Utilizing the Off Season

I recently received a suggestion for a blog post from the cryptically named “GL”

I’d love to see a post about strategies you utilize for anticipated “slow” or “off” seasons.

For many of you, the deep winter is the off season. Because my gallery is located in Scottsdale, and because Arizona is so blazing hot during the summer, our art season is exactly the opposite of a lot of other art markets who do most of their business during the summer. Our traffic declines dramatically during the summer, and as a result, so do our sales.

Our summer slow-down is long too. People often ask me when our “off” season is, and I reply that it begins when the temperatures climb above 105° fahrenheit and ends when the temperature drops back below 105°. This usually corresponds with dates in mid May and mid October. This means that we have five long months without much activity in the gallery.

There are a number of implications of this slow season. First, we really have to make hay while the sun shines during our busy season. We have to make enough sales to cover our overhead and save up a reserve to carry us through the slow summer months.

Second, it means we have a lot of time on our hands during the summer. During the season we have a constant flurry of activity. We have days where we will have hundreds of people through the gallery, each one of them requiring attention and follow-up. During the summer we have days where we may only have one or two people through the gallery. The difference in activity can be somewhat shocking.

Many of you also experience slower times in your business as the art market in your local area enters a slower time of year. Allow me to share some of the activities we engage in during the slow times – activities that you might find helpful as you are planning for your slow times.

  1. We follow up with customers. I can’t emphasize enough how important this is. As I mentioned before, during our busy season the volume of traffic can be overwhelming. We do our best to follow up with every customer right after we interact with them, but our off season is a great time to follow up with the ones who didn’t respond, or who told us they weren’t quite ready to buy. I’ve mentioned before that I feel that most artists and gallerists aren’t following up enough with their customers. Off season can be a great time to improve your follow up. Don’t feel awkward if it’s been a while since you last  reached out to a customer – dash off an email or pick up the phone. Even though it’s already hot here, June usually ends up being a very good month because of all of the sales we close using follow-up techniques.
  2. We plan for the season. We use the off season to schedule shows, review portfolios and schedule our gallery display for the upcoming season. As an artist you can use off season time to prepare for shows and art festivals you might be participating in. We use the summer to build up our inventory by having artists ship us work. You can build up your inventory by focusing your off season on production.
  3. We take a vacation. Let’s face it, to be successful in this business, you have to work very, very hard. I take advantage of the off season to spend time with my family and to see the world. This last summer we spent time in the mountains at a cabin, and Carrie and I got away together to Georgia and South Carolina. Xanadu director, Elaine, went to Europe. I find that down time recharges my batteries and gets me excited to get back to work when the time comes.
  4. We focus on internet sales. Fortunately, the internet has no off season, and over the last several years we’ve seen an ever-increasing growth in our internet sales. During the off season we put even more emphasis on our efforts to generate online activity and sales. Our Catalogue has helped us increase sales activity year-round, including during our off-season.
  5. We tackle big projects. The summer is also a time for us to get to those projects that we keep putting off during the busy season. The abundance of uninterrupted time available during the summer is a great time to update inventory records, organize storage, catch up on bookkeeping and a host of other unappetizing but necessary tasks.

I think perhaps the greatest challenge of the off season is that it’s very tempting to let momentum slip away. I try to work just as hard during the summer as I do the rest of the year. Those long, slow months can either be a liability or an asset. I work very hard to make them pay off.

 

WhatDo You Do To Take Advantage of Your Off Season?

What activities have you found to be most useful during your off season? How do you prepare for your busy season during your slow time? How do you keep your slow time from slowing down your business growth? Share your thoughts and insights in the comments below.

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20 Comments

  1. I haven’t had enough art sales to save up for the slow season yet, and I stress the yet, so I do workshops during my off season to supplement my income. As a native American artist with a traditional background, I have a lot of opportunities to go into schools and communities and teacvh about our traditions, cultures and even do some traditional art workshops in schools and First Nations communities and cultural centres. I am doing a birch bark canoe workshop at he woodland Indian cultural centre in Wisconsin between shows this summer.

    I also work with other artists or organisations to develop and get funding for for big projects like the Springwater Provincial Park Dodem Project,b of the 4 canoes Project I’m doing with some of the schools in Ontario. These are great for cash flow but do take a lot of my time away from carving and painting. It seems like I am always playing catch up with my art. I had a great idea to make my carvings unique and distinctive but I really have to juggle my time to make everything work so I can be ready with the “new look” for the Summer season.

  2. Besides painting I also have a line of Christmas cards. When December is over, I spend January through May painting, taking classes, giving classes, reading, making plans for future projects and painting. In May I start designing the season’s cards; my time is split between illustration and painting. So, my downtime is especially wonderful because I an devote it to painting and thinking about painting.

  3. As the owner artist of an open studio/gallery in a seaside tourist destination, I relish the quieter time of winter to work on commissions, plan for the next season and offer small scale workshops.
    I have also found , like Jason, that the off season is a wonderful time to follow up with clients.
    novaconstellatiogallery.com

  4. Downtime means planning and evaluating time. I know what sizes and subjects sell consistently, so I figure out what to paint and then just dive in and tackle the work systematically. It is also a good time to clean out files and storage, evaluate what hasn’t sold and make decisions about those things, and yuck, do the year-end bookkeeping tasks.

  5. I don’t have an ‘Off Season’ My life is my Art, my Art is my life. I am very passionate about what I do, I do whatever I have to do for success which is coming thick & fast… It is not about ‘footfall’ it is about living the life of an Artist!

  6. I am trying to rely on the weekly “Ideal Week” as a guide to those times that are vacant or down. I sense that I have enough to do with the business and customer service pieces that down time is slim. But- this year I have a goal to be connected to a gallery and am thinking that a bit of travel [which we don’t do much of] combined with checking out target galleries will be a plan.
    As you have indicated- there really is no down time except re-creation in its literal sense. That really isn’t down either.

  7. Hi Jason, it sounds like you’ve got plenty to do during your off season. Wonderful that you take time to get away with your family and wife.
    In New England, our off season is just the opposite of yours… Our high season is May though the end of October and then a brief boost in November and early December.

    I do have a following for my email newsletter, so some of my sales don’t depend on the weather, but I do look forward to the winter months here to buckle down and create a new work and just get better at making my art. Slower sales also give me time to experiment a bit. Sometimes I play with ideas that are completely different from my known style. Having the extra time frees me up.

    It makes me think of the Hudson River School painters of the 19th century. They’d travel and paint plein are studies in beautiful places, and then return to their studios (mostly in New York City) in the late fall to design and create larger works for the annual salon shows. Of course, this type of schedule probably wouldn’t work for everyone today, but I like the sound of it just the same.

  8. Seems like the idea of an off season has more relevance for those who have a storefront shop, and by where it is located and what the seasonal weather is like. Moreover if we believe as many are saying that art sales on the internet have surpassed gallery sales and expanding, and we are moving in that direction in our own art activities, then we are probably not very affected by even aware of an off season.

    For me located here in the northeast US one might expect that this last January with below zero temperatures and lots of snow would be a down time but it has turned into the most active month I have had in a long time. Go figure.

    1. I live in the Northeast too Stan, and totally agree with you. January is my only month without a show but I had a large order to deliver. I only have a few off weeks to build inventory, certainly not an off season!

  9. The slow time is when I get more time in the studio to create art for the upcoming season. Selling lots of art and running out of inventory can be a good problem to have but it’s still a problem. While producing new art, I’m also creating a body of work for my annual fall show. Updating the website and marketing materials too

  10. Hello,

    Off season – is time for new inspirations for my work. My studio is located in Baden-Baden, southern Germany. I have great start point to visit France, Italy or Austria… I travel and make sketches.

    Helen Shulkin

  11. We all pretty much do the same thing in off season, whenever that is.
    I’m pulling out of a most inopportune “off season.” We took a Christmas vacation to visit family … enjoyable, and we all need down time. Give yourself a day or week off on occasion and you will be refreshed and energized.
    We came home, and unloading the car and I fell on the steps and broke my right wrist. The new year normally has me moving into high gear preparing for a show the end of February. Instead of painting I’m doing off season activities because I can’t do much else. Frustrating.
    It is the imposed off season that will drag your work down. You can plan for seasonal slumps to a degree but such a setback lengthens an off season when it should be the most productive. It means I have to alter strategy … that’s all you can do.

  12. I related to much of what you do, even though I interpret “off=season” as when I am not teaching. I am a professor (thankfully, part-time now). I consider my breaks–Christmas, Spring Break, and summer–my “off=season” to get a lot done. I live in the East, so I spend Christmas break painting so I have enough for the shows that will start up with a vengeance in February, and also do work that requires focus, like the website. I set a goal for something I want to work on, painting-wise, over the winter; this year, it was painting stainless (I paint a lot of kitchens). Over Spring Break, which is short, I try to paint because I can’t do a big project then (I am also usually grading midtermsO.. Summer is interesting: shows taper off, and workshops and festivals abound. I like to use summer to paint, take workshops, organize the studio (early summer),, start thinking about what might work for the holiday shows and fundraisers, and take a vacation. I am hoping to take a painting vacation or two this summer.

  13. I loved your suggestions for the off-season Jason. I find it’s a good time to teach classes or workshops, to clean studio, to explore new directions in my work that might not necessarily be as commercially viable and, of course, to stock up on things that I know WILL be commercially successful when the season returns.

  14. If there is spare time I like to practice skills and read about other artists or read and comment of good blogs – like yours Jason. I find there are bouts of productivity depending on the demand or I I am preparing for a show rather than a specific time of year. And I do try to work when inspired ( which is most of the time). Thanks

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