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Thursday, March 5, 2015

Looking back at Wholesale

I received a private message from a potter wondering about how our decision to add wholesale accounts worked out. Its taken me a few days to kind of reflect on what it has done for us. I'll fill in a little background.

 Retail is great for us during the warmer months in the NE and thanks to Etsy and online marketing it continues right through the Christmas sales season.

 But we found ourselves wondering how the hell to survive from Christmas to May. Five months of very few sales and just when the heating and electric bills go crazy!

Also, during a rainy year, sales suffer at outdoor retail events, a great show that pays a lot of bills can produce nothing for you and the phone company still wants their money.

So we needed to find a way to smooth out cash flow so there was regular income without having to run someplace different every weekend. Shows get old as you get old.

So we signed up for BMAC, Buyers Market of American Craft, now known as the American Made show. It was really too expensive for us since it took place in the financial doom time of year. We did a very successful Kickstarter to raise the money to pay for it and off we went to Philadelphia.

It was an eye opener. We got a lot of orders, mostly small orders and a really exciting account with the Gaelsong catalog for our premier line of Oak pieces. It was pretty amazing overall. Mixing those wholesale accounts in with our regular retail helped a lot!

Pub Club Old Forge Brewing Company

Coffee Club Webster's Bookstore and Cafe
2 years later we still have a couple of those original accounts, but not Gaelsong. We have continued to have add small accounts here and there and our hometown wholesale accounts have continued to thrive and expand even through we moved away last year.  Cafes and Brewpubs seem to work out really well for us! We currently make for Websters Cafe and Bookstore in State College, PA, Cafe Lemont in Lemont, PA and Ottos Brewpub in State College PA. In addition to that we have an account with someone who does Renaissance Fairs and Conventions all over the country.

So I don't think we could survive on wholesale accounts alone, but it adds to the income stream and fills in gaps between retail sales. We need a blend of retail and wholesale to keep the cash flowing. We don't count too strongly on any one venue. Diverse and multiple income streams. Multiple wholesale accounts just in case one or two drop out. Website, Etsy, fairs, festivals and a seasonal storefront from May to November. 

The  big selling season is still too short, and first quarter is still difficult, but we are constantly searching for ways to make the cash flow more evenly. So this year we scheduled a big one of a kind event during February that helped a lot! It's still retail, but it's self-generated retail. Not part of the national or regional shopping trend. The one of a kind work was received very well by our customers and also gave us a chance to explore and grow artistically. Overall a joyous experience for everyone!



Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Icy Doom

The title pretty much sums it up. That's what we have going on outside right now. It snowed this morning, it sleeted this afternoon, then it rained and then it froze while raining. I suspect we'll see some snow on top of all this ice by morning, then we'll really have some exciting things going on! It makes me glad we have 4 feet of plowed snow as a guardrail since we live at a downhill T intersection.

So what do do on days like this? Lock myself into the studio and fill the tables all while enjoying the residual heat from the kiln that fired overnight.

All those mugs are for our own stock. We have no big wholesale orders just yet, but I expect about 1/2 way through March we'll start getting requests. In the meantime I'm trying to build up stock on our best sellers and offset the rush I am sure we'll be feeling a little later in the year when the north thaws out and folks start traveling again.

After doing so many textured pots for the Forest Spirit pots last month I can't seem to leave the texture tool alone. I am using it, then making the pots I need to, then going back for more texture. I'm having a lot of fun!

Those bigger pieces on the table are fun too. They're going to end up as special bowls for allowing bread dough to rise. It's a special request from a customer, and while I normally don't work too far outside our standard catalog these looked kind of fun. They're going to end up about 10" wide and 10" deep plus a bit of a foot. the inside of the bottom is curved like any bowl would be. I hope they work out well.

I'm really enjoying doing some bigger work and I keep drifting into fantasies of starting to work really large on a regular basis. I'm really excited when I see big pots from folks like Daniel Johnston , Mark Hewitt, and Svend Bayer but I'm afraid to shake things up too far. I'm more or less a mug maker..I can't make enough mugs and even my regular retail customers keep coming back for more year after year, but I think I may start doing some larger pitchers, Ive always had a love for pitchers and I really have neglected them over the years.

What do you think? Go big or go home? Will my customers still love me?





Monday, February 23, 2015

Online Marketing for? or to? Potters.

I think online marketing is tough for potters.

I think we do it pretty well, but I notice some problems that we have that I don't think other folks have, especially those who are resellers. Resellers have a pretty straightforward deal, I have this thing, it's a cool thing and I can send it to you now at a fair price.

Potters seek out other potters, like no other group I can think of. We're very incestuous as a group, a huge number of the fans of our Facebook page are potters, I'm a huge fan of other potters Facebook pages. We just love to see what other clay people are up to.
Cone 6 Fake Ash with Cobalt or Runny Blue-Grey Coffee Mug?

Sometimes when I go to compose a post, I forget that I am sharing my story to more than the other potters. I'm telling a creative clay story for the people who are interested and want to buy things. The general public wants a story of a creative person, living a creative life and making beautiful things.They want a peek into the process and a glimpse of the dream. We should be selling to the people who say "bake" not "fire" Not the folks who know the terms Hare's Fur, Soda Fire, Oribe, or Cone 12 flat.

It took my wife about 10 minutes of looking through other potter's Etsy listing tags to figure out a major reason why some folks had more online sales than others.

The folks who had less sales were marketing to other potters, and while that is cool, potters like to buy pots too, once they get over their need to make it, not buy it. They talk about firing temperatures, type of clay, specific name of the glaze, all cool stuff to know if you are a potter talking to other potters. Or listing technical information for a show. Perhaps its not the most important thing when trying to address the general public. The general public searches for terms like "Brown and Blue Coffee Mug" while potters search for "Cone 10 Stoneware wood fired mug" Maybe we should include all those tags to get the full range of customer.

Potters, especially academic potters do themselves a disservice this way. Just like back in English Composition class, you need to know who your audience is.  Who are you talking to? Will they know the terms you are putting in that tag cloud?

Any thoughts on this? Share them in the comments. Are you a potter or a customer who loves pottery?