Sunday, October 08, 2006

How important is a “place.”

While we were in Santa Fe recently, we visited one of our favorite, friendly “competitors”, Arch Theissen. Arch operates Sunshine Studio in Santa Fe. We had never visited his “gallery” before and were looking forward to seeing his retail operation.

To our surprise, just like us, Arch’s Sunshine Studio doesn’t have a retail location. Unlike us, who only closed our retail gallery about a year ago, Arch and his late wife, Challis, never had a retail location. They have always operated out of their home.

We took some reassurance from this. In this age of the internet, the existence or non-existence of a physical gallery becomes less significant, as long as the resource has a presence somewhere and a way to be contacted in case of a problem.

The difference a retail location makes is three-fold. First, is the nature of the business. People that shop on line, usually are looking for something specific and are interested in buying when they find it. They also are inherently research-oriented, with extensive opportunities to compare items and prices without ever leaving their computers. People that shop in a physical gallery are more impulsive. They may not be looking for the item they actually purchase. It strikes them while they are on mission to buy. But not necessarily looking for the object they finally buy.

Second is the cost structure of a retail operation. If a dealer has a store, he or she also has location costs, rent or mortgage costs, and employee costs. Within a month of closing our physical gallery, we were able to reduce our prices across the board, because we had reduced our cost and didn’t have to markup items to cover that cost.

Third is the ability for a customer to actually hold an object in hand and make a buying decision based on first-person experience with the object. There is little or no chance that the buyer will not like the item when it gets home and therefore will not want to return it. On the other hand, any purchase online has to include a return privilege with it. Regardless of cost, we at Aboriginals offer every purchaser 14 days to hold the item, try it on, look at it in different lighting conditions and, if it turns out to be not what they thought it was based on photos and descriptions on the web, send it back for a full refund of purchase price. Shipping is the responsibility of the buyer. Actually, we also offer merchandise credit for returns during a reasonable period after the 14-day privilege has expired, assuming the item is in original condition and the privilege is not abused. Finally, for items where provenance is critical, we also allow 30 days for the buyer to check the authenticity of the item.

In the end, the ultimate measure of trust is in the reputation of the seller. Arch has been in business for a couple dozen years, as have we. We would not still be around if our customers didn’t know they could trust us to stand behind our offerings and deliver the service we promise.

So what is your opinion? Do you believe it is important to have a retail “place”? Or are you content to shop on line, where the variety, selection and hours are almost unlimited? Give us your feedback, if you are so inclined.


Tribal Artery is the periodic blog of Aboriginals: Art of the First Person and our online galleries at Native Jewelry Link, Native Pottery Link, TribalWorks and ZuniLink. You are invited to visit the sites and see what's new.