Watch Your Time

October 1, 2008
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Time is the one element in making pottery that cannot be replaced if lost. Remember, the more you touch the pots, the greater the cost. After surveying all aspects of making and selling pottery, the one factor that dominates everything is labor. Decoration, forming techniques, design elements, glazing, kiln firing cycles, finished pot handling and packaging all use labor and must be as efficient as possible.

Pots should be designed with all aspects of production carrying their own efficiency and contributing to an eventual profit. Potters should use clay bodies, glazes, kiln firing atmospheres, temperatures, and decorative techniques with wide tolerances and increased success rates. Reliability and consistency should be the basis for choosing equipment, materials and techniques. Clay bodies and glazes with narrow tolerances in terms of firing temperatures or kiln atmosphere conditions will not produce reliable consistent pottery. Glazes with short maturing ranges, which can easily be under- or over-fired, will not be reliable or profitable. If a favorite glaze or clay body depends on firing exactly to a specific pyrometric cone and does not do well at one cone lower or higher, the glaze or clay body should be dropped from the production line.

For potters firing with hydrocarbon-based fuels, such as natural gas propane, wood, oil or coal, kiln atmosphere that is not consistent can hinder the production of pottery. Many potters face a situation where they publish a catalog of their work or send out actual samples and cannot reproduce the pottery in subsequent firings. Much time and labor is lost in trying to correct inconsistent kiln firings. Any planning and organization of production, marketing, advertising and distribution will yield an efficient production pottery.

The people who do best selling their pottery, meaning they produce a profit, usually have some informal or formal business training. Those who incur losses are often lacking in business principals or actual experience in the marketplace. They often have a superficial romantic idea about making pottery and selling it. While this view is nice, it does not go to a deeper understanding of the common business practices that are needed whether you sell pottery, books, bread or any other commodity. The individual skill of the potter often does not translate into operating a profitable ceramics business. In fact, beautifully produced pottery-if not priced and marketed correctly-can often find the potter working for pennies per hour. The high failure rate of any startup business is certainly a sobering thought.

The best advice for any potter interested in selling their work is to find a pottery that is making a profit and apprentice yourself to this enterprise. Lacking that option, potters should enroll in a local college and take business courses.

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