A Continuing-Education Series from Chalk & Vemilion Fine Arts, Inc.


As important, omnipotent, all-knowing, and skilled as you are, O Gallery Owner, you cannot be everywhere at once. So, you hire a staff. As we all know, you can have everything right, but still not succeed if you don’t have the right staff. All things being equal, the salesperson can be the difference between a steady customer and one who never returns after that first purchase.


How to determine the best person for the job? Let’s just focus on sales – other, behind the scenes jobs will have different requirements. Although it is important in the art world that the person know about art, that’s not the only requirement; in fact, in might be the least important skill, compared to other attributes a successful salesperson will exhibit. A good salesperson:

  • Likes to sell, and takes pride in closing the sale

  • Is dependable, and can be counted on to fulfill his responsibilities

  • Is intelligent, and a quick learner

  • Projects a pleasant and positive image and a professional appearance

  • Is personable, likes people and relates well to them

  • Is neither impressed by their own importance nor overwhelmed by the importance of VIP customers (that’s a particularly important one, in this field)

  • Is helpful to customers beyond the sale itself, and to fellow employees

  • Is ambitious!

I remember once a college professor of mine, who had owned his own business, told our class that he once hired a typist who couldn’t type. He said “I can always teach someone to type, but I can’t always teach someone to care for my customers and my business the way I felt she could.” There are some skills you can teach – and a lot about art can be taught – but there are some skills that some people just have and some don’t. Another guy, a CEO of an airline, said “We hire attitudes. You can make positive people into good pilots, but turning great pilots with attitude problems into charming servers of customers is difficult, if not impossible.”

In addition, although it may not feel comfortable or necessary, it’s also a good idea to hire more people than you need, for several reasons; attrition is unavoidable, and the best people will always rise to the top (making it obvious who you should keep and who you should not keep).


We’ve touched on training before, but it’s a special scenario when it related to the new hire. You need a strategy in place that allows them to become comfortable with the gallery, the other employees, and “the way things are done around here.” Maybe you might assign them a buddy, who they could shadow for a few days at a time. They should be given access to whatever materials you have from your suppliers – like the books, slicks, and promotional materials that we supply – to familiarize themselves with your inventory. And training should not begin and end with new employees – in all forms, training must be an ongoing event with your staff, in product lines, sales techniques, artist histories, you name it.


Realizing that the lowliest employee has the power to alienate a customer or ruin a sale in a heartbeat should make you also realize that to keep your great staff members happy requires a little work on your part. Here’s a small list:

  • Positive reinforcement – we all need it, dish it out whenever possible. An old boss of mine used to say “Praise in public, criticize in private”.

  • Be clear – about what you expect of your employees, and what direction you are going in. It’s very frustrating to not know what your goal is.

  • Show respect – in how you act and speak about and towards others. And remember, actions speak louder than words.

  • Keep up your integrity – employees can spot all the ways that employers don’t keep their word or miss obligations of their own – or worse, act dishonestly.
  • Reinforce the right things – you can’t say one thing and do another. If you understand the value of your customers and your staff, be consistent in the emphasis you place upon their value.

Yes, of course, monetary compensation falls into the motivation category, but it’s not the only thing that keeps an employee coming back day after day and trying to do a good job. It’s often the things that money can’t buy that create a loyal and happy workforce.

As we’ve said before, good customer service is an important element in what separates successful businesses from ones that merely get by, and the right staffing is critical to that success.

55 Old Post road #2, Greenweich, CT 06830 (800) 877-2255

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