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nancylee

Business Advice Aka How Not To Eat Cat Food For Dinner

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With pet urns, just contact local veterinary hospitals and work with them.  Same for human urns, contact local funeral parlors and ask to have yours added to their selection.  Probably more than enough demand locally. 

 

Then, do work for your shows.  Use the urns as a base product with steady income and the shows for other things. 

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I love making urns, I ran a dog rescue for ten years, and I feel like dog and cat urns are a calling. I'll take a look at some places that sell them. Thanks,

Nancy

Sounds like a perfect fit ... Instead of eating pet food, beloved pets could be providing a good living. There are a lot of sites for you to search for the price ranges before you set yours. Do your research before you contact them so you don't undersell yourself.

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I love making urns, I ran a dog rescue for ten years, and I feel like dog and cat urns are a calling. I'll take a look at some places that sell them. Thanks,

Nancy

Sounds like a perfect fit ... Instead of eating pet food, beloved pets could be providing a good living. There are a lot of sites for you to search for the price ranges before you set yours. Do your research before you contact them so you don't undersell yourself.

 

Thanks, Chris. They do seem to go for a lot more than I charge on etsy. I'll do some more research this weekend. I appreciate it!

Nancy

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In general I have to say that potters are our own worst enemies in what we tend to charge for our work. 

 

With so many people undervaluing their efforts...... including some darn GOOD potters..... I think it affects the entire field.  De-values the medium in the public mind.

 

best,

 

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

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In my travels, I see just as many overpricers as underpricers. Both are doing themselves a disservice, by guessing rather than being in tune with the marketplace. This is not a pervasive problem that is dragging all the potters down. Underpricers and overpricers only hurt themselves. Pottery fans will not buy your work because it is cheaper than the next potter's. But they also won't overpay for something they like. I see lots of potters who understand pricing and are doing it correctly. Modern working potters are pretty smart about this.

 

(If anything, overpricers are doing more damage, if they are overpricing in order to allow the customer to haggle them down to the "right" price. All that does is train wealthy customers to expect all prices to be negotiable. Ugh.)

 

John, I think you are basing your ideas solely on Warren Mackensie's "mingei-sota" attitude. Real working potters respect Mackensie for many things, but recognize that his pricing is not for everyone. He was a full-time teacher, therefore could afford to underprice his work and still put food on his table. He also dealt in high-volumes, and is worldwide famous. He is a unique individual, and does not represent how most potters work or think. I'm sure there are aspiring potters who try to emulate him, but those of us who make pots in the real world do not. (Go visit some high-quality art and craft shows this year, you might be pleasantly surprised!)

 

Chilly, your idea is not realistic either. Pottery fans travel from show to show and to different galleries. It's a small world. These people will notice if your prices are too high, and they will notice when you slash them in half. Going in the opposite direction is not a problem, as proven by oldlady's example. She jacked up her prices one day, and nobody minded! We are not selling toilet paper or gasoline, those pricing rules do not apply.

 

Don't underprice. Don't overprice. Take the time to figure out the value of your work in your marketplace, and price your work correctly.

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............................. being in tune with the marketplace.

 

Hum..........

 

Well first of all, I DO get around to exhibitions and "high quality" craft shows, and am reasonably well aware of people's pricing tendencies.  Not only from being a working potter for a long time (1972 start after college)....... but also because I am charged with the responsibility to teach new ceramists at the college level, and I HAVE to be well in touch with the field to do that well.  Professional responsibility.

 

So I am not "out of touch" with reality.

 

The "Minege-sota" concept was totally off-base in some sort of fantasy-land when the whole idea started to take hold in the USA.  You covered the core issues there well.  That whole philosophy did tons of pervasive damage to the field (I was a working potter back then and saw it firsthand),........ and for that impact I don't have great respect for Mackenzie.  Great potter.....great teacher of ceramic work... poor businessman and teacher of economics.  Living in some sort of utopian fantasyland that even Hamada and Shimaoka and the like were not.  The serious and widespread "in-your-face pervasiveness of that was 'a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away'.  It has diminished.  But the fallout is still there in a more subtle way. 

 

I am not "living in the past" relative to that situation.  I am living with the perspective of time looing AT that situation.

 

I think the key line in this discussion is the item I quoted above.  It is about the consumer's concept of perceived value.

 

You can't even begin to define the real meaning of that above quoted line until you establish what the general potential buying audience PERCIEVES is the "correct price" (in tune with the market).  The "correct price" is what they will pay for it, for sure.  But do the "correct market price" and the "core value" necessarily align?  This is where I see the problem lies.

 

What I am saying is that the "correct price" in the market at this point in time is too low to really allow ceramists to eventually make a decent living.  (So now we have to define the meaning of "decent".)

 

Yes.... you can "match" the current perceived value and sell, and sell many pieces of that object.  Many people do this.  If everyone is selling an XXXXXXXX for about..... $X.XX... then you do that too and you can and will sell them (assuming the quality is there).  But is this really doing the FIELD a service?   Or even yourself? 

 

Well... it might be if you are making a REALLY good living off of it (relative to your efforts).  But that does not fit most potters realities.  A huge portion of the ceramists who are managing to get "decent incomes" are working very, very long hours and beating up their bodies (a non-renewable and non-depreciable resource) in the process.

 

It would be fine if potters (or ceramic artists, or whatever we want to call people selling their work made of clay) were making a Net overall living that was commensurate with their skill levels and the hours of effort put into their professions when compared to the general public.  I get around nationally and internationally, I talk to people.  There are few that I have encountered, given how hard and long they work, that have incomes and equivalent benefits (like employer-paid health insurance) that align with the rest of general US society.  (Right now we are NOT talking about any additional income that comes from teaching, giving workshops, writing and selling books, consulting, and so on........ just selling ceramic art.)  

 

If you look at the typical incomes of people who are at the 'top of their game' in other professional fields, people with 20-30 years in the profession, (we'll leave out people who are a bit of outliers, like doctors and lawyers) when you combine their typical salaries and benefits, they typically are in the solid "middle class" economic realm.  A very good number are clearly in the upper middle class range.  A few certainly are getting into the top 5% of incomes. 

 

Having been in this field a LONG time, I know a lot of folks that make pots full time. I know a lot that make pots full time and ALSO teach part time and do other things to augment the income from pottery sales.  Some of them are what we might call "big names".  Many are "at the top of their game".  We talk. As far as making pots go, they typically work long hours, many have professional educations in their chosen field (as in "letters after their names") and they make good stuff.  VERY few make, after all expenses are deducted, Net Pre-Tax Incomes (the equivalent of getting a "salary" from an employer) on their ceramic sales that would afford them the same "lifestyle" as their professional equivalents in other fields. 

 

So... why is that? 

 

Well........ lots of pieces to that puzzle.  Of course art work is not a "necessity" to the buying public like food, shelter, heat, and the like.  But neither are a LOT of the things that people buy with their disposable income.  A huge amount of things are purchased because people feel that they enhance their lives.  They are willing to pay a certain amount for those things.  A certain segment of the population buys some "artwork".  Within that category, some buy ceramics.

 

One important factor here is that the "market price" that the public is WILLING to pay for a given type of artwork object and quality of object and the price that the potter would need to obtain for that object to have that above described level of Net Income don't necessarily work so well.  It is that comparison that I feel is very important to address for the future of the field.

 

One potential example:

 

I see people with work in National and International level juried exhibitions underpricing unbelievably.  Theoretically, this is "top quality" work... some of the best that they make.   Cream of the crop.  So what do I mean by this?

 

Entry fee $30.00.  Packing mats. to ship $20.00.  Shipping fee there $30.00 (shipping back if not sold, $30.00 more too!).  So just getting the piece into the show, not counting time and materials and other cost to MAKE and photograph the work itself, is coming to $80.00.  Then there is the 40% commission the exhibition takes from the sale price.  The work in the show is then priced something like only $200.00.  200 minus 80 minus 40% equals $40.00 back for the artist if it sells.  (And if the piece does not sell.... shipping back brings that down to $10.)

 

Now lets say that piece took 1 pound of clay and a few grams of glaze and a bit of firing costs. And only 1 hour to make.  So a  COG of about $5.00.  So the artist got a pre-tax net of $35.00 on that sale.  Being self-employed tax-wise, that is about the equivalent of $13.50 earned as an "employee" for that hour to make.  Opps.... we didn't count the time to photograph, pack, and so on!  That brings it down to McDonalds burger flipper wages. 

 

Yes, you can say getting "exposure" from the exhibition.  Well...yes...maybe.  But I see the same people doing the same kind of thing over and over. 

 

If you are happy to be a "top of your game" person making $13.50 an hour... well........ that is pretty low reward for your skills.  Right now..........that's below the level in most parts of the country to live on. (The whole Minimum Wage $15.00 an hour movement business.)  For perspective, Median Household Income in the US is about $52,000 a year.  For most, that # also does not include the addition of some form of health benefits (and maybe some other stuff). 

 

Some of this discussion has geographic context.  The Pew Research Center defines "middle class" as earning 67%-200% of your state's Median income level.  NH's Median  income level is about $65,000.  So here....... middle class is about $43,500 to $130,000.  In Alabama that Median Income is about $43,000.  So middle class there is about $28,800 to $86,000.

 

But within that geographical context... I bet that the pricing of ceramic works being sold is commensurately undervalued in the local market.  Meaning the price for a given type and quality of piece in Alabama will be lower than one in New Hampshire.....but both will be "low" compared to earning a solid middle class income for a "top of the game" ceramist. 

 

Go to a commercial US department store.  Look at the prices that the commercial manufacturers of ceramic wares (Noritake, etc.) charge for functional pieces of table ware.  Work that is produced en-masse mostly without the touch of a human hand and benefits from economies of scale.  How does that compare to the prices you typically see for handmade work?  Yeah,......

 

We undervalue our work all the time.

 

And, over time and repeated exposure, ........over and over and over....... this creates a subliminal message to the buying public about the "real value" of our handcrafted work.  It establishes the "norm" in their minds.  Perceived value.  If I go around to places and see mug after mug after mug priced at $20....... when I get to a store or a gallery and I see a mug priced at $40, I will instantly say to myself, "woah......expensive".  If I am a bit exceptional, I will look to see WHY this mug might be twice the price as what I've come to expect.  But for a lot of people, the term "expensive" will end the story.  It places a barrier that needs tobe overcome before any purchasing decisions. It has nothing to do with whether I can actually afford to spend $40... it is how I "position" that situation in my mind.  It is psychological.  Selling/marketing is heavily based in psychology.

 

But If I've been seeing mug after mug after mug at $40....... this new mug will get evaluated on its merits without the initial and involuntary off-putting "expensive" reaction. 

 

No... sorry Mea...... I stand strongly by my original statement:  Underpricing for our work hurts us all in the field.  And the better you are at this work..... the more that your underpricing hurts.  Not in the short term..... Bob's pots versus Jim's pots at a specific single show...... but in the larger "big picture" arena.

 

"A rising tide raises all ships".

 

best,

 

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

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I agree with Gep on pricing it needs to work for both parties.

I think I have been more on the underpriced side

That said I know a upcoming potter who has been on the upper end of pricing and is struggling a bit in terms of sales.

The shows they have done are some of the best in the west but the sales have been on the weak side.

The work is top notch just in my view a bit to high priced.

 

I feel the price point needs to cover your expense and give you a profit but also needs to work for your customers so they can use it and buy more when needed. We are making items that people really can get by without so it has to work for both parties.

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"Entry fee $30.00. Packing mats. to ship $20.00. Shipping fee there $30.00 (shipping back if not sold, $30.00 more too!). So just getting the piece into the show, not counting time and materials and other cost to MAKE and photograph the work itself, is coming to $80.00. Then there is the 40% commission the exhibition takes from the sale price. The work in the show is then priced something like only $200.00. 200 minus 80 minus 40% equals $40.00 back for the artist if it sells. (And if the piece does not sell.... shipping back brings that down to $10.)"

 

John, using this type of exhibition as an example shows that you are maybe not in tune with working potters. Working potters do not do these types of exhibitions. Because we figured out there's no money here, after trying them once or twice. These shows have their place in the craft world, but not for working potters. The artists in these shows might be top-notch art-wise, but they are not practicing good business skills.

 

I don't like to be specific with income figures, but for the sake of this discussion, my gross sales in 2015 were $73k, with a net profit of $52k. That is a very comfortable existence, even in the DC metro area (well for someone for bought a house in the 1990s). I have health insurance and a well-funded retirement plan.

 

It can be done. Warren Mackensie hasn't held me back.

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John, using this type of exhibition as an example shows that you are maybe not in tune with working potters.

 

It was an easy and simple example.  I could use many others.  They'd be more complex to evaluate.  Similar stuff for "craft fairs".  But I think that rather than arguing... I'll just let what I've written above stand.  "Not in tune"......maybe so...maybe not.  Willing to say, "agree to disagree".

 

I will say that maybe you shouldn't automatically disparage the impact on public value perception that ALL venues selling ceramic work have on how the public reacts to pricing in other venues.  Many who buy from what I think is your definition of "working potters" (the implication there in that choice of wording appears the be that those who sell in other venues are not "working"?????) also look at / see various exhibitions/ gallery shows.

 

best,

 

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

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I think a better example of a modern working potter's expense ratio is: spend about $1000 on a good show, including travel and lodging, then gross $5000 to $10000 in sales. Do that ten times a year. This is what I see with my own eyes. I'm ok with agreeing to disagree.

 

I don't mean to imply that "working potters" are working harder, I mean that when we treat our pottery practices like a job. A very good and rewarding job, but still a job. Not everybody wants this, but working potters are happy to do it.

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Student sales was part of my university's art program. The studio even took 50% to support paying for visiting artists. Really the commission was to be on a normal par with galleries and create realistic pricing. We were given some basic advice such as don't sell a bowl or mug for less than $20 and try to give an appropriate price. And if you weren't willing to sell your work, that was fine too.

 

After years of doing these sales, advertising became pretty easy and people lined up to be in first. Yes, beginner's mugs sold for $20-30. Fairbanks has created a community that values handmade work and the cost of doing it.

 

- - -

When I first started selling my own work it was at the twice a week market. I had a limited stock, was moving at the end of summer and no way to create more pottery. So every week I brought and packaged the same pieces with the same prices. The first week: nothing (well one but that is a long side story) sold and it was raining and miserable. The next week I have a few sales but not really enough to make it "worthwhile". At the end of the summer $150-250/day came my way and my last day was over $1000.

Then I moved to New Zealand. I had a full time job and wasn't willing to spend time selling. 

 

Now I am starting again and I see the same pattern. The first time people look. The second time they think about it. Two weeks later they will come to buy something. This means A) be patient and B) keep showing up! C) if you are worried that your prices are too high, put one selection on sale. Don't change the price tags to have a sale. "All mug $5 off this week"

To top it all off, the first time is hard. Packing pottery, putting prices on everything etc etc is hard work! After a few times it gets easier. The same box will start to have the padding materials fit your pieces and setup is just a matter of loading and unloading. The first market opportunity will be the most work for you and probably have the worst return.

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Hi Nancy,

 

Just read through the thread and it sounds like you have some great advice to ponder. We are getting ready for the third season and from that I can tell you that the ramp up is by far the hard part and so many projects we really didn't see as the big time sinks they are.

 

The first year was basically no revenue dollars to speak of and about 20k in expenses (not counting building additional 300 feet of studio space and the previous a 15k or so of equipment. We bought lots of additional tools and supplies and made the 4-600 or so pieces that always stay in inventory as we organized. Just like someone who has to  go buy their opening inventory, as a full time business you will need to make yours. We have about 30ish forms and have 5-30 of each depending on how they are selling and that adds up faster than you think.

 

Probably more like 6-7k HAD to be spent to get things in motion and much of the rest was discretionary spending for additional studio equipment (we added 2 new wheels when we could have made 1 work for 1 1/2 people throwing) and we always have bought new figuring we would benefit from the extra longevity. Cutting this out and being frugal and buying the additional stuff you need used or only as you actually need it might make it where you don't need to actually front that much cash the first year but you do need to sit down and do some math because I bet you are going to need to spend at least some money in the transition and then fund the initial inventory. You could obviously just make between shows we but opted while prototyping to make inventory to start with. We live in the Northwest and the shows are spring until x-mas and some are bunched together and we didn't want lack of inventory to be an ongoing consideration when we look for shows.

 

We did get in a couple of shows the first year but mostly spent about 9 months doing this prototype and make process. It was busy too because you are setting everything up and just figuring out and outfitting your booth burns days of time researching and then incorporating. Our business spread-out too. When it was a glorified hobby it took over a 500 foot garage but as a business it needed another 300 foot of studio space and has consumed an additional 300 in our house so it really is  occupying over 1100 feet of space. This is a comfortable amount of space but again its just 1 1/2 potters.

 

I don't think its the money we spent as a takeaway but rather the huge time sink the transition from serious hobbyist to professional that needs to earn a living. If I had any worthwhile advice I would encourage you to sit down and list off everything single thing that in your view would need to be accomplished to be able to feel, in your own mind, in business as a professional artist.

 

This includes:

 

1) Opening slate of forms and at least a few in opening inventory.  

2) Resulting stock of studio equipment, clay & glaze materials and misc supplies to make these forms

3) Business organized (sole proprietor ship or llc) and all your paperwork figured out and organized for continuous routine operations.

4) Slate of shows (we did 9 last year and we are considering going back to 3 of those) 

 

With this list you can start to see where money will actually start flowing through to you having a paycheck and I think that's where reality hits so many. They spend months and money they don't have getting everything in motion and then when they hit that first round of shows they may be surprised that they have a whole string of shows where they only bank a marginal amount above the cost of doing the show. For me I thought when I was planning the 2nd year the solution would be to simply do more shows but it's really not that easy as we don't know the right shows and even ones that might grow into money makers like Mark C and GEP report are just in there first year so that 1500 show might be a 3000 or even 4000 show 4-5 years from now. We come out of every show with follow-up orders and interest. We also found ourselves at festival type events where folks are there to have fun and often party instead of buying art. Add to that the ones that turned out to be full of buy sell tables off cheap imports, most of the year was not spent making any money but rather learning the ropes.

 

This year we should do a little better picking the slate of shows so we are hopeful that we actually bank a few dollars above expenses. 

 

If you on the other hand did that entire list above and did a 6 show slate for a couple of years as you continued your full time job then in 24 months, when you are 57, you would have already absorbed all of the non-earning time sinks involved in transitioning to full time pottery and can simply sign up for more shows and not miss a beat. Out of the fist 12 shows you do that first 2 years part time may give 3 or 4 good shows to do your first year and that would be a huge victory.

 

I'd also try and decide if you really get the reality of making and selling $50,000 worth of pottery a year to earn a $25-30k salary. If you average around $25-30 a piece then you will be making about 3000 pieces of pottery for a full season. Probably a 5th of it will not make it to the booth or will not sell and remain in inventory at the end of the year and you will have to pay 15% of that salary into payroll taxes.

 

Either way, good luck. Shows and traveling and seeing new places is fun and handmade pottery customers are the best. I really think they have no problem paying reasonable prices and I think most handmade buyers do have an opinion on what they think is reasonable in their area. We cater to the $22 mug, $45 mixing bowl type crowd which I think is middle of the road and seems to be the right range for the buyers that get the whole thing to start with. Not everyone can afford to hire a pro to sit down and throw a mug just for them.

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Stephen has good advice as they go thru the school of hard knocks learning how to pull this off. There just is no substitute for this experience.You have to put in the time and be realistic.If it was easy everyone would be doing it.

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Hi Nancy,

 

Just read through the thread and it sounds like you have some great advice to ponder. We are getting ready for the third season and from that I can tell you that the ramp up is by far the hard part and so many projects we really didn't see as the big time sinks they are.

 

The first year was basically no revenue dollars to speak of and about 20k in expenses (not counting building additional 300 feet of studio space and the previous a 15k or so of equipment. We bought lots of additional tools and supplies and made the 4-600 or so pieces that always stay in inventory as we organized. Just like someone who has to  go buy their opening inventory, as a full time business you will need to make yours. We have about 30ish forms and have 5-30 of each depending on how they are selling and that adds up faster than you think.

 

Probably more like 6-7k HAD to be spent to get things in motion and much of the rest was discretionary spending for additional studio equipment (we added 2 new wheels when we could have made 1 work for 1 1/2 people throwing) and we always have bought new figuring we would benefit from the extra longevity. Cutting this out and being frugal and buying the additional stuff you need used or only as you actually need it might make it where you don't need to actually front that much cash the first year but you do need to sit down and do some math because I bet you are going to need to spend at least some money in the transition and then fund the initial inventory. You could obviously just make between shows we but opted while prototyping to make inventory to start with. We live in the Northwest and the shows are spring until x-mas and some are bunched together and we didn't want lack of inventory to be an ongoing consideration when we look for shows.

 

We did get in a couple of shows the first year but mostly spent about 9 months doing this prototype and make process. It was busy too because you are setting everything up and just figuring out and outfitting your booth burns days of time researching and then incorporating. Our business spread-out too. When it was a glorified hobby it took over a 500 foot garage but as a business it needed another 300 foot of studio space and has consumed an additional 300 in our house so it really is  occupying over 1100 feet of space. This is a comfortable amount of space but again its just 1 1/2 potters.

 

I don't think its the money we spent as a takeaway but rather the huge time sink the transition from serious hobbyist to professional that needs to earn a living. If I had any worthwhile advice I would encourage you to sit down and list off everything single thing that in your view would need to be accomplished to be able to feel, in your own mind, in business as a professional artist.

 

This includes:

 

1) Opening slate of forms and at least a few in opening inventory.  

2) Resulting stock of studio equipment, clay & glaze materials and misc supplies to make these forms

3) Business organized (sole proprietor ship or llc) and all your paperwork figured out and organized for continuous routine operations.

4) Slate of shows (we did 9 last year and we are considering going back to 3 of those) 

 

With this list you can start to see where money will actually start flowing through to you having a paycheck and I think that's where reality hits so many. They spend months and money they don't have getting everything in motion and then when they hit that first round of shows they may be surprised that they have a whole string of shows where they only bank a marginal amount above the cost of doing the show. For me I thought when I was planning the 2nd year the solution would be to simply do more shows but it's really not that easy as we don't know the right shows and even ones that might grow into money makers like Mark C and GEP report are just in there first year so that 1500 show might be a 3000 or even 4000 show 4-5 years from now. We come out of every show with follow-up orders and interest. We also found ourselves at festival type events where folks are there to have fun and often party instead of buying art. Add to that the ones that turned out to be full of buy sell tables off cheap imports, most of the year was not spent making any money but rather learning the ropes.

 

This year we should do a little better picking the slate of shows so we are hopeful that we actually bank a few dollars above expenses. 

 

If you on the other hand did that entire list above and did a 6 show slate for a couple of years as you continued your full time job then in 24 months, when you are 57, you would have already absorbed all of the non-earning time sinks involved in transitioning to full time pottery and can simply sign up for more shows and not miss a beat. Out of the fist 12 shows you do that first 2 years part time may give 3 or 4 good shows to do your first year and that would be a huge victory.

 

I'd also try and decide if you really get the reality of making and selling $50,000 worth of pottery a year to earn a $25-30k salary. If you average around $25-30 a piece then you will be making about 3000 pieces of pottery for a full season. Probably a 5th of it will not make it to the booth or will not sell and remain in inventory at the end of the year and you will have to pay 15% of that salary into payroll taxes.

 

Either way, good luck. Shows and traveling and seeing new places is fun and handmade pottery customers are the best. I really think they have no problem paying reasonable prices and I think most handmade buyers do have an opinion on what they think is reasonable in their area. We cater to the $22 mug, $45 mixing bowl type crowd which I think is middle of the road and seems to be the right range for the buyers that get the whole thing to start with. Not everyone can afford to hire a pro to sit down and throw a mug just for them.

Stephen,

Thank you for all of that!! Yes, that's a lot of pieces of pottery to make every year. 3000. Hmmm....something to think about, because if you work 200 days a year, that's 15 pieces a day, which doesn't sound like a lot, if you are just throwing that, but to throw 15 pieces a day, then trim the 15 from the day before and then glaze 15 would eat up my entire day at the speed I work now. I trim fast, but the way my studio is set up (or NOT set up) glazing is a major PITA and takes me forever. Plus, I don't have a lot of glazes here - I have a lot in small quantities to paint on, but I hate the way they look, so I will need to make glazes in, have a place to store, etc. I also need a wedging table, and a place to put the wet clay to dry out and wedge to reuse. 

 

Oh, and I know from jewelry shows with some pottery sprinkled in this year that everyone says your first three to five years is all about finding the right shows. I lost $1000 on my first show, broke even on my second and make a couple of hundred on my third. It was very frustrating to spend so much time and money and basically sit there and suck it all weekend. :)

 

As far as my schedule, I have to work at least another 18 months to get my insurance, so the 24 month plan is a very doable idea. I appreciate all of the info you shared with me,

nancy

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A VERY interesting tool was just posted on MSN this afternoon that ties a bit into this discussion.  Popped up on my feed this evening.  It is from the NY Times.  It lets you look at where your income fits into the relationship to all US households (and tells you if you are in the top X percent, the bottom X percent, and so on) based on geography.  You can mouse over/zoom in on more select areas than the ones that show up by default.

 

Shows the impacts of geographical aspects that I was discussing.

 

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/01/15/business/one-percent-map.html?ref=your-money&_r=1&

 

best,

 

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

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( I lost $1000 on my first show, broke even on my second and make a couple of hundred on my third. It was very frustrating to spend so much time and money and basically sit there and suck it all weekend.)

This is the process of finding YOUR market-Thats why I would keep your job-past 18 months and find your market. That will take at least 5 years as a guess and I'm being optimistic .Keep the job and work around that schedule while finding what works and what does not.

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( I lost $1000 on my first show, broke even on my second and make a couple of hundred on my third. It was very frustrating to spend so much time and money and basically sit there and suck it all weekend.)

This is the process of finding YOUR market-Thats why I would keep your job-past 18 months and find your market. That will take at least 5 years as a guess and I'm being optimistic .Keep the job and work around that schedule while finding what works and what does not.

Yup, not quitting the day job yet. :)

 

I do feel better that it's not just me who didn't sell thousands my first time out!

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Nancy - I can't contribute anything about pricing your work, making a living etc. as I'm only a hobby potter. I am a retired teacher with a reasonable pension and to be fair we don't have to worry about medical insurance here in the UK, so my experience may have no bearing on your situation BUT, for what it's worth - it costs much less to live in retirement than you may anticipate. When I looked at what my money was going on, post retirement, the biggest chunk is on 'extras' rather than essentials. You can't beat doing what makes you happy and getting away from the stresses of teaching has a lot to be said for itself! Good luck!

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Nancy, 

 

Limitations on income are not so much a function of price or even your labor contribution. Really, the limit is more a function of what you want to do with your business. If you desire a small business that generates several hundred thousand in revenue to say $1.0M or more that's definitely possible. I know of a few production pottery studios in this class. If you want to work for something even larger, again certainly with time and effort it is possible. I spoke with someone the other week who started in her garage and now employs 30 people making artistic and architectural tiles. Her business I believe is probably in the neighborhood of $15M per year, but it took about 20 or so years to get there.

 

The ability to generate wealth is there in this market. At least in certain segments of the market. Weather you desire enough income for personal comfort or to grow a business I would suggest that making pretty pots and going to shows is a very risky approach. This is more gambling than business. It's akin to buying a lottery ticket and hoping your numbers are drawn.

 

Now some potters have done this quiet well over the years. They have worked out, through trial and error, the market research. They know that a kiosk here performs well, but one in this other spot not so well. A coffee shop does good, but a bakery in a warehouse district is a big nope. All of this knowledge was acquired because they tried, failed, tried again and succeeded. The cumulation of these trials became their market research.

 

Given your stage in life you may not have 10 years to take the trial and error path. It takes a long time, and its expensive.

 

The problem here is you don't know if someone will show up at the show who likes your style, aesthetic, color choices, surface design, etc. And, you can't rely on your friends and family. You need to listen to the impartial voice of the market. I would suggest you take the time, while your still working to conduct some market research and find a segment of the market that makes a good fit for your skills. This might be funeral homes (urns). Or, maybe it's bobble head dolls. Perhaps it's left handed olive oil cruets? I have no idea, only your research can answer this question for you.

 

Find your market segment, make some pots, take them to people in that market and start asking a lot of questions about how to make the pot better for them. Make no assumptions and don't rely on "congenital wisdom". Collect all of that information, revise your design accordingly and then start making those pots for that market

 

Our original beer mug held 14 oz and we used something like 1.25 lbs of clay to throw the cylinder. When we took it out to our customers and asked them about our beautiful feather weight design, they laughed at us. But, they also told us what they didn't like about it, and what they didn't like was everything we, as potters love, go figure. We went back and redesigned the mug their way. I'm not going to say exactly what we did, but the first week we released the new design we sold 1,200 pieces. The most expensive coffee mug we've sold in 2015 was $200. The most expensive beer mug was slightly less than that. We've even been commissioned to make hand carved family crest steins (5 Liter) that sold for $1,500. Our customers create these prices themselves off of base prices starting as low as $27.50 for a coffee mug. 

 

Good planning can turn a $27.50 coffee mug into $100 experience and your customers will love you for it. And, you'll love them for the great reviews, notes, and phone calls they send you. Good planning can turn a $44.95 beer mug into $175 celebration, or $57.50 wine goblet into $225 wedding chalice. I'm constantly telling my team we are not in the pottery business, we are in the Merry Christmas, Happy Anniversary, I Love You Mom, Proud of You Son, Wouldn't Have Anyone, But You Husband, Can't Believe You Did It, Praying for You to Feel Better, I knew You Could Do It business... When we realize that we can make an experience where the price is really in consequential. 

 

Write a business plan, and pay a lot of attention to your marketing plan. Stick to your plan for the first year. Get yourself some advisors you can talk to, you will hit many stumbling blocks (stuff you didn't know you didn't know). Having mentors to call will be VERY helpful if for no other reason to know you're not alone in experiencing the issue. Plus this will solve problems and save tons of money in your first year-money you would have spent figuring stuff out.

 

Take it slow, maybe in year one do this part time and keep a governor on your pottery business. In year two work part time and allow more pottery sales. In year three, go full time with your pottery business. 

 

If you find the right market segment you get good steady sales right out of the gate providing your product quality and production process allows you to perform to the demands of the market. If your show based, that means having a stocked booth. If you're prepaid internet based, that means onetime shipping. If you're a wholesaler, it will mean going beyond making pots to helping your customers solve problems with your product (value ad).

 

Suppose you throw at a pace of 7.5 pots per hour. And, you throw 15 pots per day. Handling should take you about 2 or 3 minutes per pot, so that's another 45 minutes. Include prep time and you're put to may 4 1/2 hours a day, maybe 5. Let's say one of your production days is a Saturday and you work another 3 days a week in year one. You're producing 60 pots per week. I'm not sure of your kiln capacity, but I'm guessing that's about one kiln load of material. 

 

So, if you do your market research properly I'm willing to bet you could ramp up to 4 or 5 sales per day in your etsy shop. Now, let's say your average sale is only $35 on Etsy. From our experience, if you do your planning properly that's about 1/2 what you can do on average. So, you're revenue is $140 to $175  per day. That works out to $4,200 to $5,100 a month. So, that's grossing around $50 to $60K per year with schlepping around to shows. And, you only have to do some minor social media marketing-most of which is free, and loads of fun.

 

Now, I can't emphasize this enough, this works because you're making pots for the market and not to gratify your own desires as an artist. In this model you're using your talents as an artist to satisfy the wants and needs of the market not trying to make a statement and hope the market cares.

 

All of this takes a lot of planning and fore thought. Do not discount this, it's more important than learning to center, pull, wedge, or any technical technique. If you can't operate as a business all you have is a lot of pretty gifts for your friends. If you operate as a business, you have cash to buy gifts for your friends and family--your choice.

 

Sorry... I have a cold and I'm babbling...

 

Mike

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Mike has just given a GREAT posting above elaborating on one way to approach making it work in this ceramics field... and is it SPOT ON and detailed.  Nice job there, Mike.  It should be one part of a "required reading" list for people thinking about doing this crazy profession full time.

 

I think a very important line there in this specific person's case is where you said, "Given your stage in life you may not have 10 years to take the trial and error path. It takes a long time, and its expensive."

 

Another important one is, " Now, I can't emphasize this enough, this works because you're making pots for the market and not to gratify your own desires as an artist."

 

best,

 

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

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Thanks you all for the very generous advice! Mike, I appreciate all of the information you shared with me. The only issue is I don't know how to do market research! I had a store once and after the opening, I hired someone to do market research which was expensive and complicated. Are you talking about that kind of research, or hitting the pavement, going to funeral homes, vets, etc.? And I have an Instagram and Facebook that I link to etsy, but haven't gotten sales this way yet.

 

Again, I'm absorbing all,of the, and taking notes. It's very nice of you all to help me.

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