Saturday, January 2, 2021

Happy New Year, and a Look Back at 2020

 Happy New Year, Dear Reader! 

So how did 2020 work out for me? Not an easy question to answer.

The biggest and, I guess, most important thing is that neither I nor anyone in my family or immediate circle became ill with Covid-19. For that, I am truly grateful. 

The next biggest, most important thing is that my pottery business has survived. My income was seriously less than 'normal', in fact only about half of what it should have been. Luckily, and like most craftspeople and artists, my income from my pottery was only part of my total income. I did have to use some of my savings, but not all. No holiday, no fun purchases, and I didn't do any of the home maintenance things I had hoped to do in 2020. But I survived and I'm still making pots.

So. Details?

First, I gave up on Shopify. I had the naive idea that a Shopify store would have some advantage over the millions of other online stores selling handmade studio pottery, but of course that was completely not the case. Not only does Shopify not help at all with getting your store seen in the online world, they are expensive. When I saw how much it was going to cost me to keep a store going, month after month, I backed out. So the free trial they offered worked, but not the way they wanted it to!

I tried 2 other online platforms, and that totally didn't work either.  I got exactly zero responses from both. I won't mention which they were because I don't think it is their fault.

What did work was making a special batch of work (my children's sets, see previous post), and advertising it on Facebook, to my email list, and to those customers I did meet. All the work sold and sold quickly. And all of it to previous customers or members of my email list.

I conclude from this that, probably, people are unlikely to buy a handmade product from a craftsperson they don't know, whose work they haven't seen, and who might not be local to their area. 

Second, the Carp Farmers' Market was able to open in a limited way in early summer, and by mid-July I too was able to have a space there. It was outside and much much smaller than my usual display space, but I was so happy to be there! I only had one table to display pottery because of social distancing and other Covid-19 precautions, but it was a joy to be able to be there at all. And the customers were wonderful! They observed the precautions with no real complaints, and they bought. They were very happy to get local produce again, and also happy to be able to buy some pottery. In all, I was only there about half the usual season and my average sales per week were significantly less than in 2019, but it made a huge difference to me. It gave me a reason to keep making pots, renewed my contact with a lot of previous customers and acquaintances, and took the pressure off trying to make online selling work.

One small irony: I had had to get a new truck in late 2019 and I was a bit sorry that the only one I found was rather larger than I thought I needed, but it sure came in handy this year! I could put all my pots and display gear in the back with no difficulty at all. So easy! Normally packing your vehicle for a show is a bit of a job, but this was great!

Third, by early summer retail stores will allowed to open again, and I decided to have my studio open to the public on Saturday afternoons and Sundays. I won't say the public beat a path to my door, but some people did drop in and I had some sales. I also enjoyed meeting some new people who were just driving by.  Some were charming, some were trying, but all were interesting!

Then, I wondered how to manage my usual end-of-year Half Price Sale. My big worry, or I should say, worries, were that either nobody would come, or that too many would come. My Sale has been a big hit in the past so there was a risk that many would come all at the same time right when the Sale opened which would have given me a serious traffic problem. With the Covid-19 precautions to follow, I couldn't have 20 or 30 people all crowding in and touching the pottery. So I put the pottery outside!

OUTSIDE! I had 6 tables of pottery in a line beside my little store, with one-way traffic up the line to the door where they could go in and pay for their selections, then leave. It was Dec. 12-13, so the weather was of course a concern. Luckily, it wasn't that cold, and luckily again the freezing rain which had been forecast didn't happen. The forecast did have a very good effect, though, in that not so many people came. The ones who did, bought quite a lot of the pots.  Half way through Saturday afternoon it began to rain and I had to bring in and dry off all the pottery, and the wet made the price tags run, but all in all, it worked out very well.

Another thing I did before the in-person shopping part of my sale was I listed all the available pottery on my website, and took online orders from the Wednesday before the sale to the end of that Friday. This worked pretty well. Anyone who wanted to reserve an item sent me an email, and once I'd confirmed, they paid by e-transfer or PayPal and let me know if they would be picking it up, or if they wanted it delivered. I promised to do deliveries on the Monday after the Sale. That too worked out just fine; it took all day Monday and nearly a full tank of gas, but it got done and everybody was happy.

So now maybe I know better how to sell pottery in a pandemic situation. I've learned a lot, I have some new ideas on what I can do better, and I'm optimistic that I'll be able to cope with 2021.

What better way to start a new year?

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

New! Children's Dishes

I've had fun lately making a series of Children's dishes. Each set is a plate, a soup bowl, a cereal bowl and a mug and all of the pieces are small to suit a small child. The decorations are a Speckled Hen, a Curious Bear, a Leaping Bunny and a Zebra-striped Fish. Sets are $55, tax included.

Great gifts for the 2-6 year-olds in your life!

handmade hand painted pottery children's dishes
I've posted the info on my Facebook page, but you can also order through from here by sending me an email. There are only a few of each set, so you'll have to decide quickly!

Once I confirm your order, we can work out how we'll get it to you. I can deliver if you are in my area, or I can mail it, or you can come to the Studio to pick it up (safely).

Meanwhile, Stay well!

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Towards a New 'Normal'

There has been a lot of talk lately about what the new 'normal' might look like. Lots of speculation about changes businesses will see, changes in consumer behavior, all serious stuff like that. Taking it personally, and how else can one take anything, I certainly see some changes ahead for me. Some have already happened, others are coming.

For example, I find I can no longer wash my hands without counting to 50. For the rest of my life, I'm going to be counting to 50 while sudsing the digits.

Another thing: like a lot of offices and businesses, one of the volunteer groups I'm involved with has gone to online conferencing instead of face-to-face meetings. I'm getting fairly used to it although it's actually not quite as easy as the people selling conferencing software would like you to believe. For example, if you have a person who tends to talk a long time, it can be hard to break in and give someone else a chance to speak. What feels natural enough in person seems really rude online. Me, I just wish the conferencing programs would let us 'fast forward' some people.

With the pressure off to prepare for various sales and other events (more about this later), I've been spending a lot of time at the computer getting caught up on admin stuff, dealing with the numerous emails from the above-mentioned groups, even getting my paper filing up-to-date. We won't mention spending hours surfing around reading scary articles, taking free webinars which purport to teach you something but always try very hard not to be free, and just plain zoning out on Facebook. With one thing and another, I've been spending a lot of time at the computer. One effect is that now when I sit down in front of a lump of clay on my wheel, I find myself looking for the keyboard...

Seriously, and it's very serious, all my events in the near future are cancelled. My stores are all closed. Wholesale orders are a thing of the past. My much-loved Carp Farmers' Market is postponed, and when it does open, it will be for food sales only. My studio tours, at least the Spring and Summer ones, are cancelled. During the current lockdown, I'm not even allowed to have my shop at the Studio open. I can do online orders, to be mailed or picked up or otherwise delivered, but I'm not supposed to have my pottery available to walk-in customers.

You can imagine the effect of all this on my income. And my stress level. By the way, I think we should have a new phrase: 'pre-traumatic stress syndrome'. After all, at that instant when you become aware that the light ahead of you is not the end of the tunnel but a fast-approaching freight train, your brain is hardly in the best condition for calmly devising a solution. No doubt this is one reason I've been spending so much time on the computer - it's easier and it reduces the stress and allows you to think you're at least doing something. But it's also an insidious way of avoiding taking any real action. It makes staring down the bright headlight a little more bearable, but it doesn't get you off the tracks.

So. What to do.

First, I'm setting up a Shopify store. It'll have only a few items, and delivery will be pick up or mail only, and we'll see how it goes. If I get a good response, I'll add more items. There are also several other online platforms I'm looking at, and since they all reach different audiences, I'll likely go with one or two of them as well. I'm still in the middle of setting up at Shopify, making the stock (I figure it's important to have stock on hand as nobody will want to wait for their order), taking the photographs, sorting out the payment options and so on. Once it's ready to launch, I'll send the info out to my mailing list, Facebook etc. And yes, I'll post about it here too! Of course!

Another thing I'll do, once some of the lockdown conditions are relaxed and more businesses are allowed to open, is try to encourage more in-person shopping at the Studio. Social distancing is probably no problem as more than one or two shoppers at once would be rare, and if it does happen, one can go into the shop and the others can wander the garden. With lots of hand sanitizer and some other precautions, it should be quite safe. Safe for the customers, and safe for me. One thing I'll need is a new sign at the road... the last one blew over in the windstorm of May 2018 and the estimate for a new one was so high I've never replaced it. More than a few people have told me I need a sign at the road, and every time they do I think to myself,  'yes, but first I need about $4000 which isn't urgently needed for something else' and I just smile and agree with them. May have to make another temporary one. The last one lasted 20 years.

And I may, only may at this point, look into setting up some kind of new fine crafts market this Fall. There will be plenty of fine crafts workers looking for selling options, and there should be lots of customers eager to browse high quality, mid-priced local crafts. It's a possibility. What you call your  definite 'maybe'.

So, I guess I can jump off the tracks.... now, can I hang onto the side of tunnel and avoid getting sucked under the wheels?

Meanwhile, stay well!

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

A Day in the Life...

I know potters (and other artists) are always very curious about other potters' studios and love to visit, snoop around, ask questions... but I sometimes wonder about the rest of their lives, and maybe you do too.

So here's a glimpse at what it is really like around here.

Last night, just as I was getting into bed, I realized I had a couple of people coming in the morning to discuss An Event, that they were what you might call Good Housekeepers, and that I hadn't vacuumed or dusted or washed a floor in several weeks. Nothing for it but to set the alarm.

So this morning we started with a game called Olympic Vacuuming. Rosie won handily as she loves to bark at the vacuum and, if possible, nip at the beater bar. Entire living area vacuumed in under an hour, whoo hoo! Next was Speed Dusting, which was a draw. Rosie was only able to steal the dusting rag once, when I put it down to adjust the slip cover on the Dog Chair, and I got it back with no blood shed. Floor Washing in the kitchen I won totally, she's a dog, she doesn't do floors.

All spiffed with half an hour to spare.

I need guests more often!

Monday, March 25, 2019

Bird Designs

Sometimes making pottery is fun! Often, it's work, enjoyable work that keeps me challenged and interested, but still work. My 'Bird' pattern, however, has been fun lately!

Last Spring I didn't have time to make all my designs before the first craft sale (Maple Run Studio Tour) arrived so I didn't make any Bird pieces and I told customers who asked for it that Bird had gone south for the winter and hadn't returned yet. This year that would almost make sense as the winter is hanging on rather longer than we'd any of us like, but as it happens I have made a lot of Bird pottery. Here are some bowls waiting to be glazed:
stoneware bowls bird design
I'm quite pleased with them although I have to admit they are starting to look like fabric designs.

I make too make designs. If I just made brown bowls, I'd be able to get caught up and I'd always have whatever people asked for. If they asked for butter dishes, I'd have them. If they wanted honey jars, I'd have them. Plates, mugs, teapots, I'd have them. But am I smart like that? Noooooo, I have to make a line decorated with Pansies, one decorated with Tulips, one with Pine Branches, some in a reddish-brown glaze that I call Red Fox and so on. So I'm never caught up and customers are forever asking for something I don't have. Frustrating for both of us!

I have a hunch that if you only show blue mugs, nobody will ever ask for green ones, or red ones. But the minute you put out mugs in several colours, they ask for them in any other colour than what you have. Put out blue ones, pink ones, white ones, brown ones... and somebody will ask for orange. In my next life I'm only making mugs and bowls and all of them brown.

But for now, I'm pleased with my Bird pieces. Here's a nice Cream and Sugar set with Birds:
white porcelain cream and sugar bird design
Oh, and the Maple Run Tour? It's April 6 and 7, all around Pakenham and area. I'll be at Cedar Hill Schoolhouse. My Birds and I hope to see you there!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Looking Ahead

A new year! To paraphrase Anne, of Green Gables fame, "just think, a whole (year) ahead with no mistakes in it yet!"

So I have one resolution for 2019, and it is: try not to make so many mistakes.

I've made a Plan. I've listed all the events/sales/markets etc. that I usually do. I've listed some new ideas I'm definitely going to work on. I've listed what equipment needs maintenance and how I'm going to do it. I have Goals. As they say, a Goal without a Plan is just a Dream, but I cleverly made the Plan first.

I'm not going to spend January and February doing paper work. It's already done! Soon as the T-4s arrive, boom, I'm getting my income tax done. No procrastinating, then rushing, then getting something wrong, then racing around to correct it.... nope, not this year.

I'm not going to push away thoughts of a big order I knew darn well I needed to start on in June until the end of July and then working long days to get it done by deadline. Customer doesn't get their s..t together to finalize their order so I can start on it, I'll them I can't do it. For sure. Maybe.

I'm going to make those large Red Fox mixing and bread making bowls which were ordered if it kills me. I'm not going to get too much glaze on them so that it melts and runs and attaches the pots to the shelves... I'm not going to accidentally over-fire the kiln so the bisque fires to glaze temp and the ware is ruined because now I can't get the glaze on... I'm not going to finally achieve half a dozen nice looking bowls which, when I bravely measure them, are all 1" too short. It can be done. Concentrate, pay attention, bribe the Kiln Gods... whatever it takes, I need those 3 customers off my neck.

I'm never again going to listen to customers who sail into my booth, look around, and ask for some design which they don't see, and then promise to make some soon. They never meant to buy any, they were just letting me know they weren't buying my work, and IT WAS MY FAULT. So phoo on them. Don't see any Pine and Winterberry? Tough bananas.

See? I'm all ready for 2019! So is Rosie-goof:

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Still Weird

Things are still kind of weird around here.

After my Rotten Week in May, it took all of June and some of July to get back to feeling normal, at least as normal as it ever gets around here. In addition to all the stuff happening here at the Studio, we've also had the Ontario election, and no rain. Not that there's a connection there, but  neither one of them has contributed to the general happiness at Pine Ridge. Add in the high cost of gas, which leads to low sales of pottery (yes, there is a connection there) and you can see why my mood has been, shall we say, low. I finally hit on the word 'defeated' to describe how I felt and I think that fits.

Last year, sales of my pottery were good. I ended up the year with some actual money in the bank, and, perhaps dangerously, the feeling that maybe I finally knew what I was doing. Ah, pride. Yes, even if it doesn't lead to a fall it does make the crash more painful. Sales this year were fine the first few events, then the election uncertainty took hold and they plummeted. So now I'm halfway through the year and sales are less than half of what they were last year at this time. Craftspeople often talk about sales: why they are low, what we can do, how we can predict... the weather is a handy scapegoat. If the weather is bad, we say customers didn't come because the weather was bad, when it is good (the weather) we say customers didn't come because the weather was good and they went to the beach instead. Could be, but what I am sure of is that the worst thing for sales is uncertainty. And an election upsets everybody, especially in a government town like Ottawa. Half the people are worried that if so-and-so gets elected their jobs will be at risk, and the other half worry that if so-and-so is not elected, their jobs will be at risk. Either way, everybody is worried. And worried people don't buy mugs and bowls.

And of course the more serious uncertainty in the Western world due to the sudden trade wars between ourselves and our Large Neighbour  is of course making everybody even more nervous. And nervous people don't buy mugs and bowls.

Then there is the cost of gas. When it goes up, people have less 'free' money, and they buy fewer mugs and bowls... 

 I've had to warn Rosie that if things don't improve, Milkbones will have to be rationed.

Rosie is more worried about the continuing dryness. It makes it so much harder to dig up chipmunks, her favourite hobby. We really haven't had rain for over two months. Wind storms, extreme heat, a few sprinkles, but rain, no. The Maple trees in the woods are wilting, my rock garden is a more of a plant graveyard than a garden and my ferns are in dire straits. I know it's not as important as farm crops, but my garden, my ferns, and my woods, mean a lot to me and seeing things drying to a crisp is most depressing. I'm now watering, small bit by small bit, just to try and keep my ferns and my small conifers alive, but that's putting a heavy strain on my well and risking a pump failure. My well is only 5 gallons per minute, which is not a lot of water, and it is 275' deep. My line of credit at the bank and I live in fear of the pump failing. They aren't meant for continuous use.

But this past week, and in spite of everything, my mood seems to be improving. I've been in the dumps, now I'm starting to think positively again. If sales are low, I will build up stock. It might rain next week (supposed to, but can you believe forecasts?). Rosie can switch to no-name dog treats.

And I've got mugs and honey jars started.
Honey jars ready for glazing!
They're waiting to be glazed and fired, and then they'll be ready for the Market on Saturday. It's Honey Day, so I'm at least on theme!