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Making A Good Living With Clay Work At Shows


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#1 Mark C.

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 01:55 AM

I have had some super good shows these past years and the trick to great sales is making what others want to buy. For me thats easy as its all about funcionality . Pots that do the daily work at home or work. Pots that have soul -pots that look great and work well. Snappy glazes and durable features.

Yes you can mix in some showboat pots but if you want to take home the cash then price them fair and treat your customers well.I give them choices to size and price-not happy bring it back for another or cash -no matter I;m easy,

Can't payme now take them and pay me when you can-no big deal they always come back as no one trusts folks anymore-I do and have customers for life,

Treat folks well as it always comes back.-after 20-years or more of shows you get a real loyal base of folks who always buy every year-they look for new items and glazes. I focus on this stuff and expand the line. Sales are up all over the west for me now this year. Make smaller afordable works that folks can buy

I display them in MASS and make a statment that I have a zillion pieces of work for sale at super reasionable cost.

Then the pots sell themselves-I'm not looking for ribbions at the show just a pile of bills-say 5k-10k 0r 12 or 14k depending on locations weather and how long you have done the show as far as how big your customer base is,

A great display is key

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#2 nancylee

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 11:05 AM

Thanks for your insights. I love functional pottery, also, but I imagine it takes quite a while to have the kind of following you have. I did some antique shows when I was selling antiques, and I just hate, hate, hate that feeling of standing there on display. Then the people who walk by and won't make eye contact, because they feel rude stopping in. Then the people who come in, and say, "Just looking!!!" very quickly, so I don't bother them. Then the ones who say, "Just looking," so I don't wrestle them to the ground and steal their wallets from their pockets. Then the ones who hem and haw and pretend they are going to buy something, and then when my attention is elsewhere, they scurry out.

 

Oh, I hated those shows!! Maybe selling my own pots would be different, but I think it would be worse, because it is more personal. I never understood the people who LOVED to come to the shows - I think it is because they had fun with friends they saw every year, or had a following already. Just thinking about it gives me a stomach ache, though. 

 

Did you like it in the beginning??

Nancy


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#3 nancylee

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 11:07 AM

Also, Mark, you have great customer service skills. I would let people pay later, also, but do they feel more pressured when you say, "You can pay me when you have the money?" I can just imagine them looking at me like the icky desperate pottery lady, feeling bad for me, but being put off by that. Not saying they look at you like that, but I can imagine some people looking at me like that!!!!

Thanks,

Nancy


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#4 Mark C.

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 01:14 PM

Shows have been my life for 40 years so I do not recall how I felt on the 1st one.I have enjoyed most shows and dealing with folks-sometimes as with any public experience you deal with fruitcakes. I just let it roll off.I focus on why I'm there .

I only suggest paying later if they have no payment means (forgot credit card or cash or checkbook) it's not my 1st go to thing.

Often my booth has a line so there  are no comments like just looking-I just wrap the wares and charge them and move on to the next person in line.

Yes some strange things happen like last weekend a woman brought last years baking dish back saying it changed color which I said is impossible before I suggested swapping for any other-she kept the original after I said I wanted to do whatever made her happy.

I always try to make folks feel like I'm doing whatever I can towards the right thing.

Selling my pots is for me not personal its business. One needs to disconnect with them in terms of selling-make 500 mugs and you will feel less connected to each one.

If you are worried about this pot or that  pot than shows may not be for you.

I broke two pots last show and a customer broke one-I just clean up the mess and move forward. My policy is buy an equal value pot and the customer leaves with something or pay 1/2 and leave with nothing-That way usually everyone is happy-most elect for equal value-I feel its more than fair and so does the person who broke the pot.

Working with people is a skill set and not everyone is their best salesperson.

This come apparent watching many artists at shows.

This is a whole other topic.

Mark


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#5 nancylee

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 03:06 PM

Thanks, Mark! I am a teacher, so I can deal with all sorts of people, but when selling something, that is a whole different ballgame. Especially something I made!! So much ego involved!! I like your suggestion about make 500 mugs, and I will feel less connected to each one. I am still relatively new, and haven't been working at this too hard the last year, so I have a long way to go before I will stand beside my pots at a show!! 

 

I also like your policy about breakage. I have a small shop, and if something breaks that I own, as opposed to consigned, I don't sweat it. Pottery breaks. Jewelry gets stolen. Price of doing business. 

 

You have a lot to teach - thank you!

Nancy


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#6 Chris Campbell

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 03:59 PM

Excellent post Mark and I agree that you have to disengage from taking stuff personally. I often think shy potters should switch tables with the crafts person next to them ... Bet they could sell the blazes out of each others work because there would be no waiting for your feelings to be hurt or whatever. I also replace breakage with a new one at the same price ... It's not like I never broke a few during the process!

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#7 Wyndham

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 04:09 PM

I would rather make pots then sell them but.... I also make a living as a potter.  It's human nature to become connected to your work but after you've made it and fired it, it's time for it to be in someone else's  collection instead of mine.

I believe the reason some beginning artist have this problem is that they don't value their own time and ability. There's not a benchmark to go by since being creative is by it's very nature unique.

 

I think it better to focus on learning and through practice, become the best technically proficient artist you can be. Because Mark can make a tea pot that makes me drool, doesn't mean that I can't excel also.

 

I have also done shows for umpteen dozen years and met the same good, bad, and uggglee people that Mark and others have met.

They are at every show, in every shop(I had 2 today), everywhere, but that does not keep me from paying the bills with my work.

JUst my 2 cents and change.

Wyndham



#8 Chris Campbell

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Posted 09 August 2013 - 05:00 PM

I think everyone should try selling their own work at least once. So many good reasons.
You find out if you like to interact with people
You get honest feedback from people ... filter by considering the source
You learn how to talk about your work and yourself
You learn to appreciate your galleries
You find out you can indeed smile all day
You make choices and learn about customer service
If you hate it, don't ever do it again
If your work doesn't sell, you'll have plenty of info about why not
If your work sells, think about why it did

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#9 Wyndham

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 09:36 AM

Another thought on the subject.

Most or about 90% of pottery buyers are women. Many women who come in to either my shop or booth at an event, who come in with their husbands feel rushed. Many husbands don't want to be dragged along on a shopping outing.

Sometimes it's good to have a way to relate to the men so the women have time to see what you have

 

The husbands & wives that have agreed to shop for a special purpose are more at ease in the shop.

 

Women who come in groups of 5 or more are many times on a "day out" and not shopping to buy.

 

There are many body language signs that after awhile repeat with different people. You have to learn and adjust to these different signs.

Many people that have never been around handmade pottery are unaware of it's functional uses, so always be prepared to teach.

Wyndham



#10 GEP

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 10:39 AM

In my early years of doing shows, I used to get very anxious in the days leading up to a show. But once a show started, there was enough activity to keep my brain too busy to fret. I've been doing shows for over 10 years now, and I honestly do not get nervous anymore. This is another area where I am grateful to my graphic design education. We were taught as students that criticism and judgement would be part of our lives. Over the years I learned to deal with it very rationally and with a thick skin.

My plan is similar to Mark's, most of my sales are everyday, affordable pots. My inventory is is divided into low-medium-high pots. I pack boxes and boxes of low pots (mugs, tumblers, small bowls, plates, ranging from $20 to $40). I try to pack way more than I need, and I still sometimes run out. I pack a decent amount of medium pots (casseroles, pitchers, teapots, ranging from $60 to $120). I try to include a few pieces of backstock, but not too much. I don't mind selling out of these, because it makes packing up easier. I pack a handful of high pots (special occasion platters, vases, ranging from $130 to $250), up to 10 pieces. I don't expect to sell many, maybe 2 or 3 per show, and I consider that gravy. But they sure make the booth look nice, and set a nice tone for everything else.

Shows on the east coast have been stellar this year too.
Mea Rhee
Good Elephant Pottery
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#11 oldlady

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Posted 10 August 2013 - 11:30 AM

wow! i have to raise my prices.  i am still stuck in the "it only took a few minutes" level.  trouble is that i have been around so long that the buyers expect something for almost nothing.  

 

got to do something totally different.

 

it is hard when i remember that a Snickers bar was only a nickel.


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#12 clay lover

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Posted 11 August 2013 - 07:34 AM

I hear from so many potter that think they can make what ever they want at the moment , set up a booth and have great sales. Then the tell me they 'hate shows'. ???

 I usually do very well at shows, but I study the market, keep inventory records that tell me what items sold well and what items need to be dropped from my line.  I have return customers who like my general style but are looking for new glazes or new designs still within my 'look'.  I also give much attention to the look of my booth. It must be easy to get into my booth, see my pots and pay for them.  Awkward layout will bite you.  If necessary, get a double sized both.

Like Mea, I take a few high dollar items to show the buyer what I can do if they are willing to pay for it, more middle priced items, still with the look of the higher priced items, but easier, quicker for me to make, and MANY boxes of the lower priced item.  It is very important, I think, that the lower end items are made with the same care as the highest priced items.  To do other wise is to insult your customers.  Lower prices in my booth does not mean seconds.

Sales skills are great but nothing takes the place of well made, good looking pots.  and a well designed booth.  Work on those 2 things and then worry about how to talk to customers.  Good pots will talk for you if they are displayed well, I think.



#13 Isculpt

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Posted 22 August 2013 - 12:03 AM

Nancy, I feel your pain!  I'm basically shy, so my first shows were agony.  I supported myself for nearly 20 years doing craft shows with work that ranged from $50 to $1000.  My selling style necessarily differed from that of someone who sells $5 and $10 items, but I think that the lessons I took away from all those shows would serve anyone well.  I learned that most people attend shows with the intention of enjoying themselves and maybe buying something from a craftsperson whom they feel a connection with.  So I stopped looking at every visitor as a potential buyer.  I treated the visitors as I would treat a guest in my home; i.e. I chatted with the ones who wanted to chat and I left alone the ones who didn't.  It took some acting skills, but I took the dollar signs out of my eyes, hid my financial anxieties and made them feel that they were welcome as visitors, not as buyers.  Most people are very sensitive to the vibe that you put out, and if you can relax and share with them the joy that the work brings to you (whether it's antiques or handcrafts), then they can relax and enjoy the work, too.  Enjoying it is just a step away from buying it, if they are acquisitive people and can afford it.  One of the nicest unintentional compliments I received from a fellow craftsperson was that he thought I was a "trust fund-er", because it never seemed to concern me whether my work sold or not. Believe me, it concerned me deeply, but putting out that vibe made people feel safe.  And feeling safe meant that they could relax, enjoy the work, make a personal connection, and maybe even buy something.

 

Jayne  



#14 Balke

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 01:53 PM

I did a great show this weekend. I made $1000.00.  The best show I have ever had but this is what I dont understand.  As I talk to other venders they made WAY more than I did.  I dont understand what happened here.  Please give advice if you can.

 

I have been throwing for 15 years- I am good at what I do so it isnt a beginning potter issue.  I am a come back potter- took a break from pottery to work teaching fourth graders for a few years.  So my customers are NEW. 

My prices were competitive with the other potters in the show. And compared with other venders my stuff was pretty nice middle to upper middle in quality to other venders there. (Really I am not a concieted person and it takes a lot to write that my stuff is such quality)

I have three basic colors- flashy blue- earthy one- and flowing beutiful one I love.

I am a personable person- I dress pretty nice, am outgoing talking to the customers on a wide range of topics, I put up with well meaning advice well. and Tolerate those who need tolerating- I taught Fourth grade and survived parents.

 

We live in south east AZ so I can understand the economy is down but the other venders made $1000 in a day. What am I doing wrong?  Please help I like what I do and want to continue. 

Linda-

The one who doesnt want to endup selling resale at a carnival.


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#15 JBaymore

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 02:36 PM

First of all..... and I hate to say this.... but it has been my experience that potters at shows (and in dicussions) inflate their earnings greatly.  So how do you KNOW that they are doing that well?

 

Some can be about "the market".  If your "style" is say, Asian influenced, and the people attracted to the particulr venue are "country" folks... if the other potters styles are more aligned with that aesthetic,... they will sell and you won't.  it isn't about "quality" it is about "fittting in with the decor of a home".

 

Some of it can be the display.  Have you studied anything about merchandising?  Are you dsplaing "art pots" in a commodity format?  Or the other way around?  Is it easy for a cutormer to know the pricing points you offer?  How much stuff is displayed in the "ZONE".  (slightly above waist to just below eye level)?

 

How about you LIGHTING (the most important thing in a booth)..... how does it compare to theirs?

 

You are new there... they might have an existing customer base.  They may have spent $1000 on mailings to their local customers in advance of that show.

 

There could be a scad of factors.

 

best,

 

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


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Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

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#16 GEP

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 03:33 PM

A really important rule for anyone who wants to last in this business ... never compare yourself to another artist. About anything, but especially gross sales. Completely meaningless comparison, everyone is doing vastly different things. And there is always someone doing much better than you. If you fixate on that, you will always feel bad about yourself.

 

My advice to Linda ... market analysis. Pay attention to what sells, and what doesn't sell. Good sellers should increase in price, and produced in higher quantity. Poor sellers should be eliminated. My typical inventory in 2013 is so much different than 5 years ago, based on my analysis. It sounds obvious but I am always surprised how many artists (not just potters) have never put a second thought into this. 

 

My second piece of advice ... start collecting a mailing list, and use it diligently. Repeat customers are extremely valuable. 


Mea Rhee
Good Elephant Pottery
http://www.goodelephant.com

#17 Balke

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Posted 08 October 2013 - 10:50 PM

Thank you both for such good advice- I do feel better now.  It is easy for someone like me to think that no one exagerates their earnings to other venders. 

 

There is so much involved- psychology, representation, merchandising.....  Wow.  I think I need a minion with a business degree.  I have so much to learn-

I need to get creative with the set up and placement of items. I liked the idea of the mailing list.  I did have a couple repeat customers from another show I did.  

 

Thank you again for your quick and expert advice.  I will reread often.


Linda Balke

Blind Horse Pottery


#18 Mark C.

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Posted 09 October 2013 - 01:30 AM

Displaying functional ware for me is one of the key elements

If you look at my display in starter post photo  at the top of this page you will see tall pots on top shelve (vases/untensil holders/cannisters/Large Pitchers

next shelve eye level is mugs-one of my major sellers-then next shelve is french butterdishes soap/lotion pump jars soap dishes and chopstick bowls

next shelve is getting where one can look down into the wares so its cereal bowls

next shelve which is really looking down into the wares is meduim bowls and flatter baking dishes

the bottom shelve is pie plates dinnerware(flatware plates) square plates and the like

 

This way you can see into pots like bowls and look at pots eye level like mugs-this all helps the customer SEE the wares as they should be. This for me has evolved over 40 years of displays and is a learned skill which if you think about it makes sense to the eye.

There are no hard rules here- just what works best for every form and how easy it is to see it well which adds to sales as folks can see them clearly and not wonder what it is or what shape or form it is.You will have to decide on this for your wares.

This adds to sales as pots at least for me sell themselves. I answer questions but never try to sell anyone anything.

I did a show this past weekend and told a woman not to buy anymore than she can use. Her friend said no sales person ever said that to anyone but I have found that the best customers use the wares and come back for more so selling things that do not get used is not what I'm about.I want the customer to feel good about the pots and take ownership-that way they will want another down the road. It works over time and has paid many dividends.

Mark


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#19 Benzine

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Posted 12 October 2013 - 08:58 AM

I've not been to many Art Shows/ Festivals, but those I have been to, I can never buy any of the ceramic works I see there. they are all priced extremely high. They are almost exclusively decorative wares. I'd love to buy some mugs, bowls, etc, as would my wife, but we can't justify spending what they are asking.

It seems to me, that in order to "fit in" with the other non-ceramic art at the festivals, they bring mostly "artsy" pieces and price them as such.
"Anything worth believing, is worth questioning"

#20 JBaymore

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Posted 12 October 2013 - 09:42 AM

I've not been to many Art Shows/ Festivals, but those I have been to, I can never buy any of the ceramic works I see there. they are all priced extremely high.

 

The most educated market for looking at handmade ceramic works is of course, other ceramists.  We can greatly appreciate not only the work that goes into this craft, but also the aesthetics.  Unfortunately, for a lot of us, we are not of the general socio-economic class that can afford our own works.  That is why we so often trade with each other ;) . 

 

It all depends on how large your disposible income is and where your priorities are as to what you can afford. For the most part, handmade ceramics have totally lost the "necessary commodity battle" to plastics and machine based manufacturing. When looking at price points and pure functionality ("it holds tea")........ you'll go bankrupt and end up with serious repetitive stress injuries if you try to compete on this aspect.  If "functional" ware out of CLAY rather than other materials is important to someone for some reason, likely off-shore totally machine produced wares fit that bill.  Machine labor and economies of scale (and low off-shore costs) have the deck stacked against you.

 

So the market for "handmade" works is really a niche market in the overall scheme of things.  When you are selling to a niche market, you look at who those people are and what they buy.  Within that larger niche, there are also sub-niches.  One of the ways to categorize the sub-niches is by socio-economic class.

 

I'd say that in the "handcraft pottery buying" big niche market, the sub-niche that is of the higher socio-economic class is the vastly  higher precentage.  Hence people are marketing work to this segment.  Makes the most sense.  There are more people that can afford the work, and higher potential per-unit yield rate for the artists.

 

It is an unfortunate reality.... most of us make work that only the relatively affluent can really afford very much of.

 

Personally, when I do an exhibition, I simply show what I make, and the pricing is what it always is.  My own work is not "inexpensive" by many people's standards, but by some people's standards it is. Those that feel the value for the cost is appropriate might decide to buy it.  Those that cannot afford it, simply will not.

 

If I make the mistake of going to venues where the preponderance of people is of the latter case to try sell my work, I will be sorely disappointed at the sales.  I wish I could afford to make pottery for "everyman".  I can't afford to.

 

best,

 

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


John Baymore
Immediate Past President; Potters Council
Professor of Ceramics; New Hampshire Insitute of Art

http://www.JohnBaymore.com




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