There’s not success or failure…there’s just doing – Mike Goldmark
Deep in the idyllic countryside of the East Midlands in the small village of Uppingham lies an unassuming art merchant: Goldmark Gallery.
But this is not just your average gallery, it’s an art trading, ceramic selling, exhibition hosting, magazine publishing, television producing, gallery shop.
It’s a family run business, founded by Mike Goldmark, which had been going for over 40 years and now holds more than 50,000 items in stock ranging from the affordable to the pricey, but always of the highest quality.
Mike Goldmark started his working life as an employee for Sainsbury’s and Marks and Spencer learning the art of selling and the principles of business.
The key philosophy? Buy a product that people want and sell it for a profit, pretty simple right?
He moved onto working briefly in fast fashion but felt trends moved on too quickly. Although artistic merit can be found in fashion, he believes it is too fleeting to be widely appreciated as a true artform.
This led Mike to open his own shop. In the 70s, now knowledgeable in all things business, Mike began to trade in second-hand books. His store ran successfully until the rise of the internet when books could be sort out online for cheaper than he could afford to sell them.
In the meantime, however, his book sales’ success meant Mike was able to open a gallery in 1985 and, due to his extensive knowledge of books, in 1986 launched a publishing house. Knowing what type of books work and sell would have lent itself perfectly to this natural business expansion.
Since then, he has expanded his business to include prints and framing, a reference library, an artist programme, a music performance venue, film production and has introduced functional ceramics, all of which is curated with love, care and expertise.
He has spent years unteaching himself the traditional rules laid out to him by corporations, challenging himself into finding products that people don’t want and figuring out how to sell them anyway.
Take his unique method of ‘try before you buy’ ceramics, for example. Ceramics are made to be held so Mike tells his customers to pick ‘em up n’ chuck em’ round, rather than the traditional look but don’t touch method.
He takes artists under his wing like other galleries, however where others may have hundreds on their books, Goldmark Gallery has a small selection of potters, currently sitting at twelve. This ensures a higher quality of artists who have a higher level of attention paid to them by the gallery staff. The more time and effort put into each potter is beneficial for both parties as it creates a wider awareness and understanding of their work, leading to more sales.
Since the start of the pandemic, Goldmark Gallery has also been creating films about potters, artists and the gallery itself. It allows customers to see the gallery action from their homes and improve their understanding of the artwork but allows artists to remain focused on their creative flow and developmental work without distraction.
These films have a huge reach and are all free online. ‘Why no charge?’ I hear you ask. Simply, it’s great PR, and Mike has found the return on investment (ROI) makes it completely worth it.
Mike believes as a society we do our best to put education and selling into different categories. Of course, he isn’t arguing with every child’s right to free education, but he’s saying these shouldn’t be mutually exclusive. You should learn and be sold, kinda like a museum ending in a gift shop.
Additionally, Goldmark Gallery shares the work of artists, using art to maintain a sense of community, which is being lost through the rise of online media and, of course, the pandemic. He is proud of his town of Uppingham which maintains a mainly independent high street. This is thanks to Mike buying up property in the 80s and then renting it to independent shopkeepers.
Customer service remains at the heart of his work. He aims to make people feel welcome and settled in his space. From making customers a cup of coffee to enjoy as they looked for purchases to inviting them from lunch whilst they learn about the artwork around them and the team that’s made it all possible.
But despite all of these great business skills and money-making methods, for Mike it’s not about being rich and famous, it’s about working hard, and utilising any profit to provide gainful employment to as many people as possible which in turn supports all the other goals of the gallery: welcoming customers, building community and educating people.
Has your business branched out in unique and creative ways? Tell us about them in the comments!