Opening a Home Gallery: 15 Issues to Address

Never start a business without a business plan. Your plan can be quite simple, especially if you’re starting small. It should include at least a budget for expenses and a set of measurable goals. In addition, you’ll want to address the following issues.

Zoning. Before you invest any time or money, check with your zoning board. If you live in an area that is zoned residential and not commercial, you may have restrictions on what you can do. In most cases, a home business will be allowed, but you may find, for example, that a permanent sign is not permitted.

Your current home insurance policy may not cover situations in which you’ve invited the public into your home and an accident occurs.

Signage. Decide if signs are appropriate for you. If you’re going to be open only by appointment or invitation, signs may not be necessary. If you’re going to try to lure in the casual tourist driving by, prominent, easy-to-read signs are vital. See what other local business owners do for signs and learn from them.

Parking. Depending on how busy you plan to be, you may need little parking or a great deal. In any case, make sure less-than-cautious drivers can get in and out easily and without damaging your property or other vehicles.

Lighting. Most homes don’t have gallery-style spot lighting, so don’t feel it’s necessary. Some home galleries go for intimate, domestic lighting-simple floor lamps and natural light from windows. If a client wants a better view, move the picture to an easel near a window. If you have a particularly dark room, consider spot lighting with a dimmer switch so you can show clients how pieces look under varying degrees of light.

Picture hanging system.
If you make lots of sales, you’ll want a hanging system that’s quick and easy to reconfigure. Easiest is the common nail-and-hanger system. On walls made of plasterboard, tiny holes can be patched easily and painted over. You may also consider picture moulding. To maximize wall space, hang artwork “salon style”-two or three over one another-but not so low or so high that they’re difficult to view. Artwork on easels spread around the gallery adds a three-dimensional aspect to a room.

Well-chosen titles can help a painting evoke a certain feeling and consequently a sale. Dimensions help a buyer decide where a painting would be most appropriately placed in the home. Labels should be large enough to read, but not so large they detract from the painting. Some galleries put prices on labels; others have a separate price.      

Pricing. Prices should be the same as in your commercial galleries. If you feel you live in an area that won’t support those prices, you may need to explain to the owners of your other galleries why your prices are lower.

If you become busy enough that you have to hire an employee, congratulations! Becoming an employer, however, has certain legal obligations, and you’ll want to check with your local Small Business Administration (SBA) office to see what you have to do regarding Social Security, unemployment insurance and other matters.

Hours and availability. Do you want to paint or work in a retail shop? Don’t let your ability to produce inventory be adversely affected by the demands of the home gallery. Choose hours that give you the ability to paint, do bookkeeping and also run errands.

Promotional material and advertising.
Make sure you have the “Three Bs” on hand in your gallery-business cards, brochures and biography sheets. Design an annual advertising strategy; it’s easy to spend more than you expected on advertising without it.

Sales policies. Here’s a good policy: Nothing leaves the gallery without being fully paid for. Once it’s gone, it may be hard to get back. Some home galleries do layaways or allow a buyer to put a temporary “hold sale” on art. Returns are a disappointment if you think you’ve made a firm sale, but do consider allowing exchanges. Watch out for buyers who want to decorate their summer home just for one season and then return the work.

Transactions. Cash is always welcome, but you’ll need a cash box and a variety of bills to make change. Checks are easier, but not everyone carries a checkbook (most men don’t), and your bank may charge a hefty fee for a bounced check. Credit cards are common, but you’ll need an easy and reliable system for them. Give the buyer a receipt and make sure you keep a copy. Receipts should specify the serial numbers, titles, date of sale and tax amount. Get the buyer’s contact information, including e-mail address, for your mailing list.

Wrapping, packing and shipping. Wrapping can be a pain, but some buyers may be traveling a long distance and need a way to transport a piece safely. Have handy paper, bubble wrap and tape so you can wrap a purchase efficiently. If it will close a deal, offer to ship a piece.

Not only do you need to track inventory, you must also keep good financial records right from the start. If you’ve not run a business before, the SBA can help. Consider taking a course on running a small business, or if you’re anticipating enough sales, hire a bookkeeper or use business software. Keep receipts for everything, both sales and expenses.

Michael Chesley Johnson, a frequent contributor to The Artist’s Magazine, is the author of Through a Painter’s Pastel: A Year on Campobello Island and the soon-to-be-released Backpacker Painting: Outdoors with Oil and Pastel, which will include an instructional DVD. Johnson lives and paints in the Canadian Maritimes and teaches throughout North America. He is represented by Galerie Esteban in Santa Fe, New Mexico. For more, see

This information first appeared as part of the article “Open for Business”in The Artist’s Magazine‘s June 2008 issue.          

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