Community and Commerce

Nineteen years ago I had my work in 15-20 different galleries across the country. The work was all on consignment. I got checks when the work sold but not until they did. THe checks trickled in. I sold at a few craft fairs and at my studio on selected open house days. I was slowly starving to death. I had just quit my part time teaching job in hopes of making it on pottery sales alone. It was not working.
One day as I was standing in my studio looking out at Main Street it occurred to me that I should start a newsletter. I remember the moment very clearly. I had been receiving a newsletter form one of the galleries that carried my work. It was written by Joanne Onaga at the Little Tokyo Clay Works. It was very simple. I appeared to have been xeroxed hand colored and stapled together. It told about the gallery and profiled some of her artists. It was very inclusive and invited the reader to become part of what was happening at Joanne’s gallery even fro afar.
I set out to write something like that for myself and Horseshoe Mountain Pottery News was born. I started writing at the cafe in town as I sipped on a Coke. The cafe owners took an interest in what I was doing and asked if they, retired graphic designers, could help with it and get some pottery for the cafe in exchange. The result was satisfactory and our studio sales doubled with the first edition. When the second one came out six months later the sales doubled again. Since then we have dialed back to once a year and sales have grown more modestly but steadily. Soon I no longer had enough work to spare for the galleries and all of that went by the wayside.
The HMP News invites people to come to our town and spend a day soaking up the atmosphere here. It tells people about how we found the place as young starry eyed idealist bohemians just married and looking for a place to nest. It tracks our lives and those of our three girls. People evidently read it cover to cover because they come into the shop acting as if they know us. When people visit the shop I always send them out with some newssletters to share with their friends and coworkers. Those newsletter often come back just like spawning salmon under the arms of new recruits. The newsletter drives word of mouth.
I have found that as I have developed a following of people who feel invested in our work and life that my work really sells best here at the point of origin. The recent gallery show that Lee and I had in Scottsdale was more or less a bust. Lee sold nothing and my check was about enough to cover expenditures. In the first week after bringing the work home I have sold more pottery than during the whole month the pots were in Scottsdale. I don’t think it is because the Marshall is not a good gallery. It is because my work plays better here in its natural habitat.
When I teach workshops I always talk with the students about marketing. I encourage them to take control of their markets and quit depending so heavily on developers and gallery owners to make their living for them. I talk about the power of artist groups organizing their own events and the imortance of building community.
When I attended the NCECA conference last month I started hearing from other potters how poor sales have been, how that some trade show are off 30-40%. I have not seen that kind of drop off here at my shop which is where I sell most of my production. Things have slowed down for sure, but there is an encouraging flow of customers still. I think that the years that we have spent building a community of friends as customers have paid off and that we will come through this slow down OK. Thanks to all of those who came to our home show yesterday. It was pretty successful both Lee and I sold enough to get us through until the next sale.
Sale day
It is the relationship that developes with the people who recieve and use my work that makes the experrience rich and that brings them back again and again.

Tags: , ,

7 Responses to “Community and Commerce”

  1. Michael Kline Says:

    Great pep talk Joe. I used to receive the “HMP News” but I think my subscription ran out after now having walked into your shop (yet)! I enjoy reading the blog, though, and have a tremendous respect for what you make and how you make it. One day I hope to “walk in” and get more pots! Thanks for writing.

  2. Jeannie Hamblin Says:

    Nice discussion Joe. Every time we pass thru Spring City, Steve and I drop a few hundred bucks at your shop. It is just what we do. It just isn’t a REAL trip to Utah unless it includes a stop for gathering your pottery. We have quite a collection now and USE it daily. You are right, your stuff is sold best in its natural habitat…however, I should say that in February Steve bought a ‘Holiness to the Lord’ plate sight unseen for a friend who liked ours…. actually, we have two. The one we bought for them was obviously different, but they loved it and though they had never spent much on pottery for themselves, they were thrilled with it and want more. So I am going to give them your newsletter and suggest that they contact you to get your newsletter regularly. They go to Utah each summer and hopefully, they’ll pass by.

  3. mfb Says:

    I guess that is what bugs me about “heritage days” I feel my heritage is being marketed. kind of the same way Christmas has become just another marketing nightmare. I realize this is your livelyhood and I am not attacking that. It is just sad because to me Memorial day a day that should bring fond memories for me brings frustration at the marketing of my history. The Jacob Johnson home or my family home as it is and it is just one example. Nothing I can do about it, I just watch with excitement for the preservation and regret at the comercialization. like the Forrest ranger who looks at the sheep herd and respects the fact thy keep the weeds down but hates the smell and the fact they are there.

    This needs exploring I need more time to consider where I am going with this.

  4. Mikki Cabrera Says:

    Hey, Joe- “Hi! from the no longer retired graphic designers! I loved reading about how your newsletter got started…loved to reminisce. I also noticed that Spring City Days just past. How did that go? I would love to get your newsletter again!

    We just moved to a small, rural town in Southern California, Ramona. Not quite San Pete County, but it has lots of fields and cows, so I think of San Pete County often.

    Love and Hugs from Rafael and Mikki!

  5. ed bollinger Says:

    this is a strange request for joann onaga we are in boise idaho and have a motorcycle that used to belong to joann and yukio it is a 1967 honda scrambler the title is a california title signed of by joann for yukio deceased 1997 we need a deceased certificate to title in our name. please call me at 1-208-724-7234 or email to thank you very much ed bollinger

  6. Dave Munz Says:

    We all need to look a little beyond our shoelaces now and again. Thanks so much for a look into your world. Mine has many similarities. I am making a change to two or three pottery items which will be my source of income. They answer the need of a niche in our society.

  7. Lyle Milosevic Says:

    Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do a little research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more from this post. I am very glad to see such wonderful info being shared freely out there.

Leave a Reply