I made new curtain walls for my pottery booth, which I will use at the ACC Baltimore show for the first time. My existing curtain walls were just fine, except that they weren't fire retardant. There are a lot of show venues, including the Baltimore Convention Center, where all of your booth materials must meet fire code standards. The exhibitor manual for this show literally says that a fire inspector is allowed to try to set your booth on fire, just to make sure they can't. The first time I did the ACC Baltimore show, back in 2007, I bought a gallon of fire retardant chemicals and treated all the fabrics in my booth. By the end of the show, my throat was burning from the harsh smell of the chemicals, and I was pretty sure I had shortened my life span by a little. I also never caught whiff of any fire inspectors. So since then, I've been doing shows with untreated fabric curtains, and just crossing my fingers that the fire inspectors wouldn't notice me. But not anymore. I found an affordable, white fabric from Rose Brand, a company that sells theatre backdrop supplies. It is made of fibers that are inherently fire retardant, rather than chemically treated. It doesn't smell like anything, and this also means I can wash and dry it without affecting the fire retardancy. Now I'm hoping a fire inspector will visit me!
Also, notice the name I applied to the backdrop. The name of my company is still Good Elephant Pottery, but from now on I'm going to use this shorter version whenever it makes sense. Such as when someone is standing inside my booth at any show, I think the word "pottery" will go without saying.
I think it's been about three years since I last made a major change to my web look. It was time, and the new look fits with some new directions that I am planning to take the business starting this year. I'm still using Weebly and loving it. Though right now I'm feeling grateful for my brilliant dad, who insisted on teaching me HTML back when I was starting my graphic design business years ago. This allowed me make a Weebly template look totally custom. I hope you like it!
(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.
Carla Gladstone had her kitchen remodeled last year. Soon after, she realized that having a plastic bottle of dish soap next to her beautiful new sink and faucet was giving her "aesthetic indigestion," which she cured by buying a handmade Soap Pump from me. This year she added one of my Butter Dishes to use as a sponge holder, then sent me this picture. btw, the tiles in the backsplash are replica Art Nouveau tiles from New Zealand, which she found at an antique store in Kensington, Md. I agree with her that the intense colors look great with the warm neutrals of the pottery. And it tickles me to see how my pots are living out in the real world. If anyone else want to send me photos of my pots in their new homes, I'd love to see them!
After doing four shows in four weekends, I will admit with no shame that I spent most of last week sitting on the couch with my feet up, watching the Food Network, and talking to nobody except my cat Olive. Olive really dislikes the annual Open House (there she is lurking behind my display), so she gets a lot of attention after putting up with all that commotion.
I also had time to input all of my sales from the holiday season into Quickbooks, and obsess over all the numbers from 2012. This was a year of change, as I wrote about last spring. I began the year by skipping the Buyers Market trade show, and instead implementing a different plan for obtaining wholesale orders. My plan also included adding more retail art festivals to my schedule. I'm happy to report that it worked out great, on many levels. I was hoping my plan would yield 50% of 2011's wholesale orders. I ended up getting 65%. As for retail shows, I did eleven! Compared to six from the year before. OK, some of them were not great choices. But overall, I increased my retail sales by a healthy amount, over 30% more. My gross sales came very close to my 2011 gross sales. In terms of net profit, after I factor in the $3000 I saved by skipping the trade show, I came out way ahead.
Here's the best part ... I did not feel overworked! Yes, there were times when I felt very busy, but I never felt like I was out of gas. I even took two vacations this year. In 2010 and 2011, the wholesale workload was at times overwhelming. Sometimes I felt exhausted to the point of frustration, and trapped in what i call the "self-employed workaholic's dilemma" (we hate how much we have to work, but we're terrified the work will go away). I didn't want my pottery business to feel like that, and this was my motivation to make these changes.
All the additional festivals also forced me to change a lot about my festival display. It used to take me 3.5 hours to setup, now I can do it in 2 hours and 15 minutes. Basically, I just paid attention to the what was very time-consuming, or overly strenuous, or unwieldy, and eliminated them. Collapsible risers, gone. Replaced with low shelves with snap-together uprights. Floor mats, see-ya-later. Kraft paper roll dispenser, buh-bye. Folding wood director's chair that required a screwdriver to assemble, thanks for your years of service, you've been replaced. The display evolved throughout the year and I finally felt like it worked great during the November shows. Now I've got a really functional, efficient, and good-looking setup to use all of next year.
Gone are all of my symptoms of workaholism ... the pale skin, knotted muscles, and the vitamin D deficiency. Now I get plenty of rest, and I spend lots of time outdoors with my newfound passion for running. Not to mention, more running is another reason why I can get all my pottery work done without getting tired. Energy breeds energy. Balance breeds balance.
Since I don't really care about any of this Mayan calendar business, I am making plans for 2013. It's going to start with another major change. I did one graphic design project last January/February, which I've done for the last ten years or so. For 2013, I turned it down! Better yet, I recommended a friend to take over the account, and he got it. Win-win. 2013 will be my first 100% pottery year. I know I can do without the design project's income, but still I would like to parlay that time into improving the pottery business. Plans are brewing, involving both wholesale and retail. I'll write about them in more detail in the coming months. Some of them I'm still figuring out.
Happy and warm holidays to all the potters and pottery fans!
First of all, big thanks to everyone who came to my Open House this weekend! My holiday show season is now over, so I have placed some of my remaining pieces for sale in the Online Store. These pieces will be available through December 31, 2012. After that, I will be changing the way I use the store, which I will thoroughly explain when I write my Hourly Earnings analysis about the online store, right after the end of the year.
Happy shopping, and happy holidays to all! http://goodelephant.bigcartel.com
It's here! This weekend is my Sixth Annual Holiday Open House, and once again I have new designs to show off. The feedback I get from my regular customers at this event helps to shape my offerings for the next year. What do you think of these?
This is my new design for a Sugar + Cream Set. Minimal and multi-functional, two of my favorite adjectives. About 4.5 inches across. $55/set.
I have been making long, narrow, rectangular plates for many years. There were times when the rectangles drove me mad (read why), and I've dreamed of redesigning them as ovals for a long time. Here they are! 7.5in Butter Dish $15; 10in Olive Dish $22; 15in Serving Tray $50.
I have offered different versions of this idea before, here is my latest design of a reversible pot that is both a candlestand and a vase. 6in tall. $38 each.
One of the mantras of a working potter is "work faster" and I try to live by that as much as possible. But every once in a while, it feels great to spend way too much time fussing over a few pots. Textured Jars with Wire Handles, about 5in tall, $65 each.
A new form for my slip-carved illustrations, Heron Jar with Reed Handle, 8in tall, $140.
This bowl was recently pictured on this blog at the bottom of a stack of bowls made by my students. I call it the Clouds Bowl. 9.75in across, $65.
And at this year's event, I am pleased to welcome Royce Yoder as my guest potter! Royce and I have been friends for almost ten years, and he was my role model for venturing into the wholesale side of the craft industry. Preview his work at royceyoderpotter.com.
Good Elephant Pottery's Sixth Annual Holiday Open House
Saturday, December 8, noon - 5pm
Sunday, December 9, noon - 4pm
We all noticed the hedgehog at the wood kiln, before it went into the kiln. And when it emerged from the kiln, we knew it was something special. It has a little bit of black iron oxide on its nose, but otherwise all of its tones and shine were bestowed by the kiln. Last weekend at the Festival of Lights, we jokingly fought over it, trying to outbid each other for the right to buy it. Its maker, Karen Riedlinger, wasn't sure how to price it. It's such a little guy, after all. After some discussion, we chose a price that was higher than Karen was really comfortable with, but she agreed to try it and see what would happen. We placed it on a riser facing the entrance of the show, so it could act as our greeter.
When the show opened, we watched as people came into the room, made a beeline for the hedgehog, picked it up, and admired it. About a half-hour later, somebody bought it. "We should have charged more!" I said. But I was kidding, it had already fetched a very handsome price. And thus a legend was born. The cherished little hedgehog was given an important job, which it performed brilliantly for a very short period of time, and then it was gone.
btw, the booth looks spectacular, doesn't it? The quality gets better every year. When I gush about how talented my students are, I am not kidding!
"Level 5 Pottery" is the new name that was given to my most advanced class at the Greenbelt Community Center. This weekend, the Center is hosting its annual Festival of Lights, where my students and I will have a large booth. Here's a preview of our work:
I know you're impressed, because they impress me every week! And we'll have many more sure-to-knock-your-socks-off wares, in every price range. And if you're interested in taking the best pottery classes in the DC metro area, this weekend is a good chance to tour our studios/classrooms, and meet the instructors (most of whom are also in the Festival).
Greenbelt's Festival of Lights
Greenbelt Community Center
15 Crescent Road, Greenbelt MD 20770
Saturday, December 1, 10am - 5pm
Sunday, December 2, 11am - 4pm
One of the projects I recently gave to my Level 4 students was a serving bowl with a "one-curve" basin, a tall footring, and a flared and carved rim. That's a pretty complex assignment, but as usual, they attacked it and they crushed it! A week or so later, I came across all of these bowls in a tidy stack in the kiln room. My bowl was at the bottom of the stack, so I just decided to carry them all over to the classroom. What a pretty sight!