Lisa Russell | Crain's Austin

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Lisa Russell

Background:  

Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery is a full-service gallery that specializes in museum-quality art. The gallery also offers custom framing  as well as consultation and installation services.

The Mistake:

Underestimating the importance of location.

I first opened my art gallery in Austin about 14 years ago in the Arboretum in Northwest Austin. I was new to Austin, having moved here from California. I looked downtown and there was nothing available at the time, so I signed a five-year lease in the Arboretum even though at the time rents were more expensive than downtown. I was in about 1,250 square feet right next to Restoration Hardware, which I thought was going to be great.

It was a pretty small and narrow space but at the time, I was only carrying masterworks, which included art by Picasso, Rembrandt and Matisse, among others. My thinking was that the Arboretum was an upscale area that would attract the kind of demographic that was my target market. I was so excited and desperate to find a location that I really jumped the gun and took a space there without really looking at where Austin was going.

Some of the upscale businesses started moving out and the demographic began shifting to a younger crowd. That ended up being the biggest problem for me. I didn’t have the right kind of people coming to the Arboretum at that point. About four years into it, it became clear to me that the Arboretum was not the right fit for me as more good stores were leaving for The Domain.  The area just didn’t give me enough visibility, and I was the only gallery that was located outside of downtown or its general vicinity.

Not being centrally located was a bigger deal than I expected. So my mistake was picking the wrong location and not focusing on the fact that location is probably the most important factor when opening a retail store. I had no idea downtown was going to explode in the way that it did. If I had been a little more patient and done more research, I might have been able to start my business downtown rather than be stuck at the Arboretum. My business was at a loss all five years I was there.

This time, I waited until the time was right.​

The Lesson:  

I got my break when another gallery located downtown at my current location at 1137 W. 6th St. was closing, and the gallery owner offered me the space and to take over their lease. I tried to end my lease at the Arboretum early and was willing to help the landlords find another tenant. That didn’t work out, so I had both spaces for a year. I gave up the Arboretum one as soon as my lease was up. 

There’s no doubt that downtown was the savior for my business. A few years after I’d moved there, somebody moved out of the space next to me and I took over the whole building. It’s a great location and I have 11 parking spaces for my gallery, which is nice for downtown. It was financially beneficial for me to get out of that lease in the Arboretum and have my rent go down and sales go up. Plus eventually, I had two-and-a-half times the space. Also, I had taken over close to a dozen contemporary artists to add to my offerings. It was nice to have a cohesive, eclectic collection to offer people.

My revenue grew probably by 300 percent or more in about 18 months after I opened the downtown location. Since then, it’s been about five to 10 percent per year with the exception of the recession when it slid a bit. Art is a luxury-goods item and sometimes those purchases go on hold when other things are going on in the economy. To diversify, I expanded into custom framing in the last two years. And now I’m opening a smaller location in Lakeway. This time, I’ve done my research and I can see that I’m missing out on another level of clientele. I live out here and it’s unbelievable to me the amount of growth and residential development. I’ve done my research and watched it grow.  This time, I waited until the time was right.

Follow Lisa Russell on Twitter at: @RussellFineArt.

Pictured: Lisa Russell. | Photo courtesy of Russell Collection Fine Art Gallery.

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