Gain a technological edge with one of these leading gallery management software solutions.
By Beverly Cramp and Rod Chapman
If you can make it in New York City, the saying goes, you can make it anywhere. Richard Thompson took that gamble in 2003 by opening a Manhattan office for his gallery software company, Theo Digital.
“The first year in New York kicks your ass,” Thompson admits. “The second year you get back on your feet and in the third year you start taking names and surviving.”
Theo Digital provides front-end services such as website design and most marketing functions. “I like to work from the Internet back,” says Thompson. “Sales are one of the most important things a gallery does. They have to sell to survive, and to promote their artists.”
Thompson says there are many content management programs on the market but most of them are generic. “The beauty of Theo is that we’ve customized software for galleries. You don’t have to know HTML or work with hundreds of pages and thousands of images. You just work with a browser screen to make changes to your website.”
Theo Digital partners with Toronto-based GallerySoft to provide computer software systems specifically for art galleries. GallerySoft handles most of the back-end functions such as managing clients, inventory, invoicing, images, shows, mailings, accounting and commission statements.
“We combine what are often separate programs into one integrated whole,” says Moe Lamothe, GallerySoft’s president and senior programmer. “The whole idea is that when a client’s name is entered, say for a mailing, that data never needs to be entered again. The program automatically updates the client’s file. This not only saves time but prevents spelling mistakes.”
While Theo Digital and GallerySoft are two established players, there are others in this emerging field. Vancouver’s Buschlen Mowatt Gallery is a long-time user of New York-based ArtSystems software, which it uses for managing artwork and clients. “We use the technology to catalogue artwork and to keep track of where it goes,” says Jan Ballard, the gallery’s executive director. “We’re happy with what it does.” Ballard says the front-end work of keeping the gallery’s website current is done in-house, and the gallery’s client base is kept up to date using Maximizer contact management software.
ArtSystems offers three applications for managing art, antiques and other fine collectibles. Studio is intended for artists, the Collections application can be used to manage art holdings, and GalleryPro automates most art business and collection information management tasks including contacts, transactions, accounting, images, exhibitions, shipments, sales, consignments, bibliographies and biographies. A web manager application can be integrated with the software.
Denver-based Masterpiece Solutions is another source for software, point-of-sale (POS) hardware and Internet services for the art, antique, craft and gift industries. Masterpiece Manager, the company’s all-in-one software option, is targeted at owners of galleries and retail stores as well as at individual artists. The software features a clean visual presentation, accurate POS information, faster paper processing and password-protected security.
Masterpiece Solutions has recently activated ArcherExchange, a new website showcasing the art of galleries and artists who use the Masterpiece Manager software package. “We are not after a cut or commission on any sales generated by this site,” says James Archer, president of Masterpiece Solutions. “It is simply a vehicle to increase exposure for our clients. If a consumer finds a piece on ArcherExchange, they will deal directly with the seller.”
Spinnsoft, a California company, started out more than a decade ago providing custom databases to a number of divergent industries. In 1994, owner Doug Spinn was commissioned to design a custom application for a Laguna Beach gallery, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now focusing almost exclusively on art-related products including tools for marketing, inventory, finances and website maintenance, Spinnsoft’s Gallery Database is used by galleries, artists and publishers across the country and internationally.
Gallery Express art gallery management software by Victoria-based DevWave Software is an inventory management and POS program developed specifically for art galleries. The software includes consignment and sales commission management, artist biographies, accounting reports and a web publishing feature that lets gallery owners create real HTML web pages. A Gallery Express demonstration site containing works of art, limited edition prints and other inventory items is intended to represent how the software functions in a typical art gallery.
No matter which software package you choose to bring a technology edge to your art business, you can expect to pay either a flat fee for your software purchase ranging between $500 and $1,000, or a set monthly fee.
Barbara Pelham, owner of Canada House gallery in Banff, says it’s important to stay up-to-date with new technology because her clients are using it. “We’ve had transactions with clients using their BlackBerry,” she says, referring to the palm-sized gizmo that sends email messages wirelessly.
Pelham is a GallerySoft and Theo Digital user, having evolved her website — which she started 10 years ago — several times with different softwares. “We started dealing with the Internet early because we knew it was the next big step. We’ve really come a long way, from doing brochure stills that were rarely updated, to updating every two hours. We are almost live (real time) now, or as live as we can make it.”
Pelham’s advice to other gallery owners is that leading-edge technology is an investment. “If you put money into it wisely, it will come back. Do your research, there are plenty of software options out there. But if our client base is using the latest technology, it behooves us to provide that service to them.”
For those sorts of reasons, Thompson says that gallery software is itself becoming more marketable. “We used to be sixth or seventh place in a gallery’s marketing plan. Slowly but surely we are creeping up the list.”
The latest trend in gallery software, according to Thompson and Lamothe, is a growing awareness of the marketing uses of automated systems. “We have a server version which means you can get all your data over the Internet. Gallerists can actually do all their transactions at an art fair because they can access their database back in their gallery. And everything you do at the fair is instantly updated in all your files,” says Lamothe.
Hesitant about making contact with the ether world? Richard Thompson of Theo Digital gives us his top tips for gallerists embarking on a trip to cyberspace.
1. Find a reputable, local tech to help you with your computer and gallery network needs. Ask other business owners you know for referrals. A $85 to $100 per hour labour rate is standard but make sure they get the job done quickly at that price. You are paying for expertise, not just a business card.
2. Buy a laptop computer and a lock for it. Laptops offer the flexibility for a gallery to take work on the road or home. Starting any business requires lots of extra hours and it’s important to take the work with you. Buying the lock ensures no one will walk off with the laptop while you are busy in the gallery. Make sure it has virus protection as well.
3. Get high speed Internet in the gallery. Dial-up just doesn’t cut it anymore and you don’t save enough money annually to justify the loss in productivity. Also set up a network in the gallery to share the connection with more than one computer.
4. Choose a contact management software program and an invoicing program. It’s preferable if both these functions are in the same program as with gallery software packages like Gallerysoft, Masterpiece Manager and ArtSystems.
5. Choose an accounting program that you’re comfortable with. Quickbooks is popular and quite user friendly, and it integrates with several contact management programs.
6. Start looking at other gallery websites and make notes about what you like and don’t like. Begin planning the online version of your gallery. It will account for 20-40% of your sales so it’s almost as important as the four walls of your physical gallery.
7. Contact a web designer to create the look and feel of your website. It should reflect your other gallery creative, so using the same designer is helpful.
8. Get a content management system for your website so that you can quickly update it in the gallery. Your website is an important business tool and you should be able to quickly and easily change it yourself.