Follow what is in your heart. If you have a passion for something, never give up on it no matter how far out of reach it may seem.”
Melanie Werner is the founder of Galerie Werner, a fine European and American art gallery in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Galerie specializes in 18th to 20th century paintings, vintage photography, and works on paper. Melanie has also brought her curatorial and fine art brokering expertise to the BRINTZ Gallery in Palm Beach, Florida where she currently serves as Director.
With a degree in marketing and communications from Westminster College, Melanie Werner began her career in marketing with various beauty and healthcare brands. This experience lead her down many paths of her own invention, not only with Galerie Werner but with her patented MixByMe™ Customized Fragrance Technology as well. She uses the technology she invented for MIXELLE, a fragrance brand she developed with her product innovation and design company Mouse Trap Design, LLC.
A Renaissance woman in all senses, Melanie spends her time outside of work contributing to the communities to which she belongs. She served as an active board member for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater for nearly a decade. Currently, Melanie is a member of the Culture Council of Palm Beach County. She is also a supporter of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. In this interview Melanie discusses how she came to start Galerie Werner and her advice for turning a life-long passion into a fruitful career.
Where did the idea for Galerie Werner come from?
As early as age seven, I was fascinated with the art world. My family played the board game titled Masterpiece which involved buying and selling art at auction and avoiding buying a forgery. However, in college, my parents advised me not to become an art history major and suggested a degree in marketing, PR or a related business field. So I pursued that industry and spent the early years of my career in marketing, which in turn helped me when I opened Galerie Werner in 2002.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Working with clients and collectors is how I start and end my day. Sourcing inventory is crammed in between that, as are the daily operations of running the gallery.
How did you bring the idea to life?
Living in Paris for over a decade had a profound influence on my love for art and, to me, what is equally important: the business of art. A life-long passion started with an eagerness to visit art museums in every city I traveled to. But loving art and earning a living through art are on opposite sides of the coin. The business of running an art gallery is challenging, but done thoughtfully, it can be a wonderfully rewarding way to earn a living. At the end of the day, I love making the deal; placing the right painting with the right collector is fulfilling. It’s a very happy business!
What’s one trend that really excites you?
Although I started the gallery selling 19th century to mid-20th century paintings, I’m really excited about the contemporary art market. It’s incredibly fresh, with a different energy and clientele. New uses of inventive materials and techniques have expanded the art field down the most exciting and creative avenues.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
One habit I can think of is being completely relentless and hardworking in everything I do.
What advice would you give your younger self?
I would say: follow what is in your heart. If you have a passion for something, never give up on it no matter how far out of reach it may seem.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
“Your six year old actually couldn’t have painted that!” Here, I’m referring to a typical and oft heard opinion of abstract art. Many people don’t realize that behind the shapes and colors are thought processes of form and composition that can make or break an artwork’s emotional impact on the viewer. I think many people are too judgmental and don’t allow themselves to really feel abstract artwork in the way the artist intended.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Research, definitely. I think it is important no matter what field you are in to research every aspect of your profession. Things change so quickly nowadays; you always want to be in the loop and stay up to date with anything and everything that will help you to remain successful.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Expanding to different markets on a national scale. I didn’t stay stagnant in Pittsburgh. I expanded Galerie Werner and exhibited in art fairs in New York City, the Hamptons, Palm Beach, and other large art markets with high net worth individuals who were well-versed in collecting.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
When I was just starting out professionally in the art world, I was hungry to prove myself and my abilities. However, it made me over-eager with clients. It might not sound like a direct ‘failure’ but I quickly realized that it can definitely hurt you in sales. I’ve since learned how to mirror a client’s own energy and keep him or her engaged and interested without going too far.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I invented a patented perfume bottle system that allows the consumer to endlessly customize the concentration of multiple scents to create a totally unique fragrance on demand. I think it might be interesting to see something like that in the art world. Something like a paintbrush that can be loaded with different pigments and the artist can combine them in various ways to create custom colors.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I recently put (far more!) than $100 towards the price tag of a recent acquisition: an abstract work on paper by artist Fabrizio Gerbina, an artist I support and promote because I believe in his talent and artistic vision. He’s doing groundbreaking work by incorporating carbon into his paint pigments. He achieves a softness in his pallet that’s incomparable. Although he exhibited in the Carnegie International and has done projects with the Warhol Museum, he’s still relatively undiscovered.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive? How do you use it?
Google. Honestly, I use it every day. Like I mentioned before, constant daily research is what keeps me aware of what’s going on in my industry. A vast percentage of that information can be found on the internet, so there’s no excuse to not keep up when everything is literally available at your fingertips.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Stranger by Albert Camus inspired me like nothing else I’ve ever read. I highly recommend that book, it helps you to see the importance of what is relevant in life and what isn’t. It changed how I utilize my own time and where I put my focus.
What is a favorite quote?
Andy Rooney from ‘60 Minutes’ once said, “When you harbor bitterness, happiness docks elsewhere.” That quote has stayed with me ever since I first heard it.
● Being over-eager can hurt you in sales
● Never give up on your dreams
● Hard work always pays off
Mario Schulzke is the Founder of ideamensch, which he started a decade ago to learn from entrepreneurs and give them a platform for their ideas.