Art seller paints integrated picture

Having built its business through the application of traditional direct marketing touches, Atelier America is now attempting to blend equal measures of Web-based e-commerce and data mining into its marketing palette....

Having built its business through the application of traditional direct marketing touches, Atelier America is now attempting to blend equal measures of Web-based e-commerce and data mining into its marketing palette.

Founded in 1994, the Markham, Ont.-based art reproduction house has a portfolio of hundreds of ‘Brushstrokes’ – limited-edition reproductions of fine paintings that are subsequently hand-finished by artists in order to give them a three-dimensional quality – which are sold directly to consumers and corporations through a direct mail catalogue and Web site. Each work, which ranges in price from $500 to $2,500, is shipped with a certificate of authenticity.

‘It’s not a question of making pictures that look like originals, it’s using a combination of technology and artistry to capture the soul of a painting,’ says Harvey Kalef, chairman and founder of Atelier America, who boasts that the process he’s developed is the most significant new ‘art form’ to emerge in the last 100 years.

Kalef, who worked for many years in marketing and advertising prior to founding Atelier, says the majority of his customers are quality-conscious consumers who value the importance of working and living in attractive surroundings. The company has also recently begun targeting the lucrative corporate world, in part by creating partnerships with interior designers, architects and furniture dealers to promote Brushstrokes for lease, rent or purchase.

Kalef recalls that when he started out, people told him it would be virtually impossible to sell fine art through direct mail channels, but he insisted that if the product was both well-presented and reasonably affordable, it would move. Since then, he says millions of catalogues have been distributed across North America, many through co-branding alliances with the likes of American Express, Neiman Marcus and Diners Club.

Atelier’s top priority these days, he says, is to further expand its direct marketing capabilities, namely by developing sophisticated database and relationship marketing programs.

To that end, the company began to broaden its customer reach last November by launching an e-commerce Web site ( that features more than 200 reproductions that can be purchased online. Visitors to the site can even try out the paintings they like in one of five virtual room settings that can be displayed in up to 20 different background wall colours.

Jan Kestle, Atelier’s president, says one of the challenges in developing the company’s marketing strategy is to combine the Internet, the catalogue and the retail channels so that they can all work together.

‘Our experience on the Internet has been the same as other established cataloguers or established retailers, in that it provides a complementary tool for our existing business,’ says Kestle, who spent roughly 12 years with Toronto-based market profile specialist Compusearch Micromarketing Data and Systems – the last six as president – before joining Atelier last summer.

Currently, Atelier drives existing customers to the Web site via e-mail alert when there are new paintings or offers that might be of interest to them. Postcards and notifications are also sent to offline customers referring them to activity on the site.

‘I’m not a great believer in doing a lot of outbound marketing from the Internet, but I do believe the Internet can be used as a tool to expand relationships that we already have and expand marketing partnerships,’ Kestle says.

According to Kestle, one of her main priorities is to build a central relational database to track and analyze the effectiveness of all of Atelier’s outbound direct mail, e-mail and promotions. The database, which will be integrated with the company’s order entry system, will also have a large analytical component for customer segmentation and predictive modeling.

‘We’re creating a loyalty approach,’ she says. ‘I worked for a long time on a vision of database marketing with Compusearch, and what I believed then, I believe even more now on the client side. You have to build a database and collect as much information as you can on your customers and their activity, no matter what channel they go through. Even though it sounds like ABCs, a lot of companies don’t step back and put everything in a central database.’

Atelier, she adds, hopes to integrate its data with information it can gather in the ‘outside world’ to create specific executions that leverage behavioural and psychographic data.

‘The decision on behalf of a consumer to buy paintings can be defined in demographic terms, but there’s also a certain mind-set of a house-proud person – a person who’s interested in being on the leading edge,’ says Kestle. ‘You can go to the right age and demo, but there’s still a subjective thing about this particular product.’