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How to Start a Ceramic Business - Seminar - Part 3: Article or Project

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By now, you have some idea as to what kind of venture you want to tackle. And you have pretty well determined where you want to locate your new business. Of course money is going to be a strong factor in how much space you have to begin; but I encourage you to not cramp yourself too tightly because this kind of business can grow by leaps and bounds.

Break your shop into sections. The number and kinds of areas will be determined by the needs you will have to perform the kind of business you are wanting. Imagine if you will:

an area for mold production,
an area for firing,
an area for greenware,
an area for bisque,
an area for packing and shipping
an area for supplies,
a classroom for open workshop,
a classroom for formal training/classes,
areas for display of projects or featured activities, or promotions,
a check out area
a possible lounge area
a possible children’s corner
an area for finished giftware

Reception/Checkout

When I first started my business, it was in my kitchen. Customers would wander around my and look at the things I made for my own home and got ideas to decorate their own. I liked the casual atmosphere and I carried it forward to my first stand alone shop. I rented an old Daycare Center and set up the entrance/foyer/reception area as an actual front room. I had a couch with catalogs of my molds spread on a coffee table and the customers would browse through them to find projects. I decorated the room with as many ceramics as you would find in a home (maybe a few more). My check out area was there in the form of a converted bar with counter and cash register and appropriate framed signs. People actually felt that they were coming into someone’s home.

The point being, make your front entrance inviting. It will create your first impression to your customer and they will carry that with them when they leave. Make the area open and airy so there will be no crowding when people come in or check out. Keep the area extra neat and clean and welcoming. This is a great area to display finished pieces for sale; however displays of finished ware can be set up throughout the shop.

It is important to keep your entire shop as clean as possible, but keep in mind, having classes around finished items creates a housekeeping nightmare. I strongly suggest that you set up partitions between actual class and work areas to help keep the dust under control. If your potential location has separate rooms, more the better. Mine had lots of rooms. I had a couple rooms for classes and workshops, I had a room just with finished items, I had a room just for greenware and another just for bisque. You can create the same effect in a large space with partitions or how you set up your shelving. You will need LOTS of shelving.

Classroom/workshop

Some full service shop owners like to have their class and work areas in the front of their shop so that people passing by or who walk in will see others having fun and they will want to join in. You will have to determine which you feel more comfortable with. I saw one successful shop that had her’s split down the middle…finished gifts on one side up front and work tables all along the other side. There was a lot of foot traffic and people often stopped to ‘window shop’ and many ventured in.

For your class room/s, you would probably want to consider an area just for cleaning greenware and an area for painting. No matter how you keep repeating to your students to NOT BLOW and to NOT create a dust-storm brushing away ceramic dust from their pieces, invariably someone will and they could easily contaminate another students glazed work.

If you have the space, look at having an area for an airbrush carrel and/or a spatter booth. If you don’t have space for separate areas then you may want to have some kind of portable units available. These can easily be made by creating a three section folding privacy screen (about 2’ - 2 1/2' high) to sit on top of work tables. These units can also be used to segregate clients who are cleaning from those who are glazing.

If you make your class tables big enough…and I strongly recommend you make them BIG, you can run a slot down the length of the middle and slide dividers in to separate the sides when needed. Large tables are wonderful for many reasons. It inspires people to get to know each other, help each other and it is easier for the attendant to keep an eye open to help more people who may need it.

Casting

If your facility allows it, you will want to set up a casting area. Besides being the heart of your business, it can also be a useful instructional tool. I taught may a customer how to cast molds. Once they went through my stringent training program, I would allow them to come in and cast their own for a discount most any time they wanted.

Just remember. If you are paying high retail prices, you will want to do your major casting at another location. Paying high prices to shelve your molds and do your casting is not cost effective and will severely cut into your small profit margin.

However, having a small casting area with a small selection of molds for instructional purposes is a good idea IF you have the space for it. If you don’t, you may want to offer private lessons to individuals or small groups at whatever location where you do cast your molds.

Firing

If you have a small shop, you may want to take the pieces needing to be fired home, but remember to do so is a risk. The more you handle an item moving it back and forth, the greater the risk of breaking someone’s creation. Sometimes it is a matter of economics tho, and the most important thing is to make sure you can ‘live’ with the location you rented.

If you can fire items on location, look at having shelving broken down into sections where one section is for glazes, one for greenware, one for decals/lusters, one for specialty temperatures. Etc. Have the customer tag their items so you know what they want. Maybe even have them fill out a firing form to put with their items saying how many items and what temp they want them fired at. What ever system you set up, I encourage you to involve your customer.

Have another area for pick up, where things have been fired. Here you will want to be able to divide the pieces per customer and I would suggest you NOT let the customer pull their own. It is very easy for them to pick up someone else’s piece by error. AND you do not want any fumbles causing breakage of someone else’s pieces.

Packing & Shipping

You will need an area to be able to pack up peoples orders as well as shipping. This area will need to be stocked with a barrel of shred and/or shredder; assorted boxes, packing tape, bubble wrap and/or popcorn (styrofoam) and any other packing/shipping materials to facilitate moving your product off the premises.

Supplies

Your supplies area need not be huge, but should provide adequate space to carry at least ONE full line of paint product and if possible more. Make it easy to access so you can put newest to the back and oldest to the front. You do need to make sure that you have any paint product that you recommend to people (even if it is odds n ends from other lines) if at all possible. If you like a product enough to recommend it, you should try to stock it. You also need to make sure you have adequate space for accessories, tools and brushes. Pick a line of brushes like paints and offer a full line. Try to find the best products that you can believe in. Your belief and faith in a product is what will sell it.

Lounge area

Provide a small lounge/snack area. Include a comfortable chair or couch if possible and a refrigerator and something to make coffee or tea. This will encourage people to bring lunches and snacks and they will stay longer instead of leaving when they are hungry or need a break.

Other

Make sure you have a prominent area, most likely up front by your check out that shows new products, upcoming classes, special projects, etc. You will want point of sale advertising as well as special advertising throughout your shop. Change these out frequently so that your clients look for what is new and don’t become bored by the same old thing. Example, in your bisque area and/or your greenware area have a display of THIS MONTH’S SPECIAL or WHAT’S NEW and feature a specific piece with a special price. Up front have a display of upcoming classes or featured techniques.

Doing it

Alright, now you have in your mind’s eye, how you want to lay out your shop. NOW put it on paper. Draw out a rough design, then fine tune it to scale for a final draft. When I would open a location (for myself or others), I would draw a scale drawing of the space. Then, to scale, I would cut out pieces of paper representing each of my pieces of furniture and display shelving, etc. I would play with the pieces moving them around seeing how things would fit together and make best use of my space.

To keep costs down, I built most of my display shelving, class tables and work areas, partitions and carrels and anything else I could that was sturdy, functional and as attractive as I could. 3’ x 8’ Plywood covered with oil cloth (paint would have been fine) and table leg kits from Home Depot worked great for my tables. The spare pieces went toward some of my shelving. With 2x4's and plywood, you can make anything. A little paint made them look pretty good. I designed some great shelves for my molds, greenware and bisque, that I never changed. They were sturdy, versitile and functional. Over time, as my business grew, I was able to replace some displayers with more professional fixtures.

More about furnishings and fixtures will be discussed in a future seminar.

 

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