From Boardroom to Art Gallery: Dayle Dunn’s Second Act as a Small Business Owner

Dayle Dunn‘s dream was to live by the beach and to own an art gallery.  For the past 17 years, that’s exactly what she’s done.  Dunn is the owner of Dayle Dunn Gallery, a true Half Moon Bay institution.

Dunn’s road to gallery ownership was an unusual one: Prior to owning her gallery, Dunn spent 25 years as a banker.  But it is this background in business that is exactly what makes Dayle successful.  The key is her ability to help the artists she represents be successful from a business perspective. They handle the art. She works to help them become known in the art world. Says Dunn, “I am a conduit for the artist.  My job is to take care of the artist’s work, show it in the best light, and make sure it finds a home.”

Dunn’s finance background helps her track all the art she manages: She always knows where each of her artist’s pieces is, including those that have been sold. This is a valuable service for the artists — who appreciate her business sense — and for the customers — who may want to find additional works by an artist.

So, how did Dayle get into the business of running an art gallery?  She had always loved art, but her mother encouraged her to go into the business world instead so she could make a good living.  Heeding her mother’s advice, Dayle focused on a career in finance for 25 years. Chitchat with her husband was all it took to inspire a change: She said she had always wanted to live by the beach.  He said he had the dream of opening an art gallery. And that was it: They decided to make their dream happen.  After five years of designing and building the perfect oceanfront property for their gallery, they moved to the beachside town of Half Moon Bay, California, and opened the gallery in 1993.  Specializing in contemporary one-of-a-kind pieces created by a variety of American artists, the gallery was a quick success and lasted at that site for 15 years.

But it hasn’t all been roses for Dunn in recent years. When her landlord informed her that he was raising the rent, Dunn was faced with the prospect that business would no longer be viable there. It was a tough decision to close what had been a very successful location — one which had hosted weddings, receptions, and innumerable art shows — but Dunn eventually made the tough choice to leave and reopen the gallery in her own home. In its secluded, tree-surrounded location, the new gallery is thriving. Even the furniture here is art.

How is Dunn succeeding? She emphasizes the importance of supporting other local businesses in order to thrive as a small business in a small community.  Dunn regularly holds special art shows here in her home, and all the neighbors are invited. They’re so intimate that Dunn calls the events a “family affair.”

Of course, local business in a small community like Half Moon Bay won’t keep a gallery afloat, and Dunn actively recruits customers from out of town.  Dunn says, “This is a destination. Customers have to want to come here to visit your business and you have to make it worth their while.” She does this by providing impeccable service to her clients, visiting their homes to provide recommendations of what art would look good there, and keeping an eye out for pieces she think they would like, often sending photos of art to clients that she feels would be a perfect fit for their home.  As a result, clients are willing to travel from all over to find Dunn and to visit her business.

Dunn’s gallery has been a success, not just as a business, but as a lifestyle for Dayle.  “I love getting to know innovative people and share their work with others.  Each piece of art has it’s own story.  I’m able to bring that art from the artist and into someone’s home.  Since a person’s home is their sanctuary, I love that people can feel the hand of the art in that home through me.”

Read on for more stories from our business visits in Half Moon Bay.

About Laura Messerschmitt

Laura Messerschmitt is a Senior Marketing Manager at Intuit. Her favorite part of the job is visiting small businesses to learn about what’s helping them succeed. Laura has traveled to over 75 countries. She loves spending time with her family, reading, and racing dragon boats.
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