Sunday, March 7, 2010
Product, Purpose, Presentation, Profit: Let’s all P!
Back in the day, I spent a few years in retail visual merchandising which taught me many valuable lessons of how to display products for profit. We had the four P’s drilled into our brains every week by the big bosses whether our product was panty hose or haute couture. My departments varied over the years as I earned promotions, from men’s accessories (the lowest of the low) to the designer fashion floor mannequins and exterior windows (top dog department). The four P’s are Product, Purpose, Presentation and Profit. One feeds into the other: what are we selling, why are we selling it, how will we sell it and will it be successful? These four points of retail would be of asset to galleries which often do not consider their products to be for profit in the truest sense. The “display” aspect of presentation tends to creep into the picture a bit too often. 2 venues currently have products on display that would benefit from a bit of redistribution for the wealth of the products themselves.
Venue A has a display of 4 artists in a commercial space. I ate lunch there yesterday with a group numbering around 300 people of whom 99% would have no interest in “art” beyond “it looks pretty” or “what the hell is that?” I steered the conversation towards the images on the wall because the merchandising was really bothering me. When the location is empty and the work able to be viewed with breathing room, I could see the reasoning behind mixing the 4 artists’ work all together as some played off of each other. But in a room filled with people, the work was lost in a jumble of colors, sizes and framing discrepancy’s that did no justice to anybody’s work. The majority of the time, this exhibition will be seen by large groups at one time, such as this lunch, as the facility in question does not lend itself to drop-ins. Therefore, I pursued the question of how some of these people liked the work, what did they think? The answers varied but suffice to say this crowd could not appreciate abstraction at all. The general consensus would have been that each artist should have all of his or her work hung in one place next to each other so they could see the different pieces and compare them, much like how people buy anything else in this world. Over stimulus of imagery got the best of them, too much to see and too much work to try and weave through the crowd to check out different ones by the same person. Therefore the details were lost…reduced to “I see a pink one” and “he must have done the big yellow one over there, looks like the one over here so no need to go see it”. That is too bad. Basically if he could have seen all 4 or 5 pieces in one spot, this person would have spent the time looking at the details because he liked the one nearby. If the four P’s are applied, Product = abstract paintings, Purpose = decorate an otherwise bland space, expose people to art, Presentation = scattered, not promoting the product as much as filling the spaces allowable, and Profit = hard to say as people tend to comparison shop in a commercial space, then overall my bosses would not have been happy campers. It will take them work to walk back and forth across a room to decide just which piece of one particular artist they may wish to buy. I learned this lesson the hard way with one event that had to be merchandized. I scattered the products for display purposes rather than for profit and the event bombed big time. I was not asked back. Feedback showed that the buyers had to work too hard to find and compare pieces, they had to carry selections all over the place when only interested in one product spending too much time tracking down options, and the products were not promoted, even though the place looked great!
Venue B has just the opposite problem. Too much matching merchandise in too small a space that does not do justice to the product, it is all profit, not presentation. Here lies the delicate balance in the art world. Venue B has created an interesting and interactive exhibition. Up front, the comments are off the charts positive. Listening to the behind the scenes and on the street lowered voices, I heard some other not so happy feedback. 2 points were front and center in the conversations. I should warn people that I may not appear all that social, because most of the time, I am listening intently to what you think I can’t hear, or paying close attention to what you may think is not being noticed. Call it eavesdropping or being nosy, but one can learn a lot about things if they keep their mouth shut. Point one is that the work is not hung to facilitate its purpose of making connections. Humans read horizontally with a beginning and end in mind. We don’t like to double back, let alone go in reverse. We like things to move and flow, not be static. The exhibition is hung as one work, static in presentation, although its purpose is to flow from one to the other. The most common on the street grumbling was that it should be going around the room, a logical start to finish, not up and down, side to side. The point of the product was to connect east to west, but the north /south connecting points tended to interfere with and sometimes diminish the strength of the east/west imagery. Point 2 was from those on the lower tier. Nobody likes to be thought of as second best, but in merchandising, the lower shelves are for the cheaper products. High end goods are hung at eye level, store brands at the bottom. The bronze medal is below the silver stand, the cheaper rooms are down low and so forth. We will look up more than we will look down. A few fellow bottom dwellers were not happy, they felt equal billing was due to all by locating the work all around the room at eye level for each. It would have been just as easy to do a 180 to view the first and the last as opposed to being smushed into a crowd that did not flow. The other wall had an activity on it to which many were drawn (pun intended) but late arrivals could not participate as all was already filled in. Apply the four P’s, Product = paintings and participation, Purpose = comparison and interaction, Presentation = move the participation to the center creating a natural flow of movement around it and allowing for more pieces to be added as others wish to participate, and Profit = it was successful for sure so I am in no way being critical. I just approach all spaces with the eye of a merchandiser and a general public point of view. As artists, we can’t get caught up in our visions to the point of losing the big picture perspective.