Getting creative with social media, the Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery finds new ways to connect with Canada’s ceramic community
Photo: Jonathon Bancroft-Snell Gallery manager, Brian Cooke, and owner, Jonathon Bancroft-Snell
JONATHON BANCROFT-SNELL DOESN’T mind being in the spotlight, and that turned out to be a good thing when he was forced to close the doors of his Dundas Street gallery on March 12.
“We started doing videos twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays, about the different ceramic artists, their motivation and inspiration, and posting them on Instagram. Then to change it up, I started taking boxes that we had received from an artist and unpacking them live and talking about the pieces and the techniques the artist had used,” he says.
“When you’re buying something that is handmade, there is an energy that transfers from the artist to their pieces,” he continues. “I think that this slowing down has given us an opportunity to think about what is really important, and people are recognizing the importance of that personal connection.”
The videos proved popular, and Bancroft-Snell started posting them to Facebook and YouTube as well. They helped him stay connected to his regular clients and attracted new online browsers, some because they enjoyed his banter and others who were interested in supporting Canadian artists.
“We have always shipped to customers across Canada and around the world. With Covid, we started curbside pickup and also hand delivery within London,” he says. And whenever possible, Bancroft-Snell added a personal touch. For example, when someone from Toronto purchased a piece as a gift for a friend in London, “I stood on the street and sang Happy Birthday when they opened the door.”
Gallery manager, Brian Cooke, who has been with the gallery for more than 17 years, continued to work full-time throughout the store closure, including being the man behind the camera for videotaping. “When you have valuable staff and you want to keep them, you have to take care of them,” says Bancroft-Snell. “There was no way I was going to lay him off; I made the commitment to keep him on the payroll even before government subsidies kicked in.”
In mid-June, Jonathon’s reopened with guidelines in place – reduced hours, only two customers at a time, facemasks and physical distancing required. Instead of being able to wander the store, clients were limited to a small front area. Bancroft-Snell set up staging areas in the gallery closest to the front entry, where clients could view items by request.
Bancroft-Snell believes that, despite its challenges, downtown London will continue to be a shopping destination. “Once we get through this there will be a dramatic adjustment,” he predicts. “I think we’re going to see flex street activity, but merchants will have to put themselves out there very differently.”
He points to the mix of unique merchants and restaurants in the core, many of which are known far beyond London. If you look across Canada, he observes, “Heroes is one of the top comic book stores; Attic is the largest antiquarian bookstore; and Jonathon’s has the largest selection of museum-quality contemporary Canadian ceramics in Canada. When you shop downtown, for the most part you will be dealing directly with the store owner. People need to support the businesses or they won’t be there in the future.” Kym Wolfe