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Keys to success

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This south Charlotte art dealer brings beautiful works to you

Judith Voglesonger didn’t major in art history. She’d never dreamed of being an art dealer.

But after one chance night, she realized she had a gift for it.

It was 2009 and Voglesonger was turning 34. She and her husband had just moved to a new home, and the walls were bare.

Her parents had given her some money, and she wanted to spend it on art.

So she approached an old friend, an artist, and bought two paintings from her.

Then, on a whim, she offered to display her friend’s other pieces at her housewarming party.

“That night we sold $22,000 of art,” Voglesonger says.

Afterward, her artist friend asked Voglesonger to represent her.

She begrudgingly declined. She had a 4-year-old, a 2-year-old and was pregnant.

But they kept in touch and she continued to consider the idea, building a list of artists she’d like to represent.

Fast forward three years, and the south Charlotte resident, now 37, runs her own business, JWV Artists, from home, and has a waiting list of artists. She’s sold nearly 400 pieces, ranging from $40 photographs to $2,000 paintings, and she advertises on her Facebook page and website, jwvartists.com.

Here are some of her keys to success:

Find your niche: Before diving into the art scene, Voglesonger decided on her target demographic: 30-somethings who have disposable income and are ready to purchase artwork but are intimidated by the process.

Most of these types won’t go into a gallery, Voglesonger says. So she goes to them. She’ll get a feel for what they’re looking for.

Then she’ll load up some pieces and drive to their homes.

“It takes the scary, intimidating part away,” she says. “It’s more approachable. ... You can wear the yoga pants. You can have the kids screaming.”

And there’s no pressure. “I’ve brought 10 pieces of art to someone’s house and left with half, and other times, I’ve left with all 10,” she says.

Find a partner that meets your needs: Voglesonger says she’s never been keen on restaurant-galleries. The artwork is often overpriced and the lighting is bad, she says.

But when the owner of J. Sam’s, a farm-to-fork restaurant in SouthPark’s Piedmont Town Center, made the pitch, she reconsidered.

After Labor Day, the two small businesses will partner: She’ll provide the artwork – displayed to her liking – and J.Sam’s will produce an “art menu” for customers who inquire.

Designated staff will be trained to speak about the art and artists, and the restaurant will host periodic artist receptions.

Customers can purchase the art at the restaurant, and J. Sam’s will get a percentage of the sale, probably 10 percent or less, Voglesonger says. “I can broaden my horizons and meet a new audience in my market.”

Focus on target customers: Voglesonger says she’s not worried about keeping a customer for life.

“People who start with me may outgrow me,” she says. “They may go to photo galleries or spend more money or spread their wings and now, when they travel, they’ll pick up pieces. A lot of people say, ‘Don’t you want to get into $5,000 and $10,000 paintings?’ ”

Voglesonger’s reply: “No, not really,” she says. “Then I’ll have competition. I want to stay in this niche.”

Keys to Success draws on insights from small business people on building a successful enterprise. Caroline McMillan: 704-358-6045 or cmcmillan@charlotteobserver.com.
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