Losing Money, Wasting Time

March 23, 2010
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If you are making pottery for sale or just doing it as a hobby, there is one fact that always holds true: The more you touch the clay, the more expensive it is to make the pots. This rule encompasses all aspects of working with clay. If you mix your own clay or reprocess clay trimmings, it’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive activity the impacts the time and energy left to make pots.

Buying pre-mixed clay also presents some labor-intensive situations, such as getting the clay delivered to your driveway or under your wedging table. For instance, carrying each 50 lb box of clay into your studio costs you time and labor. Ask your ceramics supplier to deliver the moist clay as close as possible to your work area in the studio (ideally, under your wedging table).

Another area of concern for the potter is the cost of buying commercial glazes, as opposed to mixing your own formulas. The difference in price between the two types of glaze can be surprising. For example, one gallon of clear glaze sells for $29.49. A similar glaze mixed in the studio would cost approximately $4.50 in raw materials. Even if you factor in the time needed to mix your own glaze, the savings could be significant.

Your time and labor are the highest costs you will face in making pottery. Even the prices of supplies, raw materials and pre-mixed clays are not as relevant. The same model also applies to other areas of production. If a more-expensive, better-quality pottery wheel enables you to make pots faster and with less effort, it is well worth the extra cost. If you are selling pottery, the cost of wheels, work tables or kilns should be factored in such a way as to determine the payback period for the equipment purchased. For example, $25,000 spent on a 20 cu ft kiln might produce $1000 to $1500 worth of retail-priced pottery per kiln firing.

Aside from time and labor factors, potters often under-price their ware. In fact, many potters do not know where they are on the supply and demand curve when selling their pottery. If their pricing is too high, not many pots will sell. If their pricing is too low, many pots might sell but at little or no profit.

The real question is: How high can you price your pots and still sell them without losing a sale? Try making some pots that are slightly different from the rest of the same type. For example, make several bowls with a different glaze color from your standard production bowls. Price the “special glazed” bowls 15-20% higher. This way, while some customers might purchase the higher-priced bowls, the sale will not be lost since lower-priced bowls are also available.

The potters who are best at selling pots were often businesspeople first and then became potters. On the other hand, potters who start off selling pots have to become businesspeople at some point. These are just a few suggestions (out of many) that will result in lower labor expenditures and higher profit margins.

At some point, working harder will only produce marginal gains. Potters must work and plan smarter to achieve their goals.

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