South Charlotte

March 9, 2011

For her, selling art is FABO-lous

After quitting her job at a corporate construction company, Amy Aussieker knew what she didn't want to do.

After quitting her job at a corporate construction company, Amy Aussieker knew what she didn't want to do.

Instead of immediately taking another job, she decided to ponder her next career move.

"If I had my dream job, what would I do?" Aussieker thought.

Her answer - sell art - led her to open FABO (Fabulous Art Buying Opportunity), an art store and café that has been welcoming customers to its Selwyn Avenue location since October 2010.

In doing what she loves, Aussieker, 40, also has created a new (and trademarked) way of selling original artwork.

While she was considering her career options, Aussieker read a career advice book, "The Blue Ocean Strategy," which encourages entrepreneurs to create a new market for their ideas. Aussieker wanted to find a new venue for selling original artwork, so she decided to try to create an alternative to swanky art galleries.

"Galleries only appeal to a portion of the public," said Aussieker. "I wanted to sell to print buyers."

She began by selling art at home parties, using the art community contacts she'd established through her board position on the Arts and Science Council. She solicited artwork from local artists and lugged it to private homes, where she sold the bulk of what she'd brought with her; but space and inventory constraints limited the concept's long-term viability.

Aussieker knew she had a winning concept, but to succeed she needed to move beyond private homes. She moved in to the former Obama campaign headquarters space on Elizabeth Avenue, just south of Uptown, for a trial period of six months.

The space was a big improvement over the home shows but not ideal as far as location, with little foot traffic.

After securing a small-business loan, Aussieker built a new store on Selwyn Avenue. She had her hand in everything from staining the floor, which she did herself, to the antique wooden screens she purchased at a furniture mart to showcase the art.

In addition to selling local artwork - as varied as pottery, oil paintings, silk scarves, jewelry and woodwork - Aussieker also set up a café that sells coffee and delicacies from local vendors, and she recently added beer and wine in the evenings.

"I wanted to give people a reason to hang out," said Aussieker. She said she has seen customers mull over a piece of artwork over the course of several visits, ultimately buying what they would not have purchased if they had seen it just once in a traditional gallery setting.

The artists she features are local, the exception being Aussieker's mother (one of FABO's best-sellers) who lives in North Augusta, S.C. The artists are able to showcase their work free of charge, then split the proceeds with Aussieker when a piece sells.

"I am overwhelmed with artists who want me to sell their work here," said Aussieker, noting that she now has a waiting list of artists. She gives the artists, many of whom have never sold their work before, a two-month window. If a piece sells, she continues to carry their other work. If it doesn't, she replaces them with a wait-listed artist.

Noel Fludgate, 55, is typical of the artists who have sold works at FABO because he has no formal training.

"Not all art purchases have to be a long-term investment, or reflect good technique," said Aussieker. She knows she might be criticized for showcasing artists with no credentials but says she is "OK letting people buy something that makes them happy."

Fludgate, a former elementary schoolteacher, who began painting six years ago in watercolors, acrylics and oils as well as mixed media, has sold 26 pieces since the store's opening. Nancy Sasz, 44, a mother of three, first sold her woodwork at art festivals when she was in graduate school. Her colorful wood dioramas, now showcased at FABO, are all made in her basement studio

"I just love the whole concept," Sasz says of the store, which she also frequents as a customer. "I love how it supports local business. Not just the arts, but food and culture as well."

Mai-Lis Bahr, a customer who lives nearby, said she is happy to have FABO in the neighborhood.

"I love the creativity that is in here," she said while sipping coffee at FABO with friend Helen Burns. "It's an inspiring place."

Burns, who makes the chocolate chip cookies that are sold at the café, said, "It is fun to get paid for doing what I love."

That sentiment inspires Aussieker, she said, and let's her know she has tapped into a smiles-all-around endeavor.

"It makes me so happy to call an artist who has never sold his artwork before and tell him we just sold three pieces," said Aussieker. She said she also relishes hearing from satisfied customers, many of whom never made an art purchase before coming to FABO.

"They'll come back in and tell me that they smile every time they walk in their living room and see the piece they bought," said Aussieker. "That is very satisfying."

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