It’s Sink or Swim when Gallery Owner Risks Pivot to Stay Afloat After Pandemic Abruptly Halts Business 2 Weeks After Opening
Posted on May 12, 2020
Female entrepreneur, Kaila Mock, is giving local artists a place to display and sell their creations in her new gallery and store, Trox Gallery and Gifts, 729 Commercial St., Emporia, Kansas.
Mock is the first person to open a business in Emporia Main Street’s incubator space, where businesses can reside for up to 18 months. Incubated businesses receive different types of support, including free rent that increases incrementally, high speed fiber internet connections and Voice over IP Phones from ValuNet Fiber, and a variety of professional support services, according to a press release from Emporia Main Street.
Trox Gallery was born from Mock’s passion for art and for helping artists who needed help with displaying and selling work. Mock, along with her partner, Joel Smith, founded the Emporia First Friday Art Walk in November 2016.“We met many artists who were creating excellent work but needed help with professional development, such as where to get prints made and how to display and price their work, etc.,” Mock said. “We realized quickly, that Emporia needs another art gallery and another permanent location for artists to bring their work to sell on consignment. So, here we are.”
Trox has a dedicated art gallery, where shows change out once a month and have opening receptions that coincide with the Emporia First Friday Art Walk. Solo or group shows may be held in the gallery space. The remainder of the building houses a consignment gift store, where local artists have items on sale. Mediums in the gift shop include photography, fiber arts, ceramics, glass, paintings, concrete art and jewelry. Items range from $1 and up. Trox collects a 40 percent commission, with 60 percent going directly to the artist. “People really like the whole concept that when they purchase an item from Trox Gallery, part of the money goes to support a local business and a large portion of that money goes directly to the artist,” Mock said. “You’re helping two people by shopping here!”
Pivoting in a pandemic
Mock opened the doors to Trox on March 6, only two weeks before COVID-19 restrictions forced her to close them again. She quickly pivoted her business to ensure she was able to remain afloat and she began offering jigsaw puzzles.
“The puzzles have been amazing,” she said. “Everyone is shut inside and they’re looking for activities for their kids to do, take their mind off everything and keep their hands busy. Puzzles have been able to fill that need for people. I’ve been shipping them mostly in Kansas and a lot of Emporia people have been utilizing curbside pick-up, but I’ve been shipping them all over the country, too.”
Mock also quickly set up her ability to ship art through Shopify.
“Part of my business plan was to have a website and have art available for people outside of Emporia to purchase online and have it shipped to them,” she said. “I wasn’t quite ready to begin work on the website, but when the pandemic hit it turned into a sink or swim situation. I bought photography equipment and dedicated every day to photographing artwork, getting the work inventoried, weighed and priced, and I was able to go live with the website in about two weeks. Troxgallery.com still needs a lot of tweaking, but for now it is functional ad that’s a big win for me!”
Mock’s goals for short-term future include returning to selling more artwork after the pandemic restrictions are lifted. Long-term, she is planning on starting an art leasing program.
“When I started Trox Gallery, I envisioned having an art leasing program where I can offer business offices in Emporia a selection with local artist’s work,” she said. “Businesses can display the artwork for six months to a year on a leasing contract. That way the artists are making some money on artwork that might otherwise be in storage, and they are getting their names and artwork in front of more people outside of a gallery setting.”
Mock is also working with Emporia High School’s art program to have a senior show. “We’re looking at senior art students having a show in Trox Gallery,” she said. Having an art show with Emporia High School would bring something close to Mock’s heart full circle. The business was named after a former Emporia High School teacher, Jerry Troxell, who taught art for 36 years. Mock had him as a teacher and she also worked with him at the Emporia Arts Council.
“I got to know him a lot better at the Arts Council, and it was really awesome watching him teach kids the fundamentals of art,” Mock said. “He had a way of just pulling everyone in and getting them interested in art and letting them know that ‘this is for you, this is for everyone.’ That’s what I want to do with Trox Gallery. Art doesn’t have to be a stuffy, pinky up sort of thing. It’s accessible and it is for everyone.”
When Troxell passed away, his wife gave Mock a self-portrait he painted in the 1970s.
“It hangs above my desk,” she said. “I feel like he’s just watching over everything every day. Since I’ve opened Trox Gallery, I’ve had so many people call and email and say, ‘Jerry was my favorite teacher, or he helped them through some hard times.’ He was just a wonderful man, so it has been really heartwarming to have people reach out and tell me their Jerry stories.”
Mock said she is excited to welcome people back when restrictions are lifted. In the meantime, check out their online merchandise. “If you’re a local artist, and you’re looking for place to sell work or wanting to have an exhibition in a professional yet relaxed gallery, shoot me an email and let’s talk about it,” she said.