Experience with co-op galleries or shops

Hi - I am a juried member of the Artisans of the South Carolina
Cotton Trail


We have the opportunity to rent a retail space for a shop/gallery.
I’m wondering if anyone on the list has ever done or is doing this
sort of co-op venture. If so, would you be willing to share, on or
off-list, what worked, what to avoid, any tips, etc.


Beth Wicker
Three Cats and a Dog Design Studio


Hi Beth,

I was really hoping someone else would pipe up on this one. There
are so many knowledgeable people on this website some of which I’ve
actually had the opportunity to meet during my career as a metalsmith
/bench jeweler / goldsmith/ teacher. My current professional
incarnation has three facets remuneratively speaking. Firstly, I
make the bulk of my income as an on-site independent contractor (
bench jeweler) for a single local jewelry store; Secondly I teach a
jewelry class at our local community college; and lastly I market my
own jewelry (silver fabricated and cast, stone set items, also a
limited amount of gold work)through a local cooperative gallery. The
economic downturn may reshuffle my focus on these income sources in
the near future depending on the stability of each independent income

Arcata Artisans (http://arcataartisans.com/) is the second
cooperative gallery in which I’ve been a member. It is the main
place where I retail the jewelry that I make. The income from the
direct in house sales of my work at this gallery is about one half of
the pieces I design. The other half consists of commissioned pieces(
frequently the initial contact with the customer is made through the
gallery). The gallery plays an important role for me in the small
liberal college town in which I live; I always have a display of
work to which I can refer potential clients for viewing. If they like
what they see they may make a purchase, or better yet, commission a
more expensive piece of work, perhaps a set of wedding rings or a
more elaborate personal gift for someone special. The gallery is a
constant brick and mortar calling card keeping my work on public
display ( they hand out my business cards as well). This is what a
good cooperative can do for you and if it’s organized right it can
be cheaper than going to craft shows.

During the last six years of membership in Arcata Artisans I’ve
become more aware of the different motivations artists have for
displaying their work and the differing objectives of each artist.
You should closely examine the composition of your artist group and
their objectives; some individuals derive their entire livelihood
from their work, others (similar to me) may use their artistic and/or
technical skills a variety of ways to carve out a living for
themselves in your community. Some artists in your group may be
motivated by the need to develop new style of work showcasing media
that they are using experimentally and want to find out how the
public might receive the new work. Some member’s focus will
undoubtedly be sales driven( if their membership is not immediately
profitable they will drop out of the group). The thing that I’m
driving at here is that your likely to have an eclectic range of
motivations among your group of artists members. How does a group of
people decide to organize a cooperative together despite any
differences. simply by realizing that the group is much more able to
financially bear the startup costs of a business as opposed to a
single individual. That is what we are discussing isn’t it, the
creation of a for profit business that will focus its efforts on the
marketing of the work of its vendors. Unlike other retail businesses
it will return as large a slice as possible of the sale price of any
work to the vendor of that work. Ultimately our group of artists
created a Limited Liability Corporation with this goal in mind.

New ventures are rarely profitable right out of the starting gate so
how do you keep the doors open and lights on for the first year?
Everybody pays rent to the cooperative for their show space allotment
that’s how. The amount of rent paid collectively by artist members
must (at least initially) cover all monthly recurring operating
expenses of the cooperative(so study up and accurately identify those
recurring costs). This will keep the LLC ion the black on a monthly
basis. You’re also going to need to have a capitalization fund to pay
for deposits, cleaning, computers, lights, other fixtures (like
pedestals), paint, insurance, telecommunications, advertising,
software, whatever credit card processing you are going to utilize,
packaging, etc. To open our doors each artist paid a capitalization
fee (about $300) and three months’ rent (all non-refundable) and with
over thirty members that gave us a little over $15000 to get the ball
rolling. We also asked all the founding members for a one year
commitment to stay as members which we felt was very important to
allow us to obtain a lease rather than rent on a month to month
basis. Our membership attrition rate after 1 year was about 30%. Some
members quit outright and some choose to take a sabbatical temporary
leave and may come back ;You’re going to need to replace those
members. Hopefully, you can keep your capitalization buy in low (yes
new replacement members pay that) and your rent low, and the
percentage of sale price returned to the artist high. If that’s the
case other artists will be attracted to your venture to market their
work and they will replace those founders who decided that the
cooperative was not for them.

For now, take a look at our website (another cost of doing
business). The tabs at the top of the page include about us, and
membership --we were fortunate to have a founding member who built
the first website for us, and another talented member able to take
over the web master reins when that fellow resigned from the Coop.

This is a huge and multi-faceted thing you are thinking about.
Please feel free to contact me off-list for more discussion (or a
phone conversation. typing is NOT my forte).

Mike Edwards