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How to Start a Ceramic Business - Seminar - Introduction: Article or Project

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You fell in love with ceramics as a hobby and you heard that you could make some money from it. It is tempting, why not do it? Or better yet, DO IT! This is the first of a series that will be designed to help you start a ceramic business.

There are many ways to turn your hobby into a business venture, but I don’t recommend you just jump in without doing some research and some homework. There are many ways that you can garner an income from doing something you love; but make sure before your turn from a hobby/business into a full-fledged income making business you know what you are doing.

The Internal Revenue Services has strict guidelines as to what is a hobby and what is a business, you are advised to get acquainted with all tax issues from the get go. But before we move on to that part of your new enterprise, lets analyze some of the ways you can make money with ceramics.

Presented here are several types of ceramic businesses. They cover all gambits from small enterprises to a large, full-fledged operation.

Home Based Greenware Supplier

A greenware supplier usually makes contact with other ceramic shops, studios and retailers and gives a discounted price to cast greenware for their businesses. This discount is usually sizeable in order that the buyer business can turn around and resale at a reasonable price. This discount usually ranges from 30-40 percent of the SRP (suggested retail price). Profit for the supplier comes from the quantity they sell at any one time.

Home Based Bisque Supplier

Similar to the Greenware Supplier, and often in conjunction with each other, the supplier provides items that have been cleaned and fired. Pricing there is higher and there is considerable flexibility. Many of the new ‘studio’ concepts is to provide bisque only, so they are often more readily willing to negotiate pricing as they have a higher window for their own profit margin.

Home Based Studio – Craft Show Circuit

This is a simple way to turn your hobby into a profit making venture. Requires very little start up capital and pretty much affords you to stick with the things you love to make.

It is hard work in that you have to pack up and move your wares to and from and being breakable, this can be somewhat risky. You need to devote yourself to making a visual but safe presentation and you need to know your audience.

Craft shows can range from nearby church bazaars, community events like local festivals or an actual circuit traveling across a specific region.


Home Based Studio-Retail

Within the guise of having your own home studio, there are many options; but for sake of discussion, this addresses the studio where you have clients or students drop in and work on various projects of their choice or particular class/techniques pre-chosen. Most often, the studio owner opens their studio during specific, scheduled hours throughout the week with limitations as to which days and what times. During that time, other hobbyists come in and purchase supplies, greenware, bisque, etc. and often stay to work on projects with some instruction from the owner and quite often leave their ware to be fired.

Home Based Studio – Private

Many hobbyists want to sell their finished ware with no interest in teaching classes or selling raw materials. They work from their home and do their own marketing to find selling options. This can be done on a wholesale basis or full retail pricing.

Online – Ecommerce

This option should be included with ALL aspects of running your ceramics business regardless of which option you choose to pursue. Be it your own website (see: http://www.ceramicsmadeeasy.com/cme-articles/business-dynamics/setting-up-your-own-website-beginners-guide/36/index.html ) or selling via any number of venues like auction sites, online stores, Amazon, Etsy, Onlineauctions, etc.

Some form on online presence is almost mandatory if you wish to succeed in any business venture today.

Brick and Mortar – Private

This is usually a wholesale operation that is much too large to contain in ones home. Usually a rented facility, it is not open to the public and can be any of the above types of business…greenware only, bisque only, finished items only (wholesale or retail)

Brick and Mortar – Storefront

This is the dream of most ceramists - To have a retail operation where they can sell to the public on a large scale. This, by far is the most difficult of all enterprises. It requires long hard hours, and greater overhead/expenses; but there are many rewards.

The storefront can be finished ware or instructional or both. There are many options and several types of storefront businesses from which one can choose. Several of these options are discussed separately.

B&M – Storefront – Finishedware

It takes a lot of work on the owner’s part to create enough product to support this type of retail business. However, the owner has the option to purchase wholesale from other suppliers, be they commercial or other hobbyists.

B&M – Storefront – Gallery

If a ceramist has created something new and original and can get their ‘name’ recognized, they can open a Gallery where only their unique creations are displayed at a fairly high price tag. It’s been done - Lladro and Capo di Monte, for example

Name ‘branding’ is a valuable commodity. (see: http://www.ceramicsmadeeasy.com/cmez/viewing-article-11-30/general-information/about-name-branding.html ) I expect you all may have heard of Jeannette McCall, Florence Ward (Ceramics by Florence), and Erma Duncan (of Duncan Ceramics). These ladies all started in their kitchens – as did this author and I am sure many of you readers. These ladies did not opt for a Gallery presentation, but they well could have.

B&M – Storefront – Studio

There are several types of studios one can operate. This type of business is geared toward serving the public at large.

A contemporary studio

Relatively new on the scene is the contemporary studio. This studio is geared for the working classes who do not have the time to drop in on a regular basis and who want to dabble with ceramics for special occasions or just to fill in a small gap of time in their busy schedule. Because of their nature, they have pretty well overtaken the full-service studio in popularity; however I believe in time there will be a resurgence of the old fashioned full service studio once again

The contemporary studio specializes in selling bisque at a high price, however the price includes use of the studio, all paint, brushes and firing. Most often the paints are underglazes and after painting their item, the customer leaves it behind for the studio owner to dip it into a glaze and then fire it. All the customer has to do is return to pick it up or arrange to have it mailed. This is usually a one time visit, though many return to complete other items in the future.

The School or Class Studio

Here the owner usually sells supplies. It can be anything from greenware to bisque, paints and related items like brushes, music boxes, decals, etc. However studio time is usually confined to classes where specific techniques are being taught. There is usually a display and schedule for classes where the customer can sign up to do a specific project.

This type of operation can run full-time or part-time as the owner desires.

The Full-Service Studio

This is the old fashioned ceramic studio. A customer can drop in any time for any reason. There is an open studio/classroom where the customer can work on anything they choose in the knowledge there will be someone close at hand to give them help as needed. It can provide special, scheduled classes on specific techniques or offer them one-on-one.

It is a source where customers can find everything (or almost everything) they can desire when it comes to working with ceramics. Full lines of paints, brushes, decals, music boxes, greenware, bisqueware, firing, etc.

This kind of business really has no customers because most customers become part of the family. It is also one of the most time-demanding of all; but the rewards cannot be measured.

Watch for future articles regarding how to proceed with your chosen venture.


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