(To catch up on, or refresh your memory about, all of the blog posts from The Hourly Earnings Project, click here
It has been about a year since I launched my online store in December of 2011. I think I have enough information now to write about it in the context of The Hourly Earnings Project. Weirdly, right up until I sat down to calculate this, I had no idea how this would turn out. All the work and all the income was spread out in bits and pieces over 13 months, I really didn't have any sense of how well the store was doing.
I chose BigCartel
to build the store and shopping cart. I know that Etsy
is a far more popular venue, but BigCartel fits my needs much better. I like that BigCartel offers a low-end free version, and that their not-free versions charge a flat monthly fee, rather than taking small percentages of my listings and sales like Etsy. I like the simplicity of that. I also like that BigCartel allows me to design my store to look like my own brand.
But here's the real meat of why I chose BigCartel over Etsy ... I really wasn't all that comfortable (and still am not) about selling a pot to a customer who hasn't seen it in person. I had a frustrating experience a few years ago when I tried to help a customer buy a pot via email. Although I had given her the dimensions of the pot in inches, once she received it she thought it was too small, and wanted to return it. This made me realize how many factors need to be communicated, and that it's not easy across the internet. The idea that the pots I sell online might not meet the customer's expectations is not ok with me.
Therefore, I wasn't interested in the customer base that Etsy could deliver to my store. My store is targeted only to my existing customers, who would like to purchase something when I am in between shows. The only people who receive any advertisements about the store are subscribers to my mailing list and Facebook fans. And my Store Policies page says:
"All sales are final. No returns or exchanges. I'd much rather sell you pottery in person at one of my shows, or have you visit one of my gallery partners, where you can thoroughly appreciate and inspect all of the qualities of handmade pottery before deciding to buy. But I understand that modern times require me to sell online as well. I ask you please do not make purchases from this store unless you are really sure."
Now that I've explained that my intentions for my online store are probably different from most artist's stores, let's get to the Hourly Earnings calculation. Here are the tasks that I counted when I timed myself:
• All of the same "making pots" tasks that I counted for the other Hourly Earnings calculations
• Building the online store
• Updating the online store
• Packing and shipping the orders
Before too long, I was able to pack/ship/account for an order of one pot in less than 15 minutes. For orders with multiple pots, it would take a little longer, but never more than 30 minutes. It seemed like a lot of work for selling one or two pots at a time, compared to the sales volume of wholesaling and art festivals. Was it? Keep reading.
I added up the gross sales of the pottery plus the shipping fees I collected. From that, I subtracted the following expenses:
• Shipping costs
• Paypal fees
• BigCartel fees
• Clay used
• Shipping boxes used
Just like all the other Hourly Earnings calculations, I did not subtract expenses that I could not quantify, such as packing materials, glazes, equipment use and maintenance, and utilities.
I made $31.60 per hour with the online store.
In other words, the online store yielded an Hourly Earnings figure in the same range as retail art festivals. In that sense, I am pleased. The time that I spent on this was not a waste of time. But in terms of the overall importance to my pottery business, here's another perspective: my gross sales from the online store over 13 months was less than I typically make at one weekend art festival. Also, out of the 13 months that the store existed, it was empty for 6 of those months, because I was busy with shows and wanted to have all of my inventory at the shows.
So I've decided that it is worth continuing. Overall, it yielded as much income as a somewhat-below-average art festival, and the time and effort required was a good match for the yield.
But I am going to make some changes going forward, now that I have some clearer bearings about how it works, and where it ranks on my priorities. I am going to downgrade my BigCartel account from the $9.99/month plan to the low-end free version. BigCartel allows me to upgrade and downgrade my account on a month-to-month basis, which is another reason why I chose them. I think that I only need the free version from now on. This means I will only be able to list five items for sale at a time. I'm willing to live with that. I will try to keep the store stocked all the time, not just when I'm in-between shows. And in the banner announcement that greets visitors to the store, I'll instruct customers to contact me if they are looking for a specific item they saw at a show. That's one thing that's not going to change, I'm still only targeting my existing customers who have already seen my pots in person. And finally, just during the month of December, I will upgrade my BigCartel account again, so I can list a whole bunch of items for the holiday shopping crowd. I'll leave open the possibility that I'll do that for one or two other months of the year, but for now the plan is to only do that in December. After all, more than two-thirds of my online sales so far were made during the last two Decembers.
Here is the bar chart from the Ceramics Monthly article that shows all of the Hourly Earnings calculations, only now I've added another bar for the online store.
Thanks to those of you who waited patiently for a year for me to gather enough data for this latest calculation. Again, if you want to catch up on all the previous Hourly Earnings blog posts, click here
. Or, for the somewhat condensed version that was printed in Ceramics Monthly, click here
I've begun the groundwork for the online store that I pledged to open in 2011. And yes, I am tracking my time and will eventually add this to The Hourly Earnings Project.
I'm very eager to see how it compares to my other avenues for selling. But patience is required, I decided to calculate the Hourly Earnings value at the end of next year
. It turns out that setting up an online store doesn't actually take that much time, which is nice. But it didn't seem fair to count that time towards a short time period of sales. After a year, I'll probably want to revamp and improve the online store anyways, so it makes sense to assign a year's worth of value to the setup time.
So here's my launch plan ... the online store will open on Monday, December 12. This is the day after my Holiday Open House. It will be a small launch. I'll take a few nice pots remaining after the open house, and offer them for sale online.
If you are on my mailing list
, or a facebook fan
, or a regular reader of this blog, you will get all the details soon!
This is the pottery fame I hinted about a few weeks ago. I have been featured in Ceramics Monthly!
If you are already a reader of this blog, the article will be familiar to you. The Hourly Earnings Project
was a year-long effort that was recorded on this blog. The editors of Ceramics Monthly asked me to develop it into an article last summer, then patiently waited through the end of the year while I finished collecting my research. It now appears in the current issue, which is their annual "Working Potters" issue (June/July/August 2011).
If you are visiting this blog for the first time, you can read all the raw material that went into the project by clicking the category The Hourly Earnings Project
. And there may be more analysis added to the project going forward, particularly on the subject of online sales, which I plan to venture into later this year.
I have already received so much wonderful feedback about the project. I'm thrilled that working potters find it useful.
If you don't subscribe to Ceramics Monthly
, you can read the article online
, or find it in your local bookstore.
This post is an offshoot of The Hourly Earnings Project
, which I wrote about all of last year. One of my observations about working as a potter was that I was unable to make pots for 8 hours per day, like a normal job, because it was too physically taxing. Going forward, I need to stretch my ability to make more pots per day, or work for longer hours, in order to grow my business.
Yesterday, I started working on a new wholesale order, worth $540. Which means the market value of these pots is $1080. I challenged myself to make the entire order in one cycle of throwing and trimming. I managed to throw everything in one day, and get most of the handbuilding done. Today, I trimmed all the thrown pots, added handles, and finished the handbuilding. I worked 5.25 hours the first day, and 5.5 hours the second day. I took a 30 minute snack break each day. For me, those are pretty long hours. Last year, I would typically throw for 2 to 4 hours per day. My back is a little tired, but thankfully, no butt pain
So now this is my new benchmark for what I consider a "very productive" work pace: in a 2-day cycle of throwing, trimming, and handbuilding, I need to produce about $1000 worth of inventory.
This is the fourth year that I've held an Open House around the holidays, and it has become a thoroughly productive event for my business. Not only do I sell a lot of pots, I get to unload all the seconds that have accumulated in the past year, and float out new designs to see how my existing customers react. (new sugar+creamer sold in 15 minutes, new dinnerware was a smash hit.) It's a good way to end the year, and to gain some direction for the next year.
An Open House is very different from an art festival on many, many fronts. For starters, there's no booth fee! However, just like a good art festival will spend your booth fee on marketing and infrastructure, you must do the same for yourself. I printed and mailed a postcard invitation, and provided food and snacks for my customers and my guest artist (photographer Laura DeNardo
). Those expenses added up to $318, which is still less than the booth fee of most good-quality art festivals.
The time and labor requirements are very different too. The middleman known as my car is eliminated. I only need to move my display and pots from one room in my house to another room. Much easier. But, and this is a big "but," I also have to remove the furniture from my living and dining rooms, and thoroughly clean the place! The net result is ... setup and takedown for an Open House takes more
time than taking my display and pots to a festival site. Here is my living room transformed into a showroom, and my guest artist, Laura, with her photographs.
But, and this is an even bigger "but," here's where an Open House is far more efficient with time. Unlike the casual browsers that must be seduced at an art festival, the attendees at an Open House are already fans. They have signed up for my mailing list, responded to an invitation, and gone out of their way to a private residence with the intention of buying. This means the selling can be condensed into much shorter hours. We were open for 5 hours on Saturday, and 4 hours on Sunday. That's not even long enough to need a pee break. And compare that to the 28 hour marathon that was Artscape Baltimore.
For the first time, my gross sales at the Open House were actually higher than Artscape. After factoring in all the differences in cost and time, I earned $46.81 per hour. In other words, the Open House blew away all other forums for selling.
This is officially the end of The Hourly Earnings Project
! Looking back, I'm really glad to have undertaken this year-long exercise. I am earning a respectable wage for my work, and now I know it. Looking forward, it'll be nice to get back in the studio without a stopwatch.
I may not put the stopwatch away for good. I plan to add an online storefront, on a small scale, to my business next year. So possibly at this time next year, I will write about the hourly earnings of online sales.
Happy holidays to all! It sure feels like winter now, it is fr-fr-fr-freezing here in Maryland!
The American Visionary Art Museum
in Baltimore is the kind of place that makes me feel good about the arts world. So much of the arts world is snooty and elitist, and takes itself way too seriously. But AVAM is filled with originality, humanity, and fun. And it's wildly successful. Every year they produce a holiday art show called BAZAART. It's pretty small with only 50 artists, and is held indoors in their gorgeous reception hall. I had a feeling it would draw a good crowd, and that folks would be eager to shop on Thanksgiving weekend.
This is the fourth retail art festival that I've chronicled in The Hourly Earnings Project
, and I am starting to draw some conclusions that I wasn't expecting. After the first two shows, the big art festival and the little art festival, it appeared that income from art festivals was widely variable and unpredictable. At BAZAART, I made $36.32 per hour. This is the best I've done all year, but still three of the four shows had an hourly earnings value within a pretty close range of each other. The fourth show, which was a stinker in terms of sales, now looks like an aberration.
It's not as unpredictable as I thought. However, what's clear now is that predictability and success come with choosing the right shows.
No longer will I rationalize like "well the booth fee is so cheap" or "the person in charge is so sweet." That's not enough substance for me to commit my time. Substance comes in the form of location, venue, expertise, longevity, reputation, time of year, and the quality of the art. I'm lucky to live in a region with lots of good events, but for every good show there are half-a-dozen wannabes. It's not always easy to see the difference, so I thoroughly expect to snore through some more duds along the way. But if I charge myself with making good decisions, I think I can make the outcomes predictable most of the time.
Maybe some artists would consider the Bethesda Row Arts Festival a "large" art festival, with about 200 artists. But I am calling it "medium-sized" in comparison to the Artscape Baltimore festival that I wrote about in Part 3 of The Hourly Earnings Project
. Bethesda Row is mostly just an artists' market. It lasts for 2 days with reasonable daytime hours. At Artscape, the artists' market is only one of the multi-faceted activities at the event, and it is held for 3 days that stretch late into the night.
But even though this is a smaller event in terms of size, it is higher on the "fanciness" scale. Bethesda is an upscale neighborhood just outside the DC border. It is dense and urban but without the hard edges of Baltimore. A surprising number of patrons walk through the festival in high heels! Overall, the crowd was huge but the noise level was quiet and refined.
This is the third year I've done this show. In 2008, the show took place right after a stock market crash, and the weather was gray and cold. Last year in 2009, the show was awash with torrential rain. Both times, I left thinking the sales were pretty good considering the conditions. This year, we were fortunate to have some sunny, crisp, early fall weather, and the economy seems to be on steadier ground. Sales were brisk! And not just for me, I saw lots of art being carried away to their new homes.
So where did it land on the Hourly Earnings scale? $32.20. Not quite as good as Artscape, but way better than the "small" art festival. And still better than all of the wholesale calculations.
One final note ... this show plays a big role in my Holiday Open House, which will be the subject of one these calculations in December. My house is only ten minutes from Bethesda, therefore I use this show to promote the heck out of the upcoming Open House. I almost ran out of flyers!
Here is the fourth installment of my project, once again analyzing the retail
side of my business. (To read Parts 1-3, click on the category The Hourly Earnings Project
) This time I calculated my earnings from a little art festival, called "Arts in the Park." The setting for the event was postcard perfect (Cromwell Valley Park in Towson, Md.) and the hint-of-fall weather was ideal for being outdoors.
I did my homework before signing up, I visited the show when they held it in the spring. I saw several artists exhibiting there whose work I really like. Their feedback about the show was generally positive. The weather during that spring show was chilly and windy, but the crowd was full and I saw lots of buying. One artist said she had also done the fall show several times, and it was even better than the spring show. Based on these comments, I signed up.
This is a good quality show, even though it's small. My intention for this Hourly Earnings Project is not to compare good shows with bad shows. I think the pointlessness of that is obvious. This post is meant to compare small shows with big shows.
There are lots of differences between the process of doing a small show vs. a big show. The scale of everything is very different. A small show takes much less planning and heavy lifting. The hours are usually shorter. Not to mention, it's a lot cheaper to do a small show. During the show, I often felt like I was just relaxing in a beautiful park. When it was over, I wasn't even very tired (unlike after Artscape when I felt like a cooked noodle).
So is it better to spend my effort selling at a big show or a little show? I added up the hours I spent on all the same tasks as before. I subtracted all the same expenses from my sales total as I did before. And at the little show, I made $16.66 per hour.
Ugh!! That stinks!
Remember how I said I felt like I was relaxing in a park? That's because there were no customers around. I chatted with several other artists who had done this fall show before, and they were baffled by the sparse attendance. With the exception of a painter who sold a few high-ticket works, everybody else I talked to had a bad show.
We'll probably never know exactly why this year was much different than previous years. The art was of good quality, the weather was sparkling, and the troubled economy is not a new factor anymore.
My conclusion, which is based on doing many small shows in the past and not just this one, is that small shows are far riskier than big shows. Even when they look promising, they don't have enough presence to draw crowds consistently. I'm generalizing of course, I do know of a small show that is a real gem and very consistent, so there are some exceptions. But that's rare!
And I'm not saying that big shows are always good. Some of them are overpriced and overproduced. I'm saying that if you put your brain into choosing carefully, a big show that is well-established and expertly-produced has more substantial qualities. Such as credibility, momentum, and high expectations. Small shows have nice qualities like friendliness and good intentions, maybe that's meaningful to other artists. But to those of us who are trying to earn a livable income, those things don't have much value.
Maybe another way to put it is "anything worth doing takes a lot of hard work." I will no longer be tempted by shows because they look easy or cheap. The ones that are worthwhile will require more of me. These investments will only pay me back if I exercise good judgement. I shouldn't rely on luck. Success at a small show is way too dependent on luck.
This is one of my favorite scenes at the Artscape Baltimore
festival every year ... the Parade of Art Cars. Someday when my Subaru is a 20-year-old rustbucket, it's gonna get this treatment.
This is the third installment of my Hourly Earnings Project, and the first to analyze the retail
side of my business.
(To read the first two installments, click on the category The Hourly Earnings Project
I've wondered for a long time whether wholesaling or retailing is more profitable for a pottery business. There are clear advantages and disadvantages to both. In the long run, I think it makes sense to do both. Hopefully by the end of this year, I will have figured out which is really better, and therefore I can make informed choices about how to spend my time and resources.
Artscape Baltimore is my favorite art festival, narrowly edging out my second favorite. It is produced by the city of Baltimore, and it is a huge and multi-faceted spectacle of a weekend. I am always impressed by the scale of the event, the shear number of activities going on, and the size and diversity of the crowd. I've done it for eight years now, and even with the churning economy of the past few years, my sales there have grown every year. I typically come home with less than one box of pots, and a money apron bulging with cash and receipts. However, in the context of hourly earnings, this show has a big disadvantage: crazy long hours. That's 10 hours each on Friday and Saturday, and 8 more on Sunday. 28 hours total. But on a different measuring scale, my income from this weekend now equals a busy month of graphic design work. So regardless of how it ranks on the hourly earnings scale, this show is worth spending all those hours in the scorching city heat, and I will continue to apply for it.
Now on to the calculation of hourly earnings. It was a little tricky determining how many hours it took to produce the pots I sold. I didn't produce them all in one continuous time block like a wholesale order. Some of the pots were made last year. Some were made as demos in my classes. Some were rescued from a consignment gallery and were years old. So bear with me while I explain how I figured it out.
I used the data I collected from the three wholesale orders that I previously wrote about. From the total number of hours spent, I subtracted the time spent on wholesale-specific tasks: bubble-wrapping, packing boxes for shipment, and accounting. From the total sales amount of these three orders, I subtracted the expenses for clay, but not for wholesale-specific expenses: shipping boxes and Buyers Market expenses.
I divided the remaining sales amount by the remaining number of hours, and I call this number the dollars-per-hour just to produce pots and apply hang tags, without factoring the time and costs it takes to sell them. I multiplied this number by two, because my retail prices are double my wholesale prices. Then, I took the total sales amount from the show, and divided it by this number, and this gave me the number of hours it took to produce and tag the pots I sold.
(sidebar: notice that I am only counting my earnings for the pots I sold
, not all the pots I brought
to the show. This is an important point about my whole project ... no matter how hard you work at making pots, or how talented you are, you are not entitled to earn income for it. You only make money when you complete the cycle of finding customers and selling your work. For the unsold pots that I brought home, the time I spent to make those still has a value of $0.)
There are lots of other hours required to do a festival, so I added the time spent on the following tasks:
• writing and sending a blast email (surprised to realize I spent 1.25 hours on this)
• packing my pots and my display into my car, and unpacking afterwards
• setting up my display, and taking it down
• those 28 hours of selling
• accounting (takes much longer for retail; for wholesale I only write one invoice, for retail I spent 1.5 hours adding up receipts, counting cash, and processing the credit cards)
From the total sales amount, I subtracted the following expenses:
• booth fee and application fee
• credit card merchant fees
• some artery-clogging, but irresistible, festival food
Finally, I divided the remaining dollar amount by the total number of hours involved, and I made $35.05 per hour.
So after analyzing one retail show, even despite its long hours, retail is kicking wholesale in the butt. Hmmm. Maybe it's not fair to make conclusions now, let's see how the other shows fare throughout the rest of the year.
My next installment will be written in early September, titled "Little Art Festival." It will analyze a small and locally-minded event, with short hours and a tiny booth fee.
Just like the first installment of this research project, this second installment is about the wholesale
side of my pottery business.
(To read the first installment, scroll down to "Hourly Earnings, Part 1
," which explains the whole backstory for this project, including motivations and methodology.)
I compared two different wholesale orders side-by-side. Their total sales amount were nearly the same. They were due on the same date, therefore they were going through my studio at the same time. But there was a significant difference between them. One of them consisted mostly of everyday functional items, bowls and mugs and such, whose retail prices range from $25 to $120. The other order consisted mostly of my "fancy" line of pottery, which are oversized serving pieces that are hand-carved with illustrations, whose retail prices range from $180 to $350.
The everyday pieces are quick to produce ... I wouldn't offer them for wholesale unless I knew I had a good command of them (a lesson learned the hard way). The fancy pieces are strenuous and time-consuming, more prone to failure, and space hogs in the kiln.
I followed the same parameters as before, in terms of the minutes I tracked and didn't track, and the expenses I tracked and didn't track. (again, scroll down to "Hourly Earnings, Part 1
" for the complete methodology). And here are the results ... for the order of everyday items, I made $20.18 per hour. For the order of fancy items, I made $29.58 per hour.
I guess this is good news and bad news. On the positive side, these results verify the results of the first calculation (a much bigger order that combined low- and high-priced items, the result was $24.74 per hour). So now I feel confident that I am doing a consistent job of tracking my time. And I am really proud of my fancy line of work. It took me a lot of time and thought to develop these pieces, they are honest reflections of my aesthetic values, and I am happy to see that the effort is paying off.
But truthfully, I'm a little bummed. Because everyday functional items are my true love. My reason for being. I feel thoroughly requited when I look across a table full of identical pots. How many jobs can make you feel like that, after a long day of work? But I've had inklings for years that they weren't very profitable, which is why I started developing an upscale line. Here's the typical conversation that happens in my head when I sell an extra-large carved platter:
"How many mugs do I need to sell to equal that income?"
"That would be eight."
"But mugs are so much faster to make."
"What about those pulled handles?"
"And what about the energy it takes to make eight sales instead of one?"
And now my inklings are being confirmed. I wish the difference wasn't so big.
I'm going to process this with both my idealistic and realistic voices. It would be smart to expand the upscale line of work. But I refuse to abandon the everyday things, because that would be so not worth it.
Coming soon ... my next calculation will happen in mid-July, after my first retail art festival of the year.