within.

What a Difference?

This second gallery also had a cluttered feel unlike the open and airy experience of the first. It did have our precious piece which we bought, and you see here.

The one thing it had going for it was the demographics. Homes in its neighborhood were well-established. Per capita income was equal to or slightly higher than the other gallery. Most importantly, the people in the neighborhood had been there a long time and were not house poor. Even though incomes were relative, these folks had money to spend.

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Never be afraid to ask questions.

If you show genuine interest and are polite people will usually open up and share lots of information with you.

I began a conversation with the gallery manager.  The owner was still working the art fair. I was curious about which gallery did better, although I was certain the first was the winner.

To my surprise, I found out the owners were only riding out the lease at the modern, brightly lit gallery. They were going to close it as soon as they could. What the gallery owners had learned after opening the new gallery astonished them. Despite being its upscale neighborhood and high per capita income sales were off.

The new gallery’s sales were 25% of the established gallery in the rundown strip mall. They knew longevity in the first location was part of the reason. But, it could not account for a 75% difference in sales with the same art rotating through them.

Looks Can Be Deceiving

Their conclusion of what caused the sales problem was simple, and I believe accurate. There was an age difference between the areas. The newer area skewed to younger families. Yuppies (young upwardly-mobile professional)  as they were known in the day. The problem with them was too many were house poor.

The Yuppies bought the most expensive house their credit would allow. They had leases on expensive cars and large house payments. These and other expenses left them no income to buy beautiful things for their homes. Art was far down the list of discretionary income items they would buy.

Wise Old Sayings Ring True

Before I knew the story, I would have bet against the older gallery. I would have lost a lot of money betting the newer location was the winner. It was a lesson I’ve never forgotten. There are powerful sayings that support what I had learned.

You can’t judge a book by its cover.

Things are not always as they appear.

The bottom line is if you act on instinct you can make big mistakes. I’m not for using research as a reason for not getting things done. I just know you can save yourself money, time and regret by taking informed action. The action can be imperfect. Try to make the basis for the action as realistic as possible. That is all.

Don’t let this happen to you

Imagine you are launching a gallery marketing effort. Choosing galleries that only appeal to you could cost you lost sales. The same goes for searching for your ideal buyer. Don’t narrow your perfect buyer perspective too much. Cutting potentially profitable prospects, you hurt yourself.

No one is ever going to get making such decisions perfect. You are still going to be wrong some of the time. You want to be right more often than you are wrong when deciding on targeting:

  • Ideal buyer prospects
  • Potential gallery partners
  • Shows with best sales opportunities
  • Third-party distribution channels, and more


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  • What was the demographic of people who bought art at the run-down location? Aren’t older people mostly on a fixed income, and people too young to get married generally cash-poor? That doesn’t leave a lot of people.

    • Good question. The second gallery was not so much rundown as it was aging. The people were older, but their income was equal or better than the other gallery. Because they had lived in their homes for longer they had equity in them. Probably had lower mortgages, which left them money to spend on discretionary income items like art.

  • Great article, Barney. Live and learn.

  • Older people usually have no room for art as well as being on a fixed income….I find the market is best with established 30s and 40s interested in upgrading their enviornment.

    • In general, you’re right. Targeting Gen X and Millennials is the best way to go. However, every situation is unique and as this story illustrates doing one’s homework can uncover hidden gems.

  • Jane Mick says:

    I know the money areas can play a part, but my experience has been the age of the buyer the most. I paint landscapes that appeal to an older generation and my wine and martini art appeals to a younger crowd. I have not seen the full display of glass art, but I feel from the photo of the purchased piece in my opinion it would appeal to an older buyer.

    • The stained glass piece was purchased more than 20 years ago. I’m not sure I would want to buy it today. At that time, I was in my 40s. But, that is not the point. The premise is to challenge your perceptions before you make decisions.

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