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
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
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
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."
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."
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
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.
THE CUSTOMER YOUR FRIEND
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
"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.
THE RIGHT STAFF
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
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.
MORE THAN JUST ARTWORK
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)