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Seeing Crusty's topic on Greek Key Style brings up a topic that has probably been discussed (before I came on).  That is "Do you make custom orders?"

I've progressed to the point where I just say no.  I will however take a suggestion.  It's got to fall squarely in the realm of what I'm doing.   Size, design, glaze etc.  Nothing new.  No obligations on either side.  If I want to do something to stretch my wings, I do it on my own initiative.  

 There are a lot of problems with doing custom ordered work.  The way I look at it is like this:

Customer has idea----> Customer communicates idea--->I listen to idea--->I interpret what customer says--->I make pot according to my understanding--->Customer evaluates work

Every one of those ---> is an opportunity for trouble.  Of course, that's just me.

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30 minutes ago, CactusPots said:

Seeing Crusty's topic on Greek Key Style brings up a topic that has probably been discussed (before I came on).  That is "Do you make custom orders?"

I've progressed to the point where I just say no.  I will however take a suggestion.  It's got to fall squarely in the realm of what I'm doing.   Size, design, glaze etc.  Nothing new.  No obligations on either side.  If I want to do something to stretch my wings, I do it on my own initiative.  

 There are a lot of problems with doing custom ordered work.  The way I look at it is like this:

Customer has idea----> Customer communicates idea--->I listen to idea--->I interpret what customer says--->I make pot according to my understanding--->Customer evaluates work

Every one of those ---> is an opportunity for trouble.  Of course, that's just me.

I am in the midst of some custom orders but they're not one-offs.  I just draw up ideas, send them off to the customer, they choose some drawings and give design input, I make some samples to the drawings and receive critique of the actual physical form and if adjustments are needed, address those.  

I would not be that involved if someone came to me with an order for a single piece or set.  I'd have to just send them a sketch, that's what I'd be willing to do for a small order. 

Of course you'd have to be able to throw to a sketch if that's the case, but so far I haven't had problems with that.

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I have been fortunate in that the "custom" orders that I do are variations of products that I have made before. I show samples or photos of my work and my customers order a quantity of the items and glazes that they have seen. It seems to work for them and me. My most recent order was for a variety of yunomi, berry bowls and vases for a total of $300 as well as a separate order for a horsehair Raku pot...The recent order for 3 unique urns went over really well.

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Well if one factored in the cost of time for designing unique order items...but one never does but should.

I don't do orders now but if did I'd be asking that that time be paid. One third of invoice paid before I move a muscle.

Frirnd potter did a dinnerset , unique, for a Friend to have it still waiting to be picked up 4 years later....

Can be trouble unless clearly thought out process.

 

 

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4 minutes ago, Babs said:

Well if one factored in the cost of time for designing unique order items...but one never does but should.

I don't do orders now but if did I'd be asking that that time be paid. One third of invoice paid before I move a muscle.

Frirnd potter did a dinnerset , unique, for a Friend to have it still waiting to be picked up 4 years later....

Can be trouble unless clearly thought out process.

 

 

To me that cost is built into the item. If they don't pay or bail on the transaction, I still have the item to sell and have gained a new skill or new perspective on a form.

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How many of your usual lines of work could you have made and sold in the meantime?

Is it in an area of interest to you?

It is a question of personal business so folk differ.

Getting a third up front is good business practice however.

Edited by Babs

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22 minutes ago, Babs said:

How many of your usual lines of work could you have made and sold in the meantime?

Is it in an area of interest to you?

It is a question of personal business so folk differ.

Getting a third up front is good business practice however.

I guess if I was so busy making my normal forms and selling them I wouldn't be interested in a custom order.  Unfortunately I'm not selling my normal forms at all so might as well take on a new project.  I think this question is a lot different for someone who is potting as their full time job, versus someone like me who just loves potting and needs more clay.

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I did custom work for decades-no more. I would not consider it nowadays . I had another potter friend say to me that he quit doing that and I thought about that freedom and stoppoed taking custome work about 5 years ago- he was right. I wish I had drawen the line earlier in life. Custom orders are problematic in many ways. I think when you are staring out they seem great but thats never the case really.

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For me, it’s a hard no. I tried it a few times back before I running a serious business, and learned all the pitfalls of trying to execute another person’s vision. In the end, the customer is never quite happy, so it's a waste of everyone’s time. 

Keep in mind that a person who believes a potter can a make pot(s) to their exact expectations is someone who has very little understanding of ceramics. These are not the customers you should be trying to please. 

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Yeah most potters seem to think it's not worth the aggravation. I guess it depends on what it is though. A 3-$400 art piece can work out but most pottery just has no where near enough money involved to even consider custom unless you just want to do it. If you truly count all the time and add in some emails and back and forth it can get goofy from a money standpoint unless there is plenty of profit. For personalized stuff just add in a large fee to make it work if you want to offer. Just discussing the fee will make people stop and think about the extra work and it gives you an opportunity to talk about it. That way even if they decide to pass they may be more likely to understand. I think often people in your life space may be confused and think they are doing you a favor by asking you to do a custom order and have no idea that its going to take a bunch of extra time and often include making extra pots to make sure good ones survive the process. 

Edited by Stephen

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For me, doing planters, the ask usually revolves around size.  They don't know  whether it's even possible for me to do something so large, and I find my explanations tedious.  The other problem with accepting a custom order is that there is usually some kind of time  request involved.  They expect it in the next load or sooner. 

Put the 2 together and it's all stress.

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I only do custom orders within the designs that I already make. In all the forms I already make, I'll make them in any size, with any of the colors and designs I already do. But I'm not going to create a new form or new glaze for a customer.

12 hours ago, Min said:

Murphy's #1 Law of Ceramics; if something can screw up it will happen with a custom order.

I call this Murphy's Law of Custom Orders. Take any pot you've already made a thousand times, and as soon as someone orders one, it'll take 4 tries to get it right.

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I used to work for a company that did nothing but high end, bespoke glass work. One of the largest contracts this company ever did was the stained glass windows in the Banff Chateau Lake Louise. That's the fancy castle-looking one on all the postcards. I was not a part of that one, but they are very deservedly proud of that project. Designs were NEVER replicated, although some themes, like mountains, were popular subjects. The business model can be quite profitable, but you have to be able to meet a few criteria.

You MUST be a tremendous communicator. You will be dealing with people who have only half an idea of what they want, and absolutely zero understanding of what the process is or what it can and can't do. You need to be able to lead them through some things to get them to clarify their vision without confusing them with too much information. You need to be able to clearly define what you can and can't deliver, and in what kind of time frame. For all of that, you need some drawing skills and samples of textures, clays and glazes. You need to know your turnaround times, and make absolutely sure you have time to make it twice built into that. If you are offering an experimental technique, or a technique that is new to you, all time frames go right out the window, and you need to let your client know testing will be ongoing and that delivery dates can be estimated but not guaranteed. You need to update them as much as they want. You need to remember that your client does not give a flying fig if your kiln elements crapped out and it will take you six weeks to get replacements, so you have to be the kind of person who is on top of things like equipment maintenance and materials inventory. If things do in fact go pear shaped for reasons beyond your control and you cannot deliver what you said when you said, you need to be able and willing to communicate that, along with any solutions to the problems and the new timeline. Integrity in all of this is critical. 

Your fees must reflect that you are providing a high end service from a skilled provider.  You are not just providing an end product!

 Deposits are taken at the start of a job, and are non-refundable. This fee should be enough to cover your design time and materials. The balance of payment is due when your customer is satisfied. For some jobs, you may wish to break this fee into three portions

If you're a little antisocial (No judgement if you are!) and thinking of yourself as a service provider instead of a product maker does not sound like your jam, do not say yes to commissions.

 

All that said, I do take on a little custom work now and again, mostly for companies that want mugs for corporate gifting, or with their own branding for ongoing wholesale orders. I do an in-person design meeting to hammer out details, carefully guiding the client through a couple of options that I know how to use really well, and showing glaze samples they can choose from. Custom colours are a no-go: they take too long to develop. They pay for any stamps or decals or templates that are needed to make samples whether we go through with the full order or not, as well as a nominal design fee so I'm getting paid. This is, after all, time consuming. I make a variation or two to narrow it down, and the client makes the final choice. Once the final design is agreed on, they place an agreed upon minimum order. I check back every six months or so to see how they're set for stock. Once the design is worked out, it's easy to knock more out in a couple of weeks. The payday is more in these reorders.

If someone comes into my booth wanting any form they see with a different glaze that's also in my booth, it's a 50% deposit to discourage tire kicking and delivery is within 4 weeks.

 

 

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1 hour ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

You will be dealing with people who have only half an idea of what they want, and absolutely zero understanding of what the process is or what it can and can't do.

I was just talking with a customer last week whose husband designs custom hot rods. Everything he does is custom, but she said he's pretty frustrated from a creativity standpoint because everyone thinks they want something really unusual and unique when they walk in the door, but really they don't, and he ends up doing a lot of very similar designs.

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20 hours ago, Callie Beller Diesel said:

I used to work for a company that did nothing but high end, bespoke glass work. One of the largest contracts this company ever did was the stained glass windows in the Banff Chateau Lake Louise. That's the fancy castle-looking one on all the postcards. I was not a part of that one, but they are very deservedly proud of that project. Designs were NEVER replicated, although some themes, like mountains, were popular subjects. The business model can be quite profitable, but you have to be able to meet a few criteria.

You MUST be a tremendous communicator. You will be dealing with people who have only half an idea of what they want, and absolutely zero understanding of what the process is or what it can and can't do. You need to be able to lead them through some things to get them to clarify their vision without confusing them with too much information. You need to be able to clearly define what you can and can't deliver, and in what kind of time frame. For all of that, you need some drawing skills and samples of textures, clays and glazes. You need to know your turnaround times, and make absolutely sure you have time to make it twice built into that. If you are offering an experimental technique, or a technique that is new to you, all time frames go right out the window, and you need to let your client know testing will be ongoing and that delivery dates can be estimated but not guaranteed. You need to update them as much as they want. You need to remember that your client does not give a flying fig if your kiln elements crapped out and it will take you six weeks to get replacements, so you have to be the kind of person who is on top of things like equipment maintenance and materials inventory. If things do in fact go pear shaped for reasons beyond your control and you cannot deliver what you said when you said, you need to be able and willing to communicate that, along with any solutions to the problems and the new timeline. Integrity in all of this is critical. 

Your fees must reflect that you are providing a high end service from a skilled provider.  You are not just providing an end product!

 Deposits are taken at the start of a job, and are non-refundable. This fee should be enough to cover your design time and materials. The balance of payment is due when your customer is satisfied. For some jobs, you may wish to break this fee into three portions

If you're a little antisocial (No judgement if you are!) and thinking of yourself as a service provider instead of a product maker does not sound like your jam, do not say yes to commissions.

 

All that said, I do take on a little custom work now and again, mostly for companies that want mugs for corporate gifting, or with their own branding for ongoing wholesale orders. I do an in-person design meeting to hammer out details, carefully guiding the client through a couple of options that I know how to use really well, and showing glaze samples they can choose from. Custom colours are a no-go: they take too long to develop. They pay for any stamps or decals or templates that are needed to make samples whether we go through with the full order or not, as well as a nominal design fee so I'm getting paid. This is, after all, time consuming. I make a variation or two to narrow it down, and the client makes the final choice. Once the final design is agreed on, they place an agreed upon minimum order. I check back every six months or so to see how they're set for stock. Once the design is worked out, it's easy to knock more out in a couple of weeks. The payday is more in these reorders.

If someone comes into my booth wanting any form they see with a different glaze that's also in my booth, it's a 50% deposit to discourage tire kicking and delivery is within 4 weeks.

 

 

I was a graphic designer for 20 years. This is exactly what designers do. In print design, the path between intentions and results is fairly easy to control, unlike ceramics. When I realized I could quit design and do pottery full-time, I was very happy to not have to do this anymore. I am my only client now. It’s a privilege and I earned it! 

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4 hours ago, GEP said:

I was a graphic designer for 20 years. This is exactly what designers do. In print design, the path between intentions and results is fairly easy to control, unlike ceramics. When I realized I could quit design and do pottery full-time, I was very happy to not have to do this anymore. I am my only client now. It’s a privilege and I earned it! 

Mea, that's one reason,  I went away from design into teaching.  I came to the realization, that despite all my training and insight, a customer could come in and say, "That's 'OK', but can you use the 'Jokerman' font, in bright pink?..."

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22 minutes ago, Benzine said:

Mea, that's one reason,  I went away from design into teaching.  I came to the realization, that despite all my training and insight, a customer could come in and say, "That's 'OK', but can you use the 'Jokerman' font, in bright pink?..."

You say yes, but that's actually 700 dollar premium font.  No way to lose :lol:

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Remember, we're in this BECAUSE we don't want to work for someone else.  Like what I make or don't like it.  Don't tell me what to do.

Bad attitude, I know.  I've been working with that my whole life.  Only now...

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I'm in it because I like making pottery, i don't mind working with someone else to make something fantastic.  I like challenges and exploring new ideas and feel like collaborating with someone else is a great way to get that exposure.

Money important, but it's not the driving force behind everything I do.  If I come to a time where I am bored with making things for other people I'll just make stuff for myself too 

Edited by liambesaw

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