After 47 years in the business, Paul Robinson knows a thing or two about art.
By Katy Ruth Camp >> Photography by Kelly J. Huff
Robinson is the owner of Paul Robinson, Inc., a fine art wholesale and brokering company based in Marietta. The company takes up 24,000 square feet of office space off Franklin Road and averages around 3,000 pieces of art inside its show room at any given moment.
Those paintings retail anywhere from $300 to $17,000 and include renowned artists from all over the world.
Today’s company, however, is far different from its humble beginnings.
In 1969, Robinson was a college student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham majoring in chemistry when he became friends with someone who would change his life forever.
“I was employed with Southern Research Institute and I was laid off, hallelujah!” Robinson said, with a laugh. “I had a friend who was in importing a lot of things — meerschaum pipes from Turkey, shotguns from Spain and oil paintings. So I started with the paintings with him and did that for a short period of time and saw there was continuity and potential for a great business. We had different ideas about the business and went our separate ways so I took over the paintings side of the business and moved to Atlanta.”
From 1970 to 1979, Robinson would pop into cities across the country and hit the pavement.
“I was calling on the interior design trade, which consisted of art galleries, interior designers and high-end furniture stores,” he said. “I just carried the paintings rolled up. I could put 600 paintings in the trunk of my car and show you paintings as long as you wanted to look at them. It was a cold call. It was so cold, I’d drive to the city and get a map and phone book and look under the I’s and the F’s.”
By the mid-1970s, Robinson had clients in 16 states and a decade later, he was in a large office building off of Miami Circle in Buckhead. In 1989, he moved the business into a 10,000 square-foot space off of Commerce Park Drive in Marietta and doubled it to 20,000 sf in the early 90s. Still growing and wanting to own his own building, Robinson moved the company into its current location in 2005.
Today, the company has nine employees inside of the office and four sales representatives out in the field.
One of those representatives is Matt Robinson, Paul’s son. After graduating from the University of Alabama in 2011, Matt came to work for his father’s business, although he had been working summer jobs with the company or helping out most of his life.
The younger of the Robinsons is currently the Southeastern sales rep, mainly dealing in the areas from Naples, Fla. to Boca Raton, Fla. After this fall, however, he will move into an operations manager role. He has brought a younger, more contemporary taste to the company which has helped it grow to fit today’s tastes.
Both agreed that for most of the company’s existence, 95 percent of the artwork they were dealing with was traditional. Over the past five years, however, that has shifted greatly to include much more contemporary and abstract art.
Matt Robinson said most of their decisions are based off of their customers’ wants and needs. If they notice a particular style or color scheme selling well, the Robinsons will go back to the artists they work with to help them create art that will sell well and quickly.
Although the company deals almost exclusively with designers and gallery owners, the Paul Robinson, Inc. showroom is open to the public by appointment and anyone can purchase art from them at a discounted price. That is made possible mostly because Paul Robinson said nearly 95 percent of the business they do is outside of Georgia, as there isn’t much of a market for high end art dealers in Atlanta, for reasons mostly unknown.
“When I came on board, I thought I would make Atlanta hum with everything we have, so we’ve scratched our heads at a little bit ourselves,” Matt Robinson said. “Atlanta seems to be a transplant city where people source the artwork from where they’re from. But we’re trying to change that.”