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How an Art Gallery Created an Online Store for Social Shopping

Moontoast's digital platform helps affinity brands like Nashville's Arts Company translate Facebook fan fervor into online revenue.
How an Art Gallery Created an Online Store for Social Shopping
Image credit: Photo© Natalie Brasington
Anne Brown mission is making art accessible.

Anne Brown's mission is making art accessible.
Photo© Natalie Brasington

Nashville is justly celebrated as Music City, but the Tennessee state capital's dedication to the arts doesn't end at the Grand Ole Opry. Downtown Nashville is also the nexus of a thriving visual arts community: The city's Fifth Avenue corridor boasts more than a dozen gallery spaces, as well as the long-running First Saturday Art Crawl, which attracts more than a thousand visitors each month.

Credit Nashville's creative renaissance to people like Anne Brown, educator, author and entrepreneur. Brown's two-story, 6,000-square-foot Fifth Avenue gallery, the Arts Company, opened in 1996, pioneering the trail that rival venues soon followed.

"Fifteen years ago, everything here was wig shops and dollar stores--all the other businesses had moved out. Now we're known as ‘The Avenue of the Arts,'" Brown says. "I opened the Arts Company because I wanted to bring art downtown. I wanted to bring it directly into the middle of the marketplace, and I wanted to be where the action is."

With the action now migrating from real-world galleries to virtual spaces, the Arts Company is expanding its digital presence, partnering with Nashville-based social commerce platform provider Moontoast to launch the Avant-Garage Marketplace, a destination that blurs the line between traditional websites and social networking pages. Integrating online sales, gallery updates and artist spotlights with services like Facebook, Twitter and Flickr, the Arts Company Avant-Garage Marketplace offers Brown a new channel to promote some of her favorite works and talents, leveraging social media interaction to nurture consumer interest and extend the creative dialogue far beyond the gallery's walls.

"Moontoast is helping me engage people I can't engage any other way," Brown says. "Art is tricky. It's not like selling widgets. We have an interesting gallery with a lot of very good artwork, but I don't care who you are--you can't bring in enough people every month to sell it all. But if you keep showing people something, they get more interested and start to care about it. That can happen online."

Consumer interest and passion is integral to the Moontoast concept, according to the company's CEO, Blair Heavey. The Moontoast platform is designed to help record labels, authors, athletes and other affinity-based brands and businesses monetize their existing fan followings, delivering product offers and promotions directly within the social media stream.

"We drive incremental revenues wherever your fans are," Heavey says. "Our platform allows brands to post audio and video updates, sell special fan-only merchandise and offer flash deals or group-buying deals. And it's all conducted without leaving the social site."

There are three components to the Moontoast solution: Commerce Community (a hub that consolidates Facebook pages, Twitter feeds, personal blogs and other sources from the social sphere, complete with live multimedia events and a set of sales tools), Distributed Store (which inserts offers and product previews on a brand's website and into followers' Facebook news feeds) and Moontoast Impulse (a Facebook application that allows fans to play, share and purchase music directly from a Facebook fan page).

"Moontoast enables brands to engage the fan community in more meaningful ways," Heavey says. "Social media is growing, and online commerce is also growing. We bridge the gap."

So far hundreds of brands have signed on with Moontoast, including specialty apparel retailer Klen Laundry and country music label Big Machine. Another prominent partner is Antiques Archaeology, the vintage collectibles shop owned and operated by Mike Wolfe, star of the History Channel hit American Pickers.

Moontoast collects a onetime implementation fee that ranges from $1,000 to $3,000, depending on the complexity of the social commerce solution the partner wants to develop. The firm also takes a percentage of revenues derived from all products sold.

Brown credits Moontoast not only for helping her build the Arts Company Avant-Garage Marketplace, but also for honing its focus and scope.

"When you tune into this site, I want it to be something authentic, fresh and original, and I want it to have an artistic edge--something that can live comfortably in the contemporary world," Brown says. "Most of all, I want my gallery to be open to people. My colleagues think I'm crazy for doing this. But they also thought I was crazy when I opened the Arts Company. You gotta start some-where, and I'm willing to be the crazy one doing it." 

Chicago-based writer Jason Ankeny is the executive editor of Fiercemobile content, a daily electronic newsletter dedicated to mobile media, applications and marketing.

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This article was originally published in the July 2011 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Art of Online Commerce.

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