Leveraging the value in your collections

How the National Gallery make the most of commercial opportunities while balancing the core values of the gallery and the strategic objectives of the Trust. Judith Mather, Buying and Merchandise Director at the Gallery, talks to Advisor.

When I think about how to make the most out of a collection I always feel you should take a moment to think about what your collection stands for and what are its core values? From this point I think it’s easier to quantify the financial opportunities.

To the take full commercial advantage of any collection it is important to understand the goals of the organisation. In the case of The National Gallery these are to preserve, enhance and develop the potential of the collection for the public; broaden appeal and provide exceptional visitor service; inspire learning and engagement; enhance staff effectiveness and increase income and care for our physical activities. As we are a separate limited company from the gallery and are owned by The National Gallery trust (who effectively are the shareholders) we also over lay our own strategic objectives. These are to generate profit from all our commercial activities, educate and inform customers and also to entertain and enhance people’s experience of the gallery.

National Gallery Gift Shop
National Gallery Gift Shop

In all we do we look at quality and innovation, customer focus, our people and culture, being commercially focused and also how we can extend the reach of The National Gallery brand and its authority. It is important that we get the message out, get the people in and also make money for the gallery.

Museums and Galleries can do much to enhance the reputation of our organisations through commercial activities such as working with unique exclusive suppliers to create unique exclusive products. Leveraging your collection is what is expected. To make the most out of your collection and therefore the most money commerciality is key; it is not about “exit through the gift shop”, it is the whole visitor experience.

Leveraging the collection means telling the story behind the collection as well. The National Gallery’s collection is as unique as many other institutions and to make the most out of your commercial activities it is about understanding your own unique selling point. The collection was put together for the people of the country. It doesn’t just tell us about the development of art but also a number of incredible stories about history, politics, philosophy and the way people lived and felt , their preoccupations and passions.

Just as curators and educations of the gallery are responsible for telling stories of the collection and its works their activities, so The National Gallery company’s role is to tell stories through the experience it offers.

We have an opportunity and a responsibility to help people discover the collection, the paintings and the stories behind them through the products we sell and the way we present them.

National Gallery Gift Shop
National Gallery Gift Shop

The range that the collection offers is a remarkable repository of ideas. It is a thrilling collection that can translate into products that are equally inspiring and unique. It is about looking for themes in your collection which could be anything from beautiful goddesses to conquering heroes.

Sometimes collections are not immediately engaging to some audiences, some may (controversially) say this about old master paintings. This collection is harder than modern art or the applied arts as people may feel this collection is irrelevant to their daily lives, however shopping is something that most people understand and love – especially when the products are surprising and full of charm.

The National Gallery Company opportunity is to bring people meaningfully to the collection through doing what it does best – selling great products. If it is a beautiful object that can get the message out clearly and help customers into the gallery to discover more then that’s a great result.

We are committed to sharing the collection with as many people as possible, which has led to branding arrangements and licensing agreements with selected business partners. Offering a fresh approach by cropping a picture to focus on the subject or easily exposing missed detail is something we encourage. Our paintings are precious but our attitude isn’t.

We offer licensees attention; our aim is to support a small number of partners and to give them the best opportunities. The key message is that all the profits are returned to the gallery helping to maintain its position as a leading collection of Western Art, and to fund exhibitions, research and collecting for the future.

At the National Gallery Company we also look for a new hook which is why we created the DELICIOUS ART brand that we have trademarked. It is a growth area of gift food and drink that celebrates the magnificence of the gallery’s paintings through food and drink. It was launched in 2012 with vintage wines, champagnes and chocolate. This is an evolving range with carefully selected brand matched associations endorsing quality and excellence. This is also an opportunity to leverage the collection through external sales channels.

Leveraging the collection means also looking at offering exclusive services. Print On Demand is an exclusive service both in store and on line offering superb quality digital reproductions of National Gallery paintings, printed to order in a range of sizes and finishes. We offer over 2000 digital quality images including some of the world’s greatest and best known masterpieces. We also offer a variety of finishes to suit any venue, home or workspace, in a range of sizes and choice of frames.

We also use our publishing team to leverage the collection. The team produces beautiful books that support the Gallery and its research and exhibition programme. The aim is to promote and encourage the appreciation of the paintings in the collection through retail and trade distribution. The team publishes titles that are aimed at every kind of visitor, from newcomer to scholar. Each publication is carefully and generously illustrated whether hard back or multi language guide.

To conclude: leveraging the value in your collection is to really understand the goals of the whole organisation. The creation of a clear business strategy by knowing your market and customers will also grow your turnover. For me the most important thing is to explore unique selling points to the collection and how I can turn these into competitive strength.