More than half my sales come in the 4th quarter sales and are mostly gifts. Most gifts are price capped. Example, customers "need" to buy a $50 gift, a $25 gift, 30 $5 "Happies), 12 teacher gifts, etc. Important to recogonize that gift purchases are "needs" as opposed to "wants". Customers do not have the option of not buying gifts. Gift buyers are for the most part WAY less discriminating than self purchasers. So .. maybe consider some items just because they sell and are profit builders versus pottery that will make it into a juried show? I know people here are going to frown when they hear the words "cookie cutter" and "stamps", but these dinky things sell. Just have to find objects that have meaning. We sell lots of Mississippi shaped ornaments. Crosses, fluer des lis, dragon flies, etc. Initial ornaments blow out but I couldn't produce enough of them this year to have them as an item. The gift market for "multiples" is huge. And I do mean "multiples". Like this week I've had sales of 128 (necklaces .. for corporate gifts, not a wholesale account), 50 ($3 Mississippi's), 36 Crosses ($6), 15 small dishes ($10), 15 Mississippi's ($5). The multiples market is 100% price driven. Personal multiple purchases usually range from 6 to 30. I've had a corporate multiple sales up to 250 items ($20 each). Cap amount on a corporate gift so far has been $50. I did have a lot of these corporate multiple sales in my previous business so I didn't exactly start from scratch there. The key in getting corporate sales is to lock down the amount they want to spend. And THEN find a product that fits. That's pretty easy to do with pottery but I always carefully assess the product as to insure profitability. I consider my prices to be very close to wholesale and I don't do any discount at all. (so far none of the corporate buys have asked for one),
You might have to reconsider I didn't really want that small Mississippi in the line. But the kids talked me into it. I just thought $3 is way to cheap to bother with. The kids kept stuffing their production numbers with these things and I noticed we had like 1500 of them so I stopped production on them. We sold out of those in October. So I had them start making them again and we put out several 100 a week of those, made from slab scaps and I put at least 30 of those in every kiln. At only 3 inches, they fit in absolute dead spaces. I do realize there is no art value in these but the amount is significant to my business. I don't consider myself to be a really accomplished potter but I do have a successful pottery business that supports me, dozens of feral cats (that are are all spayed/neutered), 1 full time employee and 45 hours a week employment to 3 college students (family). If running a full labor schedule, the business puts out about 14K a month of products (not up to to that $21K number you mentioned) but it's profitable (& consider that 40% of that is jewelry, which of about half doesn't have a clay finding).
I started kicking around with pottery 3 years ago (October 2010). Been in this studio/retail location 2.5 years. The business has cash flowed since December 2011. For 2012 the only capital infusion was for a new L&L kiln which was repaid in December. Business showed a paper profit in 2012. Actually I'm very pleased with the financial side of the business as sales have made it to a 6 figure amount. My 3rd Christmas here and will be opening expanded retail space in about a week. I'll have about 15k invested there, which has been taken from last year's left over cash. (still haven't learned my lesson... I have a tendency to invest profits back into a business) I will be adding in a few commercial products in addition to the hand made. The retail side of this business has become a little bit too demanding. I am adding some extra products so I can hire an employee to stay in the "store" part. I'm thinking I will offset this by having them make jewelry in their down time. Waiting for year end & I will assess the numbers for this move. I actually have the labor hours already in place but the kids can only work Friday/Saturday, which is your main retail day except in November/December when the store is busy to the point of distraction to production. Right now those retail customer are driving me @@@@ crazy. OMG can't wait for exams and the kids are here all week to deal with them.
Another really successful item in my line is "The Hostess Set". I pair a bread tray with a 2 cup bowl. I don't consider something really successful unless you can sell around 1K of them in a year. By pairing it with the bowl it increases the functional appeal. Buyers can just see their little dips/chips/crackers in these. The unattached bowl versus that typical round chip & dip server is way more appealing (those other things don't hold enough dip). Buyers can visualize the endless possibilities for this set (of course we usually spill them out for them ... just lay out your pork tenderloin in this, put your sauce in this nice matching bowl, etc). I now have 3 different "sets" in the line.
In my area there aren't very many shows in December. Weekend days in December are huge retail opportunities, with the Saturday before Christmas topping Black Friday sales for a lot of retailers. So you need to find a place to sell during November/December. I remember Mark C. showing photographs of his set up in a strip center in front of a pet store. I thought his set up was a very resourceful temporary kiosk type selling outlet. Very very smart idea.
My premise is that I am going to make whatever it takes to make this business cash flow. For example, sold over 8k of initial pendants in 3 years. Not a real fun item to make but at the same time, I don't consider them a miserable task. I now assign this job to one of the kids. I only consider yearly cash profit as opposed to monthly. The return on my capital investment in this business is very high, comparatively. I do take some time and make some more artistic items. I made a few sculptures, larger pieces , two vessel sinks and 2 water fountains last year, selling these from $100-$500. I have one "commissioned" bowl order for $250 for January. I do like making pottery but don't enjoy it as much as some of the people on the board seem to. I DEFINITELY don't like it enough to do it a financial loss. I actually liked it better when I was completely solo and did my own glazing. I like throwing but don't do enough of it to put those items in production. But I have a glazing employee that has worked for me for 20 years and for my family for 22 years. So I am going to provide that job regardless. One of my benchmarks for success in this business was to sell enough to bring that employee on board. And the 3 college students that work here are family and I am going to provide them jobs as well. I just have to manage production more with increased employees. The business was completely stress free & easy profit when I was solo.
In summary, keys to my financial success:
- Focus on gift market
- Production of items that will hit the "multiples" market for both consumer and corporate markets
- Stockpile of key items for 4th quarter sales
- Strict adhereance to production numbers for me and employees
- Jewelry in addition to pottery
- Diverse color/glaze selections (I have at least 12 distinct colors in my line and often put out a couple items in additional colors)
- Marketing strategy directed towards becoming a destination retail business
- Selling at wholesale price to general public versus having retail store accounts. At this point I have no intention of wholesaling. Most of the potters in my area distribute by wholesaling.
- Use of social marketing to get my name around (I've quit working on this for the moment because we are at full production and are selling as much as we can make)
I'm pretty sure there is nothing I can share about "pottery" with any readers here. But I might offer some insight on the marketing side. Just something to consider is that you might have to alter your artistic production to increase the profitability of your business. Of course if you are in the top percentile, already making a decent living, you will have no need of such tactics.
Brian I noted some of your work and definitely think you have the mechanics to make a pottery business work. Your stuff definitely shows more talent and detail than mine. From a purely commercial view I can't see any reason your pottery wouldn't sell. (other people here way more qualified to assess this than me though) You just need to rethink those numbers and figure out where you fit it. Rethink your production analysis and see what you need. With those numbers you threw out you would be clearing 12K a month. (if I understood them correctly). I live comfortably on about 1/3 of that amount. But then real estate is a lot cheaper in MS. Not sure how you would make this much in pottery unless you had a full scale production or you are one of those elite potters that sell single pieces for 5 and 6 figure amounts. I know of 3 potters in this state that have a production type of business but I have no idea of their gross sales and profits but I'm guessing they put out in excess of 500k a year.