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The Secret Studio Sale: Guest blog from Rebecca Judge

Taking Part in an Online Art Sale

Back in February, I took part in Warwickshire Open Studio's first online Secret Studio Sale. The Secret Studio Sale is usually a real-life winter event held in conjunction with WOS’s summer art weeks. It’s an opportunity for the public to buy work from artists they may have visited in the summer, but at discounted prices, either because the work is from a past collection or because it may be a slight second.

Having assumed it wouldn’t take place this year, I was surprised to see a post about a possible online version of the sale on Instagram. As a member of Warwickshire Open Studios, I approached and asked if I could take part and was given a really warm welcome from the group organisers.

The Run-Up

Twenty five artists took part under the guidance of the three experienced organisers who were able to guide the group with marketing and social media skills. It was a big group of busy people with a range of commitments, so from the start we communicated in a variety of ways- email, Insta messaging, zoom meetings (which were recorded)- so everyone could work to their own timeframes and catch up if needed. Having so many artists with different expectations and requirements, there was also potential for our message to become mixed, so we made a few guidelines to work within:

· To begin selling only on the day of the sale. Customers were encouraged to take part on the day and those expressing an interest beforehand could be sent a reminder: a message prior to an item’s picture and price being widely shared. In some cases, I believe reservations were held for a short time during the day. We talked a lot about this as people were keen to take sales opportunities, but it felt important in the spirit of the real annual event that those who had waited for the sale to go live shouldn’t miss out to those who hadn’t.

· To keep the sale as an Instagram only event. This was key in terms of simplicity and staying on message. Those with large Facebook followings used their page as a place to advertise and encourage customers to come over to Instagram for the day.

· To provide specific content when requested for the Secret Studio Sale account page. The artists who needed support in content creation worked with one of the organisers to learn about making Canva images and developing a range of Instagram posts. We initially shared examples of work that would be for sale and as we got closer to the event, we began to share discount and pricing information.

· To support each other. To share and repost content and to like and comment on each other’s posts all the time was an important aspect of the build-up. We came together to share posts at the same time and openly support each other’s work. People encouraged their regular customers towards other artists they may like, and this resulted in multiple sales. One artist, a ceramicist, used her contacts to get Keith Brymer Jones from The Great Pottery Throw Down to make a short film about the event and share it to his followers. This gave us a great boost in both exposure and morale and showed that it’s always worth asking the question.

There were many areas where artists approached the sale differently to each other. Some sold purely through direct message and sending links for customers to make payment, whilst some sold through Etsy or websites. However, we worked we made sure we shared the details on how we were doing this on the same days as each other. Again, everyone did delivery, collections and posting according to their own preferences but we all shared our information on the same days so the group message looked collaborative and professional.

The Launch

On the evening before we ran a ticketed Zoom launch event. We had an introduction from one of the Warwickshire Open Studio organisers and heard from a few artists who had volunteered to share examples of work. A regular Secret Studio Sale customer also spoke and showed some of the art she had bought over the years. It was really lovely to have a customer at the heart of the launch event.

The Day of the Sale

We officially launched the sale by all posting the same image to say we were open for business. We’d used a lot of branded imaging made by one of the organisers throughout and they worked well to give a united group sale vibe.

I sold via my website to ensure ease of purchase for the customer. My site (a Shopify one) was linked to my Instagram bio and I’d created a Secret Studio Sale collection in preparation. Customers could choose local collection, delivery within a given radius or their postage cost would be calculated according to weight and size of artwork. I’d put in a lot of time to get this up and running and it worked well as it looked after itself as I worked on Instagram drumming up interest and helping to create a buzz. Most artists did an Instagram live on the day- we’d worked out a timetable beforehand- and we went to each other’s to offer encouragement and support.

Many of us gained followers through taking part. My small following increased by about 30% in two weeks and these people have stuck around.

Those with customers over on Facebook did find they came over to Instagram for the day. Although not everyone liked this, the majority did. Those who didn’t were good enough to communicate this to the artists and some sales were made via email and phone calls.

As a result of the event, artists made an average of roughly £250 each, with a very few selling nothing on the actual day, and some making over £1000. I felt that the effort that went into the build-up for the event was time well spent. It was evident from the sales we all received early on the Saturday morning that people were very interested and keen to get in quickly in order to have the best choice.

We kept the sale running for a second day over on Instagram and this was worth doing as we definitely got more sales as a result. Some artists kept their discounts live for a few days more which also worked, partly as it gave a lot of the artists a chance to pick up a few bargains that they hadn’t had time to browse on sale day!

Customer contact is such a lovely part of selling artwork and it was good to see that didn't go away, even though we couldn't necessarily be face to face. Comments from customers were shared and continued to come in for days after as work made its way to new owners. It was wonderful to see posts of work in new homes and receive thanks from happy customers.

Even as we come out of lockdown, this feels like an extra opportunity to sell that works well and that customers certainly seem happy to embrace. It took time and organisation but was also rewarding and allowed flexibility the real sale maybe wouldn’t have. Although we did this as a sale of past work, we plan to do another online event of new non discounted pieces before Christmas as we now have the followers and the interest to make it work. Looking at the experience from the other side, I would recommend taking part in a well organised online sale.

Rebecca Judge @becjudge

1 Comment

I was really impressed by the organisation of this event - massive congratulations to the organisers. They really created a 'buzz' about the event - there was even cake to be ordered to eat at home whilst browsing!

I was also delighted to be able to buy an original painting at a price I could afford - the perfect present for my Koi Carp loving partner.

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