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New Business (What Would You Tell Yourself When You Started Doing Ceramics Full Time)

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New Business

(What advice would you give yourself when you started doing Ceramics Full-Time)

 

First, thank you all for taking your time reading this post. I appreciate all the advice and wisdom I can gain from a site like this. I am married to a ceramics artist and I would love to be able to aid her in the desire to run her business full time. I have a business finance background and have mostly done customer service, management or operations management in my young career. This post is not about me though, it is about my wife whom is a very talented ceramics artist whom does not set limits on the success that she can have. She will be graduating in May. My questions are:

 

1. What would be your first step after graduation if you had the choice to do it over again?

2. What would be your first step in starting your business?

​3. Where is the best place to go to get more exposure to her craft?

4. Is there anywhere that gives Ceramic business discounts to run their business? (Wholesale clay etc...)

 

Any information that you can provide would be great. Feel free to read the following piece my wife's college wrote about her.

 

http://ivyleavesjournal.com/jada-keeran

 

Thanks again! 

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1. I would not change anything after my graduation (VCU School of the Arts/Crafts/Ceramics/BFA) but that is because I was unexpectedly but strongly called to enter a different career (addiction treatment/MS) and thus gave up art as a career. My heart brought me back to clay after I retired, but not as a business, just to nourish myself. 

 

Had I continued, I would have put to work the small business and business management courses that I took as an undergrad. I would have sought out and used all the resources available-especially free ones, like the SBA or women-in-business groups, and definitely the fine input here on CAD (check out this forum's moderator, GEP-Mea Rhee who is generous with her excellent business experience).

 

2. Business plan, business plan, business plan.

 

3.Sorry-don't know what you mean by "place to go", other than the obvious--studios, clay communities, schools, shows, NCECA, museums, Internet etc..

 

4.  Others may have the scoop in this.

 

Nice article! Hope your wife joins in here.

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You both need to remember that it is a small business ... Just like any other business ... So the planning, financing, marketing and advertising are pretty much the same as any other start up. So much for the romance of art!

 

You make a product that needs to find a market. Quality, pricing and dependability mean long term success

 

The only lower supply prices come with bulk purchase and the tax free aspects of a purchase meant for resale.

 

If she can find a potter who is running a solid business and will take her on as an apprentice, Bonus! Go for it as the lessons will be invaluable.

 

Check with the Arts Business Institute or the Rosen Group for more information on running an arts based business.

 

If you spend some time reading other threads in this forum you will find a gold mine of information on all aspects of surviving and thriving in pottery. It is very hard work and success builds slowly and gains momentum year after year.

 

Unfortunately there are no short cuts and we never seem to be able to stop and rest at any time in our careers as there as always hordes behind us waiting to fill Gallery shelves.

 

Best wishes and Good luck to her ... Stick around the forum and let us know how it goes and how we can help in the future.

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I didn't feel my year of pottery education really got into the costs. Also universities tend to spoil people with nice equipment -- crutches the starting potter cannot afford. Truthfully, all I really needed was a ton of clay, a wheel, and raw glaze materials. Maybe a kiln; I could make an outdoor kiln cheaply if it was summer. A pug mill can be replaced with a bag of plaster.

 

It is difficult to make work, bring it to market unless there is some extra help (and hopefully a reliable income to remove the burden of having to be successful as quickly as possible). But it is worth the effort.

 

Really, the only true advice is to start and hope you don't run out of steam for several months. Learn to cook beans.

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1. What would be your first step after graduation if you had the choice to do it over again?

 

If I had the chance to do it again, I would do exactly the same thing. I did not study ceramics in college. I studied graphic design, therefore I was supporting myself financially from day 1. When I got interested in ceramics shortly thereafter, I had the means to develop myself as a potter, without any time pressure or financial pressure. How I would apply this advice to you is that you and your wife need to set yourselves up to withstand the next few years of her development, both psychologically and financially, during which she will probably not be turning much of a profit. Can you afford, are you willing, to be the sole breadwinner for a few years?

 

 

 

2. What would be your first step in starting your business?

 

Setting up her own studio with her own equipment, with 24/7 access and complete control over the process.

 

 

 

​3. Where is the best place to go to get more exposure to her craft?

 

I'm not sure I understand this question. Are you looking for ways to gain exposure for her work, or is she looking to learn more about the wide world of ceramics?

 

 

 

4. Is there anywhere that gives Ceramic business discounts to run their business? (Wholesale clay etc...)

 

I don't know of any suppliers that distiguish between professional customers and recreational customers, except that buying large quantities usual lowers the unit price (buying clay by the ton is slightly cheaper than buying clay by the box. Buying glaze materials in 50# bags is marginally cheaper). The good news is that pottery materials are generally pretty cheap. When it comes to expensive things like equipment, different retailers offer varying prices, it pays to shop around.

 

When it comes to studio space (which is a major expense for pottery businesses) there are pottery institutions that offer residencies, akin to a "business incubator" for potters. They offer cheap studio space, fully equipped, where a potter can gain some business traction before investing in all the equipment themselves. Residencies generally last for 1 to 3 years.

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the article says she is moving to san diego.  there is a thriving clay community centered in or  near Balboa park.  used to be lots of info on them.  when i entered "craft" i got pages of info on beer.  things change, sigh.............................

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Well if I had to do things over again, I would tell myself to allow myself time. I went into college as a very "emotionally young" person, and I needed to absorb a lot of lessons, and sift through the metric ton of information that I received over the course of a 4 year degree. I *personally* was in no fit shape to begin a business immediately after graduation. My work was not of sufficient quality that I could sell it in good conscience, and I needed to work on creating a product line with a cohesive look. I knew nothing about managing a business. It has been mentioned before, but I'll say it again: make a business plan. If you don't know how, it is figure-outable. But give yourself whatever time you need to grow and learn.

My time to grow was forced on me by a large number of outside life events, and I didn't accept it gracefully in any way. But because I've had a long gap between graduation (2001) and starting my business in the last couple of years, I've had less agony over some things that I see people having trouble with. I'm happier offering my work now for sale, and there are opportunities that are available now that simply weren't right after I graduated. Facebook wasn't even a thing at the time. I barely had email, building a website was for paid experts and phones didn't have cameras. So a lot changes. Hang in there and keep making. The need to keep making IS important, and that need doesn't change.

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I never thought about it much back in the 70's-would I tell myself now

Well to be honest I would not change much or ask much as I was in the right place at the right time needing to absorb as much from school as I could soak up-kiln building-glaze making-firing- low fire-high fire- salt-clay making from Alfred grads who where eager to pass on what they learned from the greats-meaning folks like Daniel Rhodes yada yada yada.

I will say that it took me about 10 years of hard throwing to master it with all clay bodies.Looking back on this I was unrealistic but driven. The starving years toughened me up.

I never thought about being a potter as I never thought about making a living at it it all just happened from doing what I loved.

If I did not love it I would have chosen an easier path as clay is not easy.

So a business plan and realistic goals

I am very blessed to be so successfull  at this point but the trail was steep and I did not consider it work.

You will need to give this more time to grow than say running a coffee shop to develop.

As far as markets(outlets) that will take time.

I have never used Facebook for pottery sales but I'm old school and my time is spent making and selling not marketing anymore-as I have outlets.

You have to be 150% committed to even consider this path

I would say more but I'm beat after 10 hours of glazing and loading two kilns.

Sounds like you are moving to so-cal . I have no advice about that part of my state other than I avoid it at all costs.To many people. It should be a great market as the masses are there.

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Well, I'm not sure I can offer a lot of advice, since looking back, I did everything wrong.

 

I didn't go to school for clay.   I was living in Las Vegas when I went to the library and found Bernard Leach's little book.  I was hooked almost instantly, but had no money at all and little time.  I built a wheel out of a concrete-filled truck rim and a length of pipe, and strapped it to the fence in the backyard with leather bearings.  My first kiln was built of sandstone and mud that I collected out in the desert, and I fired it with construction offcuts. 

 

Eventually I made enough selling my crappy beginner pots to build a studio in a very rural part of TN-- which was a mistake, because the kind of Asian-inspired pots I was making were not popular in the SE then-- the market then was dominated by midrange stoneware in the Charles Counts mode.  I lived in the studio for several years, without electricity or running water, taking baths in the creek and subsisting on mac and cheese.  My income, such as it was, came from doing a lot of low-end shows.  You know, the kind that has a guy carving with a chainsaw, and cloggers dancing to local bluegrass bands.  I was driving a '55 Studebaker and buying my shoes at the thrift store.  I will say this however: I met my wonderful wife at one of those crappy shows in Nashville, where she was a Phd candidate at Vanderbilt-- so it wasn't a complete disaster.

 

It was disastrous in almost every other way. 

 

What I'd do different?  I'd have gone to a good school.  Maybe Alfred, since I'm a native New Yorker.  I'd have been less of a hermit, which is my natural personality.  (A couple weeks ago I went to my first workshop, after almost 45 years as a potter.)  I'd have networked more with my fellow potters, who tend to be as fine a group of human beings as you're likely to find, so your wife should post here herself.  There are other forums and lists, but this one is full of kind and helpful people.  Join any professional organizations that might help her get to know her fellow potters. 

 

I would think very carefully about presentation-- the article is a good example of helpful publicity-- much more of that, every chance she gets.  Consider a craft-centered photography course, so that she can have the kind of images of her work that get you into good shows and exhibits.  Learn all she can about writing, since a large part of success in the arts is getting a strong message out.  There are good courses and books on communicating via the written word. 

 

Work consistently and steadily.  At several times in my life as a potter, I've taken off years and done other things.  I enjoyed those things and they made my life more interesting, but I'd be a better potter today if I hadn't done that.

 

As was said above, it is extremely important that she be in complete control of the process, which usually means having your own space and equipment.  This was probably the only thing I did right, but because I was very poor, I had to build my studio out of logs and recycled lumber.  I had to build my own gas kiln,  I had to fix my own car, do my own bookkeeping, develop my own glazes, learn my own techniques.  In other words, I made everything as difficult as possible.  So don't do that.  If possible.

 

Anyway, good luck to her.  It's a very tough business, but some folks manage to make a good living and a good life that way, so it is definitely possible.

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1. What would be your first step after graduation if you had the choice to do it over again?

 

Exactly what I did ... business degree and graduate studies in marketing.  But I would have taken a few ceramic courses, somewhere.  

 

2. What would be your first step in starting your business?

​

Do the back math and see exactly how many items you have to produce to get to what you consider "making a living".  Personally, I wouldn't even consider a business where I couldn't see $50k yearly MINIMUM  ... profit for me.     You should allow 3 years to get to this level.    I have 6 employees now and have blended the pottery business with a jewelry business so my numbers are not the same as a solo operation.   But I am pretty comfortable saying you need about $75K yearly production to see $50K.     So  that's about $1500/weekly production ... $300/day.   I could easily solo that amount ... it should be doable for most potters.      I do know of some that can't do it.    They spend 4 hours on a bowl that I slap out in 15 minutes.  And NO they don't have higher perceived value than my work .. .truth be told "they are not all that".   BACK MATH.  Can you make enough to make a living?    And do not underestimate the number of points of contact you have with to get a finished product in this business.   Relatively higher than most crafty type businesses.  A pottery business is a lot of work.   Comparable to a restaurant or florist.    Way more work than traditional retail business.   When I had my 9 stores, I could go to Colorado and ski for 10 days and sales went on as usual.   Of course when I returned I was back to my 80 hour plus work weeks.  In pottery you have  ZERO leverage with your time unless you have 3 or more employees.  And even then it's questionable.    (leverage ... if you aren't working, you are not getting paid ... NO CLAY NO PAY)   On the upside, you can pace yourself in a solo operation.    You shouldn't have high fixed overhead and your COGS varies with your production.    So it's up to you .... how much you want to make.

 

3. Where is the best place to go to get more exposure to her craft?

 

Shows, followed up with social media.   I've built a  free standing retail destination business, that has 100%  sell through (6 pieces left ... less than $200 out of $100K PLUS production is 100%).    I only do 2 shows a year now, The Canton, MS flea market.   Initially, I did a few local shows that got me more exposure.      Facebook has really got my name out.     Have business cards and  Facebook page ready for your first show.

 

4. Is there anywhere that gives Ceramic business discounts to run their business? (Wholesale clay etc...)

 

There is one company that gives 40% off with a $1000 Spectrum glaze order.   Another company gives me a 20% B2B discount (I always ask if a company has something). 

 

Any information that you can provide would be great. Feel free to read the following piece my wife's college wrote about her.

 

http://ivyleavesjournal.com/jada-keeran

 

Thanks again! 

 

 

Good luck.

 

Sharon Grimes

Dirt Roads Pottery

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