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Need To Step Up Production


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Good morning,

I'm very thrilled to say that I've really begun to get more orders for some of my pottery, one form in particular. This comes in different sizes and can also be customized. I'm running into a few problems that I hope I can get some help with.

 

First is that I still work full time. I am planning for the next school year to be my last - I am switching careers and hope to work at my other job for 20 hours a week, giving me more time for pottery. The other issue is that I am still in my basement - I need my husband's help to get out of the basement and he hasn't been very helpful in making a room in my big barn. I could make a big room in the barn - it has electric and plumbing, but no sink, which I would have to put in. We have a lot of land, so I could make a dry well. I've talked about the basement before, and it's just unworkable - it's dark, it is one room so all the pottery dust gets on my clothes and storage, and pumping the water out up and out would be an issue.

 

I do have a studio I use for metalsmithing that I can use, but it has no plumbing, so that would have to be solved, I could also put a dry well in there, and move my jewelry. But it's not that big - 16 by 24 or so. Not a lot of room for storage, but I could put a loft above. I also go to a studio for lessons/throwing one night a week, but that is nowhere near enough time for me to make all I need to do. 

 

I also need to step into a more production mode. My hope is to have about 10 pieces ordered to make each day and each piece has a lid. At the rate I throw them, it takes me at least 1/2 hour to throw, then there's trimming, glazing, etc. A friend of mine suggested I start slip casting them, but is that really handmade? I'm sure there's a whole new learning curve to that also, plus the purchase of molds. I don't even know how long the pieces have to sit in the molds. 

 

Another issue is keeping track of orders. I have a three to four week turnaround time, with lots of personalization and color choices, etc. I am good with computers, but Excel challenged. Any ideas??

 

So things have to change. I need to step this up if I want to retire from my job now and do this for a living. I would appreciate any advice pertaining to this at this time,

Best,

Nancy

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My first advice is to remember you are in charge of your business ... and, you need to give your customers a positive experience right from day one.

So ... You decide how many orders to accept based on how many you can realistically produce at the quality level you want in the time you need. If this attitude starts now, day one, you will get more orders.

And ... Take a deep breath and tackle your issues one at a time in doable steps. WRITE your plan down on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil. The physical act of taking the time to write down a plan increases its chances of success. Break those big steps down to small steps you can check off as they are done.

Post this plan somewhere you see it every day and check off the steps as you do them. Enjoy the feeling of controlled progress.

If you have an above ground option, I would start moving towards it. Out of a dark basement into the light is good. Maybe you can find help in a barter way ... Pots for labor? Or meals? Or tutoring?

Mostly it's a matter of focusing on one tree at a time rather than seeing the whole huge forest of issues.

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chris is right about everything she said.  take yourself seriously.  this is a major step in making you happy.  do something to start today.

 

and, plumbing is not that hard to learn.  see if the local community has a night school course in plumbing basics.  or, as always, your local library has a wealth of info on plumbing for do it yourselfers.  i would be happy to plumb your sink if i lived close enough to your location.  get a bunch of plumbing books and stick them all around the house so your husband can see that you are serious about doing this next step toward a happy retirement.  it ain't rocket science, just attaching pipes to each other in a logical way.  with all the new kinds of tools and materials you should have no problems.  get CURRENT books at your local Home Depot or similar store and look them over.  only the unknown is frightening.  

 

upstate ny has a deep freeze zone, you could contact a local trench digger and ask for a price to run a trench from your water supply to the barn.  your local building inspector is not an enemy, talk to him/her.  

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I would love to have a 16x24 studio! I know full time potters who work in spaces half that large, and without plumbing. I worked out of a studio that was only 8x15 for a couple of years, with two kilns in there and no plumbing. Open floor space is not necessary, but well designed shelving is. It's amazing what you can do in a small space if you're smart about it.

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Another issue is keeping track of orders. I have a three to four week turnaround time, with lots of personalization and color choices, etc. I am good with computers, but Excel challenged. Any ideas??

This is the only question I will address: being a tile guy I do not have to deal with alot of the issues pottery makers do. I owned a medium sized construction company for over 20 years after leaving the union hall after 22 years. At the peak, my company was building 50+ houses a year and had 60 employees. So I had to figure out a code system to track jobs and keep job information flowing. Everyone has their own methods of mental rolledex filing: so you will have to tailor the system to your thought process. So let me see if I can convey this system in a cohesive way:  H15002C12RM.. which means absolutely nothing to anyone until I explain it: (H) was the house model (1500) was the total square feet, (2C) was the number of garages, and (12RM) was the lot number and the initials of the subdivision it was being built in.  So in one glance, myself and the field foremen knew what was being built and where.

So now lets say you have 3 sizes of mugs you consider stock/inventory pieces. These mugs are 12 oz, 16oz, 22oz. So you could start you order # as M22. I will assume you fire several different glaze varieties and several different colors. Celadon, Shino, etc etc.  So the order now becomes M22S, so you have a 22oz mug with shino glaze. I do not know how many colors are in your stock pallet: but lets say you have 10. So you assign a number to each color in your stock pallet: so the order now becomes M22S04.    Which is a 22oz mug with shino glaze, cobalt blue (04). Once you tailor and learn this system: in a single glance you know the order.

So now you need to adapt some working job/s sheet, which is easy to do in Excel.

Across the top / header

Customer: #                   Order #                    Ship Date:         then add whatever else you need to know.

Jane Doe  D16               M22S04-D16           5-15-2016 

 

Notice I added D16 to the order #?  So in one number you have all the information and now who it belongs to.

Shipping date should always be in bold type..why?  That is your quick reference to what needs done and when. It is the reminder to get on the stick, or it can wait a day or two.

Nerd

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Another issue is keeping track of orders. I have a three to four week turnaround time, with lots of personalization and color choices, etc. I am good with computers, but Excel challenged. Any ideas??

This is the only question I will address: being a tile guy I do not have to deal with alot of the issues pottery makers do. I owned a medium sized construction company for over 20 years after leaving the union hall after 22 years. At the peak, my company was building 50+ houses a year and had 60 employees. So I had to figure out a code system to track jobs and keep job information flowing. Everyone has their own methods of mental rolledex filing: so you will have to tailor the system to your thought process. So let me see if I can convey this system in a cohesive way:  H15002C12RM.. which means absolutely nothing to anyone until I explain it: (H) was the house model (1500) was the total square feet, (2C) was the number of garages, and (12RM) was the lot number and the initials of the subdivision it was being built in.  So in one glance, myself and the field foremen knew what was being built and where.

So now lets say you have 3 sizes of mugs you consider stock/inventory pieces. These mugs are 12 oz, 16oz, 22oz. So you could start you order # as M22. I will assume you fire several different glaze varieties and several different colors. Celadon, Shino, etc etc.  So the order now becomes M22S, so you have a 22oz mug with shino glaze. I do not know how many colors in are in your stock pallet: but lets say you have 10. So you assign a number to each color in your stock pallet: so the order now becomes M22S04.    Which is a 22oz mug with shino glaze, cobalt blue (04). Once you tailor and learn this system: in a single glance you know the order.

So now you need to adapt some working job/s sheet, which is easy to do in Excel.

Across the top / header

Customer: #                   Order #                    Ship Date:         then add whatever else you need to know.

Jane Doe  D16               M22S04-D16           5-15-2016 

 

Notice I added D16 to the order #?  So in one number you have all the information and now who it belongs to.

Shipping date should always be in bold type..why?  That is your quick reference to what needs done and when. It is the reminder to get on the stick, or it can wait a day or two.

Nerd

 

Thank you!! I like this idea. I do have names to add, too, though, so I'd have to figure that out, too,

Nancy

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I would love to have a 16x24 studio! I know full time potters who work in spaces half that large, and without plumbing. I worked out of a studio that was only 8x15 for a couple of years, with two kilns in there and no plumbing. Open floor space is not necessary, but well designed shelving is. It's amazing what you can do in a small space if you're smart about it.

Hi Neil,

I know it 's not small, but I was worried about shelving space. Where would I find well designed shelving?

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I would love to have a 16x24 studio! I know full time potters who work in spaces half that large, and without plumbing. I worked out of a studio that was only 8x15 for a couple of years, with two kilns in there and no plumbing. Open floor space is not necessary, but well designed shelving is. It's amazing what you can do in a small space if you're smart about it.

 

chris is right about everything she said.  take yourself seriously.  this is a major step in making you happy.  do something to start today.

 

and, plumbing is not that hard to learn.  see if the local community has a night school course in plumbing basics.  or, as always, your local library has a wealth of info on plumbing for do it yourselfers.  i would be happy to plumb your sink if i lived close enough to your location.  get a bunch of plumbing books and stick them all around the house so your husband can see that you are serious about doing this next step toward a happy retirement.  it ain't rocket science, just attaching pipes to each other in a logical way.  with all the new kinds of tools and materials you should have no problems.  get CURRENT books at your local Home Depot or similar store and look them over.  only the unknown is frightening.  

 

upstate ny has a deep freeze zone, you could contact a local trench digger and ask for a price to run a trench from your water supply to the barn.  your local building inspector is not an enemy, talk to him/her.  

I think I'm still getting my mind around that I may be able to actually make a living at this if I push a bit more. It's very exciting, but all unexpected. And thanks for the encouragement about the plumbing - I have never done carpentry or plumbing, but why couldn't i?

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My first advice is to remember you are in charge of your business ... and, you need to give your customers a positive experience right from day one.

So ... You decide how many orders to accept based on how many you can realistically produce at the quality level you want in the time you need. If this attitude starts now, day one, you will get more orders.

And ... Take a deep breath and tackle your issues one at a time in doable steps. WRITE your plan down on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil. The physical act of taking the time to write down a plan increases its chances of success. Break those big steps down to small steps you can check off as they are done.

Post this plan somewhere you see it every day and check off the steps as you do them. Enjoy the feeling of controlled progress.

If you have an above ground option, I would start moving towards it. Out of a dark basement into the light is good. Maybe you can find help in a barter way ... Pots for labor? Or meals? Or tutoring?

Mostly it's a matter of focusing on one tree at a time rather than seeing the whole huge forest of issues.

Thank you, Chris. I appreciate your advice. At this point, I can keep up with the orders - barely. If I get busier, I am going to get behind, which would be a business killer, so I have to make sure that doesn't happen. I need to make that list, but first I have to figure out exactly what my issues are and will be because I know I have the studio location issues, but I don't yet know what issues I'll have once I start making even more pots. 

Nancy

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Nancy:

One other trick while I am thinking about it. I also used a color coded paper system. Lt green were faxes, pale yellow were building permit applications, Lt. blue were utility hook up requests, and Lt. rose were customer color selection. A job folder usually had 60-80 pages all totaled: so if everything was the usual white I spent alot of time looking for specific papers. By using the color coded systems: when I opened the job folder I looked for colors. That said, all your invoices, correspondence, MSDS sheets,, etc etc will all be on white paper. So your job/work order papers should be on Lt. yellow or whatever color you like. So then you are not hunting them down- they stand out and do not get lost in the crowd.

Nerd

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I think there may be an economical bookkeeping system which can incorporate the orders taken, this keeps your orders, invoices generated payments made etc. which is a really important part of any business.

I use one for my business.

I use Excel for stock at various shops which holds my pottery, the bookkeeping system to keep up with the rest.

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I have a very simple sheet with all forms I produce it a printed paper form

I keep these in files of all my outlets

They order from these forms so have a very familiar form I work from

I work off this list for all orders

I have a realistic lead time and usually get the orders done way early

That's for wholesale or consignment.

You need to be realistic about time frames

My Advice is start slow and do not over commit.

I have kept my Orders off the computer as it not needed and I work in the clay studio with them

I keep it simple I have about 30 to 35 forms on that form at any given time as I add one one must leave

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Agree with the others--plumbing isn't difficult at all. Just takes some persistence and, if you're like me, lots of trips to the hardware store for yet another size fitting. Depending on where you live, a hose can be a good interim step to get you started. I've run one of our sprinkler lines to a faucet near the studio, then ran a short stretch of hose into the studio and attached to a sink. When I'm in the studio I can turn on the faucet and then turn on the sprinkle zone and have water. Lots of creative solutions that are pretty easy to implement, even if they're just temporary.

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My first advice is to remember you are in charge of your business ... and, you need to give your customers a positive experience right from day one.

So ... You decide how many orders to accept based on how many you can realistically produce at the quality level you want in the time you need. If this attitude starts now, day one, you will get more orders.

And ... Take a deep breath and tackle your issues one at a time in doable steps. WRITE your plan down on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil. The physical act of taking the time to write down a plan increases its chances of success. Break those big steps down to small steps you can check off as they are done.

Post this plan somewhere you see it every day and check off the steps as you do them. Enjoy the feeling of controlled progress.

If you have an above ground option, I would start moving towards it. Out of a dark basement into the light is good. Maybe you can find help in a barter way ... Pots for labor? Or meals? Or tutoring?

Mostly it's a matter of focusing on one tree at a time rather than seeing the whole huge forest of issues.

 

Thank you, Chris. I appreciate your advice. At this point, I can keep up with the orders - barely. If I get busier, I am going to get behind, which would be a business killer, so I have to make sure that doesn't happen. I need to make that list, but first I have to figure out exactly what my issues are and will be because I know I have the studio location issues, but I don't yet know what issues I'll have once I start making even more pots. 

Nancy

Not to sound like a nag ... BUT .... your reply shows why you need to sit down with a paper and pencil ... erasers are also good when trying to figure things out. Things will begin to fall into place when you start to plan on paper.

Nobody wants to sit down and write it out, so you are not alone there! Best wishes.

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+1 to all the comments above, but I'd particularly like to agree with Mark.  You don't need a computer to keep track of orders.  A ring binder and paper is all you need.  

 

One piece of paper per order, name and contact details of customer at top.  "By date" in top right-hand corner.  File the completed orders at the back behind a divider.  Sort the others into first to be done at the top or longest to take to make or........

 

Whatever you do, think about your information needs, and pick one system and stick to it for at least 6 months unless it really isn't working.  Don't chop and change systems.

 

Good luck and enjoy the journey.

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Quickbooks is a great affordable app for handling inventory, sales, purchasing, invoicing, paying sales tax, etc. It's also great come tax time since everything is in the system, so you don't have to spend time going through paper receipts.

 

To get the most efficient use of your space, you may have to build your own shelving. The problem with commercial shelving units is that they don't have enough shelves if you're making mugs and such, so you have to buy two units and combine them to get enough short shelves. By the time you spend that much money you can build your own cheaper. Lots of potters us a ware board rack, which is just a frame that ware boards slide into. Do some google searches and you'll find examples. Rolling carts with adjustable shelves are also a good way to go, although they get pretty pricey.

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Think about hot water in the studio. Warm water to throw with in the winter is mighty nice. A small tankless is very nice. They are simple to install, cold water in - hot water out, wiring is simple also.

 

There was another thread earlier about shelving and someone posted a good solution using 2x4's with holes drilled them attached to the wall for adjustable, open shelving.

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Nancylee, it sounds like you are in the classic dilemma.  You need to start fulfilling your orders yesterday, but with your current system you will have difficulty meeting needs.  So here is what I would do in your shoes.

  1. Regarding slip casting, lots of people sell slipcast work, and it is legitimately called hand made. That said, forget about it, at least for now. Trying to learn slip casting, mold making, and testing with your glazes is going to lead to a lot of trial and error before you have something worth selling. Think about it for the future but let it go for now.
  2. The space in your workshop is fine, certainly better than the basement, so move up there ASAP. Having more space, light, and clean air will help you work much faster.
  3. Plumbing: If you are working in a barn run a hose into your metal workshop. You can fill buckets and haul the slop water out at the end of the day. Unless you are a really messy thrower you are not going to be using that much water that you can't use temporary solutions like the hose and buckets.
  4. Shelving on the cheap and flexible: Use cinder blocks and planks to make your shelves. You can add or remove the blocks to accommodate various heights. They will be stable enough with four blocks high. If you have short items like plates you can use bricks on their side to create shorter shelves on top of the base board on top of the blocks. Make sure your ware boards are shorter than the shelving so it is easy to slide a board onto the shelf without too much effort.
  5. Start with a paper ticket system like other suggested. Print out three copies of each ticket (workspace, invoicing, and backup)
    When throwing, have your stack of tickets for open orders on a clipboard you can see.  As you finish a batch tack the ticket to the ware board so you know which client, when it is due, etc. You keep the ticket with the board through trimming, and then when you load the wares into the kiln, you attach all the tickets loaded into the kiln to a clip so you know which clients work is being fired. Then when you unload you keep the work with the ticket, so you know who to ship to when you pack them up.
    The other stack you keep in your office to invoice with. The third stack you keep someplace safe in case something happens, and as you invoice you check against the backups to make sure everything has been produced and invoiced. Stamp the date you invoiced for each ticket so you can know if it is overdue.
  6. Speaking of invoicing use FreshBooks. It will help you create invoices, clients can pay via credit card if you want, and you can keep track of expenses, such as special materials if needed for a given order. https://www.freshbooks.com/
  7. If you have time and energy at the end of your throwing session, use an egg timer, and try to throw your pieces in 5 minutes. The goal is not to have a shipping product, but to help you increase your throwing speed and look for more efficient pulls. You are going to recycle the clay, so don't worry about how good it is, just finish the piece in 5 minutes. After this practice, going back to your 30 minute routine will feel like an eternity, and you probably will shave several minutes off your time without sacrificing quality.

The main thing is Don't Panic, do some planning, and get moving, you can refine your workflow as needed.

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I would love to have a 16x24 studio! I know full time potters who work in spaces half that large, and without plumbing. I worked out of a studio that was only 8x15 for a couple of years, with two kilns in there and no plumbing. Open floor space is not necessary, but well designed shelving is. It's amazing what you can do in a small space if you're smart about it.

Hi Neil,

I know it 's not small, but I was worried about shelving space. Where would I find well designed shelving?

 

 

Nancylee, I just bought commercial shelving from Costco, two units at $90 each. I'll tell you why I find it perfect for my studio. 

 

1. It's 4' wide, 16" deep, 6.5' tall and has six shelves you can adjust to any height. You can also create two 3' shelves from this same kit, one with wheels and one without. 

2. It comes with four heavy load bearing wheels. Two of them lock. This means that no matter what changes in my studio, I can easily rearrange and clean with shelves like this. 

 

Apparently I'm Neil now ... ;) Sorry, Neil!

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My friend has this saying, "If it is to be, it's up to me." If I waited on others I would still be working at of the desk in my living room. I've been working slowly on mine for 18 months now. I started with making a list of everything and then ordering it by priority. I finished last years list but I'm still working on getting my studio (which is 15'x20' and works quite well, by the way!) set up and so I have two separate lists: things I can do without any help and things I need help for or to hire someone. 

 

My "helper" list looks like this: 

1. Hook up laundry sink

2. Run copper wiring for kiln

3. Install sheetrock

4. Hang cupboards

 

My "up to me" list is

1.Toss remaining personal stuff

2. Put together second shelving unit

3. (After drywall), plaster, prime, and paint

4. Seal floor with concrete sealant

 

This list, aside from the drywall, is waiting on nobody but my own unwillingness to deal with those totes of junk. :) I hope that this peek into my process might help you with yours! :) 

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My first advice is to remember you are in charge of your business ... and, you need to give your customers a positive experience right from day one.

So ... You decide how many orders to accept based on how many you can realistically produce at the quality level you want in the time you need. If this attitude starts now, day one, you will get more orders.

And ... Take a deep breath and tackle your issues one at a time in doable steps. WRITE your plan down on a piece of paper with a pen or pencil. The physical act of taking the time to write down a plan increases its chances of success. Break those big steps down to small steps you can check off as they are done.

Post this plan somewhere you see it every day and check off the steps as you do them. Enjoy the feeling of controlled progress.

If you have an above ground option, I would start moving towards it. Out of a dark basement into the light is good. Maybe you can find help in a barter way ... Pots for labor? Or meals? Or tutoring?

Mostly it's a matter of focusing on one tree at a time rather than seeing the whole huge forest of issues.

Thank you, Chris. I appreciate your advice. At this point, I can keep up with the orders - barely. If I get busier, I am going to get behind, which would be a business killer, so I have to make sure that doesn't happen. I need to make that list, but first I have to figure out exactly what my issues are and will be because I know I have the studio location issues, but I don't yet know what issues I'll have once I start making even more pots. 

Nancy

Not to sound like a nag ... BUT .... your reply shows why you need to sit down with a paper and pencil ... erasers are also good when trying to figure things out. Things will begin to fall into place when you start to plan on paper.

Nobody wants to sit down and write it out, so you are not alone there! Best wishes.

 

Hi Chris,

I am thinking of putting my shop on vacation mode while I solve some of these issues - but of course, my fear is the one we all have, that I will lose any momentum I've built up. Once I get through April, I will have more time, and I'll have a lot more time this summer. Ironically, I'm trying to do this to get ready for my retirement career, yet this job gets in the way of making work!!! Arggghhhh!

 

Yes, I am going to sit down with paper and pencil tonight when I get home. Make a plan, get it moving. 

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Neil that is an excellent hot water solution. Love the fact it is 120. Mine is small like this but it eats up 2 slots in the breaker for a 20 amp 220 breaker. Had to have electrician wire it into the box. And this one does not need to be hung on the wall - sits on the floor.

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