Wind Gallery Gains by Fostering Art Community

MAY 2003

Kee Hee Lee has done the impossible. She has taken a quiet American town and turned it into an art loving community, as well as a home for her successful businesses and art school.
The town in question is Dayton, OH, the businesses are her two gallerys, and a school that boasts an average of 80 students a week- young and old. But in this very challenging business environment, how does one woman manage to keep a modest-sized gallery going, not to mention open an even larger, more contemporary one right next door?
Seven years ago, Mrs. Lee opened the Wind Gallery in Dayton, a 5,000-square-foot space to much success. This past June she opened the Centerville Creative Arts Center, a 9,000-square-foot gallery that features 70% contemporary art nest door to the gallery. Much of CCAC's pieces are bold, colorful, and large. Top sellers include Schluss, Fauchere, Yunessi, Hessam, Emanuel, Sabzi, Simon Bull, and Joy Broe.
"Suburban Midwest people are living very differently from city people," she says. "My customer has a large house with lots of space to fill. I usually buy the biggest pieces of art I see because I know I can sell them."
The new CCAC building, whose construction estimated at $850,000, features large windows in the front where Mrs. Lee hangs big, bold, contemporary pieces. The oversized windows are a key element in the building's façade.
Mrs. Lee has many strategies that, when combined, are designed to create a happy, comfortable customer who is confident that they can afford art, can choose something flattering for their home, and know where to come when they're ready for more.
With the average customer being between the ages of 35 an d55, having a two-income household with an average combined salary of $140,000, Mrs. Lee is able to keep a constant stock of moderately price, large pieces of artwork representing many different artists and genres. Price ranges are from as low as $75 to as high as $35,000.
"My customers are not buying art to make money," Mrs. Lee says. "They buy it to enhance their lives."
While many other businesses suffered after September 11, Mrs. Lee's business has been thriving. She equates her success to her level of passion for art and her customers. "I care about people," she says. "It doesn't matter if I don't make a sale, as long as everyone is happy. I think that shows."


Knowing your market can set you apart from others. Mrs. Lee knows who she's selling to and what they like. Not all of her customers are the same, but she can choose art that will move quickly an generate excitement among the Dayton area art lovers.
While the majority of her customers are professionals who make a comfortable living, she doesn't rely on this type of sale. The Wind Gallery features more traditional art and pieces that are less expensive. It also hosts a group of local artists called the Wind Fine Art Gallery Artisan Group.
The artwork featured ranges from original paintings and sculpture to colored photographs and sculpted boxes. The average sale is $25 to $70. Custom framing is a big part of her business, as many gallerys have found, bringing in an average ticket price of $250 to $1,500. Mrs. Lee credits a solid 33% of her business at both galleries to custom framing.
"If a less expensive painting is framed well it can look like a masterpiece," she says. "If a customer cannot afford to buy a big expensive piece of artwork, we always let them know that the way it is presented will make it look like a million dollars."


"Every person coming into the gallery is your customer," Mrs. Lee believes. "Even if it's just someone coming in off the street, lost. Make an impression on them. Even if they don't buy anything, leave them with a memory engraved in their mind. That is your free advertising.
Another way to get the word out about your business without having to spend any money, is to create newsworthy events that bring out the media. For CCAC's grand opening, self-publishing British artist Simon Bull made an appearance and gave a painting demonstration to students and town council members participated in the ribbon cutting ceremony. Also, being one of the largest sources of art in the area gives her an edge. CCAC is planning an exhibit an appearance later this year by artist Joy Broe, who is published by Tele Graphics, Longwood, FL.
"It's a small community. No matter what I do, I always get media coverage. Her I'm a big fish in a small pond." Both galleries also do mailing of about 500 a month keeping customers up-to-date on new arrivals and exhibits. Using a database separated into 10 different categories, the mailings are sent to the appropriate people based on their tastes so that every customer will receive on average one postcard every other month. The also send out "Thank You" cards with images of new artwork.


Building relationships between the gallery and the customer is at the core of Mrs. Lee's success. When it comes to matching the customer with the piece of art, you need to first know what they are looking for. One of the best ways to do this is to get to know them.
"Art is very personal. We always tell our customers to try the artwork at home first," she says. The gallery has a "home" book where clientele can take a piece of art to their house for up to a week. "I always tell them to make sure the whole family agrees. If one person doesn't like it, I tell them to bring it back. I encourage them to see it in the room during the day and at night. Sixty percent usually end up purchasing the art."
Another perk to the home book is that the customer feels as though the gallery trusts them and truly wants them to be satisfied with their purchase. Removing the somewhat aggressive sales pressure is what eases a customer's mind because for some, shopping in a gallery can be intimidating. Making the customer feel comfortable and as though they're amongst friends is a big part of Mrs. Lee's strategy.


Hiring the right staff is another very important aspect to running a successful business. Mrs. Lee has 25 employees between the two galleries and does all of the hiring.
While she admits that an art background is always a good thing, she believes that personality, attitude, warmth, and likeability are more important.
"You can teach someone in two weeks about art, but you cannot train them to have the right attitude." Mrs. Lee uses her instincts when choosing employees and likes to have a staff with a variety of different characters. She also has approximately 40 interior decorators on file with whom she works closely.


The art school is held in the CCAC building and features such classes as watercolor, portraiture, art appreciation, sculptures, drawing, photography, calligraphy for adults, as well as cartooning, ceramics, and various drawing and painting classes for children. The classes serve two purposes. One is to get the community excited about art and to make art more accessible. And the second is to bring people into the gallery athat might not have thought to come otherwise. While the adult students tend to buy less art because they often make their own, the parents of children taking classes often times become customers.
You could say Mrs. Lee is more of an entrepreneur than just a gallery owner. She was a school teacher both here in the U.S. and in her native South Korea and just this past year, had a two-volume semi-biographic novel published. The book, whose title is roughly translated as Wild Rose, became popular very quickly in South Korea and her book publisher has asked her to write her own biography. She is also a professional, working artist who has been specializing in oriental brush painting for the past 25 years. Her work is published as open edition prints by the New York Graphic Society, Norwalk, CT; Bently House, Walnut Creek, CA; and Editions Limited, Emeryville, CA, and retail for $15 to $75. She has had shows at several galleries across the country. On top of all that, she is the president of Jade International Imports and owns the Jade Gallery, a showroom and retail store featuring oriental art, furniture, accessories, and gifts located also in Dayton.
Mrs. Lee feels that her successes have stemmed back to her upbringing. "In South Korea we are taught from birth to respect everyone. If your warmth is genuine people will pick up on it and want to buy from you," she says. "Also, I always make my customers feel like their home is an extension of the gallery."
To reach the Wind Gallery and CCAC, telephone (937) 291-4383

Kee Hee Lee in an image she uses for marketing the CCAC. The Wind Gallery and the Centerville Creative Arts Center are located next to each other in Dayton, OH.