Frenchman Tom Singier studied to be a graphic designer and art director, but that’s something that’s come second place since he’s made the move to Berlin. The last 14 years he’s called the German capital home, honing his entrepreneurial skills, setting up the quaint, yet cosy urban gallery Serigraffeur in Friedrichshain.
I was happy to be welcomed by the underground scene of silkscreen art which is really thriving in Berlin. There are many places to print and a lot of people that like to work with it in different ways, some who even use social work as a means of artistic expression.
Starting a new business is always an exciting experience. How was it for you?
Looking back, it all happened very fast—I had the place, and it was very easy to put together the first show for the opening. The concept surrounding the gallery is that we have a new exhibition every month, and everything comes in the collection, in sleeves, like in a vinyl shop. This allowed me to start straight away, but the process of growing was very slow after the initial phase. Over time I gathered more experience on how to properly talk about the artists, how to ask the right questions so I can present them (or their works of art) to our audience, and of course, the bookkeeping.
So what would you say are the biggest challenges?
To me the challenge is navigating the legal aspect of a small gallery owner working on commission—it’s something quite special that I think hasn't been really thought through by lawmakers. So the area surrounding taxes, accounting and bookkeeping is the trickiest to me.
How did you start using SumUp?
At one of my first pop-ups during a silkscreen festival in Stattbad, it became obvious that I was losing sales by not offering the possibility to pay by card, so it was very reactive. In the price range where I function, 50-100 euro is still quite a lot, but when it comes to a special item for your home, it's a bargain.
Still, you don't always walk with that kind of money on you, so having a card reader is essential for spontaneous shoppers.
So, I ordered the reader, and within one week I had it and the app and was ready to accept card payments. It was all very easy and I did everything online. If only everything was as easy as using SumUp (laughs). I can quickly find everything that was paid for via debit and credit card in the History page, which makes me feel safe and in control.
How do you choose the artists that exhibit here?
In the 12 exhibitions we host every year, there is a good mix of regular artists that I've been following from the beginning — local artists and international guests. I move around to art fairs and festivals in Europe where I meet a lot of artists whom I then invite to exhibit. There’s also a lot of people coming in the gallery here, who just moved to Berlin and come to show me their work. We have a lot of young artists. Berlin is a very good city for that, you don't really have to search for the artists; some say you have to search for the clients.
How do you keep a constant flow of customers coming in?
For two years now, I’ve been investing time in our webshop, where two-thirds of the works in the gallery are online, but I see it more as a preview of what you can find in the physical location. People should come and see the process and the real colours, not buy a jpeg.Some exhibitions we have press releases for and sometimes we appear in the newspaper. I have a newsletter, Facebook and Instagram accounts that I'm quite active on. I always try to talk about the new posters I have. I'm really happy that a lot of the artists come on a regular basis to the openings, so it's also, in part, word of mouth.
What advice would you give to people looking to start a similar business?
Take a bit of time to study business and be sure of what you want to do and for which reasons. For me, when I opened the gallery it was quite clear that it was a way for me to support the scene. It's between a business and a project, and I think in a gallery you have to focus on the art by supporting the people creating new pieces. Don’t become discouraged if at the end of it all there’s not a lot of money left for yourself as it’s an ongoing process, and you need to trust yourself and the artists you’re promoting.
What are some of your plans for the future?
This year I’m looking forward to doing more pop-up stores. This is also why I recently acquired a second card reader from SumUp, to have one in the gallery and one with me on the road. I will be off to exhibit a part of the collection in galleries in Copenhagen and Paris. I also started my own art as well. I’ve started to produce a lot of my own pieces on the side, so that’s something I’m looking forward to—showcasing my own work.
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