A family-owned gallery set in an idyllic Pembrokeshire fishing village is embracing digital technology to boost sales and showcase Welsh art to a global audience.
Harbour Lights Gallery in Porthgain, near St Davids, works with around 40 Welsh artists to display original artwork, prints and sculptures in a range of different styles. In addition to a physical exhibition space, the gallery now uses its website, social media and online marketing to promote the work of its artists, expand its customer base and provide potential customers with a more personalised experience.
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Gallery manager, Katy Davies, recently signed up to the Welsh Government’s Superfast Business Wales programme. Her first step involved attending a social media workshop in St David’s, followed by one-to-one advice from a specialist business advisor on how to maximise the impact of the gallery’s online presence – advice that she described as “invaluable”.
“We used to view the website as a way of generating a few extra sales during the quieter off-season periods, but now we see it as part of an integrated digital strategy that is helping us to generate more exposure for our artists and increase engagement with our customers all year round,” explains Ms Davies.
Traffic to the website has more than doubled in the last year and, in November 2018, the gallery generated 90% of its revenue from online sales. The creative and consistent use of social media has been another positive outcome of the Superfast Business Wales programme which, according to Ms Davies, has delivered a number of surprising benefits.
Social media helps us build stronger customer relationships
“Using platforms like Facebook and, more recently, Instagram has opened up huge opportunities for us to engage with customers. It’s not just the ability to post images or videos of new pieces as they arrive, we also share news about our artists, post stories and images from the local area, as well as giving people a flavour of what goes on behind the scenes. Most of our customers have been to the area or visited the gallery at some point, so they’re really happy to hear about what’s going on.”
The gallery has also discovered people are more comfortable using social media to ask questions; about individual pieces of art, the inspiration behind them and about the artists themselves.
“People see it as a conversational medium and are keen to engage with us,” said Ms Davies. “Last month we ran a poll on our Facebook page to help one of our artists decide which of their original paintings they should turn into prints and ended up getting some fantastic feedback.”
Harbour Lights found that engaging more consistently through social media has not only enabled them to build stronger relationships with their customers and artists but also helped it form new partnerships with other local businesses.
Superfast Business Wales has been a huge help
“Tourism remains an incredibly important market for Pembrokeshire and engaging on social media has helped us to engage with like-minded businesses in the area. When you live in an area for so long, it’s easy to forget what we have on our door-step, but we’ve been able to link up with lots of local businesses on joint promotions and effectively become ambassadors for each other,” adds Ms Davies.
Harbour Lights unveiled its first website in 1997, when the gallery occupied a shared space in a restaurant run by Katy’s parents and aunt. By 2000, the gallery had overtaken the restaurant as the main income generator and the building was re-purposed. Fast forward 18 years and it is the gallery’s digital space that is driving the business forward.
“Selling original art is a competitive business and doesn’t always lend itself to online, so we’ve had to be creative about the way we use digital marketing,” said Ms Davies. “This is where Superfast Business Wales has been a huge help. Having someone with the knowledge and a fresh eye to look at what we were doing and what we could do to improve has given us the confidence to take our enthusiasm and ideas and turn them into activity that works for us commercially.”