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F E AT U R E

Personal Touch is Key to International Success for Local Gallery BY MICKEY HIRTEN

I

t’s 12:45 in the morning and Roy Saper is sitting by his computer, signed on to his gallery’s website. Why? Because it’s 2:45 p.m. in Australia and that’s where his customers are. Or they’re in Japan or Spain or anywhere else in the world where Saper’s eclectic collection creates interest . . . and sales.

His inventory includes 1,500 original items drawn from a roster of 150 artists. There are works by masters such as Rembrandt etchings and Picasso lithographs. He has modern works by popular artists like Peter Max, Norman Rockwell, Fabienne Delacroix and Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. There are glass vases, sculpted ceramics and cocobolo wood bowls from Costa Rica. “I buy them all for only one reason,” Saper said. “Because I like them. What I don’t do is buy what other people are selling.” Unlike other galleries, he says he doesn’t require artists to deal exclusively with him or set their prices. “I ask only what they would like for their art.” His lower-cost location in East Lansing offers pricing advantages that benefit artists and customers. “They’re not paying the premium that they would at a big city gallery.” But for the right works, they can still pay handsomely. There is art in his studio priced as high as $140,000. But that isn’t what sustains his base of 7,000 active customers. “A great gallery doesn’t have to be expensive,” Saper said. 20

PH OTO S B Y M A R K WA R N E R

Saper Galleries and Custom Framing, from its tucked-away corner of Albert Avenue. and Division Street. in East Lansing, navigates the international art market in ways that reflect Saper’s personal approach to his artists and customers.

Roy Saper opened his gallery in 1978. Some of his art sells for as little as $20. It is the mix of works, styles and price points that Saper says account for the 10,000 transactions he’s made since opening for business in 1978. He cited revenues over that time of “eight figures” or, more broadly, “a million dollars a year over 36 years.” It’s the personal touch, the attention to customer needs, that has made him successful. Saper manages his gallery as if it were his home; customers are welcomed as guests and they often leave as friends. Saper started his gallery business in his first home on Bailey Street before moving to Albert Avenue. in 1986. He designed the gallery, which is recognized for its creative use of lights and space. It reflects his artistic side, music, most notably. While a student at MSU, Saper played viola in the school’s chamber orchestra

G R E AT E R L A N S I N G B U S I N E S S M O N T H LY

AUGUST 2014

and symphony and later sat with the Lansing, Saginaw and Flint Symphonies. His academic studies have a harder edge — computer science, engineering and economics. Together, these create a very savvy business persona. And no, Saper does not paint or sculpt. “There is no need for me to ever attempt it,” he said. “I’d rather enjoy what others are doing.” What Saper has been able to do is translate a passion for customer service to his website which, while not particularly sophisticated, is functional, friendly and informative. “There’s not a lot of flash” he said. “This is what people want: see it quick, see what it costs and communicate with the seller.” “The website cost us zero to build,” added

Profile for M3 Group Publications

GLBM August 2014: Brent Knight: Building a Better LCC  

In this issue • AREA MALLS EVOLVE TO MEET DEMANDS • NEW DISTILLERY OPENS IN LANSING • M3 GROUP PUBLISHING REACH EXTENDS

GLBM August 2014: Brent Knight: Building a Better LCC  

In this issue • AREA MALLS EVOLVE TO MEET DEMANDS • NEW DISTILLERY OPENS IN LANSING • M3 GROUP PUBLISHING REACH EXTENDS