Seaside University (with a lesson on selling specialised items and services, such as art + commissions)
from our Sunday reading series - a weekly blog post (subscribe here)
Buying something is easy. Or, perhaps not. Sometimes, understanding (and thus, education) is required. I have been made keenly aware of this on a recent trip to the South coast, where I gained a better understanding of a previously obscure (to me) bit of British seaside culture.
What am I talking about? Beach huts.
I first became aware of them through Martin Parr's photographs* back in the early 2000s while an M.A. student. I understood that the "small, usually wooden and often brightly coloured, box above the high tide mark on popular bathing beaches," as described by Wikipedia** were quintessentially English. What I didn't appreciate all those years ago was how much people pay for them.
Fast forward to this week, while enjoying a mini-road trip around England's South and South-West Coast. This has included a stay on an island off the South Coast of England, where you can find row upon row of colourful beach huts (like the one seen in the picture above).
Typically sized 12 x 8 feet or similar, huts on the island have display prices between 10k - 12.5k GBP (approx 13k - 16k USD at the time of writing)! My immediate response was to be aghast that anyone would pay that much for a wooden shack - seemingly exactly the same as a garden shed, only placed on a beach.
Wikipedia continues: "They are generally used as a shelter from the sun or wind, changing into and out of swimming costumes and for the safe storing of some personal belongings. Some beach huts incorporate simple facilities for preparing food and hot drinks by either bottled gas or occasionally mains electricity."
While that all seems very practical, you simply don't spend that kind of cash to store a few items and turn on a kettle. You spend it for something else, namely, a sought-after something aimed at a specific audience. And how are the huts really used? For socialising as well as being seen to have one. You invite friends to pop by for a cuppa tea / drink and sit on folding chairs placed on the rocky sand or pebbles in front of the unit. Your friends in turn invite you to their hut. And there you are, living a beach hut happy lifestyle.
Although the going price initially stunned me, I started to draw comparisons to the pricing of art. People unfamiliar with the value of paintings, sculpture, original prints - you name it, are often similarly aghast. It's up to the seller to educate the prospective buyer as to why a piece is $1,000 instead of $100. Providing that the explanation shifts the individual's perception and the piece is right, a sale can be made. Better yet, you're on your way to developing a new art collector who doesn't find the price tags surprising.
When you next have that person at your show or the other end of the line, not understanding why the price tag is what it is, remember the beach hut story. Take a deep breath and educate them.
* Reference: https://www.martinparr.com
** Reference: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beach_hut
*** Related story: Tracey Emin famously sold her beach hut to collector Charles Saatchi for 75,000 GBP: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/emin-the-last-thing-i-said-to-you-was-dont-leave-me-here-ii-p11921