David Sasson’s talent is business, not art, which helps explain how he got into the art business in the first place.
Back in the early 2000s, Sasson’s younger brother told him about some hand-painted reproductions of masterpieces that were being sold in California.
“He said ‘I think there’s a lot of money in it if you want to check it out,’” recalls Sasson, owner of Overstock Art. “Maybe because I have absolutely no talent I looked at them and said ‘This is amazing.’”
Today, Overstock Art sells the same kind of paintings around the world from its headquarters in south Wichita. The oil paintings are done by artists in China and Vietnam, then shipped to Wichita for framing before being sent to customers. Prices range from about $200 up to $800 for a standard-sized, framed piece.
Reproductions of works by Claude Monet, the French Impressionist, have been Overstock’s biggest sellers, followed by Vincent van Gogh and Gustav Klimt. The most popular piece “used to be ‘Starry Night’” by van Gogh, Sasson said, but “Discarded Roses” by Pierre-Auguste Renoir now holds top spot.
Then there is Overstock’s custom option, in which customers can submit a photograph to be painted – or even have their likeness injected into a masterpiece.
“Say you really love your wife and you want her in the middle of Monet’s garden, you can do that,” Sasson said.
Although a small part of the business, it has provided some memorable orders, such as the man who wanted his face superimposed over the Mona Lisa’s. “That was kind of weird,” said Adam Simpson, Overstock’s production manager.
Overstock began with one part-time employee – Sasson’s wife, Stacy – working from the couple’s home. “She did all the shipments, customer service, put the product on our website,” Sasson said.
After he and Stacy started a family, Sasson rented a space and hired a few full-time employees while continuing to split his time between Overstock and a technology salvage company in which he was a partner. In 2009, both businesses were hit hard by the recession.
“I felt like I had to focus on one,” Sasson said of his decision to focus on Overstock. “I talked to a few people and decided this is what my passion is.”
The company rebounded and moved to its current facility on south Mosley in 2010, more than doubling in size. It ran into another couple of “really difficult years” starting in 2013, Sasson said, caused by a shortage of inventory and a legal dispute over copyrights. “That was a scary time.”
Most of the artwork sold by Overstock is in the public domain, but the company does sell prints by some contemporary artists that are copyrighted, along with hand-painted ornments and tiles. Overstock saw a “big turnaround” in 2016 and last year “was our best year in every financial measure,” Sasson said.
Eighteen employees work in purchasing, sales, framing, package, customer service and Web maintenance. Virtually all of the company’s sales are through the Internet. Sasson said online strategies and tactics require constant tweaking and evaluation to make sure they’re working.
Overstock tries to set itself apart from competitors in the realm of hand-painted reproductions by maintaining a large inventory, meaning it can fill many orders immediately. Its biggest competition comes from art.com, which sells prints rather than reproductions. The appeal of the reproductions, Sasson said, is that they were created using the same techniques and materials as the originals.
“This is actually hand-painted,” Sasson said, pointing to a Klimpt reproduction. “There are no molds, nothing like that. I can’t tell you it’s a hundred percent the same, but it’s close. You touch it, you feel the brush strokes, you feel the depth. Obviously, I’m a little biased.”
Simpson, an artist himself, said he “probably could” tell the difference between most of the reproductions and their originals “but I’ve spent a lot of time in the Nelson,” a reference to the Nelson-Atkins Museum in Kansas City.
“But the da Vinci’s are pretty good,” he said. “I’m pretty impressed by them.”
Earlier this month, the Small Business Administration named Sasson its Small Business Person of the Year from Kansas. He’s been invited to a ceremony in Washington, D.C. next month, where the national winner will be announced.
“I was kind of shocked we won it, honestly, but excited,” he said. “This is such an entrepreneurial town. Why us?”
Sasson hopes he’s not done growing the business.
“The tendency is always to say ‘If I could only do this.’ You never feel satisfied.”