So you want my arts job: Gallery Retail Manager

Blending an eye for the visual arts and design with business acumen, Ali Carpenter gives us a look into JamFactory's retail outlets.
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One of the most successful gallery retail outlets in Australia is the JamFactory’s store in Adelaide (South Australia). It is home to unique gifts by designer and makers across mediums – offering both a vital support mechanism for studio artists and also a point of connection for the general public.

JamFactory combine the shop with a gallery space, and a hot shop glass blowing studio.

Jam – as it is more casually known – also has a store at Seppeltsfield estate in the Barossa Valley wine region. Both are managed by the incredible manager, Ali Carpenter.

ArtsHub caught up with her to find out a little more on what this rewarding job requires.

How would you describe what you do to a non-arts friend?

I’m the Retail and Gallery Manager at JamFactory, an amazing not-for-profit promoting Australian craft and design. I oversee the Jam city store retail operations and source stock from over 200 artists making incredible works. On some days, my job is like ultimate retail therapy – buying lots of beautiful products, but displaying them in-store instead of in my own home!

What qualifications do you need for this job?

A visual arts qualification helps, as we sell the work of so many various artists. So it’s beneficial to have an understanding of various mediums and to be able to chat with people about making processes and design details. While it’s not a formal qualification as such, you also need to like people and customer service, as communication is a huge part of each day in the Jam store.

How did you get your start in this career?

I’ve worked in retail on and off for many years, but after studying visual arts (and having a bit of a break to have a baby) I started working for a small boutique that sold Australian-made pieces, and discovered that I really loved that focus on unique, handmade (and often one of a kind) pieces. A retail role was advertised at JamFactory and I had always admired the organisation as a whole, so it was a no-brainer to go for the job!

I first visited JamFactory as a school student and had returned on many occasions for wonderful exhibitions that inspired me as a visual arts student, so the prospect of working for such an iconic South Australian institution was really exciting. Here I am almost 10 years later…

How collaborative is this job?

Our retail team comprises several staff, and we all work together to make the Jam shop a beautiful, engaging space, so that’s a collaborative effort. It’s also special to chat with artists based on-site at JamFactory about what they might be making, which designs of theirs are selling really well in-store and so on. The retail department also provides feedback to marketing – sharing new products to promote, suggesting pieces for specific campaigns, or preparing products to be photographed for addition to our online store. I also collaborate with our Sales Director in curating exhibitions for the Collect space at JamFactory, which is one of my favourite aspects of this role.

view of interior of design and craft shop. JamFactory.>
JamFactory shop in Adelaide. Photo: Connor Patterson.

What’s an average week like?

I spend a lot of time communicating with artists requesting stock for our two stores or for Collect exhibitions, as well as researching potential new suppliers, but customer service is also a significant part of my job, as we’re a very busy store and all have to pitch in to make things run smoothly.

I also send corporate customers examples of products for potential use as awards or corporate gifts, as well as letting regular customers and JamFactory members know about new items we have in-store.

I enter new stock into our point of sale system, select works to add to our online store, prepare products for marketing to promote in online campaigns and oversee the visual merchandising in store. There is always something to do, including less interesting, but equally important tasks, like stocktaking and the never-ending cleaning of fingerprints from glass objects.

What’s the most common misconception about your job?

When my daughter was only about eight years old, I asked her what she thought my job involved, and she replied, ‘You just stand at the counter waiting for people to buy things.’

While this made me laugh at the time, I actually suspect that’s what some people may believe, yet there is so much more going on to ensure our store looks the way it does, and operates as smoothly as it does (most of the time!)

How competitive is this job?

I don’t have a sense of it being competitive, as there are lots of retail oriented jobs on offer, but I definitely think working in a store like JamFactory is one of the nicest, most rewarding retail jobs, as we’re a not-for-profit and sell the creations of lots of really lovely and very hardworking artists/designer-makers. I’d much rather be selling these artworks and unique handmade pieces than selling mass produced products lacking in love and consideration for resources in their construction.

In an interview for your job, what skills or qualities would you be looking for?

Strong communication and multitasking skills, and a passion for the Australian art/craft scene. Also a genuine willingness to help people purchase special pieces to add to their own collection, or to gift to others.

A large percentage of our customers are buying gifts from JamFactory, so our team needs to be able to quickly connect with people to determine what they’re after and help them find the perfect piece. A love of gift wrapping never goes astray either!

What’s changing in your professional area today?

Many artists have their own online stores and sell directly to individuals, as well as wholesaling to multiple stockists, which means that sometimes there isn’t the stock quantities available that there may have been some years prior, before online stores and Instagram became so easily manageable. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing – it just means more juggling of stock at any given moment to ensure plentiful supplies for our customers. 

Read: So you want my arts job: Design and Colour Consultant

What’s the weirdest thing that’s happened to you in this job?

While this isn’t especially weird, it was certainly unusual coming to work in the early days of an almost nationwide lockdown in 2020, to process a record-breaking number of online orders. And on the flip side of weird, we have some especially wonderful situations too, when we are visited by celebrities (artists and otherwise) who walk in and say, ‘I’ve always wanted to visit JamFactory…’

What about gender balance and diversity in your industry?

I’m proud to be part of JamFactory, as it’s a great example of an organisation that embraces gender balance and diversity within its own organisational structure, but also seeks to engage with diverse communities through collaborative projects.

Gina Fairley is ArtsHub's National Visual Arts Editor. For a decade she worked as a freelance writer and curator across Southeast Asia and was previously the Regional Contributing Editor for Hong Kong based magazines Asian Art News and World Sculpture News. Prior to writing she worked as an arts manager in America and Australia for 14 years, including the regional gallery, biennale and commercial sectors. She is based in Mittagong, regional NSW. Twitter: @ginafairley Instagram: fairleygina