When we shop we’re looking for an experience right? With stores abound, we’re spoilt for choice and these days, we’re a little more selective. Whether it’s online or real world, we want the experience, we want access to unique products and we want to browse in our own time without some sales assistant breathing down our neck. That’s where Toronto’s Arts Market comes in.
During our trip to Toronto, Gouniq’s Amanda Gaal caught up with Daniel Cohen, founder of the Arts Market to talk about how he made it work, what he’s learnt and how he managed to create a unique space for artisans to display their work and make it accessible to the Toronto market.
A Bit of Background…
The Arts Market was started back in 2011, with a warehouse space in Leslieville. After many years of travel, Daniel returned to Toronto and was seeking a place where he could sell his work. While a few existed, the focus of these markets wasn’t on the artist, and they were always considered side issues, never the full focus. Realizing that there were other artists in the same boat, Daniel created the Arts Market, where artists can have their own space to show their product and get their work out to the people of Toronto. With a recent second store opening on the other side of town, Daniel has managed to create something special at the Arts Market.
Gouniq: So how did you get started in this?
Daniel: A while back, I lived in Sydney for just under four years and during that time I really started to work on my art. I found the Glebe Market which was a great avenue to get my product out there and make some sales doing what I love. For an artist, it was a very valid option. I spent seven years travelling the world and everywhere I went, I found there were always similar avenues available to sell my art. When I returned home to Toronto, I couldn’t really find any similar opportunities where the artist was the focus. Where as an artist, you really fit. For what is available, they’re not consistent and no one can survive on two events a year. And so I decided to start the Arts Market.
Initially, the Arts Market was set up as a weekend market. It worked really well, but what I found was that it wasn’t enough to keep the artisans busy and generate enough sales. The local community also expressed their interest in the Arts Market and made comments like ‘we need you to be open more, I can’t get the chance to get in to see you’. Listening to the feedback from artisans and hearing the neighborhood ask for more, we changed the Arts Market model. And we’ve not stopped changing. Within the Arts Market, the artist manages the space, how it looks, and how much effort they put into making it look attractive to the buyer. Essentially, they run their own business and we assist with their sales. We’ve tailored the Arts Market to make it sure that it works for Toronto, our local community and our artists. When a new artist comes on board, we sit down together to get to know each other. I find this is crucial in building an honest relationship – it helps us understand each other and so the process is transparent.
Gouniq: Any start up is difficult. What were some of the difficulties you faced and how did you manage them?
Daniel: I grew up in a house where my dad was an entrepreneur so when you’re in that environment, you naturally pick up skills. I watched him at work and this has really helped me with the Arts Market. I don’t have a formal background in business, so my experience comes from life itself and I make sure I utilize this experience to the fullest. I am very fortunate to have a great support group around me, my family, my friends, the artists and I’ve definitely put in a lot of work to get it to where it is today. So it hasn’t been easy. There has been a great deal of work involved but its something I am passionate about so believe me, I’m very happy to do it.
I am surrounded by a number of great artisans and they provide me with feedback on how to improve the business. I make sure I accept this feedback and implement changes as they need to be. By doing this, I am utilizing their life experiences and the resources around me and I’ve found this has really helped to make the business run more smoothly. So I definitely have a big network of people helping me. It’s a collective effort.
Gouniq: Being able to accept feedback as a positive is not something everyone can do…
Daniel: I’m fully in this and sometimes when you’re so into something, you develop blinkers. So I tell the artists, let me know when there’s something wrong, let me know if there is something that can be improved. I want to make this a success and I’ve learnt that the only way to do this is to be flexible and pay attention to what the artists are saying, to what the public is saying.
Things can go wrong when you start to shut out suggestions. I realize I need to continue improving both myself and the business, growing and learning. Just because you’ve got a model that appears to be working well doesn’t mean you should become a roadblock to change. I make a conscious effort to make sure I don’t do that. I want to change and grow and see the Arts Market flourish and our artists flourish and this can only happen when you listen and take on board suggestions that others make.
In business, someone is always going to have a suggestion, a better idea, or another way of doing something that may be helpful and I make sure I listen. An example of this is a mural I had painted on the front of our building. I was so excited that I was able to do this however, 2 months in, I was getting feedback that people were struggling to find the building. Definitely not good for business so as much as I loved it, it wasn’t working so I changed it. And there’s been no problem since.
Gouniq: How did you get the Arts Market out to Toronto?
Daniel: For us, its all about the local community so we concentrate all our efforts on making sure our neighborhood knows who we are and that we’re here. I am part of the local community network, and we work hard to ensure The Arts Market is a welcoming environment. There’s no pressure to purchase, and we make sure that people enjoy browsing in their own time. If you buy something, that’s great. If not, that’s okay too. Regardless, we want people to have a great experience while their here.
Through my involvement in the art world, I also make connections that way. We’ve also been fortunate enough to have been written up in a few Toronto publications and that has certainly helped to increase our network and the knowledge that we’re here.
For us at Gouniq, we love that the Arts Market is about creating a community atmosphere and provides an opportunity for artists and designers to show their work as part of a collective, operating in an honest way that is always evolving. It’s a team effort and it’s great to see this alive and thriving.
So if you’re here in Toronto, we recommend you make the trip to the Arts Market. You’ll love the feel of the space – it’s a good eclectic mix of unique creations and the space really lends itself to creating the right atmosphere to sell the product. At the Arts Market, Daniel has managed to create an environment that is both edgy and comfortable. Make sure you put it on the list of places to visit. It’s well worth a look.
A big thank you to Daniel for taking the time to chat!
You can find the Arts Market at:
Leslieville: 1114 Queen St. East
College: 846 College St at Ossington