In 2011, Toronto resident Alexa Samuels, BA’94, had just moved out of a small house with no wall space into a home with a two-storey front entrance.
“I wanted an impressive piece of art, but wondered how to go about acquiring that,” she recalls. Samuels realized she probably wasn’t the only person in that position – someone who was interested having art in her home, but unsure about how to select the pieces or from where.
She had an epiphany. This could be a business opportunity.
Samuels is the driving force behind Mercartto.com, a website that aims to make art collecting a lot less intimidating. (The site’s name is a mash-up of the Spanish word mercado [market] with the English word art.)
She began by partnering with three online vendors that sell all over the world. “It was a way for me to get up and running with a good inventory,” she says.
She handpicks every piece of original art in her collection, choosing paintings, prints and photos from the three partner galleries based on quality, price and media mix. Then she scores each work of art on how it will match a buyer’s personality.
Visitors to the site take an Art Predictor quiz which, based on their traits, assigns them one of 31 different personality types (e.g., the Sensory Collector, the Social Collector, the Visionary Collector, the Closet Daredevil).
Based on shoppers’ tastes, the site suggests art picks. “The art that is recommended by the system [will be something] you’re going to be more predisposed to liking than if you took a scattershot approach to all kinds of art,” says Samuels.
And once you receive the art, if you decide it wasn’t quite what you wanted, returns are free.
Mercartto now deals directly with several artists in addition to its art vendor partners. “As we bring on more artists, there will be a constant inflow of art,” says Samuels. She also hopes to establish relationships with galleries that lack a strong digital presence.
Shoppers can filter the artwork by price, size, colour, and Canadian artists. She has set a price ceiling of $10,000 for art that appears on her site, but says “there are not very many pieces that are going to be at that higher end.”
Before launching Mercartto, Samuels worked at Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts for 11 years, eventually becoming manager of marketing systems. She supervised a team that made sure the main sales system ran optimally. In her early days with the company, she had worked with the website team. All that experience came in handy for running Mercartto.
In her later years with the hotel chain, she earned an MBA, which “opened new ways of thinking, and gave me confidence that I could venture into something entirely different. That’s when I became entrepreneurial.”
As for Mercartto’s future, she says: “I would love for this business to have a nice heartbeat and support the livelihoods of several artists, particularly Canadian artists. I feel strongly about bringing more art into the world.”