Online art wholesaler Metaverse, which also operates the Fulcrum Gallery in Hamilton, has a new 30,000-square-foot space in Monmouth Junction.
The company, founded in Robbinsville in 2004 with three employees, has blossomed into the largest wholesale art distributor and the second largest online art retailer in the country.
Metaverse now employs 59 at its new location.
The company was founded by Doug Kerwin and Richard Sbarro, a pair of IT professionals who left their jobs at Merrill Lynch in 2002 who originally set out to do back-end software systems management for large websites.
When the dot-com crash erased their market the pair developed the Fulcrum Gallery as an online art gallery that quickly became indebted to Google surfers.
Most prospective customers looking for art prints do so through searches on Google, which led the former IT pros back to their original plans of building technology.
Kerwin and Sbarro developed custom search marketing optimization software needed to administer more than 1 million Google ads that respond to searches for more than 200,000 works, 10,000 artists, and many categories of art.
“We would never put a billboard on I-95 saying ‘Interested in art? Come to our site!’ — 999 out of 1,000 people would pass it by and not care,” Kerwin says. “And for the one guy who cares to respond, you would need a hundred of him before anybody buys something. The numbers don’t add up.”
In comparison, search marketing is very targeted, says Kerwin, “and that’s a refreshing thing. In the software business it’s direct sales, where you’re interrupting someone. You’re hijacking their day when they have important things to do. With the new search marketing, the people are looking for you, they’re calling us up because they are interested in something.”
When Metaverse launched the gallery site in October, 2002, it demonstrated website software to prospective clients, says Kerwin.
Other companies would typically build simple faked-up demos, but, he says, “since we have to spend a bunch of time and energy on it, we decided to make a demo site that’s kind of cool on its own, and something that we were interested in.”
Fulcrum Gallery displayed all its cool artwork without a shred of E-commerce.
Artists, however, often asked to add works to the site. Soon enough, some of those artists wrote Metaverse to tell Kerwin and Sbarro that they had sold their work because someone had seen it Fulcrum’s site — even though Kerwin says the company did nothing to promote it.
The duo hired a fellow Steinert High School graduate, George DiLorenzo, to set up the mechanism for selling the artwork as prints, and relaunched the Fulcrum Gallery to soaring success in 2003.
“It was a meager beginning,” says Kerwin. “With no capital and no software resources, we put an ‘Add to Cart’ button on the page and then George worked with the artists.”
By the end of the company’s second year it had cleared $4 million in sales and moved to Whitehead Road in Hamilton. The company now turns “considerably more” in sales at its expanded facility on Stouts lane, he says.
Metaverse Corporation, 49 Stouts Lane, Monmouth Junction 08852; 609-689-6603; fax, 609-689-6608. Doug Kerwin, CEO. Home page: www.fulcrumgallery.com.