What happens when a pair of entrepreneurs combines one of history’s oldest trades with new economy marketing and production innovations? As Dan Armand and Jesse Cory have proven with their Royal Oak-based company 1xRun, an entirely new industry can emerge.
There’s nothing novel about fine art sales; producing and selling prints of great works is commonplace enough; and companies such as Groupon have led the way in the online daily deals market. It’s combining all three, however, that makes 1xRun so revolutionary.
“People were always asking us through our agency how to create daily deal marketplaces,” says Cory, 34. “We consulted with larger agencies on how to do it and we started to experiment with these art prints.”
What they found was that after a fairly predictable period of time the excitement for each deal dropped, and if they didn’t sell every print, they were left with dead stock.
“There were all these variables,” says Armand, 28, explaining why some pieces sold better than others. “It was exciting for us to play with these. Is it the recognition of the artist? Is it the size of the edition? We decided if we could control some of these we could build something.”
Cory and Armand indeed built something. If their names sound familiar, that’s because 1xRun isn’t their first venture together. The pair met while working on a documentary film and have since joined forces to create Ohm Creative Group. After moving their agency into a Royal Oak office, they found themselves with some extra commercial space on their hands.
“Little by little we developed a small boutique and then developed it into a fine arts gallery,” says Cory.
The owners of 323 East Gallery are also the minds behind a handful of other entrepreneurial quests. Cory and Armand, who were honored with the Vanguard Award from Detroit Young Professionals and consecutively named as one of Crain’s Detroit Business’ 2011 “20 in their 20s”, have found a hit by building a business out of their love of art, marketing know-how and the willingness to shift their business model to meet a burgeoning marketplace for online art print sales.
“Our intention was to find a niche,” says Cory. “And after failures and successes and many endeavors, Dan and I looked at ourselves over Christmas last year and said, ‘we have finally found something that is working.'”
Two words sum up just how well it’s working: Sold Out. It’s a phrase that nearly always appears more than once on the company’s website. The concept of 1xRun is explained almost entirely by its name – Cory and Armand seek out unique, independent fine artists and create a limited run of prints of the artist’s work. Each print is introduced as “coming soon” to prospective buyers, who are ready and waiting when the numbered prints become available. Each sale lasts for just seven days.
“Sixty-five percent of our runs sell out in the first 24 hours,” says Cory. “They were selling out so fast, we started adding more runs in per week. We’re averaging three or four per week now.”
It helps that the demand for art prints has been growing for some time.
“We’re seeing the democratization of art right now,” says Cory. “People are realizing that they can buy art affordably. They see that they can get something unique, and it’s been signed and touched by the artists, which adds value.”
The magic of 1xRun is that it offers a premium version of the now popular art prints – each high quality print is numbered and shipped to the artist to be signed by hand before sending on to the buyers – as well as creating instant demand for their product with limited availability and ticking time clock.
In the span of a year, the formula has made Cory and Armand people of note in the art world on a global scale. While maintaining their connections with Michigan artists, they have worked with artists and buyers from Afghanistan, Abu Dhabi, Australia and the United Kingdom. Those connections have done nothing but benefit and complement their first fine arts venture.
“We never said, ‘if we make art prints we’ll meet all these collectors and they’ll start collecting from us,'” says Cory. “They still love to go to the website, even though they can afford the $10,000 pieces of art. They love to get there for the countdown and click that button to get one of the first five prints.”
And they know just how many of their customers can afford the more extravagant art pieces because many of them have also become patrons of 323 East. As a respected source for fine art talent all over the world, Cory and Armand have created a client base who relies on them to introduce them to new artists through prints and then connect them to great new original art pieces.
As a testimony to that success, Cory and Armand are currently in the process of expanding their gallery space – in Los Angeles.
“It makes sense for us to connect with our clients in L.A.,” says Cory. “So many of our best artists and art collectors are there.”
Camilo Pardo, Detroit artist and designer of the Ford GT, who frequently works with 1xRun, will be living and working at the L.A. gallery, so Cory and Armand can continue to grow their Detroit-area ventures.
And they have no shortage of plans on how to do that. Framing options are on the horizon for 1xRun, as well as venturing into book publishing and 3D art. Cory and Armand are also looking to Brooklyn for their next possible gallery and retail space.
Their focus, however, remains in the Detroit area. As Armand is from Harper Woods and Cory is from Romeo, remaining close to home is a priority for them both personally and professionally.
“We live here,” Cory says. “We enjoy spending weekends with our family and our friends we’ve grown up with. And if we were going to do this in New York, the price point would probably be double.”
That’s great news for Detroit area artists. The success of 1xRun and 323 East Gallery is a direct benefit to the local art scene. “There are global people we’ve worked with through the gallery,” says Armand, “But most of our shows are still primarily local artists. It helps bring the international attention on these Detroit artists.”