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Most Difficult Aspect Of Making A Pottery Business Work?


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#1 DirtRoads

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 11:46 AM

Creating this topic for forum readers that are considering a pottery business.  Which of these factors do you see as the biggest barrier to the success of a pottery business?  Please add any other significant factors you think should be considered.

 

Marketing Mix:

1.  Product - Includes technical production factors and market appeal

2.  Price

3.  Promotion

4.  Distribution - How are you going to reach your customer base?

 

(of course you need all marketing variables to work in tandem to create a successful marketing mix but consider which are the most difficult)

 

Finance

1.  Cash flow

2.  Return on capital investment (ROI)

3.  Start up capital

4.  Opportunity cost of wages (time spent in pottery versus a job or another business)

 

After 4 years of reading and studying the pottery business, I think distribution is the largest obstacle in the marketing mix to establishing a successful pottery business.  Establishing exactly where you are going to market your wares seems to be the most difficult  marketing aspect.  And then creating the right marketing mix for that distribution market.

 

Closely followed, is cash flow.   Can a potter survive long enough to get the right marketing mix?

 

I've found ROI to be really high (20% is acceptable to most investors, I see 30% (plus) in this type of business).   Start up capital for a pottery business is relatively low, compared to other businesses I've evaluated  or owned.  I do see that many people pay a high opportunity cost of wages for being an "artist".     

 

Very interested in seeing other opinions on this.  :)    



#2 JBaymore

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 12:21 PM

I think that the question is intriguing....so thanks for posting it...... but probably is WAY oversimplified.  The answers to almost every question there will change based upon some very basic business premise variations. Let's take a look at a couple:

 

I can create a "pottery business" in lots of ways.  Let's look at 2 of them.   

 

Way #1..... figure out what people want/need, what they will pay for it, and then make those objects. 

 

Way #2...... make objects that you love to make, and then find people who are interested in those objects, and can afford to pay for them.

 

Those are two totally different approaches to running a "pottery business".  Both viable if you want to call 'economic success' the sole yardstick.

 

Or...........

 

Way #1 - I can create a "pottery business" that is solely comprised of myself.....a sole proprietorship where I do everything.  I use tools and equipment that is appropriate to that approach.

 

Way #2 - I can create a "pottery business" that is managed and guided by myself, but has a few employees that are taking on specialized aspects of the tasks involved, and I can invest in machinery that increases production efficiency commenusrate with a "small factory" kind of approach.

 

Again..... VERY different business models.  #1 possibly less capital and labor intensive... #2 likely very capital and labor intensive.

 

No one right answer for all.  However there might be one right answer for one specific individual.

 

I think for almost every industry/endeavor it is the distribution/sales channel that is the key to success.  The supplies and labor channel can sometimes be challenges to the business.... and sometimes fatal...... but they usually can be overcome if the sales side is there.

 

Small businesses almost always fail due to a combination of under-capitlization and poor planning for necessary start-up period cashflow issues.

 

best,

 

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


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

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#3 TJR

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 12:59 PM

I think the impediment for me in creating a pottery business is stress.

Stress that the work won't sell, and stress in making a product and having to market that product.

Since I have a day job teaching high school art, I am able to make what I want and sell it at my leisure.

TJR.



#4 GEP

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 02:46 PM

This is a great topic ... thanks for starting it DirtRoads.

 

In terms of marketing I think the most difficult aspect is Product. Some people don't make pots that are appealing enough to sell. Others make beautiful, sellable pots, but can't produce the volume necessary to add up to a real income. The other aspects of marketing can be learned in more of a textbook fashion. The Product part is the "it" factor, you either have "it" or you don't.

 

For the finance part, I'd say it's both startup costs and cash flow, which are very closely related. I'm always surprised when people think they can start a pottery business with no money. The cost of a workspace and basic equipment is a considerable investment. And you need to support yourself through the long process of developing the business. And even after you've developed a successful business, you need to be disciplined about cash flow to get through all the bumps in the road. You know how personal finance experts advise everyone to have 3 months of living expenses in a savings account? For a self-employed person, it's a year's worth. A lot of artists do not live this way, which is why many of them threw in the towel during the recession.


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#5 oldlady

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 05:17 PM

I can relate to all of this.  last weekend I presented my favorite things to a reasonable number of potential buyers.  one new design sold out.  one that had been terribly popular BEFORE the new design did not sell at all.

 

I gained all of my equipment and materials during the 23 years I worked for wages in exchange for my work in an office.  I did it because I had 2 kids to support alone. 

 

today, I know LOTS of ways to get free things but as soon as I had the cash, I bought a brand new, lifetime kiln.  on a pension and SS there is never enough money to buy any big equipment new.  that is why I keep preaching Craigslist and want ads. 

 

(beginning a sentence with the obligatory) SO, I make what I think will sell, conscious always of the fact that flat things can fill a kiln on 10 shelves, taller items take more space and fewer shelves.  I think it is important that each shelf hold approximately $100 in potential sales.  I only do about 4 to 6 shows a year and the farthest is about 35 miles one way. 

 

it is enough to supplement my basic income but I am glad I never had to rely on pottery for my total income.  I am VERY fortunate and try never to forget it.


"putting you down does not raise me up."

#6 Chris Campbell

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 06:56 PM

My answer is ...

Getting the potential potter to BELIEVE they need to run it as a business.

In my years of teaching and lecturing on the business aspects of pottery this aspect is the number one determining factor for future success. Knowing it is going to be a business means they are going to do whatever it takes to succeed.

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#7 Mark C.

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Posted 16 June 2014 - 10:35 PM

This may be off track but the #1 thing I think is motivation.

With out a super motivated person who is disciplined with time and finance

The rest seems doomed.

#2 is product.

Liking to make pottery is not nearly enough

I like Mea I am amazed that many think they can make a go of it on the cheap with no funds. This applies to all pottery in general as well.

Its like this-

Next year I’m going to learn to be a brain surgeon for free any ideas on how to do that???? I’m good with a knife.

 

Making what you like and finding those customers may be harder (this is what I have seen not work well for some) than making what people like and make that.

I hate to spray water on the fire but starting a pottery business and making it work (say for 10 years or more) is so much harder than it looks.

I am helping a younger functional potter whenever I can make a go of his business. Seeing someone start out from art collage from scratch has been an eye opener (this is what I did long ago). He worked for another potter when in High School which gave him the bug

Finding the outlets (shows /wholesale/consignment/whatever) that will buy your work is another huge hurdle that takes time to get over and get dialed.

Much of this comes to personality as well. If you are no good with people stick to wholesale.

Enough for now I have to go check a few kilns firing that are firing tonight.

Mark


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#8 JBaymore

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Posted 17 June 2014 - 10:29 AM

Mark,

 

A lot of what you describe there is pretty much the same with any entrepreneurial self-employed enterprise.  But with anything in the art field....... it is WAY harder than most.

 

I tell my students that if they aren't absolutely DRIVEN to do this crazy clay thing ...... obsessed...... it liekly isn't going to be a viable full time gig.

 

best,

 

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


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

http://www.JohnBaymore.com

#9 Stephen

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Posted 17 June 2014 - 11:44 AM

I think one thing that many may do is vastly underestimate the time (2-3 years 30+ hours a week- this is beyond the 10-15 years as a serious hobby) and money (10-30k) it takes to setup a working studio, develop 20-30 beautiful, professionally made forms AND lay in 6-700 of these forms for initial inventory BEFORE selling anything. Not to mention developing an accounting system, designing a professional show booth and the needed tow vehicles to transport to and from shows, website, etsy and a hundred other odds and ends. Then when you're all done you need to wait until January so you can apply to the following years shows, wait for the 50% of those you hopefully will get into and send in the 10-12k in fees. Although I am sure Mea is right about the year of income in the hole on an ongoing basis I think its more like 2 years of living expenses when opening (beyond the first year of show fees and expenses). Its not that you are not going to sell anything your first season but its going to be an uphill battle because of no repeat customers and no history of what sells and what doesn't to determine product mix.  

 

Obviously one could start out by simply renting a $50 space at a local farmers market and cart a few boxes of pottery to spread out over the white table cloth covered folding table but its going to take a lot of staying power to grow that into a middle class income. 



#10 JBaymore

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Posted 17 June 2014 - 12:10 PM

 ...........but its going to take a lot of staying power to grow that into a middle class income

 

 

THAT is the key point in the discussion.  What are your financial goals/needs in life?

 

To make a ceramics career work so that when you are 30-40 years into it you are not making Walmart Greet-er or Micky D burger flipper wages......... it takes a LOT of effort and "stick-to-it-tive-ness". And diverse skills. 

 

And there is no accounting for a dose of luck too.  For every BB King or Eric Clapton....... there is some guy sitting on a front porch in Alabama picking away that is just as good.  Being in the right place at the right time is often the make or break deal.

 

best,

 

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


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

http://www.JohnBaymore.com

#11 neilestrick

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Posted 17 June 2014 - 07:02 PM

Like my friend Fred always says: Making pots is easy. Selling them is the hard part.


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#12 DirtRoads

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 11:37 AM


people think they can start a pottery business with no money.

 

This ^ ....... I can't imagine anyone being that clueless.



#13 DirtRoads

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 12:44 PM

I think the different business models provide a very accurate insight.  Put this in a decision tree format ... would make a very interesting article.  Question for Mr. Baymore:   Does your school include a business course in the curriculum?  Or is information just filtered in by professors like you that have working knowledge? 



#14 CarlCravens

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Posted 18 June 2014 - 04:59 PM

I have come to believe that a successful small business startup requires the principle(s) to have a good balance of intelligence, optimism and cluelessness.  People both smart and clueful enough to really understand how difficult and risky it is to start and run your business with your own money just don't.  People with not enough intelligence but enough optimism and cluelessness start businesses doomed to fail.

 

So people who start successful small businesses are just smart enough to make it work, but not smart enough to know what they're really getting into before they're fully committed.

 

(Yes, I'm aware I'm making some serious generalizations.  That's what the Internet was made for.)


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#15 JBaymore

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Posted 19 June 2014 - 08:54 AM

Question for Mr. Baymore: Does your school include a business course in the curriculum? Or is information just filtered in by professors like you that have working knowledge?

 

Yes, the students have a required course that is solely devoted to art as a business. Not enough really...... but there is SO much stuff that needs to be crammed into a 4 year curriculum......... it is really only a "start". And yes.... all of the ceramics faculty (4 of us) also wedge in "reality burgers" (business and professionalism info) into our other courses. And we wedge it into conferences and advising aspects too.

 

best,

 

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


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

http://www.JohnBaymore.com

#16 JBaymore

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Posted 19 June 2014 - 08:55 AM

 That's what the Internet was made for.)

 

 

I disagree completely.  It was made for cat videos. ;)

 

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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