Monday, September 19, 2016

more, better, faster

Potters are generally people who like to get things done. When you're on the wheel, you can whip off cup after cup, bowl after bowl in a matter of minutes. When you get good at making pottery, it's easy to be productive, and we like to be productive. To be a successful potter, it's all about production, which comes down to this: more, better, faster.

When I first started creating the new body of work I'm into now, it forced me to slow down because I didn't know what I was doing. The technique and approach meant that making one piece could take a half day or more, which short-circuited my production-oriented mind. But I did what I always do, what all potters do, which is problem solve and figure out better ways of doing things so I could move faster through the process and make more work. This is all well and good, since getting bogged down in a slow, labor intensive and repetitve process is torture. Unless you like that kind of thing. And if you do, you are likely not a potter.

I've come up with two different collections that I can make relatively easily and don't have a lot of things that can go wrong, which makes it ideal for wholesale. I haven't done a push for wholesale accounts in years, because I've managed to sell my work on my own without having to mark it down to wholesale prices. But sales are still slow, so I feel like I need to get more work out there through wholesale.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you know I do not like wholesale. I have to come up with a price that's low enough for retailers to be able to double the price and still be able to sell the piece, which just puts any maker into kind of a bad spot. Because then I have to sell the piece for that same price, I can't undercut my retailers. It's a very uncomfortable balancing act. And I wonder is it's even worth it-- it's not like the retailers are banging the door down anyway. Would it be better to just give a lower price to my own customers and forget wholesale completely, once and for all? I would rather have one good customer of my own over any single wholesale account any day.

But then the question is, how much can you lower your price before you start undermining the value of your own work? I think having a lot of wholesale accounts can erode a pottery business' finances because you're doing all of the work for half the pay, but there is the fact that they are marketing your work at a certain price point, creating an expectation of what your work will cost. Does that balance out the cost to the business?

A lot of questions today, and not a lot of answers. I'd love to know what you think. Go ahead, tell me what to do!


  1. I have had the same thoughts about wholesale, I don't feel I can raise my price and it wouldn't be worth my time to sell at 50% off at the same time so much work goes into selling your own work. Your work is beautiful by the way!

  2. Hi All, Wholesale is something I have dabbled with in the past two years. I had accounts from Alaska to Maine and it was exciting in the beginning then, I realized the amount of work it was taking to keep up and then the amount of money I was making that did not seem to match the work. I stepped back and made changes. I kept the best wholesale accounts and increased my price slightly over time, I kept a few galleries that also do well. While the money isnt what it was, it gives me time to make quality pieces and contemplate which shows I want to pick back up (I let shows lapse while doing full scale wholesale). I am not saying this is the BEST way to go about it but each of these avenues offer a benefit. Income...exposure...interaction with customers and time. I dont believe putting all of your pottery in one basket is a good strategy. Penelope--

    1. It seems like you went the same trajectory I did when I started full-on wholesale around 2006. And I feel like I am repeating the pattern 10 years later! It's a good reminder that a wholesale pottery business is not realistic for most artists, and it has to be kept at a certain level or it eats up all the studio time.

  3. I am also suffering the wholesale dilemma! I went to mostly wholesaling whne my daughter was born 9 years ago, and now feeling kind of stuck! while it's nice to deliver pots and get a cheque, it is hard to see above the wholesale rut of making the same objects over and over and never seeming to get ahead or find time for new things (that take time to figure out and develop). I have been pondering cutting some wholesalers and doing more shows, but shows are also a crapshoot and never any guarantees for sales! I have been turning down galleries for the past couple of years because I have reached my maximum production. it's hard to say no when folks want your work! luckily I have great galleries who are supportive of price increases (sometimes even suggesting them!)
    I would love to have someone tell me what the best thing to do is to be most productive and viable in business terms (naturally it's different for everyone...) and happy and feeling creative in the studio. anyone want to tell me what to do?
    Faro, Dirty Girl Clayworks

    1. I'll tell you what to do even though I don't even know what I should do :) I think when you reach that point where it's almost all wholesale and you're in the rut, you have to make some changes before you burn out. I would start by dropping 25-50% of your worst-performing accounts (depending on what you can afford to do), keeping the ones who are supportive and who you enjoy working with, and don't take any new accounts unless there is a very good reason to take them on. Raise your prices on your best-selling items, and double down on promoting your work through whatever means you have, directing people to your own website. Set aside some of the time you would normally use for grinding out orders and make it only for developing new work, making sure it's at a regular time each week. Start there! I feel so much better telling other people what to do.

    2. thanks whitney.
      this is almost exactly what I have been trying to do all year! but got waylaid by unexpected turns in life...I did manage the price raises, and have been sketching new ideas. am going to power through the xmas madness and start fresh in January. hopefully take a day a week to play in the studio and muse about things online, which is not my forte....
      sometimes one needs permission from someone else to do the things we know need doing!
      faro, dirty girl clayworks

    3. The important thing is not that you do it quickly, or all at once, but that you have the goal in mind and you find ways to work steadily toward it. It takes so long to turn the ship around, and I wish you the best of luck doing it!