Seven years ago, George E. Miller II and Pamela A. Robinson were strangers with just two things in common an artistic bent and an employer, the U. S. Postal Service. They were selected out of 58 postal artists to paint a series of wall murals in post offices and facilities. Since then, they have turned their talent and their friendship into a business Affordable Black Art and eventually, marriage. In 1996, they published and distributed over 80,000 Christmas cards, 10,000 African Proverb Calendars and 20,000 note cards.
Pamela Miller was interviewed by Los Angeles Business Journal staff reporter Julie Sable.
George and I met while interviewing for a grant to paint murals in the downtown Los Angeles Resource Center and the new Rancho Park post office. We found we had a mutual love for art using mixed media, colored pencils and pen and ink.
While maintaining my job as a postal carrier and George’s as postal police, we created our original art out of the garage in my home in Los Angeles. We showed our art at festivals, home presentations and exhibits when time permitted. Customers wanted to buy our lithographs, but since they were originals, they were pretty expensive and we didn’t have that many sales.
Potential customers asked to buy prints, which we didn’t have, so we knew the first step we would have to take. We selected four images and had about 600 prints produced, which used up our start-up funds of $5,000.
Once we had the prints, we realized that we still had no way to market them, so we began taking community classes on marketing, but nothing really addressed our specific needs. Finally, a counselor through the Service Corps of Retired Executives program suggested that we go the route of direct mail to market our art.
Since we had collected names and addresses at the shows and exhibits, we had the start of a mailing list. In 1992, we printed our first brochure 16,000 for about $9,000. We took a huge risk by paying for these brochures up front without taking orders first.
We thought the brochures would be the answer, but it didn’t exactly work that way. It took about one year to pay off the cost of the brochure, which meant we had to keep our full-time jobs.
Now, the direct mailing, which we do about eight times a year, is very successful and accounts for 80 percent of our sales. The other 20 percent are done through retail.
In April, we opened a 2,000-square-foot gallery and showroom in Los Angeles where we display and sell our art and the work of other artists too.
Our products, which include tiles and plates as well as prints, are featured in the current spring issue of the J.C. Penney’s catalog.
Now that we have gotten the mail order business running successfully, we are giving back to the community by holding seminars for other artists on how to get to the point we are at so they don’t have to struggle as much as we did.