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The Art of Drawing in New Clients

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A newcomer’s first reaction to seeing the Pilates equipment is almost universal: Wide-eyed, they want to know what it does, how it works, and where to sign up for classes. The high-tech contraptions almost sell the discipline through intrigue alone. Drawing in crowds of these first-times isn’t easy, but it can be done with a little ingenuity. 

Pilates Garage owner Margi DouglasSome innovative studio owners have found one way to attract additional traffic, garner interest in Pilates from a new set of clients and gain additional exposure within their communities. By partnering with artists, these workout centers are turning their walls into gallery space, hanging the paintings of area artists. The benefits are two-fold: The open house for each new show provides the perfect backdrop for drawing in a new audience—for both the studio and the artist—and gives the studio a stylized look. And, the cost for hosting the event—which is often shared by the studio and the artist—is often less costly than placing an advertisement or mailing a batch of postcards.

We sat down with Margi Douglas, owner of Pilates Garage in Brooklyn, New York, to see what has made her studio’s gallery showings so successful. Keep reading to see how she runs the program, and to get ideas for your own open-house, too.

PP: Has using your studio as a gallery opened your doors to new clients?
MD: Yes. With each show we hang, the Pilates Garage hosts an opening reception for the artist which brings in anywhere from 50 to a hundred people for a solo show and up to two hundred for group shows. The artists have their own following, and often people who live in the neighborhood, who did not know about Pilates or know about our studio, come to the opening and are so impressed by the space that they sign up for a mat class or even a private.

PP: How do you advertise the openings?
MD: The artist has the responsibility of creating a post card image for the show that includes the date of the opening reception. We work with them to make sure the information is clear and correct on the card but we allow their aesthetic to guide the design. Once the cards are printed we place them in our studio, and in nearby businesses that will help us promote the event.

We also work with the artist and a PR person to put together a press release that is sent out to local newspapers and magazines. We have been listed several times in Time Out New York for the art-related events we have hosted.

PP: How do you plan for an opening?
MD: Once we have set a date that works for the studio and the artist, we work backwards to hang the show one week before. It always looks good if the studio can sell a couple of pieces prior to the opening. We decide on the estimated numbers that will be there based on the artist’s contacts and ours, and we contact our local wine store to set up a discount price or in some cases a free wine tasting to accommodate that crowd. We have been very lucky in that our local wine store—Big Nose Full Body—has generously donated or discounted numerous cases of wine for our artistic events and studio parties in exchange for our promoting their wines.

The day of the opening we usually rearrange studio props and equipment so that there is more of a flow through the space and the pieces can hang in a good light without too many obstacles. On this one night we let the art take center stage, and the Pilates props move aside. Fortunately so much of the equipment either makes good furniture or looks like a work of art in itself! So the big pieces are not really a problem.

PP: How do you find the artists?
MD: I am very lucky because my husband is an artist and has a community of very talented fellow artists that we have shown. We have also shown the work of some of our clients, and more recently we have begun to reach out to artists in our neighborhood that have taken an interest in the gallery. We don’t ask for submissions so it is really word of mouth.

PP: Any final bits of advice?
MD: I have learned there is a very delicate balance in hanging these shows. On the one hand, the clients and the teachers love to have this beautiful and often provocative work on the walls—it makes them think, or it gives them a new perspective as they roll up an roll down. On the other hand, sometime you want to use that wall. You have several people in the studio and you wish you could use the wall beside you to do “The Wall” exercises or some foot work instead of the one wall left open all the way in the back. As a studio owner and gallery manager, you have to plan to keep more walls open then in a normal gallery. You also have to do a lot of repainting because people’s feet and hands on white walls can really cheapen the look of the artist’s work.

The other unforeseen complication is that although everyone would like to say they appreciate art and respect it, there is a surprising lack of consciousness about how valuable it is. For instance, when we have had events at the garage that do not center on the art—say a music or poetry performance—I have had to take on the “art police” role. People like to lean on walls, and occasionally have leaned and knocked over pieces that are valued at $3,000! So, having the art on the walls is a gift but also a large responsibility: You have to watch your clients, your teachers and your guests carefully to make sure the work does not get damaged. After all, there is a reason they don’t do Pilates at the Met. It is an unconventional combination, but my clients and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Posted on Friday, September 21, 2007 at 10:45AM by Registered CommenterJessica Cassity in | CommentsPost a Comment

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