A jet-set event helps sales take off: a top-flight gallery teams up with a private jet company to pick up new clients

A jet-set event helps sales take off: a top-flight gallery teams up with a private jet company to pick up new clients – strategy

Erika Rasmusson Janes

The scene at Opera, Gallery in New York last Oct. 23 wasn’t exactly unusual for an art gallery. One hundred patrons milled around drinking champagne, nibbling hors d’oeuvres and admiring paintings by more than 50 master and contemporary artists, such as Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Andy Warhol, Fernando Botero and Theo Tobiasse. Of special interest was a $900,000 Chagall piece, “l’ane bleu au-dessus du village,” that was flown in from Singapore especially for the party.

But what was unusual about the event was the New York gallery’s co-host: Marquis Jet, a company that sells hourly private jet cards to individual and business travelers in 25-hour, pre-paid increments. About half of the guests were either present or potential Marquis clients, and in addition to viewing art, they received tips on private jet travel from Marquis executives. Considering that the minimum cost of a Marquis Jet card is nearly $110,000 and most of its customers are multi-millionaires, it was a high net worth crowd, to say the least.

A Perfect Pairing

For both companies, pairing sales pitches with paintings is nothing new. Marquis Jet’s vice president of sales, Lisa Ellen Senters, is an art enthusiast and personal friend of Opera Gallery’s owners. “Over the years, when I’d know one of my clients was interested in art, I’d [bring them] there,” she said. And Opera Gallery, which has four locations in New York, Miami, Paris and Singapore, has been co-hosting such events with private companies, including the sports apparel maker Adidas and several different banks, for four years in its New York location and seven years in its international venues.

Eric Allouche, director of Opera Gallery, estimated that five or six of these events take place each year. “Our main goal as a gallery is to have an effective base of clients, with people interested in art and who have the money to make purchases,” he said. “We could advertise, and we do, but what we’d rather spend our money on is direct marketing to a strong mailing list. [And] we will do anything that will allow us to enlarge this mailing list. Marquis Jet customers can spend money on buying jets, and they can spend the same amount of money on art.”

The pairing of these two companies makes sense. According to Senters, the top 200 art collectors in the United States include business world biggies such as Carl Icahn and Ron Perleman–people “who are all private flyers as well,” she said. “It was a logical tie-in. We share the same clientele.”

Tim W. Cohn, president of Advanced Marketing Consultants Inc., based in Nichols Hills, Okla., said he shares that sentiment. “It’s a beautiful strategy,” Cohn said. “There are three ways to grow a business: Increase the number of customers, increase the average ticket amount or increase the frequency of repurchase. By tapping into a non-competitive company that caters to the same type of clientele, an art gallery can achieve all three of those objectives.”

The Name Game

Indeed, the strategy has been successful for Opera Gallery. When the Marquis let event ended, Allouche had determined through personal conversations that 15 of the guests were serious art aficionados whose names should be added to his mailing list. For some gallery owners, such a relatively small number of names might not seem impressive, but Allouche holds a different opinion.

“What are the chances that all these people at once are going to come to the gallery to look at art? No chance, unless Marquis Jet invites them,” he said. “We give them the use of the gallery and do an event, which is free and interesting in a cultural environment and not the usual discotheque or bar. If one or two coming in are interested in buying, we’re happy. That’s good enough.”

The reason is two-fold: For one thing, each name on Opera Gallery’s 1,500-name mailing list costs the gallery quite a bit of money–$500 per name, to be exact. The other, according to Cohn, is that the event helped Allouche effectively lower his client acquisition costs. “The reason he can spend money on mailings is [because] he got Marquis Jet to hedge his acquisition costs, and then through his own labor he was able to determine there were 15 potential buyers,” said Cohn. “At that point, all he has invest ed is his time. And he knows that because of his effort, each one might be worth thousands of dollars.”

Following the Leads

Once prospects make the mailing list, the gallery sends them three art books and 10 high-quality catalogs a year, as well as invitations to events at the gallery. And after 18 months, if a mailing list prospect hasn’t turned into a client, he or she is dropped from the list.

“It’s much better to have an exclusive audience that you know is interested in purchasing at your gallery,” Allouche said. “I’d rather talk to 15 people with $500 [spent on direct mail] each than 100 people with $50, because it’s going to be more effective. The 15 who are interested are going to buy at one point. I’m not [running] a museum, I’m [running] an art gallery. Our goal is to sell.”

And sell, he has. Mlouche said that as of January, three of the 15 prospects had already become customers. And while he refused to share the exact revenue, he said, “It was worth it.” Opera Gallery’s pricing on art runs from $3,000 to $2 million.

Focusing on targeted, pre-qualified leads is nothing new in the sales world, but for small businesses–especially retail out lets–such thinking is innovative, according to Cohn. “The majority would rather have volume and not quality,” he said. “And most small businesses are close-minded to cross promotions of this nature. The typical small business owner, particularly in retail, waits for buyers to throw themselves across the threshold.”

COPYRIGHT 2004 Pfingsten Publishing, LLC

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group