Creating a Welcoming Studio: Keys to a Successful Open house

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Have you ever noticed during open studio events that people tend to walk into some studios but not others? Creating a welcoming studio environment is the difference between a successful open studio event and a long weekend of frustration.

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My studio space is located in in a building maze complex made of 14 connected buildings. We have the Foci Center for Glass arts there as well. Its a quieter building then say the Northrup King, but we are definitely on the map for Art-A-Whirl. My studio is great, I love it. The only issue I have is that I am tucked away in a smaller back building which can be difficult when I have to direct visitors to my studio. This post is about how I direct traffic to my space and how I welcome guests to my studio space. Use some of my tactics to help direct visitors to your spaces during open houses and tours.

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Pre-Marketing: Before you even open your doors for your studio event, start blogging, Instagramming and sharing photos of your space. What makes your studio special? Take pictures of your space and what you do in it. Create a visual reason why someone should drive to your building and see your space and your work as opposed to clicking through your website. In my post above, I shared that the last time I had an open house this painting was in progress and I am urging people to come see the finished piece.

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Consistent Directional Signage: On any normal day, you can find my studio pretty easy even though I am tucked back in the corner of my building complex. I am known as the studio with the window lights. I lined all of my windows and doorways with white round string lights. I have these on when I am in my studio. People who have visited by space have noted seeing my space as they drive by and knowing its me due to the now iconic lights. I also post directional signage around the building and make sure that there is signage assisting people from multiple entrances to my space.  At my studio, I post my name on my  door in my brand’s font to help assist people to my space.

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Event Directional Signage: During an open studio event you will have to bump up the volume on your signage as your now competing with your building neighbors for people to walk into your space. Building maps are helpful if you have a very confusing building. During our annual holiday art sale, we also line the building with color coded lights and balloons that coordinate to the map to help direct people through the building. In addition to what we do as a group, I also add additional signage to the outside of the building. I have a large flag I post out in the front yard with my studio name as well as a standing outdoor sign to help point the way. I often times set up food and promo tables in my hallway to show people something is happening down at the end of the hallway that is worth checking out. Consider printing out larger or colored directional signage or posters to get people interested in visiting your studio too.

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Door: Your doorway is the first thing people see before they step into your space. Its sort of like a first impression. Take a look at your door and make sure it doesn’t need any preliminary handy work such as patching or painting. Consider having your name or your studio’s name on the doorway to help identify you. I always hang something on my door to help associate my work or image to the name as well.

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Handouts: Provide a variety of handouts or ways your visitors can connect with you post open studio. Some may be interested in a future purchase. Provide business cards, postcards and other freebies that connect with your audience so they can remember you when they want to reconnect. You can also tuck handouts and postcards around table tops are areas in your studio. It actually encourages your visitors to poke around and look at your space and art if you leave small stacks of postcards to grab.

Ambiance: Music is a great way to soften the space and prevent any awkward silence. Make sure your music is quiet enough for you to be able to talk over if your visitors have questions. And you also want to make sure your volume isn’t competing with the music your neighbor is playing. Always make your music appropriate so nobody is offended or distracted by the music playing.

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Lighting & Heating: Lighting is another way to create a pleasing atmosphere in your space. Using soft lighting as opposed to overhead florescent can really change the feel of a studio. Also don’t forget to do a temperature check. Many industrial buildings have trouble regulating the temperature in spaces. Do you need to crack a window during your studio event to keep the air flowing or bring in a second space heater to warm up the space.

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Scent: Burning candles is also a great way to add ambiance and a great smell in your space. Always check with your building manager or lease to make sure you can burn candles in your space. If you can, think about what scents are pleasing rather than distracting. Incense can often be a bit overpowering and not everybody likes the scent. Consider using a small essential oil diffuser and use a light oil to freshen up your space if you can’t use candle. And also decide what scents you are using at different times of the year. Spruce is great during the holidays and bring about a festive feel!

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Interactivity: Create memorable moments if you can in your space. Do you have something you can demonstrate? Is the story of your process fascinating? Is there a make-and-take  project that you can offer? This doesn’t need to be big or costly,  I have an art dispensing gumball machine at my studio which offers a fun and random way for visitors to buy button art from me. Getting ways for visitors to participate in a way that is fun builds a memory about you and your studio. The next time they want to tour local studios, your studio will be on the list of spaces to return.

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Preview the Work: Give your audience a taste of what they can expect in your studio on the outside. You may need to ask your building if you can hang up outside your studio space but typically in art spaces this is allowed, or permitted for an open studio event. Eagerly sitting next to your work and watching viewers reactions or eagerly willing to discuss your work can turn people away. A small sample of your work or a preview allows people to form opinions about your work, formulate questions and desire to see more of what you do.

Variety of Price Points: Art can be expensive. I know because my process drives up the price point on some of my original pieces. The everyday man couldn’t just walk up to my studio, discover my work and swipe a card to purchase it without some financial planning or careful thought into the purchase. Due to this fact, I make sure to have variety of price points so anybody can afford a version of my art. I literally have work for sale starting at $1. Having a wide variety of prices and merchandise will widen your ability to make sales during your event.

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Cleaning:  Look at your space from the visitor’s perspective. Do you have large piles of tools or papers sitting out. Clean up your space as much as you can without completely interrupting your work flow if you are currently working on something. You are having guests over so its best to tighty up and make it visually welcoming. You don’t need to go all “Extreme Makeover” on your studio but know that you are having visitors and you want to be a good host.

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Decorating: Look at decorating books and blogs and take notes while visiting other studios. There are elements in spaces that make them studios inviting. Some spaces are more industrial then others which is great, play off the natural architecture of the building. Keep your space also uniquely you. Have items that you like in your space because you enjoy having them there. I really like Mid Century Modern furniture, antiques, plants and crystal rocks and you can find them in my studio. As much as you want to set up your space for a formal viewing, you also want to be authentic when you do so.

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Your Demeanor: Welcome guests! Introduce yourself, welcome them and invite them inside. Some guests will need the push (or pull) to come inside. Do not do the hard sale. Believe it or not, it can’t be about the sale. While open studios are a great money maker for artists, you have to make it about the guests you have to come from a place of honest and creativity rather than a place from money and sales. This will actually pay off in the end….with money. How you talk and handle each customer, visitor and patron will directly affect their perception of you. While sometimes hiding in our studios and having some alone time to make work can be a joy, this is when you need to pull out your best customer service and host skills with a smile. Remember to have fun!

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Keep ‘Em Coming Back: Every time I have my studio open, I try to offer something different. Usually this would be in regards to debuting new work, but sometimes a series is in progress and takes time. You won’t have new work each open studio but try to expand on the customer or visitor experience. Do you have new merchandise? Can you have a super sale and liquidate some old work from storage? Are you offering a new service? Even spending a bit of extra time with a visitor can turn them into a customer.

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