Art-O-Maddic Takes An Original Approach To Art Sales
Shelley and Eric Arndt started their art gallery in 2020 amid a growing pandemic and historic wildfires. But with the help of their business plan and the local chamber of commerce, they have seen their business grow.
Opening a business is challenging enough. Doing it in the middle of a global pandemic adds layers of complexity. And doing it all less than a year after relocating to a new community from halfway across the country might make any entrepreneur hesitate.
But when Shelley and Eric Arndt looked at all those hurdles, what they saw was a perfect opportunity.
The result is Art-O-Maddic, an art gallery in Canby, Oregon, a small and traditionally agricultural-based town south of Portland that’s growing and changing at a rapid pace. The force behind Art-O-Maddic is two savvy first-time entrepreneurs who know how to read a community and tap into existing resources — and, of course, their 13-page business plan for opening, operating, and growing their small business.
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The Right Idea, In The Right Time & Place
Shelley and Eric Arndt discovered Canby in 2019 while on an Oregon vacation from their Minnesota home. They appreciated the local history and noticed that the town was welcoming new residents and growing rapidly.
“We came from towns that are similar to Canby. We’ve seen them change. We’ve been a part of that. This felt right to us, to be here,” Eric said.
A financial planner, Eric has a business degree and shares an entrepreneur urge with Shelley, a legal assistant.
“We had the entrepreneurial itch, but it was never the right time,” he said.
When the duo hit Canby in the fall of 2020, in the middle of the pandemic and at a time when the town was threatened by historic wildfires, it wasn’t long before they realized they now found themselves in the right time and place.
“When we moved here, we saw this great support during the pandemic and the wildfires, with lines out the door for takeout. We know there was nowhere else we wanted to do it than Canby,” he said. “We saw antiques and refurbished goods. Where do you go for original art and creations?”
Still, the perfect idea eluded these entrepreneurs.
“The idea was born on February 28, ,” Shelley said. “We were in Newport and going through a lot of the galleries on the main street there. We realized there’s nothing like that in Canby or even near Canby. We did our research and found the closest gallery is in Oregon City. We met with them and they were very helpful.”
From the beginning, the Arndts proved to be masters of finding resources and accepting assistance. Despite their own considerable skills and business savvy, their ambitious timeline meant they needed all the help they could get.
“We opened June 25,” Shelley said. “It went crazy fast. It was not intended to go that fast. I remember saying we need to take it slow. We talked to the City, the Chamber; everyone was so positive. We could tell the city is on the rise. We wanted to be a part of that.”
“Our first call was to the Chamber of Commerce. He pointed us in the right direction at the city. Micro Enterprise Services of Oregon (MESO), they’re funded by the county to help with small businesses. They were a great resource,” Eric said. “The right people helped us out every direction we turned.”
The Arndts credit their fellow Canby small-business owners with a share of Art-O-Maddic’s success, reeling off the names of seemingly every small business within walking distance of the gallery.
“It was that Canby friendliness,” Eric said. “It’s awesome. We find ways to help support each other.”
A Strong Foundation
With a solid business plan, backing from the Canby government and a supportive group of local business owners, Art-O-Maddic was off to a strong start.
Though recruiting artists to display their work in the gallery is a priority, that’s just one leg of the Art-O-Maddic business plan.
“[Leg] one is the gallery: all mediums, local, regional,” Eric said. “The second piece is being a creative space. That was really important to us. I always thought I was not an artist, then I found photography and woodworking and fell in love with them.”
“That’s a misconception. Everyone thinks art is painting or drawing, and you have to be good,” Shelly said. “Art can be anything.”
To support that view, Art-O-Maddic offers classes to the community, bringing local artists in to teach and to help people play and have fun.
“That’s a great stress reducer and that’s really important to us. People who are really good at math and problem-solving need art,” Eric said.
“We wanted to allow anyone to find their artist,” Shelley said. “Our artists teach the class, and we don’t take a portion of the fee. It all goes to the artist. That keeps the fee down.”
It’s also part of the Arndts’s goal of putting artists first.
“We’d rather get the traffic, let people come in, keep the price down and let the artist walk away with a little more in their pocket,” Eric said. “And now people know we exist.”
A third part of the business plan is selling a small selection of art supplies.
“We don’t have a lot, but it has quadrupled since we opened,” Shelley said. “I try to have a little bit of something for everyone. If people tell me what they need, I try to find it wholesale. I could get carried away with art supplies. I have limited space. I did just order paint-by-numbers so that maybe people who don’t want to paint from their mind can follow something. It’s kind of like a painting class.”
I try to have a little bit of something for everyone. If people tell me what they need, I try to find it wholesale. I could get carried away with art supplies. I have limited space.
Eric added, “We had this conversation numerous times: gallery or creative space? They’re both equally important to us.”
The fourth and final leg of the business plan may have to wait until the pandemic fully ends. The Arndts intend to open the gallery for private parties and events. And though they’re not looking actively for opportunities yet, they have laid the groundwork.
“We can have food brought in, we have our permit so we can have alcohol,” Eric said.
Talking to the duo, it’s easy to see that though they’re ready for more, they’re not in a rush. And they’re following their business plan which prompts them to keep looking ahead. For example, all the counters and displays in the gallery are on wheels, by design.
“We can push as much as we need to out of the way,” Shelley said.
Approaching Art From The Outside
From the beginning, Art-O-Maddic has taken a deliberately different approach to art sales.
“We’re not from the art world community. We came at it from an outside perspective, interviewed artists. What would be the optimal approach? Let’s get rid of these little fees. If we need those, we’re running too tight of a budget,” Eric said. “If you treat people the right way, good things will happen. We’ve seen that response from artists. Some galleries put out their call for artists and don’t get much response. Our response is significant. We take that as a huge compliment. We must be doing something right.”
Their approach differs from the traditional artist-gallery relationship in important ways. For one thing, at Art-O-Maddic, there are no set gallery commissions.
“Every artist here is on a commission,” Shelley said. “But they tell us what they’re comfortable with.”
“Working with the artists on terms that work for them and for us has helped the prices more reasonable,” Eric said. “As with any business, we understand the importance of marketing and continuing to reinvest. Our three-year goal is to outgrow this space, whether that’s another location or expanding.”
As with any business, we understand the importance of marketing and continuing to reinvest. Our three-year goal is to outgrow this space, whether that’s another location or expanding.
“I wouldn’t say it’s profitable yet, but in the six months we were open last year we exceeded the goals we had set for ourselves,” Shelley said.
“We made some mistakes. We learned from them and fortunately, they weren’t too costly,” Eric said. “The beautiful thing about being just the two of us running it is that we’re very agile. If we come up with an idea, like a jewelry event, we discuss it and it’s live the same day. Most co-ops and nonprofits aren’t able to move that fast.”
That agility helps when they need to correct course, too. For example, in the early days, the Arndts spent a lot of money on sponsored social media advertising.
“A big mistake was in marketing,” Eric said. “We know you have to spend money to make money, in a pandemic, in a gallery in Canby.”
A consultant helped them see that that wasn’t the best approach.
“Leverage your networks. Don’t pay for social media if you can help it; save that for big events,” Eric said. “That’s one thing we learned.”
Not every lesson learned involves a quick fix, though. Shelley continues working to smooth out the difficulties between her website builder, Ionos, and her POS system, Square.
“We’re currently adding eCommerce to our website, so we can add everything here for sale,” she said. “Our website is through Ionos. I have a woman who designed it. I give her the information and she adds it to the website.”
Eric added, “In hindsight, I don’t know if we would have done it differently. Maybe do more research on Ionos and POS and everything on Square. They don’t play well together. People say, ‘Why didn’t you start this from the beginning?’ We weren’t doing this from the beginning!”
Not Slowing Down
Some of the complexity at Art-O-Maddic is here to stay because it’s part of that 13-page business plan.
“I’m sure if we went back and revamped it, it could be twice as long now that we have seven months under our belt,” Shelley said.
“It’s a different approach, a different kind of art gallery, that ties to our business plan and makes us different,” Eric said. “We come from an artist-first approach. We are a for-profit, but we come from a co-op approach. No monthly fees for artists, no charge to be juried. Once word got out, it was a stampede to our inbox.”
It’s a different approach, a different kind of art gallery, that ties to our business plan and makes us different. We come from an artist-first approach. We are a for-profit, but we come from a co-op approach. No monthly fees for artists, no charge to be juried. Once word got out, it was a stampede to our inbox.
Every six months, the gallery rotates in new artists.
“At the end of December, we had 46 artists,” Shelley said. “We rotated 20 out and kept 26. We had to renew their contracts, for another six months, except one who was getting traction on her Etsy page and needed her inventory. The artists bring in more pieces as their pieces sell. At the beginning of each month, I issue commission checks, and they’ll see what sold and come in and replace it. Whatever won’t fit on the floor, I’ll put in the backroom and rotate pieces in and out.”
The 16×8 storage room is more than half-full of art waiting for its turn in the rotation.
“We sit here day after day. Sometimes we say, ‘Let’s tweak that,’ move it around and it sells. It was easier in the beginning when the walls were totally blank. Things we’ve learned: we’ll do the transitions a little different. We’ve started staggering some of the contracts, so they’re not all coming in at the same time,” Eric said.
The Arndts will need all the time they can save if they’re going to put all their plans into action. That includes local outreach as well as, hopefully, some large local events.
“We’ve reached out to schools and local nonprofits, trying to work with them, trying to be more than a gallery,” Eric said. “Being a really good gallery, but trying to grow the arts.”
Two things they don’t intend to change are the local focus and their goal of making art accessible to all.
“We make it affordable, we try to make it approachable,” Eric said. “We have different price points. We try not to price anyone out.”
Whether art lovers are looking for a price tag in the single digits or up to four figures, they can find something to like at Art-O-Maddic.
“We have cards as low as $3, ceramics from $9-$12, and limited edition photos for $3,500 and original paintings at $3,000,” Shelley said.
“One of our three-year goals is to have some of those five- and eight-thousand-dollar pieces. But we’ll always have that variety,” Eric said. “You just keep expanding.”
As they round out their first year in business, the Arndts are content with their choices, both to relocate and to open the gallery.
“We wouldn’t have been able to do this in Minnesota. There’s just so much competition,” Shelley said. “We had so many ideas for businesses but we were never able to do anything. There seems to be more support here, for what we’re doing.”
Eric said, “We tried hard to engage with the community in ways we weren’t in Minnesota. We’re both members of the Chamber. I was inducted to Rotary.”
He added, “Once you’ve sold everything and moved across the country, what’s starting a business? [After] getting outside our comfort zone and having such a massive life change, it doesn’t seem like such a big thing. We’re really passionate about it, and we have a great relationship with the city and the Chamber. Without their support, this would have been a lot harder to do. We’re really thankful for the support, and we’ve tried to return the favor whenever we can.”
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