I like to give credit for good ideas. I have made little elephant figurines for a many years. One night in a pottery class, my student Quianna Douglas said "I betcha can't make one doing a handstand." When I was done, she responded "showoff" which has become one of her nicknames for me (I completely agree), and also the name I've given those elephants. That was about a year ago, and since then the little showoffs have been a smash hit, winning over customers and galleries at an alarming rate. These days I make them while watching tv in the evenings. And here's the view inside the kiln that I opened this morning.
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.
I can't help myself. Last week in my Advanced Wheel class, we had a photo shoot. (Why did we have a photo shoot? I'll explain more at a later date.) This class is not just about wheel-throwing skill, the potters in this class are charged with developing a personal body of work. Which means they are also thinking comprehensively about design, and thinking for themselves! Excuse me while I burst with pride.
Mea Rhee (mee-uh ree),
American Craft Council Baltimore
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