To gain edge, West Shore gallery goes virtual

Given the limits imposed by social distancing, Doug Koozer considered canceling the opening scheduled for this weekend at his art gallery on the West Shore.

But he and his business partner, Jason Kreiger, decided to forge ahead. Instead of a traditional in-person opening, they are hosting a virtual event. Their goal is to help artists who are struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic — and to create something of a lifeline for their gallery, called BrainVessel. 

“The small businesses with an edge are the ones that are going to live through this,” said Koozer. “Some businesses are going to fall out. I don’t want to be the one that falls out.”

Doug Koozer, co-founder of BrainVessel. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

Koozer and Kreiger founded BrainVessel in 2013 as a marketing and branding firm. A few years later, they opened the art gallery, in Hampden Township, Cumberland County. The marketing work continues. But the gallery — representing about half the firm’s revenue, as well as embodying the kind of work the owners enjoy most — has been closed since March 16.

Fortunately, Koozer said, the firm was in a strong enough position financially to adapt. 

One piece of the gallery’s strategy has been to boost its online sales, which had represented about 2% of its revenue before the pandemic, Koozer said. But in order to sell more via the internet, the gallery had to post more of its products on its website and figure out new ways to get them into customer’s hands. 

The kind of curbside pickup available at restaurants didn’t make sense, given the relatively low volume of sales at a gallery. So, Koozer came up with a lockbox system that allows customers to pick up their orders and avoid shipping costs. Online sales have quadrupled in response.

The gallery also decided to hold the May 8 opening, which was originally intended for a single artist, Arlene Figueroa, from Camp Hill. In addition to moving online, the opening has been expanded to include nearly a dozen artists from around Central Pennsylvania.

Set to air from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on May 8, the Fan-Tastic Virtual Voyage 1 will mix live and pre-recorded material. It also will offer an opportunity to buy art from the participating artists. The markets that local artists typically rely on for sales, like the Mt. Gretna Outdoor Art Show, have dried up as a result of the pandemic.

Among the challenges for BrainVessel has been figuring out how to put on live portions of the show — including artist interviews and musical performances — while following guidelines for social distancing, Koozer said. But he has been finding a way.

Jason Kreiger, co-founder of BrainVessel. PHOTO/SUBMITTED

“I love challenges so this is fun for me,” Koozer said. “But it’s also, well, challenging. But it’s something that we need to do as a company.”

A traditional opening might bring in 100 to 150 people, Koozer said. He’s hoping that the 40 people involved in the virtual event can each get about 10 friends to watch, while publicity can draw in another 600 or so, bringing the audience to at least 1,000 people. If 10% of them spend around $55 each for art, it basically pays the bill for the production, Koozer said.

He figures the risk — and the hard work — is worth it.

“You’ve just got to adapt to the climate if you want to continue to survive,” Koozer said, “because the landscape is going to be different. Everything is going to change.”

— By Joel Berg, editor of BizNewsPA

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