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Mark C.

Wholesale-Know Your Limits

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Here’s a story about wholesale from the early 70s

I had an art professor friend that taught art and ceramics as well for a short time at a JC in our area.

He decided to build a kiln (I was one of the crew that later dismantled it) and get a slab roller and start making flat items. He got some samples together then decided to head down to SF wholesale gift show one winter to get some orders. His plan was to hire students to crank out the work.

He took all the orders he could-at that time I think it was over 80K in orders which is 1972 or 3 was no small number. He came home with several years’ worth of orders to do that spring and fall. He hired whomever he could find to crank out wind chimes and X-mass ornaments etc. In about 3 months he had a mental breakdown as there was no way he could ever get the volume of items needed. He sold all the clay stuff bricks slab roller clay etc. and I got the job of taking the kiln down and the bricks away.

Just stating that one needs to know your output before taking orders of anything.

True story

I can tell it now, as he is not on this planet anymore and theirs a great lesson here.

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You have limits? that's funny, Mark.  But I get your drift. But it's not something I would do anyway. I'm in my mello age and I don't take orders from no one, haha. If  we're talking pottery, I will take an order, but I will not commit to any unrealistic deadline. I have a pension, not a job.  :)

D.M.Ernst likes this

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Sadly Marks tale is a very common one ... and one I suspect has been repeating itself since the first potters took orders from a tribal elder. I know at least four who are not potting anymore because they took all kinds of orders without serious planning and basically started to hate what they were doing.

 

Simple math and eternal hope collide with reality every time.

doctors, dentists, haircuts, errands, power failures, bad loads, cracks, new glaze/clay ingredients, bill paying, computer time, marketing, managing, telephone calls, emails, sore body, annoying injuries, simple recreation needs.

 

Under promise. Over deliver.

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One of the visiting demonstrators I had promised his wife a full dinner set. After 30 years of marriage, he said it still isn't done :-)

My guess is he made up for it in other ways after 30 years

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I know at least four who are not potting anymore because they took all kinds of orders without serious planning and basically started to hate what they were doing.

I've seen this happen to a few people as well. Not as dramatically as Mark's example, the burnout took years instead of months. Very sad to see someone grow to hate their own work.

 

I was once on the brink of this situation myself. This is when I had that invaluable conversation with my accountant about employees. He advised me not to let my business grow in an out-of-control fashion. Instead, grow in a selective way, keeping in mind what I can handle by myself. He said I would be happier and richer in the long run. He was right, I am much happier with the current state of things, and my business is far more profitable now. I gather he has seen this happen to a lot of his clients.

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Ya know I am busy making my wholesale product now before I do a push to add accounts later this month. I hope to stay in front of orders as I add accounts. I thought about it long and hard and decided what percentage of my time and revenue I wanted to devote to wholesale and decided 6 hours a day, 5 days a week is the max. I'm in studio about 12 hours pretty much every day, although doing lots of things other than just making and need to leave time for that as well as continue working on my overall products. I also want to preserve the ability to take days here and there when I have something I want to go do. I don't have structured days off but I do not want to continue to feel like I HAVE to spend every waking hour in the studio and at some point I want my evenings back so knocking off at 5-6 instead of 8-9 will become more the norm as inventory grows and revenue starts hitting where it needs to be. 

 

BUT ... I hope to add accounts and if my marketing is actually too successful and I have interest and orders beyond my capacity I must admit I would be very tempted to toss out the above, hire a helper and get it done. Best of intentions often give way to reality of trying to make a good living and I can't imagine turning down a good order right now  :rolleyes:

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You don't have to turn down any orders, just give out realistic delivery dates. My approach was to have every other Monday as a "delivery date." I had max dollar amount that I felt I could produce in two weeks. As I received orders, they were assigned a delivery date. When delivery dates became full, they were no longer available. Buyers are fine with you telling them their delivery will be in 3 months, or even 6 months. If that is your demand level, buyers understand.

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You don't have to turn down any orders, just give out realistic delivery dates. My approach was to have every other Monday as a "delivery date." I had max dollar amount that I felt I could produce in two weeks. As I received orders, they were assigned a delivery date. When delivery dates became full, they were no longer available. Buyers are fine with you telling them their delivery will be in 3 months, or even 6 months. If that is your demand level, buyers understand.

I agree. You don't need to turn down orders ... you do pessimistic math and provide realistic delivery dates.

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"Where's The Beef!"

 

Remember that commercial?

 

It was so successful it nearly brought Wendy's down. They didn't anticipate the sear volume of business that came from that commercial. They didn't have systems in place to deliver fresh (not frozen) beef patties that was needed to the eateries. As a consequence many of the eateries ran out of burgers early in the day and left many dissatisfied customers. It took them 2 months before they ironed out all the bugs and closed the year with with a 32% increase in sales. Not bad.

 

But the following year they got complacent, riding on the tails of their success Wendy's nearly went bankrupt.

 

I guess the bottom line is success can be as fleeting as a french fry, both can vanish can vanish with one byte.

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The thing is about having another person or 10 working for you is you have to decide- do you want to manage people? If the answer is yes or maybe than that can be an option. If its no I want to be solo then you need to keep those goals.

I had a friend in the early 80 start a slip business-soon they had 12-25 employees. They where selling stuff to department stores and all over the USA.The business was called overland stoneware. He was master mold maker.They had about a decade before it all went boom-Nobody really was a good people manager and that was what did them in. A few dips in the economy also helped.

You can see the stuff on e-bay now and then-just look for overland stoneware. The forms where made by a not so talented thrower so they where a little soft on form.

He moved away and later made some molds for me in long ago side slip business-long gone now.

So ask yourself do you want to manage people or make stuff yourself?

GEP and Roberta12 like this

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"Where's The Beef!"

 

Remember that commercial?

 

It was so successful it nearly brought Wendy's down. They didn't anticipate the sear volume of business that came from that commercial. They didn't have systems in place to deliver fresh (not frozen) beef patties that was needed to the eateries. As a consequence many of the eateries ran out of burgers early in the day and left many dissatisfied customers. It took them 2 months before they ironed out all the bugs and closed the year with with a 32% increase in sales. Not bad.

 

But the following year they got complacent, riding on the tails of their success Wendy's nearly went bankrupt.

 

I guess the bottom line is success can be as fleeting as a french fry, both can vanish can vanish with one byte.

I remember it. 

And when I was in High School, Chicago, I changed it up.  It was during a confrontation I had with another student. Instead of, "where the Beef,"  I said, "what's your beef,". It caught on, but I never got credit for this elegant response before get a knuckle sandwich.   :huh:

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While your on this topic I thought I would see if any of you know of the #1 wholesale shows to visit. I have been looking for B2B Trade Shows for selling bisq fired ceramics and I am struggling to find a show. What are some good shows (West Coast) to check out or maybe a link to a list of shows. Thanks

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To be clear, are you looking for shows where you could sell bisque fired ceramics that would then be finished by others?

Yes, as I said for selling bisq fired ceramics, and they will be intended to be finished by others. So like selling wholesale to pottery supply stores that stock molds and bisq fired ceramics, plus what ever else.

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I Googled ... pottery bisqueware wholesale shows ... and names popped up of places you could probably call to ask what show they go to buy supplies.

 

It would not be a typical wholesale craft show as that is all finished ceramics ... you are looking at a commercial level wholesale show where you would be competing with factories. A shop near me gets their bisque from France, Italy and China ... so you could also call your local paint your own pottery store to see how they get their supplies.

 

Unless you can produce huge volumes of bisque ware you might be better off establishing relationships with local stores whose customers might appreciate working with handmade items.

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I know two of the 6 shops I have shopped have large selections of bisque that I think they make in-house. I would imagine this is an indicator that other pottery supply might well be interested in carrying a line. Is your line slip cast?

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Chesapeake ceramics in baltimore, md sells to the paint your own businesses.  if that is what you are looking for, contact them.  paint your own shops seem to have arrangements with certain suppliers almost like an exclusivity contract.  maybe the local one, wherever you live, can direct you.

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I Googled ... pottery bisqueware wholesale shows ... and names popped up of places you could probably call to ask what show they go to buy supplies.

 

It would not be a typical wholesale craft show as that is all finished ceramics ... you are looking at a commercial level wholesale show where you would be competing with factories. A shop near me gets their bisque from France, Italy and China ... so you could also call your local paint your own pottery store to see how they get their supplies.

 

Unless you can produce huge volumes of bisque ware you might be better off establishing relationships with local stores whose customers might appreciate working with handmade items.

I thought maybe someone on this form post might have known of some shows. It seems kind of like a close nit community. I say this because I make pipes and everyone knows which shows to go to but this industry is different. I make ceramic pipes that it seems few make and I would care to start testing out the waters of selling bisq fired pipes instead of only finished ones. But I do understand production and factories pumping out 10s of thousands of items. I am only at thousands right now but that is still pretty good for a one man operation. So maybe ill do some calling maybe marc or someone knows of some shows, we shall see. Thanks so far though 

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I know two of the 6 shops I have shopped have large selections of bisque that I think they make in-house. I would imagine this is an indicator that other pottery supply might well be interested in carrying a line. Is your line slip cast?

Yes it is, stoneware cone 5 to 10. Of course I would only bisq fire them 04 but the future customer could use a glaze range cone 5 to 10. So yea maybe ill call some of these places or try out amazon!??

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Hey supply shops might work for pipes but I think their main customers are the PYOP shops and I think they would be a bad fit from what I know because its model is built mostly around events such as birthday parties so the supply shops might not be very interested. If they aren't you could try to go directly to studio potters who hand paint. There are some who buy tiles and such to paint and they become a good customer.

 

Since you say thousands I assume you have a good mold situation and now can cast them pretty quick and want to ramp up some more. Not sure how many pipes other potters are going buy but it might not make much of an impact. I can think of lots of end markets for finished pipes but not sure who the end market for bisque pipes would be that would generate any real numbers.  

 

Good luck! Let us know what you find.

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I Googled ... pottery bisqueware wholesale shows ... and names popped up of places you could probably call to ask what show they go to buy supplies.

It would not be a typical wholesale craft show as that is all finished ceramics ... you are looking at a commercial level wholesale show where you would be competing with factories. A shop near me gets their bisque from France, Italy and China ... so you could also call your local paint your own pottery store to see how they get their supplies.

Unless you can produce huge volumes of bisque ware you might be better off establishing relationships with local stores whose customers might appreciate working with handmade items.

 

I thought maybe someone on this form post might have known of some shows. It seems kind of like a close nit community. I say this because I make pipes and everyone knows which shows to go to but this industry is different. I make ceramic pipes that it seems few make and I would care to start testing out the waters of selling bisq fired pipes instead of only finished ones. But I do understand production and factories pumping out 10s of thousands of items. I am only at thousands right now but that is still pretty good for a one man operation. So maybe ill do some calling maybe marc or someone knows of some shows, we shall see. Thanks so far though

James,

 

I think you may be breaking ground on a brand new industry, so I don't know of any channels in the ceramics or craft world yet. I would pose this question to the rapidly-growing legal pot industry as well. I'm sure they have forums too. They might have some better suggestions. Also they probably can provide better guidance on the legal aspects of selling pipes. I think you'll need to target locations where this is legal. A large trade show doesn't quite make sense, because there are still many states where these are not legal.

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