In the bag

Aug. 6th, 2018 08:40 am
offcntr: (vendor)
Once again, Anacortes had us the first booth in the show. It's an advantage--we're clearly visible, easy to find, hard, in fact to miss. It's also a disadvantage. Because people see us first, and they don't want to carry pottery around all day. I'll come back on my way out, they say.

Some may; most won't. Our solution? Pottery bag checking. We keep their bags for them, all day if need be, and let them pick them up again on the way to their cars. All I ask for is a name and phone number written on the bag. I'm terrified someday I'll have a bag of paid pottery and no way to get it to a forgetful owner. I always considered this to be an unnecessary precaution on my part: nobody's gonna forget their bag, right?

This year, it happened. Twice.

The first time was Saturday night. I left a phone message, texted. Finally closed it up in the booth and went back to the motel. She texted back, apologetic, Sunday morning, collected her bank later that day.

The second time was a little dicier. She left a pitcher with her name, but couldn't remember her phone number. I did have her email, from sending a receipt, so when she hadn't returned by a quarter to five, I sent her a reminder. And again, at 5:30. At 6 pm, with all the pots in the van and us starting to take the shelves down, I was getting seriously concerned.

Finally heard from her at 6:30. She had forgotten, hadn't taken our card (good thing, as the card has our home phone number, not my cell), was coming back into town to get the pitcher. I reassured her we'd be there packing up the booth 'til about 7 o'clock, and she arrived about 20 minutes later, apologetic, just as we were taking down the canopy.


offcntr: (vendor)
Many years ago, Saturday Market hired a marketing consultant from Portland to come down and give an off-season presentation at the WOW Hall to us artists about selling our work.

I don't remember more than two points he made (One of which, Don't crowd too much into your booth, I blithely ignore.)

The other point was Don't hide your prices. He said many artists/craftsfolk don't clearly label their prices in the mistaken idea that people will ask them, thus starting a conversation that will eventually lead to a sale. It's more likely, he says, that they'll assume the item is outside of their price range, and walk away rather than being embarrassed by asking about something that they can't afford. Show your prices, he said. Make it easy for them to get past that first hurdle. They're likely to be surprised at how reasonably priced your work is, and be more willing to talk to you about it.

We took this advice to heart, and almost immediately bumped up our sales by a quarter.

Meet the "shelf talker" (a term I stole from my days at the printing plant, where we made them to show prices for Heileman's Old Style). It's nothing more than a little product-and-price sign, inkjet printed on card stock and laminated with clear box tape. We have at least one for each type of pot on the shelves, two for high quantity items like soup bowls and painted mugs.

For the longest time, we stuck them on with sticky poster putty, which worked great... except in spring and fall, when it was too cold to stick and needed to be peeled off the sign and rubbed vigorously between one's palms. Or in high summer, when it started to melt, leaving sticky traces behind on the shelves at the end of the day.

About a year ago, I had a brainstorm: I found a source online for reasonably cheap rare earth magnets. One or two quarter-inch magnets on the back of each shelf talker and some carpet tacks nailed into the edge of each shelf make setting out the shelf talkers on Saturday mornings literally a snap.
offcntr: (vendor)
quiet, beautiful pots
Ever since my high school art teacher expressed surprise at my intention to major in art in college, I've had a bit of "I'll show 'em; just you wait and see" in the back of my head. (In Miss Guenther's defense, although I was a pretty good art student, I was also valedictorian, math league champion, and took a first at state in extemporaneous speaking. I wasn't spoiled for choice, academically, and in fact I had a double major in Art and Math when I finally graduated from Viterbo.)

So while I intended to show Tim and Mary what I was doing in pottery these days, there was also the secret urge to show off that I was doing it, and doing it well. Making my living as a potter.

It was during a rambling conversation about life in the booth, the Please Touch rule, and all the stuff that's tagged here as Marketing 101, that Tim quietly said, I never really learned to sell my pots.

And I stopped dead.

I mean, it kinda makes sense. When you're on a college faculty, they look more at your exhibition record--how many shows you've done--rather than how well you've sold at them. Add the fact that your time is divided--if you're a good teacher, it hugely impacts how much time and energy you have for your artwork. And if you're not naturally gregarious (or business-oriented) and trying to sell art pots--basically a specialized form of sculpture--it's easy to never quite crack that nut.

That could have been me. Just out of grad school, applying for teaching jobs, not very outgoing, and crap at self-promotion, if I'd actually landed that tenure-track position, I might be saying the same thing now. (Though maybe not. The story tiles--narrative sculpture in a handy, table-top format--I was making in graduate school had a fairly broad appeal. I think I sold more from my thesis show than any of my classmates.)

But we'll never know. The only teaching job I ever got was a part-time affair that required I take a production gig to make ends meet. That experience gave me the skills to make and sell my own work at Saturday Market. Weekly practice there taught me what would sell and how to sell it. And gave me the first few steps towards moving out into the greater fair circuit, where I am today.

Tim's retired now, still making beautiful, quiet pots, but he's left the marketplace. Mostly, he gives his pots away, to people he thinks will appreciate them. These two beauties are coming home with us.
offcntr: (maggie)
 Been way too busy to write this week, going straight from slack, working on the sculpture and staying up way too late reading to crunch time glazing.

I could have taken the pressure off a little, gone in last Friday instead of staying home doing office work. Would have made today much easier. Eighty-two pots, boys and girls: two big servers, 25 dinner plates, 42 dessert plates (yes, I know, the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe and Everything), a dozen cat food bowls, and a very last-minute order for a gravy tureen from the Wedding Registry this afternoon at 5 pm. 

The wedding is tomorrow. We won't be there--though they were sweet enough to invite us--mainly because Saturday is the one day a week my storefront is open, at Saturday Market.

The Registry has actually worked out really well. I went ahead and made everything on the list, kept it in bisque state until I had an order, then glazed in the requested pattern. As orders came in, I'd cross off that item on the list, so people could know what was left. In the end, everything was chosen except tumblers, dessert plates, and a couple of mugs. I'll load it all into the kiln on Sunday, and they'll be ready when the happy couple come back from their honeymoon. In the meantime, I made up some gift cards printed with the item(s) and the givers, so they'll know who to thank for what.

It was a good experiment. Definitely going to keep it up on the website for future use.






offcntr: (vendor)
Had a customer come in today with a "Good, you're still here." He'd bought some soup bowls from us three years ago, and his four-and-a-half year-old daughter loves them.

When someone comes back after a long stretch, I assume an out-of-towner. Sure enough, he's a philosophy professor from Boston, in town to give a guest lecture on Emerson and Thoreau for the latter's bicentenary.

Fortunately for me, he doesn't subscribe to Henry D.'s philosophy. He takes seven soup bowls home with him.

There are advantages to keeping the same reserved booth for twenty years. ..
offcntr: (vendor)
So I don't have a lot of seconds this time--most of them were bowls, which get set aside for Food for Lane County--but I do have a few boxes to contribute to Club Mud's Annual Studio Sale, which is next Saturday. Details:
offcntr: (snoozin')
I was working sales Sunday morning at Clay Fest when a man came up with a question. "There was a picture of a woman with a lamp in the ad in this morning's paper. Is she here?"

As it happens, she was, two seats away wrapping for the next checker. I introduced them and she gave him directions to her booth.

Ten minutes later he was back, with a $159 lamp for his law office.
offcntr: (vendor)
Walking around yesterday, bunny mug in hand, when I'm stopped by a woman who asks, Did you buy that mug at Corvallis Fall Festival?

Better yet, I reply. I sell these mugs at Corvallis Fall Festival.

Repeat after me, potters: Always use your own pottery in public at a fair.

Strategy

Sep. 25th, 2016 09:15 am
offcntr: (vendor)
Up in Corvallis, home of the Oregon State University Fightin' Beavers, for Corvallis Fall Festival. Unloading the kiln on Wednesday, I proudly showed off beaver patterned pottery to fellow Club member Jon King (who happens to live in Corvallis).

Oh, now, that's just pandering, he said.

If it doesn't sell, it's pandering, I reply. If it sells, it's marketing .

ETA: So far, tall mug and dinner plate, marketing; cookie jar, pie plate, baker: still pandering.
offcntr: (spacebear)
Denise overheard a customer in the next booth, asking our neighbor, "How long does it take you to make these?" It's a question I get as well, and not an easy one to answer. A potter I know answers the question, 28 years, so far, with the number going up with each year he continues to make pots. It's a true, but glib answer.

To be honest, I tell Denise, the answer may depend on why they're asking. Are they really interested in how efficient a potter I am? Are they trying to gauge how (un)reasonable my prices are?

Though occasionally, I suspect the latter, more often I think neither is true. I think the question's a sort of icebreaker, not unlike Did you make this?. They want to talk to me about my work, but don't really know enough about the process to ask knowledgeable questions. They may have seen a demonstration, or a video somewhere, and were struck by how fast the pots seemed to appear. And so they ask.

My answer usually starts, "It's hard to say."

I then explain that I really never make one pot at a time. I'll take a 25 lb. bag of clay and divide it into 24 lumps for coffee mugs, 20 for tall mugs, or 16 soup bowls or stew mugs. I throw those pots, stopping occasionally to stretch, replace a full ware board, change the CD in the player. Then I'll wedge up the next 25 lb. bag, divide up and weigh the pieces, and continue. On an average day, I'll throw between 75 and 100 pounds of clay. Once, when I was under serious deadline pressure, I topped 125.

In about a day, soups and stews will be ready to flip over and trim. Mugs will need handles to be pulled and attached. Plates and pies and bakers come off the bats, get flipped and smoothed after two days, and the bats need to be scraped clean before the clay dries. Everything will need to sit out and dry, either in the studio or, if I'm pressed for space, out on sawhorses in the sun on the driveway. All the while continuing to make more pots.

When enough work is dry, I load my electric kiln and do a bisque firing. When I've filled the bisque about three times, I take everything down to my pottery co-op to glaze and decorate.

I usually budget a solid week for glazing, more if I can. Then it takes four more days to load, fire, cool and unload the big gas glaze kiln. Throw in another to sort and price the pots. Then back to the studio to start over again.

So I can't tell you how long it takes to make one pot. But I can make 50 cubic feet of pottery in about 4-6 weeks.

Sure, I could blow off the question with a quick answer, but I hate to pass up a teachable moment. And I really believe that the more people realize how much goes into what we do, the more they'll appreciate the end result.

Check

Aug. 5th, 2016 10:32 pm
offcntr: (spacebear)
Back at Anacortes, and once again, at the front of the fair. Oh, they moved me 20 feet (two booth spaces) north on Commercial Avenue, but then they eliminated the first two booths. Once again, I'm the first artist you see when you come into the fair.

I suppose I should be flattered. In theory, It's a primo spot. In practice...

Look, I sell pottery. It's bulky, it's not light, it's fragile. It's not the sort of thing you want to buy coming in the gate, and then carry around all day.

Honestly? It's the sort of thing you think, Oh, I'll stop back on the way to the car and then forget about in your exhaustion six hours later.

So I have strategies. I hand out business cards, of course. They're a tangible reminder to folks where they stopped, and where they'd like to return. Sometimes I'll write my booth number on the card, for an added reminder, or a note of the pot or pattern they were interested in. Sometimes, they even come back.

More successfully, I offer a free bag check. Anyone who buys pots from me on the way in is welcome to leave the bag with me and pick it up on the way out. All I ask is that they write their name--and phone number, I live in terror of the idea that someone will pay me money for a pot, forget to collect it, and I'll have no way to remind them--on the bag.

It works, too! I had as many as seven bags waiting for pick-up at various times today. All in all, a very busy, successful day.
offcntr: (berto)
Years ago, after my first pottery sale at the EMU Craft Center, I proudly told fellow Resident Potter Kathy Kale that I'd sold out. You know what that means? she said.

It means your prices are too low.
offcntr: (vendor)
We're in Roseburg this weekend for the Umpqua Valley Summer Arts Festival. Set-up is Friday morning, with the show opening to the public at noon. By eleven o'clock, we're up and organized, and people are starting to drift through. Volunteers, mostly, and staff, here to help with the event and incidentally get an early look at the wares on offer, before the general public arrives.

I'm chatting with one such, commenting on the new layout, the much improved weather, compared to last year (high of 75° today, as opposed to 105° last year.)

She says she hopes we have a great weekend. Thanks, I say, I hope so too. No, she says, I hope you sell out! I hope you go back home with nothing but empty boxes.

Uh, no.
First off, does she know how many boxes I have? There's over $15,000 worth of pots in this booth. No way is that ever gonna happen.

Nor should it. If I sold that many pots this weekend, I'd saturate the market. I've been coming to this show for twenty years, making steady money, reasonable sales. A sold-out weekend means I needn't come back.

And what about my other shows? Saturday Market next weekend? Salem Art Festival next month? It takes me 4-6 weeks to make, glaze and fire a kiln-load of pots. I can't possibly restock from a sold-out show by next Saturday.

I've gotten this impractical good-luck wish from people before, and I think it comes from a basic misperception. They think of this show as a thing unto itself, like a yard sale. You save up stuff all year, clean out your closets, and put it all on the front lawn, in the hope that you'll get rid of it all. And maybe by next year, you'll have collected enough stuff to do it again.

But Off Center Ceramics isn't a yard sale. (Or even a gallery exhibit, a similar dynamic.) It's a store, one that's open somewhere or other every weekend. I have to maintain an inventory; you don't expect to go into a store and find the shelves empty. If you do, you certainly don't come back.

So I'll take some sales. Reasonable sales. A few empty boxes going home, some empty spots in the mugs and bowls restock bins. And the opportunity to come back next year to do it again.
offcntr: (rocket)
Well, it happened again. I just wish I'd brought my phone to record the event.

I was on my way back from buying some silicone spray at Dick's to renew the waterproofing on my canopy, and thought I'd stop in at the Goodwill next door. Wanted to pick up a couple of things for the kitchen, and had a 20% off coupon that was about to expire.

I'd finished my purchase and was about to go out the door when my attention was drawn to the big glass case off to the left. It's where they lock the good stuff, the expensive stuff. Cameras. Crystal. Antiques. And a fair amount of pottery.

Including one of mine. A small square baker, hummingbird pattern, from a particularly nice firing was sitting on the bottom shelf. Turned so the pattern was upside down.

This has happened before. More than once. The last time, I even bought the little tea bowl and took it home.

That's mine! I said to the woman next to me, also examining the display. I made that. She asked if I was a student and I said no, a full-time potter, sold at Saturday Market. She said she loves pottery, buys it for herself and for her mother, who collects. Took out a business card and gave it to her. (Marketing 101…)

I was curious how much a used Off Center ceramic was going for these days, so I asked a clerk to unlock the case for me. Turns out it was a second--a couple of small grinder spots where some kiln wash had fallen into the glaze. They'd priced it at $9.99, which didn't seem unreasonable to me. The woman asked if I intended to buy it, and I said no, I didn't think so.

So she did.

Post haste

Nov. 15th, 2015 07:58 pm
offcntr: (radiobear)
I started keeping a mailing list right about the time I started Off Center Ceramics. I was a stealth mailing list collector; I never really put out a sign-up sheet. Mostly I copied addresses off of checks, typing everything into a freeware Bulk Mail program I picked up in my Craft Center days. I flagged each entry by the year I got it, and when it got too complicated zip-code sorting for different shows, I started keeping separate lists for different geographic areas. I'd send out postcards at the start of Saturday Market in spring, Holiday Market in fall, and smaller runs in summer specifically targeted to my out-of-town shows.

Designing the cards is always fun. The Bears get involved, pottery is sometimes featured, props and sets may be built or bought. Bright, cheerful, usually pun-inflected, hopefully memorable. I don't really know how effective they are, but I usually get a handful of customers at any show who make a point of thanking me for the card.

It's getting harder and harder to get new addresses, though. I rarely take more than a handful of checks anymore. I used to use paper slips to process credit transactions, and would ask the customer for their mailing address, but since I got my Square reader, that opportunity's gone. My only option seems to be to join the (late) 20th century, and collect email addresses.

Some I get direct from customers, who've asked to know about my sales. Some I get from people who contact me with special orders after the show. (Some of those give me a postal address too, when I ship their pots.) Some I get when they ask me to email them a receipt from their debit/credit transaction. I've currently got a handful of emailing lists started, with no more than a half dozen names on each. So I'm dipping my toe into the electronic stream.

But I'm not sure how I feel about it. An occasional postcard in the mailbox feels welcome to me, more like a letter than an advertising flyer. An e-postcard, though, feels perilously close to spam.

But I guess I have to try it. My postal lists are aging out, as I discard very old entries or remove unforwardable ones. Email is the wave of the present--social media, everyone tells me, is the future--so I gotta try it. I'll try not to be annoying, by following these rules: Keep it brief. Keep it friendly. And for God's sake, don't send more than one or two a year.

Wish me luck.
offcntr: (vendor)
Unloaded the kiln last night, paying most attention to setting aside what I need to stock up for the Corvallis Fall Festival this weekend. But I also took care to set aside all the special orders I had in this firing. Here's the results.

That's right. Three full ware boards. At a rough estimate, that's over $1500 in pottery right there. And aside from ten mugs going on consignment, it's already sold.
offcntr: (bunbear)
Back home at Saturday Market, setting up early while it's still cool. A couple stops in a good hour-and-a-half before we open, looking for another husband/wife pottery team from whom they were purchasing a teapot. After a short round of 20 Questions, I realized they were talking about Dave and Melissa Parry, and walked them to a spot where I could point out their booth, across the street.

Later, while Denise was chatting with Dave in his booth, some women stopped to ask him if he made French Butter Dishes. After he said no, Denise chimed in, "But we do!" and led them back to our booth. Where they bought four.

Inventive

Jun. 27th, 2015 12:48 am
offcntr: (spacebear)
I hate vendor badges. No, I exaggerate. I hate vendor badges on lanyards.

They flop and blow in the wind. They flip over so nobody can see your name or vendor status, and nobody ever thinks to make them read from both sides. On hot weekends, like this one, the sweaty, clammy ribbon rubs and chafes on the back of my neck. Hate them.

So it is with great pride that I debut my new invention: the lanyard-free vendor badge.
badgered
Yeah, I just took it off the ribbon and clipped it to the neck of my t-shirt. Hey, that's inventive, right?

Metrics

Jun. 21st, 2015 07:32 am
offcntr: (berto)
Because we have to track individual sales and record sales tax, I've got pretty accurate metrics for the show so far.

On Friday, we had 25 sales, averaging around $31 each. Saturday, we had 29 sales, and the average was up to $48.

It doesn't seem like much, but when you do the math, that means we sold almost twice as much Saturday as Friday.
offcntr: (spacebear)
I had to send Denise out of the booth this morning.

I'm one of six children, so I'm good at ignoring distractions. The guy at the corner selling CDs noodling on his keyboard, music from the main stage (thankfully far away at this show), conversations from our neighbors coming through the walls, it's all pretty much background noise to me.

Denise is an only child. Worse, women are socialized to pay attention in ways men aren't. The voices coming through the back of the booth were driving her crazy.

It's two women, right on the other side of the wall, with carrying voices. Complaining about the food, the sales, booth fees, vast swaths of their personal and professional lives. I'm tempted to have a word with them about it, but I'm already that guy for asking them to move a chair and dresser that were projecting into my back booth. (Canopy walls are not rigid.) So I'm doing my best to ignore them, and sending Denise on frequent sanity walks.

Even the best days--and today was pretty good--have slow moments, and we were entertained this afternoon by a visitor.
spot
This is a bold jumping spider. They're fuzzy and black, about the size of my pinky tip, with three white spots on the abdomen and iridescent green mouth parts. I happen to know this because one of them showed up a few weeks ago in our backyard where Denise was making paper, playing hide-and-seek among the pulp containers on the tabletop. I greatly fear we may have brought her along with us, as we were using the same canopy for shade, and had left it up for over a week before folding it up and putting it in the van.

In any case, long about the slow part of the afternoon, she shows up, strolling across my phone and down the length of the bench, before losing herself among the soup bowls. She must have climbed to the top of the mug shelves and leaped onto the booth frame, because several minutes later I felt a tickle on my neck and when I brushed at it, discovered a spider hanging from my hand. She dropped to the ground and crawled under the pie plate shelf where I figured she'd be safe.
explorerTwo minutes later, she was exploring the pitchers on the top shelf, having apparently climbed all the way up the back of the frame. By this time, she'd attracted a crowd, Denise and I and several customers and a neighbor (the nice one, with the hand-sewn bags) all trying to photograph her. She was hanging from a stew mug in my hand when she made a jump for my camera, startling me, and wound up rappelling to the restock boxes under the counter, where I figure we'd finally lost her.

Five minutes later Denise spotted her climbing over the soup bowls and mugs again. At one point we saw her try three times to jump from the top of the mug to the underside of the shelf above. Twice she bounced off, but the third time, she made it. When we closed the booth, she was curled up for the night inside a moose mug.

If we're going to have a booth pet, think we should name her. Denise suggested "Spot."

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