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Chris Campbell

"i Covered Expenses ....."

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It is heartbreaking how often you hear this at wholesale trade shows. Trade shows are a big investment, and many artists walk away with a net loss, let alone breaking even. Then the show organizers tell artists it takes 3 yrs before you start making a profit, which is baloney. If your work is sellable, new artists get way more attention from buyers at trade shows. Nobody wants to say "your work isn't sellable. Save your money until you've developed your work to a sellable level." Trade shows need the booth fees, so they won't say that. Nobody wants to think that about themselves either. I wish there was more honesty and standards involved, but I'm not sure who's responsible for that.

 

Art festivals are the same, they're not required to guarantee a profit for the artists. The investment is lower, so losing money or breaking even is easier to absorb.

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great blog, thanks!

 

I think a lot of people think 50% wholesale cost is steep but for many the cost of retailing it themselves at shows is going to be in that same neighborhood, or higher, until they figure out the right mix of shows.

 

Still though, just to defend this attitude a little for those of us starting out.

 

There is a point where the 'cash in' passes the raw expenses of being there and you start paying toward the myriad of other cost. When I say out loud, as I have, that at least we broke even, I meant that we didn't actually spend more cash to actually do the show, not that it was a success or a true 'breakeven' scenario. This is our first full season and we are obviously going to be spending a lot of donated time at shows trying to figure this out and find the right mix. So far we have always exceeded this number and that means that even our worst show was financially a neutral event and helps by providing exposure, gaining new customers and all the other positives that come from selling your work directly. This number pays zero toward anything else and in effect its like giving away 35-40 pieces of pottery. Even that has an advantage of keeping the inventory moving and us making new work continually. Until we can find a dozen truly good shows for our work I think we are going to be doing lots of these and consider the process a good one, as long as the shows do not become a cash drain.

 

We have two numbers, $500 and $1000 would be typical. A local show (inside an hour’s drive) cuts show expenses in half so once the till passes $500 the show is actually providing something toward the business. A 3 day show takes us 5 days as we go the day before and come back the day after. Using our RV this number is closer to a grand. I don't count any non cash expenses at all for this number and also don't count food.

 

We will likely go back to shows close to or exceeding $1500 and might even do a couple of lower ones that seem like they have potential. I guess I'm saying that while I totally get how to read a balance sheet, this is just not that kind of business when you start out because it just takes time, think multiple years, to figure it all out and simply having a show not further drain your cash is actually a victory.

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Stephen, if you have the financial means to support yourself while you are breaking even for a few years, and if you are working with a plan of steady growth, then you are doing it right. The blog post makes me think of all the artists who make this excuse for too long, while simultaneously not working towards improvement.

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Hi Mea,

Hope your season is going/went well. I cannot begin to thank you for your various posts on the business of selling pottery. I think anyone even remotely considering pottery as a business should include your earnings project and fine art show post must reads.

 

A year or two of dough will certainly make life easier. People can live very very cheap if they want to though and then perhaps a part time job to make up the difference? If you can get your sales at least to the point of exceeding the cash in to the show and pottery by $8-900 bucks a show then you might be able to eke out a living doing a bunch of shows while you get things rolling. If someone I guess spends years toiling away at getting everything perfect it will probably go smoother but the time you waited would have passed as well and in life we only do two things, die or grow older, so there’s that.

 

Lots of options. I will say though I think our product is fantastic and dozens of people agree at each show and while it wouldn't be a great living, If I had too, I could do it and not be miserable. I can remember living cheap and stretching a buck a long way back in the early eighties. My wife and I used to take in a free concert in the park and then go to a fajita place for $1 margaritas and $1 fajitas. You make do, if you want too. I think the key here is that while it can happen, it is unlikely anyone will just start making much money consistently at this when they start out so you are either going to need to keep the day job for a while or cut expenses to the bone and be willing to work a lot of hours and do a lot of shows.

 

I won't go near the quality or level of improvement anyone needs because presumably anyone doing pottery as a business feels their work is of high enough quality to be doing so and at least some of the people in their life space agree with them.

 

Ya know I think the blog post is great and I do agree that folks should be honest with themselves in regards to understanding a balance sheet and the quality of their art BUT I also say to not take these types of posts as a barrier. While many successful people did it pragmatically, many more did it against all odds by bootstrapping it from day one. If you are going to make a living in pottery though you need to be clear with yourself the difference between wants and needs :-)   

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You are right Stephen ... Blogs like these should not be a barrier ... but, I don't believe it was meant to be one.

 

There are so few places to get the truth about the whole crafts market.

Everybody who stands to make a buck off an artist's dream will line right up and do it ... without batting an eye will take your money year after year. They are filling space ... Be it a booth or a Gallery shelf or a sales website.

So what I think this post is saying is be honest with yourself. Add up your true costs and figure out what is really going on. Then you can decide what road to go down.

Good information can help you decide whether it is worth your while to sit in the hot sun for two days, or pay to post items or give 50% commission to a Gallery or pay a monthly fee to a group site.

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it is unlikely anyone will just start making much money consistently at this when they start out so you are either going to need to keep the day job for a while or cut expenses to the bone

 

I've mentioned this several times on the forum before ... I ran the pottery business part-time, while operating another full-time good-paying business, for eight years before pottery started providing me with a livable income. This is why I'm always preaching that this type of business takes a long time to develop, and there's no such thing as an overnight success.

 

I don't see this blog post as a stop sign to anyone, but rather a forehead slap.

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Loved this blog.   I cringe every time I hear someone say they "covered expenses" at a show.   I've been working with this one client for two years that does Junior League type shows.   We've taken the $6500 show to $18k, $13K show to $26K, etc.  When mentioning "profit" I MAKE them start with a 50% COGS deduction and a 10% Inventory Carry Cost deduction.  That's right ... 60%.    Sometimes I have to hammer them to get to the "PROFIT".  

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Guest JBaymore

Everybody who stands to make a buck off an artist's dream will line right up and do it ... without batting an eye will take your money year after year. They are filling space ... Be it a booth or a Gallery shelf or a sales website.

 

Thanks for hitting this issue directly, Chris.

 

I've said this before on here....... the best way to make a decent living in the handcraft pottery business field (or any handcraft medium) is off of the flow of starry-eyed artists/craftspeople wanting to make it all work as a FT gig.  This is also tightly related to the "just do it for the great exposure" business.

 

There is (unfortunately) a seemingly endless stream of newcomers that "throw money at it" for a while until they eventually give up.  Many people "live off" that stream of 'broken dream Dollars'. 

 

To be in the running for the long haul as a FT artist/craftsperson of one sort or another, you typically need some mature, quality work, a decent understanding of basic business principles,  and the resources in the bank to sustain the business until it will make the money you need.  And unfortunately often a dose of "in the right place at the right time".

 

Too many people want to rush to the "full-time pro" category way before the work is at a level that will really make that concept work.  And in so doing often shoot themselves in the foot.  Nothing wrong with being a great avocational ceramic artist for a while...... or permanently. 

 

If you make great stuff...... well... you make great stuff.  Even if your main source of living income is something else other than clay.  No shame in that.

 

best,

 

.....................john

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Guest JBaymore

  I cringe every time I hear someone say they "covered expenses" at a show.  

 

Amen to that.

 

best,

 

.....................john

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All this makes me thankful that I am retired and therefore simply a 'hobby potter'. I can pot as little or as much as I choose and if a friend or relative wants to buy my work then I have some cash for more clay or other materials. My time is my own and the other costs just get absorbed into the electricity and water bills! I haven't yet even ventured into local craft shows or my Potters group's exhibitions, so have avoided those pressures! I've had one or two 'requests' which I can't call commissions because they have been for non-specific pieces ("Can you make me 5 pieces for prizes..." "I want 4 Christmas presents, what have you got?" - actually just remembered my one commission for 7 commemorative bowls - style to be determined by me!) Even the pressure of these, for someine still in the early stages of learning the craft, took much of the pleasure out of the whole process. Though I must admit the positive comments from the recipients goes a little way towards addressing this...there's nothing quite like someone being prepared to pay for your work!

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Well I think some of the issue with new potters is not really thinking through what success looks like.

 

As an example let’s say you need to make a 42k salary ($20 an hour on 40 hour week) selling pots at shows and for the sake of argument you can do one show each month and your expenses beyond yourself is 10% and your extra employment contribution and health insurance adds another 15%. Let’s further plug an average $1000 show cost.

 

In this world that's $65,000 worth of pots a year and $5416 worth of pots you need to sell on the average at each show if shows are all you do. That’s to have the same take home as a job paying you 42k a year.

 

No matter what level your work is at I would guess that very very few reach that mark consistently in the beginning and may never hit consistently over their careers. The ones that can both hang on until they reach it, or develop additional ways to sell enough pots to do so, make it and those that don't have to add in a job or reduce their income needs. Like John pointed out, this I think is where folks get disillusioned and quit if they really didn't think it through and understand the level of success they need to reach to make a living selling pottery strictly at art shows.

 

I think most potters don't reach this level of success and have to make the hard choice to reduce needs to live on a more realistic modest potter’s income or continue pottery as a sideline.

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.... Totally agree Stephen ... And there is absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying pottery as a sideline.

 

The hard part is making pottery a viable source of income. It is so hard to find your niche, explore your voice and find your market.

I do not have the answer to making pottery a more profitable endeavor ... Wish I did.

 

The advice I offer year after year is to tell potters to walk through retail store China departments ... Look what they are getting for machine made goods!!! Price accordingly.

.... They even put flaws in the work to make them look hand made!!! Don't apologize for anything!

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If you covered expenses you lost your a---s.

Seems elementary to me.

Stephan has it almost right-

Shows cost for me between 225$ and 1200$ depending on how many days they run and the venue. The average is more in the 600$ range. As far as show gross less than 6k would make me think twice about going back unless it a local show where sleeping at home saves on expenses.My local shows I can do less and still come out ahead as the costs are way less.

For me hotel -show fees and travel all mean the show should be in the 8-12k range. I know a few potters who like me do these kind of numbers on a regular basis.We travel great lenghts for great shows and it has to pay off or we move on. I have not done any New shows in over 10 years(new meaning ones I have not done for years and years-I know what works for me and stick to what is working. I also have 40 + years of shows under my belt (I do not wear one)

so that learning cuve is way back.This all depends on how much you like to work or if you think of it as work. If someone asks how many hours do I have to work in a week at clay I know right then they are not going to make it in clay.

Mark

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Hi Mark,  I wasn't talking about hours in the way you mean, I was posing an example of someone trying to figure out what a normal 40 hour job making $20 bucks an hour would look like from selling pottery at shows.

 

I do know you do really well at shows and it’s hard to hear the numbers you toss out and not feel like the situations hopeless. I try to remember that you are who you are and have 40 years of building up to those numbers, at least I assume you had to build up to it. I do know you are in your sixties so that means you started out in your twenties and I am assuming you had much the same road to travel as we do in figuring this out.

 

Right now 8-12k seems completely out of reach but it was our first full season with what were probably a bunch of crappy shows that we picked from festivalnet.com. They were supposed to all be juried but in reality didn’t seem so.  We are trying to go to any that we can to preview and will try a whole new line up this year and drive further if we have too.

 

Feedback was always good and our sales really did seem as good or better than anyone else around us and we matched up reasonable to anyone who would talk numbers so I don’t think others were doing big bucks and it was simply no one liked our pots. I am not one to ignore the obvious and would have no problem facing that fact if that was the vibe and at the end of the day we have confidence in the pots.

 

We also had a number of follow-up buys after most shows from folks who bought and wanted more as well as folks who picked up a card and then ordered the next week so that spoke well for the quality.

 

So yeah, will hope to at least earn more than we spend doing each show (the original post), learn what we can at every show we go to, improve the quality of shows, improve and change up the work and try to keep a good attitude at the same time. The good news for us is that we don’t need to hit those kinds of numbers, 2500-3k for an average show with an occasional breakout would work just fine and we would likely do a dozen of those a year and work to add other revenue streams to that. I am not looking at any of this as loosing my a## though. If I was opening a pizza parlar I would probably think like that but this is not an investment, not really. If it was about money we would have never embarked on this in the first place.

 

Aside from low revenue though, we had a great year and a wonderful time at every show. met a lot of wonderful people and I think added a lot of long term customers. We have a non-pottery project sidelining us for Nov and Dec so seeing what x-mas looks like for us will have to wait a year. 

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Figuring the shows that work for each artist is one of the hardest parts and there are no shortcuts

Since I have done this so long it now just a groove but finding mine took a few deacades and most do not last that long these days. For me it was a passion and a lifestyle that I could not turn away from. 

I have avoided getting to detail in the economics as it really is only my business but I can share a bit so one can see whats possible if you stick it out.

Heres a list of my last years (2014)show grosses in no picticular order of my 5 of my 8 shows I did.These are gross totals only.

keep in mind I have done these shows for many decades with a huge return customer base.

I show my best  2 shows  and worse 2 in this list.

I did 3 more shows I am not showing plus a fair amount of wholesale and consignment.

I like a spread of income sources. 

The show fees on these 5 shows 

were 1,200 

550 

225 

500

900

What is not here is expenses-clay time fuel gasoline hotels-glaze materials time spent traveling food show helpers -sales taxes etc etc.

I hire help for any double booth as it pays off with customer wait times.

 

16,834

14,867

7,238

13,836

2,779

You can get some idea that shows can work-but you need to have some history at the show and lots of stock as I have mentioned countless times as well as items people want or seem to need a lot of-meaning funtional items that work well.The price points need to work as well.Snappy glazes do not hurt as well

Ok Back to my xmas season.Dreaming of a 40 hour week.

Mark

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Guest JBaymore

The advice I offer year after year is to tell potters to walk through retail store China departments ... Look what they are getting for machine made goods!!! Price accordingly.

 

 

Been doing the same thing with students for years, Chris.  We tend to "apologize" for wanting to get paid for what we do by pricing way lower than what we should.  If we sort of 'line up' two pieces of well-designed, solidly functional, aesthetically pleasing, technically well-executed, work side-by-side.... one commercial 'manufactured' production and one studio artist handmade... the prices should, at the minimum, be just about the same.  (Because of economies of scale, and other industrial factors alone, the handcraft one should be higher.) 

 

But one side issue ALSO comes in here, and that is the internationalization of the world's economies and the differences in monetary exchange rates and the like.  In southeast Asia and China the 'value of a Dollar' is very different.  And southeast Asia and China are the current "drivers" of the production ceramics world, which is getting exported worldwide.  So a wholesale commercially machine-made mug in China selling for their equivalent of their $1.00 buying power is only about a $0.16 cost here.  Hence the 'Walmart level pricing' for certain types of commercial production wares.  And this tends to depress the valuation of ceramic production (from a very "price-per-object" standpoint) elsewhere.

 

It has more-or-less killed commercial ceramics production in the USA.  And interestingly, also in Japan (many, many shuttered production facilities now).

 

So the approach is not to compete on price....... you simply can't beat production machinery and Chinese and southeast Asia production costs.  Compete on the quality of the work.  In our case... on aesthetic quality mainly.

 

best,

 

.......................john

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How timely is this blog??? LOL, I got "accepted" into the 1st Fine Art Show in our town here in FL.  They have lots of arts & crafts shows, but this is an effort to move "up" a bit.  Anyway, I'm a hobbyist and strive to do some decent hand building work.  So I'm doing lots of prep to be as ready as possible.

Then they scared the day lights out of me... "Artists are responsible for collecting sales tax".  OMG!!!! I don't have a business or a tax ID #.  I've been on the Internet since I got that email to see what I have to do to become a business in the next 10 days. I DON'T WANT TO BE A BUSINESS... I'm happy just the way I am.  Whaaaaa.  Seriously though, I don't see me as a business, I don't expect to even "cover expenses".  I just want to be a happy idiot in my little studio and not have to watch this ceramic stuff pile up or subject my family to getting another round of bowls or tiles for Christmas again.  I'd like to sell it and not bring it home.

 

I live in Florida. I'm retired. I don't want a "job", I like my hobby. Seriously folks- do I have to be a business to be in these art shows?  Help!!! I'm running out of time, and the state doesn't give me a straight answer (big surprise, right?) and no one answers the phone... What do I do about this sales tax thing??

 

Confused in Central FL

Missy

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Sorry bciskepottery, that was one of the sites I went to and it didn't really answer my question. Still doesn't.

I think bciske's link is the one you need. And to answer your previous question, yes you need to be a business to participate in art shows. After skimming the page about Florida sales tax, looks like you can register your business online, then you will only need to submit payments once a year. It also looks like Florida's fiscal year ends June 30, so you can do this show as long as you have your sales tax license in place by next June 30.

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Guest JBaymore

Sorry bciskepottery, that was one of the sites I went to and it didn't really answer my question. Still doesn't.

 

It is on there.... and selling retail..... you need to register.  Go to the registration page.

 

The may be more stuff you need to do also.  Don't know all the Florida laws.  Contact the local US Small Business Administration offices.

 

Even if you are a "hobby" (see the US tax Code on that stuff) if you are selling in a state that has sales taxes... you need to collect them and remit them to the state.

 

best,

 

.................john

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If you sell something in your state you need to collect tax-there are grey areas like craigs list and yard sales but art shows are not grey areas. Its not hard to get a tax permit and collect and give back taxes.In our state small sales under 500$ in taxs a year they do not issue permits for. I do not know your states tax laws. If you want to sell it  at shows you have to tax it and collect it and send it. Think of it as hobby paperwork instead of business paperwork if that makes it better?

Mark

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Then they scared the day lights out of me... "Artists are responsible for collecting sales tax".  OMG!!!! I don't have a business or a tax ID #.  I've been on the Internet since I got that email to see what I have to do to become a business in the next 10 days. I DON'T WANT TO BE A BUSINESS... I'm happy just the way I am.  Whaaaaa.  Seriously though, I don't see me as a business, I don't expect to even "cover expenses".  I just want to be a happy idiot in my little studio and not have to watch this ceramic stuff pile up or subject my family to getting another round of bowls or tiles for Christmas again.  I'd like to sell it and not bring it home.

 

I live in Florida. I'm retired. I don't want a "job", I like my hobby. Seriously folks- do I have to be a business to be in these art shows?  Help!!! I'm running out of time, and the state doesn't give me a straight answer (big surprise, right?) and no one answers the phone... What do I do about this sales tax thing??

 

Confused in Central FL

Missy

 

I've done shows in 8 different states (but none in Florida) and at the end of the show, turned in sales tax to the show administrators.  Sometimes a state revenue person is there.  Are you sure the show doesn't turn in the sales tax?  If so your responsibility is to just collect the tax and the end of the show, turn in tax along with a simple form.  Like 1 page with name/address and amount sold with sales tax calculated.    And you don't need a tax number.

 

You can add the tax to the sale or just have it included in the price.

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Lots of states have a "one-time use" form or a temporary license, but many do not. I wish every state did. I use "one-time use" forms for DC and VA, but I had to get a permanent license for PA. I just learned I need to get a permanent license for Massachusetts, for a show next year that I might only do once. Groan. These licenses are all free, and the paperwork is not that bad. The hard part is remembering to file the returns on the right date, because the filing deadlines are different for every state. I have to file a monthly sales tax return for Maryland, so I use that activity as a reminder to check if I owe money to any other state.

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