I’ve had the pleasure of meeting a number of young, passionate entrepreneurs – people who are packed with great ideas and the motivation to transform them into strong Canadian businesses.
But when I heard about Lisa Diamond and Shira Wood, co-owners of Toronto gallery Art Interiors, I was especially excited.
Ms. Diamond and Ms. Wood started their small business out of a basement in their early 20s, and now, 17 years later, it is still going strong. Art Interiors has made a real mark on the art and design world.
When these two women opened their gallery they wanted to do something different: make art appeal to the masses. Their goal was to make artwork more accessible to homeowners – they believed there were many up-and-coming, talented artists with nowhere to exhibit other than coffee houses and community centres, but also that there was no place for the average person to buy original work.
“Galleries were very high-end and intimidating,” Ms. Diamond says. “They were exclusionary and not for the neophyte art buyer.”
To market the gallery’s collection to the everyday buyer, Art Interiors needed to provide a decent price point, but Ms. Diamond and Ms. Wood also needed a powerful communications plan to spread the word. What they eventually came up with was a brilliant strategy that continues to drive their business forward.
The tactic is pretty simple: in exchange for public acknowledgment, Art Interiors started to lend its artwork to home and décor magazine shoots and television shows.
“Most art galleries were for people who already knew something about art – and that is a small percentage of people,” Ms. Wood says. “We wanted to try and get outside of that and be much more practical. We wanted people to be able to visualize the art in their homes … so we worked with designers and stylists.”
For the gallery, having its art featured in the pages of Style at Home or on Citytv’s CityLine delivered what Ms. Diamond calls “third-party validation” from the influencers. But it also introduced their target audience to accessible, original art.
Art Interiors works closely with a range of well-known design icons, including Kimberley Seldon, host of HGTV’s Design for Living, and Suzanne Dimma, editor-in-chief of Canadian House & Home . They’ve also jumped on social media, host an active online store, and engage online influencers and their audiences by providing free art for blog giveaways.
Their success has been about much more than just a good marketing decision at the outset – Art Interiors continues to effectively and creatively manage its relationships over time.
But Ms. Wood also shares an important insight that I believe is relevant to all businesses, regardless of what industry you’re working in. She says one of her company’s most important principles is this: it doesn’t discriminate based on the size of the audience or the popularity of the person seeking art. Whether it is for an internationally known television show or a much-lesser-known webcast, Art Interiors is open to working with anyone to lend art for events, publications or shows.
“Every relationship you make is an important relationship – never discount people,” Ms. Wood warns. “You must give everyone your time, and don’t just focus on the superstars.”
Special to The Globe and Mail
Mia Pearson is president of the Canadian region for Fleishman-Hillard Canada and its sister company, High Road Communications. She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing award-winning communications agencies. Her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle. She works in partnership with her clients to build brands, mitigate risk and shape communications strategies.