If you can't tell, I have extra money right now. 2014 was a record year for the pottery business. I'm still wrapping my head around the numbers. During the fall months, I realized I needed to write this post. It is a follow up to The Hourly Earnings Project. It has been four years since I finished it. I can clearly see how it drove the development of my business since then.
(If you are new to this blog, The Hourly Earnings Project was a year-long analysis of my pottery business, conducted in 2010. I tracked my income earned and my time spent, and calculated how much I was earning per hour. I also compared the hourly earnings values for various revenue sources. You can read all of the blog posts here, or you can read the condensed version that was published in Ceramics Monthly in the summer of 2011.)
My business operates at a much higher level now. My gross sales in 2014 were (believe it or not) more than double my gross sales of 2010. In 2010, I made enough income to support myself financially while living on a very shoestring budget. I was happy to give up my expendable-income lifestyle, in exchange for full-time pottery. I like peanut butter sandwiches. I was not expecting to return to my previous income level. But in 2014, I did.
There are some things about me and my work that changed in the past four years, which are not related to The Hourly Earnings Project:
• The quality, design, and craftsmanship of my work is much better now. Many of my prices have increased.
• My production speed is much faster now. And my endurance for working is much improved. In 2010, I noted that my typical studio day was 3 to 5 hours long, which would leave me tired and sore. These days, I comfortably work 6 to 8 hour days.
• In May 2013, I renovated my studio and purchased a second kiln. These things caused a significant increase in production too.
• At the end of 2013, I gave up my part-time job teaching pottery classes. This freed up a lot of time to spend on my business.
Now for the areas where The Hourly Earnings Project has made a difference. Here is the graph that illustrates its overall findings:
In 2010, my income was split almost exactly in half, between wholesale work and retail (art festival) work. The Hourly Earnings Project showed me that retail work was a much better use of my time. It yielded 32% more income than wholesale. ($32/hour vs. $24/hour) By the time I finished these calculations, I had already committed to and paid for a booth at a wholesale trade show at the beginning of 2011. So I spent one more year earning half of my income with wholesale work. I had a respectable 24% increase in gross sales in 2011.
Then in 2012, I changed direction. I skipped all the trade shows, and instead I solicited orders directly from my existing gallery accounts. I cut my wholesale workload to 65% of the previous year's orders, and I made up for the income by increasing my art festivals from 6 to 11. I wrote on my blog at the end of 2012, that I felt like I had taken back control of my business. I made slightly more income in 2012 as I did in 2011, but with a lot fewer pots and without feeling exhausted.
In 2013, I pushed even further in this direction. Given that I had leftover energy at the end of 2012, I knew I could expand. I took aim at a productivity ceiling that I had been battling for a couple of years ... the one-kiln situation. I wanted a second kiln. In order to make room for a second kiln, I had to renovate my space. As noted above, this happened in the spring of 2013. I managed to keep my wholesale income steady, while increasing my art festivals to 14. I was able to add some high quality shows (in particular ACC Baltimore, and the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen shows). Even though I missed 5 weeks of work due to the studio renovation, my gross sales increased by a whopping 44%. Hooray for a two-kiln situation!
Which brings me to 2014. Once again, I managed to keep my wholesale income steady, without attending any trade shows. I did 14 shows again, and continued to add great shows (such as the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts). At some of the shows I've done for many years, I had record-shattering sales (like Artscape Baltimore, and Bethesda Row). My gross sales grew by another 41%. Holy crap!
My wholesale income is now only 13% of my gross. My decision to focus on retail work has really paid off.
(A side note about art festival income ... learning how to be a good festival artist is a lot like learning how to make pots. It takes a lot of practice and repetition. My approach to doing shows now is much different than a few years ago, born out of the sheer number of shows I've done. I will write in detail about my current approach in a future blog post, I promise.)
One more topic to cover here ... online sales. I launched my online store in December 2011, and calculated its Hourly Earnings value over the subsequent year. (This came after the Ceramics Monthly article, which is why it didn't appear there.) As you can see in the graph above, online sales have almost the same Hourly Earnings value as retail sales. But as I noted in this blog post, the volume of online selling is so low. And as I've mentioned a few times on this blog, I really don't like packing and shipping. I planned to keep the online store open anyways, but by the middle of 2013, I had lost interest. I stocked the store sporadically for a while, then came up with a better plan near the end of 2013. Now I keep it closed for 11.5 months of the year. When my annual Open Studio is over, which is my last show of the year, I open the online store for the last two weeks of December. The sales don't happen over two weeks, they all happen during the first two days. I don't mind the packing and shipping when it is confined to two days, especially because I don't have anything else to do except process online orders. The sales volume seems more lucrative, but I know that's just an illusion because they happen all at once. Overall, I'm happy with these boundaries. Once again, I'm going to praise BigCartel, for having flexible plans that allow me to have things my way.
Onward to 2015! I have no expectations to exceed my monster sales of 2014. But at the same time, I think there are good reasons to be optimistic.