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GEP

Member Since 08 Apr 2010
Offline Last Active Yesterday, 09:57 PM
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#63066 Craft Shows... Tips For Success

Posted by GEP on 23 July 2014 - 07:30 AM

I use a system for tracking and market analysis too. I'm analyzing my items and also analyzing shows. Before a show, I make a list of my inventory before I pack it. Then at the end of a show, I make a list of what's left before I pack it to go home. The "leftover" list is the start of the new list for the next show. This is all done in a spiral notebook. It's the same notebook where I total up my sales after a show. It becomes a journal that I can refer to for many things.

Now when I go back to a show I've done before, I know exactly how much total inventory to bring, and how many of each item. "I sold out of mugs last time, better bring more." "This was a good show (or a bad show) for my higher end line of work. Better bring more (or fewer)." Or even sometimes "I sold nothing but low-priced items, not worth going back." Just taking the time to record this information makes for confident decisions later.


#62540 To Share Or Not To Share

Posted by GEP on 16 July 2014 - 09:26 AM

It is really important to distinguish between different situations here. It's not applicable to say "sharing is good" or "sharing is bad" because it depends on the situation. There is a wide wide gulf between a classroom situation, where the teacher has willingly signed on to share his/her knowledge and the students are expecting instruction and insight to be conveyed; and the relationship between two professional working artists, where one is trying to shortcut their way to success by copying another.

 

I was a teacher for 7 years, and I gave it everything I had. I even gave the studio my recipe for my signature glaze. They ended up not using it, because guess what, it did not work for them. This is a good example why sharing something deeply personal won't necessarily hurt you. Like others have mentioned here ... your own experience, studio conditions, personal work habits, etc., are also part of your results. These are things you can't hand over to someone else, even if you try.

 

Most of my students were not professionals, which is why I didn't mind sharing my design ideas. However, the studio did conduct some "student pottery" sales. Once in a while, a student would take one of my designs, produce it in multiples, and try to sell them. That bothered me, but at the same time I knew no one would confuse their work for mine, so I let it slide.

 

I also had an advanced class which did contain some bona fide professionals and aspiring professionals. Again I did not mind sharing my ideas with them, because I only accepted students who demonstrated a strong sense of ownership for their own ideas, which means they had respect for others' ideas too.

 

I taught all of my students to ask first if they wanted to attempt another person's idea, and to accept "no" for an answer. I can't recall anyone ever saying "no." Just being asked first shows respect. I can recall plenty of times when a person copied without asking (usually the copier was not one of my students) and even for a recreational potter, the pain and hurt caused is very real. As well as the notion "maybe a group studio is a bad idea" which is a real shame.

 

Among working professionals ... when I meet other potters working at the same venues as me, there is a huge and wonderful amount of respect for another potter's styles and ideas. It's easy to share ideas amongst peers like this, because the respect is apparent. This is similar to my advanced students' attitudes, only magnified by many more years of experience. A potter who has made it this far has invested years in their own ideas. We believe so strongly in the path we've taken. Why would we abandon our work for somebody else's ideas?

 

So when does copying happen between professionals? In my experience, it is when one of them is struggling hard, and does it out of desperation and expedience. THIS IS NEVER OK. I had a bad experience once with an aspiring potter who sought my advice a lot. Over a couple of years, her work drifted towards mine. Sometimes she would get mad at me because she wasn't having the same success. Then she blatantly copied one of my designs. I stopped talking to her altogether, it was not worth the stomach ache.

 

I learned an important lesson. These days I am not stingy with my information, but I am very selective about who I'll give it to. Just like others have said here ... how someone asks makes a big difference. The attitude matters. Is it respectful and thoughtful, or demanding and entitled? Does the asker seem to think pottery is hard, or pottery is easy?




#62344 Non-Legal Ways To Address Copying Issue

Posted by GEP on 13 July 2014 - 10:54 AM

Turn it around on her and make a shade with your technique.  I would bet that she will get the hint and it will result in a meaningful discussion about respecting other's work.


This is my favorite answer. In my experience the only people who don't respect others' ideas are the ones who have not yet had their ideas copied. When it happens to them they will realize the sense of violation they have caused.

I whole-heartedly agree with the notion that we are all repeating ideas that we have seen before, but this situation is far more specific. Between two professionals, where one has already said "no" and explained that there was 10 years of development involved, for the other to proceed to attempt a copy is not ethical at all.


#62156 Factors In Determining A Successful Pottery Business

Posted by GEP on 10 July 2014 - 07:01 AM

I keep thinking about this:

 
Stephen, on 17 Jun 2014 - 11:44 AM, said:
 
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.

 
You add up those numbers... and you're looking at around $75K.   You would need some "special circumstance"  (as defined by J. Baymore) to make it.
 
Also, as pointed out, entry level wages are just too low in this industry.    Saving up for a business start up would be strained.
 
I would still like to crunch this into a causal model and see what variable best explains success.   My guess is that it would be tied to $$$, in start up capital and financial support for living expenses while you are building the business to a point where it will support you.


My "special circumstance" was another good paying self-employed occupation (graphic design), which provided me with financial stability and a flexible schedule to spend time on pottery when needed. Yes it felt like having two full-time jobs for several years, but I would do it again.

This is my advice to anyone who wants to be self-employed in any field ... keep your steady income and start your business at the same time. Do both until the business becomes a viable real business. If you aren't willing to work that hard, you probably shouldn't be self-employed anyways.


#61765 Craft Shows... Tips For Success

Posted by GEP on 04 July 2014 - 10:25 AM

My guidelines for picking good shows, not saying that I always make the right choices, but over time I have learned to distinguish a lot of things:

I like shows that are not run for profit, and yet still managed by a paid professional event planner. These are not always easy to find, and I won't automatically avoid shows that don't fit this description. Shows that are run for profit are prone to making non-artist-friendly choices, just because they need to. Shows that are run by non-professionals are prone to being disorganized or insider-ish (i.e. best spaces given to the friends of the organizers, hate that).

For my work, big city venues work best. Like Mark, I think a very high attendance number is a good thing. I also rely on a diverse population, because my work has a distinct Asian style and the people who like it are more likely to live in cities. I do great in DC and Baltimore, but even the mid-size cities in between (Frederick MD and Annapolis MD) are not nearly as good for me, even if they are affluent areas.

I also avoid the weekly or monthly markets, at least the ones where they expect you to participate regularly. There is a real down-side to this, customers tell themselves "I can get it next week." The once or twice-a-year big events are much better for this reason.

I used to stick to local shows only. Like bciske I did not want to deal with other state's sales tax. But that was when I was only trying to make a part-time income. Now that I am full time, it is too limiting to stay within 50 miles. Expanding my zone out to neighboring states has been a big growth factor in the past few years.

As I mentioned above, I have developed relationships with other artists who I trust, and I will rely on their advice too.


#61764 Craft Shows... Tips For Success

Posted by GEP on 04 July 2014 - 10:07 AM

Does anyone have advice on choosing whether or not the fair is a good place to sell? I'm still new at this, recently graduated; but I've done 4 fairs now and haven't had much luck picking the right ones, I mostly just break even or a little ahead. The atmosphere of them were places to find cheap goods or more about activities rather than buying quality goods (i.e.: basement church holiday fair, festival with heavy focus on children's activities, columbus day festival, etc...) but don't particularly seem to be advertised as such to the vendors.


I got burned a few times like this. The organizer swears the event is a high-quality art show, but it turns out to be the opposite. They do not lie on purpose, they are just wishful thinking. It's human. This doesn't mean all organizers lie. I've learned to tell the difference between someone giving me a straight story and someone puffing themselves up.

Artists lie or exxagerate to each other too. I kind-of expect it, and it doesn't bother me. If an artist I don't know asks me how my show is going, honestly I think it's none of their business, and completely meaningless to answer in specific terms. If I'm having a great show, the other artist might be a train wreck at the same show. Then they will feel like they were misled. So a specific answer doesn't matter, and isn't appropriate anyways. This is why, as Mark said, getting info from a stranger isn't worth much. Developing trusted relationships with a small number of artists, whom you know are operating at the same level as you, does provide valuable info.

This leads to a fundamental piece of advice for all professional artists: Define success by yourself and for yourself, don't measure yourself against anyone else. As others have said here, somebody else's idea of success does not apply to you, and your own idea of success does not apply to anyone else. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out how others are doing compared to yourself. Or you can spend your energy making your work and your business better (not better than other artists, better than yourself from last year.)
 




#60945 What Is The Most Dangerous Thing In Your Studio?

Posted by GEP on 16 June 2014 - 04:38 PM

Too much clay dust on the floor. I know, I know, I should clean the floor more often.




#60930 Most Difficult Aspect Of Making A Pottery Business Work?

Posted by GEP on 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.




#60796 Used Pottery Wheel

Posted by GEP on 14 June 2014 - 09:49 AM

Friendly reminder ... buying and selling of things is not allowed on this forum. It is ok to discuss value, and where to sell it.

 

I would recommend posting it to the PotterBarter yahoo group, and your local Craigslist. And I agree that it should be free to anyone who will remove it from the attic.

 

Please refer to this FAQ thread for more info on our "no advertisements" policy:

http://community.cer...isting/?p=53500




#60737 Craft Shows... Tips For Success

Posted by GEP on 13 June 2014 - 10:06 AM

I want to expand on two subjects that were brought up earlier in this thread: clothing and likability.

 

I totally agree with Min that people who buy pottery have a certain amount of wealth. We need to dress in a way that makes us relatable to them. It does not mean you need to waste money on fancy labels, it just means don't dress like a slob. LONG GONE are the days when customers expect festival artists to look like hippies. I repeat, LONG GONE. These days customers expect us to look like someone who can give them good advice about home decor.

 

Having said that, another really important aspect of festival clothing is that is must be comfortable. Especially your shoes. All the talk about the importance of maintaining a good mood goes out the window if your clothes are binding and your feet hurt. I have a whole collection of dresses and skirts that are as comfortable as t-shirts. I allow myself to wear pants or shorts on the last day of a show, because I don't want to pack up in a skirt.

 

This all relates to likability, it's not really "does the customer like you?" but rather "does the customer relate to you and find you credible?" I'm sure you all know people who have an "I need you to like me" demeanor and the truth is they are difficult to like. Instead the purpose of your clothing and your attitude should be "I'm here to represent myself and my work, and I'm really proud of it."

 

To me these things seem basic and obvious, but at shows I see so many artists who have not put much thought into this.

 

I'm leaving for a show in an hour ... I'm wearing gym shorts, tank top, and running shoes for setting up. When the show opens at 5pm, I'll pull one of my t-shirts dresses over my head, and change my shoes into sandals. Easy, comfy, and still polished looking.




#60037 What Is It You Are Really After In Your Work?

Posted by GEP on 05 June 2014 - 08:41 AM

I am after a lifestyle of creativity, productivity, and independence.


#59506 Do You Throw Straight Out Of The Pugger?

Posted by GEP on 29 May 2014 - 05:00 PM

Regarding my pugged clay .... and I think this is a highly underrated aspect of using a pugmill .... I pug my clay very soft. Almost sticky soft. Lots of water in the equation, everything fully hydrated. In this state, I think the clay is more likely to be rearranged by the act of throwing, rather than holding on to the layers and spirals made by a pugmill.

 

To anyone whose pugged clay is too short, or more crack-prone, the answer might be as simple as adding more water.




#58642 What Do You Do To Make The Customer's Buying Experience Fun/rewarding?

Posted by GEP on 16 May 2014 - 09:54 AM

My number one most important rule for my behavior during an art festival:

 

Make every single person who walks into my booth feel welcome, and glad that they did.

 

This is easier said than done. Art festival work requires some advanced people skills. You cannot fake being comfortable with people, you need to BE comfortable. Festival artists are "on stage" to some extent. Your booth must give off positive happy energy, and it needs to come from you. For 6 to 8 hours straight per day. And again, you can't fake it. It needs to be genuine. I credit my years of teaching, this is where I developed my ease with talking to people, including total strangers.

 

This does not mean I am talkative with customers. I do make a point to greet everyone, but I do not engage in conversation unless I sense that it's appropriate. When needed, I have plenty to say about my pottery.

 

When somebody leaves my booth without buying anything, that's ok with me. And I let that person know it's ok, with a "bye" or "thank you." The fact that they walked into your booth means they liked your work. If the visit was pleasant, there are lots of sales to be made later. But if you burden someone with your disappointment, that person is gone forever.

 

When somebody makes a purchase, I will make sure that they know how much I appreciate it. And then there's another level to this, when customers become repeat customers, I make a point to learn their names and recognize them as repeats, and show my appreciation.

 

Overall, the "fun and rewarding" part is that people get to meet a friendly and happy potter, who clearly loves her work, and made them feel glad about going to the art festival.

 

The really hard part is there are so many reasons to sink into a negative mindset at a show. If you want to succeed at this, you can't. I also visit and shop at lots of art festivals, and I'm afraid too many artists are falling short on people skills. Shyness and insecurity are very common. So is arrogance (ugh). So is desperation (double ugh).

 

The worst example I ever overhead .... the artist in the next booth, upon receiving a nice compliment from a customer, responded with nasty sounding "Well I'm really glad you said that because I'm having a terrible show!" Gee I wonder why???!!!! Can you imagine how awkward that poor customer felt?




#58573 Why Is Our Work Better Than Imported Work?

Posted by GEP on 15 May 2014 - 01:49 PM

Actually, my comment about the "mustard yellow and green glaze combo" was NOT referring to inexperienced potters. I was referring to highly educated potters, with decades of experience, who are lacking a current sense of design and style. Possibly they are working in a style that sold like crazy in the 80s, and have never evolved. And this combined with a disgruntled attitude is the reason they don't sell well, not because the "imports" are driving them out of business.

 

I really don't have a problem with students and up-and-comers who want to try selling. Everyone has to start somewhere. There are appropriate venues for this level of work. But I think what claylover was referring to is to recognize when you have outgrown these venues, and move on to bigger and better adventures.




#58559 Why Is Our Work Better Than Imported Work?

Posted by GEP on 15 May 2014 - 11:14 AM

Hi everyone, I'm starting a new thread with an important question that was asked in another thread:

http://community.cer...gnment/?p=58507

 

Why is our work better than imported or mass-produced work?

 

As far as I'm concerned, the basic answer is "it's not." We are not exempted from competing with imported work in terms of functionality, attractiveness, and yes ..... price. Just because I make my living as a handmaker, do I expect myself to buy nothing but handmade clothing and shoes, or nothing but hand-crafted locally produced food, just because buying anything mass-produced would take away from these industries? Heck no, I can't afford that. So I certainly can't expect the entire US marketplace to reject mass-produced ceramics, in order to gratify my needs. This would be silly and unrealistic. Not to mention narcissistic.

 

So does this mean we're doomed? Absolutely not. Again, it's just a matter of acknowledging that you have tough competition, and overcoming it. I still buy handmade things on a regular basis, but in order to justify spending the extra money, they need to knock my socks off.

 

In other words, handmakers can surpass mass-producers in the following areas: quality and buying experience. People buy my somewhat pricey pottery because it is better in terms of functionality and attractiveness. And I make sure the experience of working with me is fun and rewarding.

 

On the other hand, I'm afraid I see a lot of potters who are struggling to sell. Tact prevents me from asking "do you think it might be the mustard yellow and green glaze combo?" or sometimes "why would anyone want to buy from an anxious sourpuss?" For potters like this, I think it's totally reasonable for a customer to prefer something mass-produced.

 

These are my answers to this question. I'd welcome everyone's thoughts about this: Why is our work better than imported work?