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Increase walk-ins by reaching out to tourists: a Canadian artist and his son build foot traffic by turning their gallery into a tourist destination

Increase walk-ins by reaching out to tourists: a Canadian artist and his son build foot traffic by turning their gallery into a tourist destination – Strategy

Erika Rasmusson

In the land of retailing, the repeat customer is king. It is unusual, then, to find an art gallery that doesn’t just enjoy, but actually encourages, one-time and walk-through customers by marketing specifically to them.

That strategy has been successful for Patrick Begin, president and owner of Begin Edition International and Begin Galerie d’Art in Quebec; the publishing house and retail operation for the work of artist Guy Begin, who is Patrick’s father.

As an Impressionist artist self-taught in the style of such masters as Monet and Van Gogh, Guy Begin didn’t begin selling his paintings of landscapes, garden scenes, still lifes and cafe and street scenes as a professional until his 40s. It wasn’t until the summer of 1992, when Patrick was a college student in need of a summer job, that the idea for a gallery took shape. “Two months later I had an opportunity to open a gallery in Old Quebec in a very historic area,” said Patrick Begin. “After that summer I wanted to quit school and keep [the gallery] going, but my father made me graduate.”

In 1994, Patrick got his wish to keep the gallery, located on Quebec’s Quartier Petit Champlain, the oldest commercial street in North America, open year round. He started a publishing company, Begin Edition International, to expand his father’s repertoire of work and make it more accessible by producing prints, giclees and gift items such as ceramic mugs. Today, there are four Begin galleries in Canada.

Yet it is the original location, on the Quartier Petit Champlain, that has prompted Begin’s unique, tourism-driven marketing strategy. With the Quartier Petit Champlain being one of the main tourist attractions in Quebec City, his prime location on that street guarantees him a certain amount of walk-through traffic regardless of what he does. But that doesn’t mean he simply waits for customers to come to him. “We do different things to try to move the product out of the door,” said Begin. “These days it’s very important to create a network with other people and join forces.”

One such “different” thing Begun did was to put a foreign currency exchange booth inside the gallery as a way to attract the more than one million tourists he claims walk the streets each year. Once inside–even if their original intent is simply to exchange money–guests of the gallery find a wide variety of items at all price points, from just $1 for a gift card to a $15,000 original painting. “If someone walks in with $10 or $20 to spend we have something to offer him,” said Begin.

More recently, Begin joined forces with a walking tour operator in July, who plans to make the gallery a featured stop on the guided tours. Once at the gallery, tourists will receive coupons for 15 percent off a purchase. Begin thought up the idea when a tour guide operator called him asking if he wanted to place an ad in a tourist guidebook. “I had the idea of creating this traffic and concept to join forces,” said Begin. “I gave him a space inside of the gallery to sell his tour products. He gets new customers, and he brings customers into my gallery. It’s a win-win project.”

Finally, two years ago Begin created an advertising relationship with a cruise line to attract passengers coming into Canada via ship. On the Holland America Line, a 30-second video clip of the galleries and Guy Begin painting runs on the TVs located in cabins. A Begin advertisement also appears on the back cover of the Canada/New England Shore Excursion books that cruise passengers are given before docking at various ports.

Pattie Pfunder, an account executive for The PPI Group, which manages onboard marketing for Holland America Line, praises Begin for being an early adopter of tourism marketing. Holland America ships range in size from 1,266 cabins to 1,848 cabins and make 12 port calls to Canada each year. “Eighteen thousand people come–why not try to get their attention? Why not try to clean up on that?” she said. Considering Holland America’s choice Demographics–the average age is 59 years old; 33 percent have a household income in the $60,000 to $99,000 range; and 29 percent fall in the $100,000-plus income category–why not indeed?

Of course, the Begin galleries do their share of marketing to attract a local clientele, as well, including promotions with restaurants, coupons and drawings and publicity events that attract media attention. In 1994, Begin created an event where his father went to a local shopping mall and painted pumpkins for Halloween; he then gave them away in a contest. Three years ago, for an Easter promotion, Guy Begin painted a giant, eight-foot-tall egg with local children. And last Christmas, everyone who purchased something at a Begin Galerie d’Art in the mall was entered in a drawing to win a painting. “Year after year, [such promotions] contribute to your exposure,” said Begin.

“It’s true we get a lot of walk-in people, but like any business you need to make an effort to get people to go to your place first and not spend their money at another gallery,” he continued. “Even though we have an exclusive collection, I think there’s great competition. We need to be proactive, not just sitting there waiting. If you have that attitude, you might get caught.” ABN

BY ERIKA RASMUSSON ABN Contributing Editor

COPYRIGHT 2003 Advanstar Communications, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group