Archive for the ‘Retailer Spotlight’ Category

Who’s Who: Preston Arts Center

Thursday, October 11th, 2018

The current family of origin at Preston Arts Center: Don, Andrew, Alex, Kathy and Amelia Preston

Who’s Who celebrates a member of our industry community. If you would like to nominate someone, please email us at artdogblog (@) macphersonart.com with their name, position, company and a short description.

Kathy Brennan and Don Preston, the owners of Preston Arts Center in Louisville, KY, celebrate owning their family business for 40 years this month. They are major players in the independent world, and they have been able to thrive in a city with major competition.

This month, Andrew Preston, Kathy and Don’s son, will be hosting a two hour reception for vendors and their best customers, some of whom have been shopping with them since they opened their doors in 1978. In addition to the reception, a store-wide sale is in order and the rest of the family is coming home to celebrate.

What Matters Most

“Preston’s has always been a place where the staff has had to know everything.” Kathy wrote in their most recent newsletter. “I remember one sign writer who came in and yelled at me because I did not understand what “Showcard Paint” was. I remember custom mixing paint, figuring wallpaper, making craft samples, teaching craft classes, and so on.” Art education has always been a top priority–that and family.

“From our children’s earliest ages there was no mystery about what mom and pop did for a living,” writes Don in his celebratory blurb. “Although the dinner table may have contained a recapitulation of the day’s work, it was a tangible experience for all three children and we hope contributed to their maturity and outgoing personalities. To be business partners with your spouse is an extra benefit that extends family solidarity beyond the norm.”

All In The Family

Kathy and Don are eventually passing the business down to their son Andrew, who works in store and will mark the third generation to take on the business. We called in to learn more about their business, their family and their community—which we quickly discovered are all one and the same. When discussing the challenges and benefits of working in a family business, Kathy admits a challenge before focusing on the benefits—an attitude that no doubt has led to success for Preston Arts.

Because family members know one another so well, “it’s hard to keep difficult feelings from showing…on the other hand, it’s easier to work like a team. We are together 24/7. My husband has been a pillar of a partner, and it has been a pleasure. We have supported one another through it all; it has been a give and take.”

Preston Arts Center remains a major player in the region of Kentuckiana. When we ask how they’ve managed, Kathy cuts to the chase. It’s all about creating that personal experience. Not just a community feel, but an an actual community.

“It’s all about treating people like guests. Being personable. Students become friends, go out to lunch together. In the spring we have a big event and invite reps to do demonstrations. One of our reps mentioned she’s never been in a place with so many hugs!”

As for her proudest accomplishments, she instantly thought of the store’s relationship with chosen family: customers, staff and vendor partners.

“I’m proud that our customers are our friends and our extended family. We had a theft over Thanksgiving weekend—they took every brush, watercolor and oil. We posted about it on Facebook and people came in to order supplies in advance… We made $1500 more in sales that week, more than enough to cover our losses. Suppliers and vendors were so supportive.

Art education, and the pursuit of education in general, is another core value for the Preston Arts Center family.

Don and Kathy’s life drawing class presenting Thank You gifts

“I’m also proud that we’re also one of the largest private art schools in the city. We have 50 regular classes, everything from watercolor to alcohol ink to acrylic to hyperrealism. The education piece is big.”

The Next Generation

After chatting with Kathy, we reached out to her son Andrew, who (literally) grew up in the business. He shared his perspective as future third generation owner. Just like his mom, he admitted a challenge before refocusing on the positives. Realism must run in the family!

“Working with family presents all of the joys and all of the difficulties of being with your family. It’s great being able to support each other, develop ideas together. We watch out for each other. We share traits, so we might share a bias or a blindspot. We look out for that and are honest with one another.” Other benefits?

Don and Kathy with their son Andrew receiving an award for service to the art community from the Arts Council of Southern Indiana in 2007

“I don’t have to travel to see them. And if there is a childcare emergency, I bring my baby into the store and say, ‘Hi Grandma, Hi Grandpa… Have fun!”

Roena, the next generation, “helping” Grandma work

The family-friendly work environment is a long-standing tradition. “Some of my earliest memories? As small kid, there were a number of cool displays that I could crawl around in and hide in. My family used to have a building downtown, three stories with a cool creepy basement that was filled with all kinds of stuff from the paint and wallpaper store, including a giant furniture slide that went from the alley down to the basement. We would grab cardboard and slide down it. We had a blast.”

“I started working in the store around the age of 10, setting up classrooms and displays, doing odd jobs. At the age of 33 I still do all of the things I used to do when I was a kid. At the store we all pitch in. No one is superior to anyone else, we all pick up jobs no matter how long we’ve been at it.”

While he has been involved with the business since his first NAMTA show at just two and a half weeks old, his interest in art supplies came later.

“Up until I came back from school and came back to working in the business, I actually had no interest in the supplies. It had always been a summer job for me. But as I got to talk to artists more, and understand their drive to create, it became much more appealing. I realized I could use the supplies to create something to be appreciated.”

His gateway into the realm of art supplies? “To play a hipster card, I was into paint pouring way before it was popular. We had a Liquitex person come in to test out a new pouring medium. I made presents for friends, my girlfriend at the time, who is now my wife. There is a lot of unique experience you get being around artists. They don’t fit into the typical mold; they create their own projects and own directions.”

Andrew with the newest addition to the Preston family, Roena.

Carrying on family traditions is crucial—down to naming new family members! “My daughter Roena is named after my grandmother because she did so much for the family. Continuing to honor tradition is important to me.” Roena’s great grandmother, Roena Preston, co-founded the store with her husband Andy. It was originally a wallpaper and paint store (hence the contents of the basement from Andrew’s childhood antics).

Names aside, Andrew emphasizes that the family traditions he holds dear include encouraging creative expression, creating a warm, familial atmosphere and prioritizing the pursuit of learning. Three generations of collective knowledge within the art supply industry runs deep; and for artists and other members of our creative community, it goes a long way. Andrew recalls a heated conversation with a seasoned tattoo artist at a demo they recently put on that explored the art and design styles of tattooing. “He was talking about how tattooing is a traditional art form with hundreds of years of history.” The artist felt that the tradition wasn’t being honored properly by the demo. “When I told him that I’m a third generation future owner of the store and he softened. My name is above the door, my dad’s name, my grandfather’s name… this tradition shows that we are invested, that we care.”

The most rewarding part of his day?

“On a regular basis, we get glowing reviews for our staff. All of our staff are artists; we take our jobs very seriously and we take our customers very seriously. There are people who may shy away from certain things, like exhibiting their work, working with other artists, or doing commissions. [Part of our work is] giving people the confidence they need to bare their souls to others. We do what we can to make their hopes and dreams come true.”

Check out the wonderful work of staff and instructors! From looking at their work online, we can only imagine the impact they have when they bring their expertise and creative energies to the classroom or sales floor. Artists in the Preston Arts staff and instructor community include plein air painter & muralist Catherine Bryant, painter Debra Lott, illustrator Kevlen Goodner, watercolorist Judy Mudd, painter Dawn Johnston, illustrator Harrison Fogle.

Lynn Busch, Andrew’s co-manager and long-time staff member shared her experience as a staff member. Her testimony says it all:

“13 years ago I was looking for a job in the field of art. I had just moved to town, finished up with my teaching degree… I stepped into the shop and it was a full on family atmosphere. That’s what I was looking for: a mom and pop. As I grew with them, it’s one of the most endearing qualities of the store: everyone who works together feels like family. We help each other out. Beyond just staffing, the customers are like family, too. Everybody knows everybody. There’s also always been a very strong push to future educate yourself in whatever ways inspire you. I’m a fiber artist, and I’m an educator for Jacquard products.”

At the T-RExpo. From left to right: Jeremy Miller, Kathy Brennan, Lynn Busch and Andrew Preston

Strong Foundation, With Willingness To Grow…

The common threads that knit Preston’s community together and allow it to flourish: a passion and drive to constantly learn more about the arts paired with an open, “welcome home” attitude that has customers coming back decade after decade. We are already looking forward to the 50th anniversary; by that time Roena will have her own stories to tell!

Innovative Collaboration: Calligraphy With POSCA

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Catherine Monahon, Copywriter, MacPherson’s

The beauty of our industry is in the connections we make. Oftentimes shop owners and staff are uniquely situated to connect with niche communities and play a part in sustaining local art scenes. Annette Wichmann of Kensington Art Supply & Instruction in Calgary, AB Canada has done just that. Her close ties with a local calligraphy guild and her rapport with customers, instructors and staff strengthens the tightly knit and growing calligraphy community in Calgary – and her fearless exploration of POSCA paint markers and Art Alternatives Creative Surfaces has given us serious food for thought!

A scripture-inspired piece on wood panels; two quotes on denim and burlap Art Alternatives Creative Surfaces.

Inspired by Assistant Brand Manager Tucker Russell’s POSCA demo at Dealer Workshop and intrigued by the Art Alternatives Creative Surfaces, Annette had an idea – and she knew her calligraphy instructor Kerri Forster would be game.

Using the POSCA markers and the Art Alternatives Creative Surfaces, Kerri created several works of art. She used a chisel tip and the PC-17K with amazing results and utilized smaller tips for embellishments and details. MacPherson’s Account Manager Jackie Hangebrauck brought different creative surfaces for people to try: burlap, denim, wooden slats. Calligraphy Guild members attended, new and repeat customers tried it out, instructors took what they learned at the demo back to their classes. Annette ran a 20% off sale on POSCA and the Art Alternatives Creative Surfaces during the demo and the following weekend; sales were positively impacted, people were curious and everyone got to try all eight POSCA tips.

Right: A quote on both the back and front of the glass of an empty frame. Kerri loved being able to work on glass, a difficult task without POSCA on hand!

Kerri (left) outlined why POSCA markers are delightful for calligraphers:

  1. Versatile surfaces. “Paper is fine, but you always want to put your calligraphy somewhere else. Glass and boxes and walls and furniture… a brush and paint might do it, but not always. Having a POSCA marker with all those different tricks is kind of like, wow, this is fun.”
  2. The Nibs. “One of the nibs has bristles and calligraphers love that, because we need the bristles to move with angles and speed and pressure. The PC-17K is like a brick with a slight bevel. I took an X-Acto knife and cut that bevel off to make a square, so I was able to get my thin strokes even thinner.”
  3. Layering. “Some markers are stinky, or transparent, or dry too fast, you can’t build color up unless you are on a white surface. POSCA is super helpful for learning, also for doing backgrounds, adding embellishments, doodling or going back into the serifs.”
  4. Coverage & Finish. “It sure has nice coverage and is really nice opaque with a flat finish. These markers were so fun to play with and it was a real treat being able to blend.” Cassie Brehmer, Macpherson’s Account Manager, took it upon herself to create a demo of how blendable POSCA markers are! Check out the video below to see how they blend on a non-porous surface like YUPO paper.

The result? Boosted sales, additional interest in calligraphy classes, and a happy, inspired instructor.

Sales Tip: Novelty Experiences & Instruction

Our conversations with Kerri and Annette got us thinking about savvy ways to incorporate staff talents and pique customer interest in products and classes. If calligraphy is a poetic, intense, lifelong love, hand-lettering is the enthusiastic younger sibling. By cultivating calligraphy in your store, you are tapping into the powerful trend of hand-lettering and deepening what might have been a one time purchase into a lifelong artistic practice.

Novelty Experience: Unlikely Demos

Combine two products that don’t usually get put together and see what happens. “Using different tools help people explore and get more comfortable / excited,” Kerri explains. See below for a holiday demo idea.

Face to Face Instruction

“People buy a calligraphy kit and say, think, Well this doesn’t work. That is like buying a piano and saying This doesn’t make music!”  We need instruction in real time: face-to-face connection is crucial. If someone runs into issues with a pen at home, they put it down and move on. With workshops, demos or in-store conversation, there is space for encouragement. “I teach people to understand the basic tools and help them understand the journey,” Kerry says. “Calligraphy is exciting and difficult and fun and terrible at the same time. You need encouragement and reflection.”

Customized Moleskine Cahier Notebooks, written with FW Inks. On the right: Ella Minnow Pea was inspired by this book.

Irresistible and Cost-Effective Freebies

Customize the cover of a journal your customer has just purchased!

Annette elaborates:

“I noticed the Calligraphy Guild next to me at a pop up event and I had the Moleskine Cahier notebooks with me. Someone thought it would be cool to write someone’s name on it. Then we started doing quotes. From then on there was a constant line of customers. So now Kerri comes into the store for Christmas or Valentine’s Day: the first customization is free, then I ask for a nominal fee for additional ones. It gets people interested in the products Kerri is using and gets them to try classes.”

Combining unlikely products? Close with a niche art community in your town or city? Let us know – email us at artdogblog (@) macphersonart.com. We’d love to learn more and share your story with the greater industry community.

A Closer Look: Kensington Art & Calligraphy

Friday, October 5th, 2018

Catherine Monahon, Copywriter, MacPherson’s

When we called Annette Wichmann, owner of Kensington Art Supply, about a recent POSCA demo by Kerri Forster, our conversations led to a deeper understanding of the symbiotic relationship between niche communities and art supply retailers, as well as a lesson in calligraphy we won’t soon forget. We decided to delve deeper into the hows and whys of their tightly knit community. Learn more about the POSCA and calligraphy demo that sparked this conversation in the first place.

Kensington Art Supply & Instruction carries a wide array of products, with two 1,000 sq ft studios and instructors who either rent space or run workshops. Annette knows many of her customers and instructors through the Bow Valley Calligraphy Guild, one of the largest calligraphy groups in Canada. Annette was a member of the Guild before she became the owner of the store. Her enduring friendships within the calligraphy community have both diversified the store’s inventory and generated unique selling opportunities.

“I carry a ton of calligraphy products because of my relationship with the Calligraphy Guild.” Annette explains. “Back when I used to go to more classes, they’d always ask, If you’re coming, can you bring…? I always had a little collection of stuff. I thought… why don’t I just bring more? They used to send me a supply list. Then when I couldn’t go, instructors still wanted to bring the supplies, so I implemented a system. My instructors take product on consignment for students who are in need of tools, so that they can buy the right ones right away and use them that day. These are people I can trust, so I feel comfortable giving them product.”

Kerri Forster, the store’s calligraphy instructor, teaches monthly classes with students of all ages and abilities – from people who have never tried calligraphy to experienced members of the Guild. She also attends events on behalf of Kensington Art, such as a comic expos or maker fairs. She’s happy to showcase the products Annette carries, especially because the calligraphy inventory is the result of direct asks and conversations. “[Annette] “gets” an artist’s mind – the fears, worries, wishes. She’s a huge blessing to our community here. She turned a little tiny shop into an incredible art store.”

The Culture of Calligraphy

Retailers understand firsthand the benefit of employing brilliant working artists who are excited to play the part of educator, salesperson and/or cheerleader. As a seasoned calligrapher, Kerri has a lot of knowledge to share. Chat with her for more than five seconds about calligraphy and find yourself itching for pen, ink and paper. Here are a handful of impressions that stuck with us:

Learning calligraphy is like learning to play music.

“You learn each ‘hand’ and it’s rather like learning a musical instrument. You keep adding to your body of knowledge. It gets more complex and interesting and nuanced: you can literally pursue it your entire life and still be learning.”

And once you get it, it’s like a dance.

“Lettering is really tactile. It’s hard to describe the feel of paper, pen and ink working together. It’s like a dance, and you can feel it. There isn’t one element that’s the best. You need to find which combination works.”

People who letter together, flourish together.

“People in the calligraphy community know one another for so many years because we you just keep pursuing it. You grow and the friendships grow. Typically calligraphers are very generous with their information. You share what you know, and the next person adds their special spin to it.”

Handwriting is our humanity, lettering is our community.

“When calligraphers get together and do the same “hand,” we can tell who did it. Whatever you learn, you make it your own. We have a well-rounded, encouraging environment… you can do it by yourself, but you need to be with people to learn.”

Choose your words, use your voice.

“Some people like to use what’s running through their mind, classical quotes, letterform and structure, scripture or funny quotes. The words you letter have to be something that speaks to you, resonates with you.”

Does your store have a strong relationship with a niche community? Would like to feature a member of your staff who has insight and knowledge to share around a specific medium? Get in touch with us at artdogblog (@) MacPhersonart.com – we’d love to share your story.

The Wet Paint Way: 4 Strategies For Successful Social Media

Thursday, September 27th, 2018
Catherine Monahon, Copywriter, MacPherson’s

Wet Paint is an independently owned store in St. Paul, MN that is well known for their social media and marketing verve. They organize regular in-store events, classes, weekly newsletters, an interactive website, regular social media postings via Instagram, Facebook, a bit of Twitter and Google+ content as well as a blog on WordPress and videos via YouTube. They also maintain a steady flow of print materials. In short, they do a lot. This dynamic, multi-platform strategy is made possible by the dedicated Social Media and Marketing team: Kristina Fjellmen and Chris Nolt.

Clockwise from the left: Kristina Fjellmen, Chris Nolt, Darin Rinne, and Scott Fares

Kristina and Chris are both working artists with years of experience on the sales floor. Kristina works full time as the Marketing Manager. She recruited Chris to help with the social media about a year ago. With Chris focusing on social media, Kristina works full time on the website, email digest, print materials and marketing strategies. Chris spends 1 to 2 hours a day on social media as well as one full shift (8 hours) on content creation and curation each week. Both are artists in their own right: Chris is a mixed media artist, working with ink and watercolor for about 5 years; he also designs laser cut jewelry and has dabbled in music production, printmaking and writing methods. Kristina works with textile or fiber-based sculpture and installation and is also a theater artist. Both of them mention the Wet Paint community as a huge draw to working there. “I think we are pretty lucky to like our jobs,” Kristina notes. “I know that enthusiasm influences how we approach the marketing and social media work we do.”

While Wet Paint maintains a strong online presence, they haven’t neglected print materials. Many of their customers like to take home a pamphlet or schedules of events and classes or a catalog of sale items. The consistent production of schedules and catalogs in combination with a “steady drip” of digital content allows for a broad customer reach that respects a preference for paper while also engaging with click-happy millennials.

Breaking It Down

The following list is designed to be helpful for everyone, wherever your store falls on on the marketing and social media spectrum: from tentatively googling “Why do I need an Instagram?” to having a dedicated social media team.

1. Holy Trifecta: Products, Services & Real Life Interactions

Much of Wet Paint’s content touches one, two or all three points of this trifecta. Their posts showcase a product, clue the audience into an experiential opportunity and/or reference real life interactions with customers.

A weekly special called “Customer Questions” features real life in-store questions from customers with answers provided by a rotating list of staff members. These posts generate conversation and interest, as well as reminding their customers that they have an educated and trusted team of artists on staff. Other store-to-social connections are video demos of new products, favorite products, or products that people have lots of questions about. Conversations on the floor inspired Chris to create this video, which features the Wet Paint community while demystifying the pronunciation of a paint color:

When content stems from real life connections, relationships and interactions in the store, the bridge between the abstract, digital realm of the internet and your very real store strengthens. New followers and subscribers become customers.

2. Identify Your Voice (And Use It)

The bottom line: be authentic. The passion and commitment Chris and Kristina have for the community of artists and art enthusiasts who step into Wet Paint shows. Chris puts it well:

“Everything I post, I want to make it feel like it’s a conversation in the store. Straightforward, honest and casual. All of the staff here are working artists with a lot of character, and customers get attached to certain people. They’ll ask for them on the phone, they’ll come in on specific days when that person is there. I’m okay with adding child-like excitement to my copy, or talking about when something is adorable or cute. We had a whole post all about how cute Japanese pens are. Because they are! And people loved it.”

Wet Paint’s instagram is chock full of personality, character, silliness, artsiness and content that gets people pumped up about art supplies. To learn more about how to develop your store’s voice, here are some useful tips.

3. Save Time With A Little Tech

If you don’t have a dedicated team for social media, that’s okay. These strategies can be scaled down as needed based on what resources and time you do have. Try synching the social media platforms you use (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc) with a social media management tool that “funnels” all your posts to the proper channels. These tools allow you to create multiple versions of a single post for all the platforms you use and post to all of them with just one click. Pre-schedule your posts for the week so that you are not thinking on the fly everyday—it will post automatically.

4. Consistent & Imperfect

Consistency is key. It doesn’t matter if you post four times a day on three different platforms or twice a week on one… just pick a method and stick with it. Let followers or subscribers know what to expect, and they’ll keep coming back for more. Being consistent means giving up perfection. You can waste time hesitating over language in an Instagram post, but it lasts about a minute on the internet. It may drive someone to click, come into the store or buy something but if you mess up, no one is harping on it. Think of your online presence as a growing portfolio. Practice makes progress!

…OK, Go!

Once you get a handle on your content, clarify the way you’d like to talk about it, set up a realistic system for posting and commit to a “just do it” attitude, you are ready. Whether you are dipping your toe into social media or looking to revamp your marketing strategies, these tactics can help you strengthen relationships, build new ones and get your products and services to the people. And, in line with the “Wet Paint Way,” try to have fun while doing it!

Colossal Creativity: Bring Art Into Your Store

Monday, September 24th, 2018
Catherine Monahon, MacPherson’s Copywriter

Staff member Abby Langley (they/them) creates larger than life sculptures of everyday art supplies for displays at Creative Coldsnow stores in Kansas City, MO and Overland Park, KS. Their recent creations include an XXXXL Posca marker and a gargantuan Gamblin paint tube; they got the idea for the larger than life sculptures at a staff meeting. “We were trying to think of ways to merchandise and advertise the new POSCA markers,” Abby recalled. “I was looking a marker one day and thought to myself, it would be fun to make a giant version.”

Abby is a sculptor, having graduated with a BFA Kansas City Art Institute; their preferred medium is glass, but they also use wood, metal and paint.  While they hadn’t worked with cardboard in years, they were excited to take on the challenge.

With a well thought out design, cardboard, paper and paint, Abby created a Posca marker 6 times the original size.

The sculptures are on display in both store locations, hanging from the ceiling above respective aisles, beckoning customers to find their miniatures in the shelves below. Next on the docket? An Angelus paint jar or a Golden Hi Flow bottle.

A  tube of Gamblin paint 7 times the original size (which now seems miniscule – we want more paint!)

Bringing art into stores has been on their mind since day one. “One of my first days, someone came in and was like, ‘Where is all the art?’ I looked around and realized we didn’t have much… Since I’ve been here I’ve tried to incorporate art into the displays.” Abby is not just contributing to imaginative displays – they are creating conversations. People stop in their tracks and want to know more about what the sculpture is, which product it is, what it can do. “People realize that the people who work here are artists themselves,” Abby explains. “We have knowledge and resources and they can ask us, learn from us, relate to us.”

The staff at Creative Coldsnow contributes collectively to the displays. There are two other artists on Abby’s team, Ron Wickersham and Bobby Haulotte. “Ron painted the arrow that’s paired with the posca marker, and they’ve both done individual projects for other products we carry.”

“Making displays is the part of my job that I enjoy most,” Abby explains. “It’s a way to use my creativity in a functional way. I like using my creative skills in a retail environment and have it make a difference.” And art in stores does make a difference – the POSCA marker in particular has had a positive impact on sales while launching the product.

There are so many ways to incorporate staff-made art into merchandising to generate interest and create conversations. Unconventional displays or community-specific artworks are a great way to strengthen the connection your customers have with your store and your team.

Do you have artistic displays in your store you’d like to share with us? A staff member whose artistry we can celebrate? Email us at artdogblog (@) macphersonart.com and show off your work.

 

New Location, New Name: South City Art Supply, Now St. Louis Art Supply

Monday, August 27th, 2018
Catherine Monahon, MacPherson’s Copywriter

South City Art Supply, now St. Louis Art Supply, is moving to a larger location in Central West End at 4532 Olive St. in St. Louis, Missouri. They have expanded their inventory by about 40%, with additions in nearly every department.

“Our focus areas are painting, drawing, reading (we sell books, too), and writing, so most of our additions are in those areas,” owner Carson Monetti explains. “Some highlights of the expansion include Masterpiece canvases and stretchers, POSCA markers, Cobra water-soluble oils, Golden High Flow, Faber-Castell PITT Artist Pens, LAMY pens and pencils, and quite a few new notebook and planner lines.”

St. Louis Art Supply will also open a sister store at the same location – Cornflower Coffee & Tea which will “share the same space, so [customers] can watercolor over breakfast or take a latté into the book department!” Follow the progress of their move on their well-curated Instagram.