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How Do You Do Custom Orders?

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I am just starting out with selling my ceramics and have a potential custom order. I have established the glaze, size, details with the customer. I am now wondering how other people take payments for custom orders? Do you ask for a deposit, full payment, half payment beforehand or ask the customer to pay when the order is fulfilled?

I'd love to hear how others do custom orders.



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30% non refundable down for items that could be resold, if someone asked I would refund the deposit.

50% non refundable down for personalized or weird hard to sell items.

I would not give a refund for personalized items.

Balance due when picked up or delivered


Don't be afraid to set limits with ceramics.

Its easy to get into trouble when you design something new

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My way of dealing with custom orders is to say "no" to all such requests. There are too many details that a customer might have wrong expectations about. The amount of communication it takes to truly get on a the "same page" with a customer is never worth the price of the order. And even when you think you are on the "same page" you probably aren't. Again, with ceramics there are too many details.


If you want to try it anyways to gain some experience, I would take 100% in advance, and make sure the customer agrees that it might not match their expectations exactly, in terms of the work and the delivery schedule. If they are willing to do that, then you know they understand what they are ordering. If you sense any "controlly" needs from them, then politely back away.

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Guest JBaymore

Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt.  Now prefer the "just say no" approach myself. 


When you work on figuring out the price, put in a lot of effort.  Consider every possible scenario.  Then when you have the final price..........




Then tell the client.


You'll still end up getting way underpaid for your time.






"The color is slightly off what I thought it would be.  Can you do that again and get the shade of blue just a little lighter....... like my drapes?"

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I suggest strongly of not doing custom orders but if you cannot help yourself get 100% of the $ upfront.



PS I could eleborate on over 30 years of custom horror stories but I already have on this board

Just say NO and move forward with your own work that folks like as it is.

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I'll chime in and say the best way to deal with custom orders is to just say no. 


Here's a sad little story about how unpleasant custom orders can turn out.  Some years back, one of my best old friends wanted a big custom casserole with a chicken theme.  Against my better judgement I said I'd do it. 


I made three attempts at it, and each of them went badly wrong-- stuck down lids, crawled glazes, big cracks.  I got so discouraged I stopped making pots for a couple years, and I haven't spoken to my old friend since.  (At least I never cashed his check, but I still feel bad about it to this day.)


In my online shops, I get requests for custom pipes, but I always say no.  What I will say is that if you want a particular kind of pipe, I'll notify you if I happen to make one like that, so you can have the first chance to buy it.  It's easy enough to set up a private tab for such a piece.


That way there's no pressure, and if you like the idea and want to try it, you might have an instant customer.

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Hey, thanks for your input guys!


The custom order is for something I already have made a lot of, but in a different color. I think maybe I'll try it to see what happens and then see how I feel about custom orders. 


This order is going to be something I can sell if the customer decides they wanna back out or don't like it. That's probably the safest way to do it.


I'm going to make some kind of form for the customer to fill out and agree to. I'll make sure it says handmade items all differ and colors don't always look the same on a computer as they do in real life and all that stuff. 


I guess this will be a learning experience haha

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If you’re creating a lot of one off items in your comfort zone you'll probably live on custom work requests. Taking a custom job out of the comfort zone always loses money. Quality functional pottery takes a ton of R&D before you finally get a keeper. It would have to be a big order to make it worthwhile.


If I find someone hard to deal with they get charged at least 3X. I'm absolutely happy with taking the price up and well beyond what they will pay.


I'm surprised to see how many people would want a 100% down. I take 30% which covers labor, overhead and materials, but no profit on a resalable item. 50% covers some of the profit on personalized items, but I would lose more of the profit if they never picked up the Item. I have only had two personalized items that were not picked up and one those two had a good reason.

I have taken a 100% in some instances; some people like to pay upfront.

When I require a deposit and the balance paid on deliver, I never ask for it, but I usually get a nice tip from a happy customer and no tip when it has been paid for up front.

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I think part of the success to doing custom orders is to set very specific expectations from the beginning.  I've got a very particular potter in mind who seems to do a lot of custom work and succeeds pretty nicely at it.  She's got a very individualistic style that's never absent from her work.  Fixed colour and pot shape options with no deviations, extremely consistent aesthetic.  You can have any colour you like, as long as it's already on a piece she's made.  "Custom" means you can pick your pot shape and pick what she paints on your pot.  Another potter who occasionally posts here does something similar--fixed line of pots with customization options.  I think this is maybe why custom orders are tougher for some potters/ceramists than others.  Most of us aren't so dedicated to a single "line" of pots.


And let's be honest, the informed consumer is a minority at best.  This isn't a bad thing, just reality.  I'm way out of my comfort zone once I leave the "making things" part of a store.  When a potential buyer asks for a custom order, they like your stuff, but they're likely not familiar with what you can and cannot do.  So they don't really know what they want.  Giving the buyer choices, rather than asking what they want is better.


There was this awesome, but terrible burger place that lasted all of 30 seconds here.  It was awesome because you could have ANYTHING you wanted on your burger, it was terrible because there was no logic to their selections.  I went up once and ordered a burger, got to the topping station, and I froze.  50 toppings in no particular order, just 50 little topping tubs.  I got confused and put like 5 tomato toppings on it.  Somehow spicy ketchup and bruschetta mix ended up on the same burger.  It wasn't some late-night post bar snack where a compromised mental state could have excused my choices, either.  Even though I was picking, and I was the one in charge,  I had no idea what I wanted and all I got was disappointment.


For the most part, custom orders are an invitation to trouble, but I think that if you find yourself in a situation where you can give your buyers a clear set of expectations, it can work for some people.

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With custom orders always double the price you have figured out you want and always ALWAYS double the time you think it's going to take to complete. Make sure they understand hand made pottery has variations that you are NOT A FACTORY (shocking thing to know but true). If possible show them a line of your work that are supposed to be the "same" so they can see how things vary from piece to piece. Slight shape changes, texture changes, glaze shifts, etc.


Also if it's an order of a lot of the same form make sure you really like making that form or you will regret it later. I made this mistake in a different way. I got an order for 3 dozen mugs easy right?mthats what I thought. Well I had never sat at the wheel and thrown that many of anything. I discovered early on that my back can't handle doing prolonged wheel work or back to back days of wheel work. Since it was a custom order I made twice the number ordered which meant 6 dozen mugs. The extras were sellable since they were not personalized just custom and I have actually only got a couple left so the extras sold in less than 4 months. Because of this I have also come up with a way of making mugs that doesn't involve the wheel. Which means I can crank out as many as I want in a day and still be able to walk the next day without a cane.


Think long a hard about all of the things that could go wrong and have contingency plans in place and then still hold your breath and make copious offerings to the kiln gods. Mine seem to really appreciate chocolate milk and muffins. LOL


Good luck I hope it goes well.



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Putting a minimum of two or three hundred per item on custom orders will make a lot of sence. Doing a couple of $25 mugs for a custom order is absurd from a finacial standpoint if u are not using the regular form but fussing around with a $500 platter might work out. Even minimum extra effort means zero or negative margins for low dollar items and if you have to redo something it gets rediculious.


Obviously there are other compelling reasons to do them here and there but I would caution to not don't fool yourself into feeling like you made a good sale on such an small order without one of those reasons.


Seems right though that you do them yourself and see how it works out with your business.


Try to smile though if/when it goes to crap and just chalk it up to research :-)


Hey Ray, why don't you knock out that old c order for your old friend and just send it to them out of the blue, free of charge, with a note that their old order just surfaced in your paperwork and you realized it was never filled. Will probably put a smile on their face and might re-kindle an old friendship.

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I'm going to make some kind of form for the customer to fill out and agree to. I'll make sure it says handmade items all differ and colors don't always look the same on a computer as they do in real life and all that stuff


I have done custom work like this, even designing originals, and been successful. All of the things people have said here that can go wrong are true, and the problems are solvable if you have lots of patience and excellent communication skills. A non refundable deposit (I go 50% as well) is necessary, as is good, hour long IN PERSON meeting to confirm form and glaze samples, with samples that show the range of possibilities in that exact glaze.


The only thing that sends up a lot of very large red flags for me on this one is the fact that you're doing this over the Internet. I would never in a million years do custom pottery over the Internet for someone who has never held my work or seen my glazes in real life. Ever. This situation is an angered customer waiting to happen, even if you get lucky and this first one goes well. And it won't matter what they signed beforehand. It's too hard to photograph glazes accurately, and you already made the point about colours varying from screen to screen.

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We are such slow learners, says she who had an entire dinner set under a table for a couple of years, no money taken, not to match the drapes but of such decoration not to appeal to most, Ended up selling bits off over time, but at the time it was a great investment in time, Kiln space etc etc.

Oh to be wiser when younger, now get away with being just another grumpy old woman. Saying No that is, but still, "ok", slips out of the mouth when the brain filters need replacing.

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I agree thoroughly!! I have done this ONCE and I am not inclined to do it again.


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This pie plate was done over the Internet for a woman who had never seen the glazes in person or held my work in her hands. It turned out okay but I can tell you that ridiculous piece of pottery caused me many sleepless nights till it had safely arrived and been approved of. The only other time I did a custom order it was for someone who liked a planter she bought from my Etsy shop so much that she wanted another one for a friend; in that case she had seen the glazes and I wasn't nearly as nervous about it. 

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I am terrible at doing custom orders ... It takes an excellent combination of listening, explaining and execution skills that I know from experience I do not have.

Some people make a good living doing public installations, artwork and tiles for new homes, etc. ... Commission work is a large and lucrative market.

They get a deposit of course, but also need to provide sketches and color images of what the finished piece will look like.

Then ... the most amazing part ... they produce a piece that looks exactly like the sketch.

Not my skill set at all.

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