Taking action. A week at the mall. - Ep. 11

It’s good to do more of what works for you, until it doesn’t. And, what had worked for me, was displaying art and plopping it in front of the right people. We were in the heart of the season of shopping, and I wanted to know how well this art would sell when placed in front of thousands of Christmas shoppers. So, in the spirit of taking action, I went where every good consumerist goes — the mall. This mall pop-up would open two weeks before Christmas and offer local, affordable, original art for sale all day, for seven days.

I was ready to learn what happens when fine art meets mall shoppers.

What happened was that most people just walked by. I tried to say hi to passersby whenever I could, and when I did grab someone’s attention, I let them know that we were a pop-up gallery of local artists. For the entire week, I counted 370 people who stopped to look at the art on display. From those visits, I had 5 transactions selling art, leaving me with a 1.4% conversion rate.

All of the artists brought a range of original art for sale. The prices ranged from $35 to $800. In total, I sold $755 of art. Over those 5 transactions, this gave me an average ticket price of $151. My customers at the mall clearly preferred the less expensive art. Those sales all happened in three of the seven days. Given the foot traffic, I could have been there only Friday and Saturday, or maybe even Saturday only, and had a similar experience with interactions and sales.

My time at the mall, while only a week, seemed much longer. I was there from 12 to 15 hours every day, and worked about 93 hours in total for the week. They were long days, and didn’t leave me much energy for anything else.

This event, like the private art party I hosted at my house, was able to make some money selling art, but nowhere near enough to be sustainable. In order for me to make $50k a year, I need to sell more than $142k of art. That’s $2,738 of art sales each week. I made only a fraction of the necessary sales to make these types of events worth the time, and I’m not even taking any expenses into consideration. And, there is no way in my world that spending 93 hours at a mall each week justifies the amount of sales I had.

While the problem is clear (I didn’t sell enough), any solutions are a little blurry. Was it the type of art that I was selling? Was it the right size? Did I present it the right way? Did I tell the right story to my customers? Did I have it in front of the right people? At the right time? This is exactly why I look at everything I’m doing as an experiment. Each time I prod at something I think might work I’m not attached to an outcome, but rather, I’m curious to discover what happens.

Would I do it again? Probably not. At least, not if I had to pay much rent, and anything more than eight hours on a Saturday would be out of the question. I find it difficult to commit more time to something so limiting. The amount of sales is just too low for this to be a sustainable option for me to make a living on. I need something bigger that will allow me to sell more art with less effort. I believe that this is possible with both inexpensive art, and art that sells well above my average ticket price . I just need to be in front of the right crowd, and not just any crowd. All in all, it was a great experience, but it didn’t work for me, so I’ll be doing less of it.

Here are some random observations from my time at the mall:

  • Mornings are for Mall walkers. They love art, walking, and talking about their Christmas plans.

  • By mid morning the mall is filled with moms with babies, and they are on a mission. Probably to be home before nap time.

  • Most of the people who stopped dead in their tracks to look at the art for sale did so before 5pm. The late afternoon and early evening is the sole property of adolescents, and none of them had any time for paintings.

  • Friday seemed to be the day that people played hooky from work to fit in some holiday shopping. Coincidently, Friday was filled with people who appreciated art. I had better conversations on Friday, than any other day.

  • Friday and Saturday were busy with great conversations, all day.

  • Saturday and Sunday had an unruly amount of people wearing buffalo plaid. I’d like to think that this is a new trend, but it was probably for pictures with Santa.

  • To be in a place so common for so long allowed me to see the in-plain-sight hidden gems that are normally missed. It was a high contrast form of presence.

  • My time at the mall reminded me how much I like talking to, and connecting with strangers.