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?