Selling Pottery

June 20, 2008
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Potters frequently are not aware or do not fully consider costs that can impact the eventual profits on the sale of their pottery.

Anyone who has ever thrown, hand-built, RAM-pressed or slip-cast pottery is familiar with labor-intensive activity. From ordering the raw materials, storing, moving and forming the pottery to the eventual glazing and kiln firing of the ware, time and labor are the significant factors in the production cycle. The simple fact is, the more you touch the pottery the more expensive it is to produce.

However, potters frequently are not aware or do not fully consider other costs of production that can impact the eventual profits on the sale of their pottery. Listed are several of the pitfalls that potters can encounter just trying to sell their pots.

Wholesale Sales
Many potters are very pleased with themselves when they obtain a large wholesale order. While the dollar amount may seem impressive, the labor costs to produce such an order can leave the potter actually making a minimum wage or in some instances losing money. Before falling into such a trap, consider all aspects of production when selling your work at half of its retail price. While wholesale orders might be beneficial to machine-made, mass-production pottery, it goes against the economic realities of handmade pottery.

Shipping Pottery
Aside from the time it takes to carefully wrap pottery, packaging material and shipping costs have to be calculated into the final purchase price. Even with the most careful packaging, at some point a broken pot will result and need to be replaced and shipped again -- creating a double loss for the potter.

Craft Shows
While craft shows are an option for selling pottery, first calculate entry fees and travel expenses (can include gas, tolls, food and overnight accommodations). It is always a risk that expenses might exceed sales. As an alternative, choose a local craft show to minimize expenses. Also investigate the past selling history of the show and whether the event is suitable for your pottery. Such information can be obtained from other potters or past participants in the show.

Internet Sales
In the past few years, many potters have developed Web pages advertising their ware. The history of this type of selling indicates local people are more likely to visit the pottery studio to touch and see the work in person, as opposed to looking at an image on the computer screen. Pottery is a tactile medium that requires a hands-on experience for the customer.

Labor-Intensive Pots
Some pottery forms are extremely labor-intensive and there is an economic limit to what the potter can charge or the customer will pay. For example, one potter made coffee cups with intricate carved detailed images on all the vertical surfaces. While the cup looked impressive, the potter lost money because the selling price could not cover the labor. If the actual time and labor were calculated into the price of the cup, it would sell for $38.00. Aside from competing with commercially made cups, which sell for $ 1.80, they would have to compete with other potters selling cups for less.

Custom Orders
Special orders in which the customer chooses the glaze colors or the actual specifications of the pottery historically do not return the time and labor the potter invests in making such projects. It is always better to have the customer choose among pottery that already has been produced.

Purchasing Inferior Equipment
As a general rule, the cheap can turn out to be very expensive. Why try to save a few dollars on a pottery wheel, kiln, slab roller, or extruder if the piece of equipment is poorly designed and negatively impacts production? Furthermore, any repairs or replacements cost time and money slowing production. Considering the greatest cost is your own time and labor, anything else that has to be purchased should efficiently increase production and not break down.

While these examples are not the only way to lose money while making pottery, they illustrate the need for a careful marketing and selling strategy before making the commitment to sell pottery. Often the best piece of advice is to enroll in a series of business courses, since selling pottery is more about business than ceramics.

For a copy of this unabridged article, contact Jeff Zamek/Consulting Services, 6 Glendale Woods Dr., Southampton, MA 01073; ph 413 527 7337; www.fixpots.com.

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