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VOL. 126 | NO. 147 | Friday, July 29, 2011

I.O. Metro Launches Call to Artists

STACEY WIEDOWER

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As a regional chain store, Bentonville, Ark.-based I.O. Metro has characteristics typical of mid-size mass retailers: 20 stores in 10 states, and low to moderate prices made possible by mass production and buying in bulk.

But the specialty furniture retailer built itself on a desire to be “different,” and a recent initiative conceived by CEO Jay Howard blurs the line between mass produced and locally produced goods.

“We had a situation where somebody who worked in our office who was from the local area painted a painting – as a hobby – and we ended up selling it in our stores,” said Yvonne Rubenstein, I.O. Metro executive VP of merchandising. “It did really well. And since that was successful, that got us thinking there were probably more opportunities out there with our customers.”

As a result, the company launched a call to artists in the communities around its stores – including Memphis, which has two area I.O. Metro locations. Through the competition, the company is seeking original works of art that will be reproduced by its suppliers and sold in all 20 I.O. Metro stores. To enter, artists must post photos of their entries on I.O. Metro’s Facebook wall.

The contest has received a strong response so far, said Amber Langston, I.O. Metro marketing director.

“I think this may be something that we look at doing on a periodic basis moving forward,” she said. “We’re very big on trying to help the community and becoming a part of the communities our stores are in. This is a really great way to take advantage of talent that’s local.”

The company plans to select 25 pieces from the field of entries, which range from original acrylic and oil paintings to mixed media works to photography. The contest closes Sunday, July 31, and I.O. Metro will notify winners Aug. 5.

I.O. Metro isn’t the first mass retailer to link its brand with the work of individual working artists and designers. Famously, Target has partnered with designers ranging from Anya Hindmarch to Michael Graves, whose work has been produced en masse and sold at attainable price points nationwide.

The I.O. Metro contest is a similar concept on a smaller scale, with the added element that it offers formerly unknown artists the chance to have their work distributed in markets throughout the Southeast and Midwest.

Currently, the stores display full walls of hand-painted canvases, most of them contemporary abstracts, said Rhonda Garvey, design consultant with I.O. Metro’s Collierville store.

“We’ve had a good response to it,” she said. “We provide a variety of colors, palettes to work with, mixed media.”

The contest, though, represents a chance for I.O. Metro to branch out from its current offerings, Rubenstein said.

“It’s not that we wouldn’t consider an abstract, but there’s so much more,” she said. “We would love to see something outside of what we’re currently offering. We’d love to see more figures or landscapes or animals. If someone has a great picture of the Eiffel Tower they took on vacation, even that would work.”

Entries range from abstract paintings to photographed images to cityscapes, florals, nature scenes and pop art. Lauren Donaldson, an amateur artist who lives near I.O. Metro’s Kansas City, Mo., store, submitted a stylized floral acrylic painting.

“I like to create simple designs of flowers and everyday items using interesting color combinations,” she said. “If my work is chosen, it would bring a level of exposure to my painting that would have been difficult to achieve as an amateur artist just starting out.”

Once winners are chosen, the artists will be asked to ship their original works to the company and will receive a stipend to cover material costs. The works then will be converted into hand-painted or printed reproductions with the artists’ signatures on the front and artist photos and bios on the back of each piece. Winning artists will receive 10 percent of sales from their items.

Turnaround time from when suppliers receive the works to when the pieces are available in stores will be about 60 days.

Garvey said the contest has generated a lot of buzz in and around the stores.

“People are hearing about it,” she said. “Facebook is working; social networking is really working for our company. I definitely think there is some great potential here. I’m really excited, because there are people from all around our region that are excited about this.”

Added Donaldson: “I think it’s great that an established chain store like I.O. Metro is open to exploring local artists.”

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