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How To Start A Ceramic Business - Seminar - Part 5: Article or Project

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I see you are still with us. That proves to me you have commitment or are insane. In a way, though, it is true. To start your own business you have to be committed and self-motivated. There are a lot of brick walls and barriers that need to be scaled in order to be successful. In many ways, running your own business is a lot more work than being an employee somewhere else. There is another side to the coin however - The rewards are often unbeatable. Where else can you ‘play’ and make some money doing it.

Remember our checklist in Part 2? Let’s see how we are doing.

Create a Name – Check
Secure a web domain - Check
Make a budget - Check
Obtain a checking account - Check
Licensing, legal matters and accounting - Check
Secure a location - Check
Lay out floor plan – Check

So far, so good. We are getting there. Now, it is time to set-up the store and spend some money.


You will need a ton of shelving. In a ceramic shop, I don’t think you ever run out of the need for shelves. You need small ones for supplies, large strong ones for molds and all the in-between sizes for bisque and greenware and projects. You will probably need some form of shelving in every room or area of your shop. Again, the kind of shelving you will need will depend upon which form of business you select.

Student/classroom area you will probably want a place for your clients to put their projects between visits. Do set some limits so you are not left holding things for an undo amount of time. Some shops even provide an area for clients to leave their personal supplies. My shop had old gym lockers I got from a school auction and the regulars were able to keep their things there between visits and lock their purses up while attending classes.

The firing area should have plenty of space for projects left to be fired as well as a separate area for projects ready to be picked up.

The pouring area should have enough shelves for the drying of wetware and a place for people’s orders ready for pick-up.

I don’t recommend spending a lot of money on shelving or displays unless you have a large sum to invest in your business. Instead, using a simple design, make whatever you can; or at least shop around for the better deals. Often times, you can find used displays from outlets specializing in display fixtures. Simple portable shelving can be made from 2x4’s, 2x2’s and plywood to create sturdy and useful units. Making them free-standing and modular is a plus to allow you flexibility in re-design when you need or want to make a change. Shelving make great partitions to separate various areas of your store.

You also will need work tables - some for students, some for the casting area, and probably some for various displays. If you watch your sales, thrift stores and other venues, you should be able to pick some up at a reasonable cost or you can make your own. A sheet of thick plywood with folding legs purchased from Home depot can make a nice sturdy table. Just paint it or cover it with some kind of cleanable surface like oil cloth. A good size table would be about 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. As mentioned before, a track could be placed down the middle with 2x2 boards to hold partitions when needed if you desire. I found I could place 8-10 students around a 3x8 foot table if needed.

Displayers and glass cases are nice, especially if you plan on selling finished items. A glass case can double for a checkout area also. But keep in mind, these things are expensive and you may want to try and locate used ones for a good savings.

Remember, as you grow, you can change out fixtures to create a more pleasing presentation.

Besides those things mentioned above, you want to look at the following fixtures for your business:

A large lighted ‘OPEN’ sign,
A Checkout counter,
A computer (which would replace an adding machine, calculator and sales books),
A printer,
A credit card processor (can be done on computer) good to have manual back up however,
A clock,
Security mirrors and or cameras (optional),
One or more Kilns (varying sizes),
Pouring Table,
Couch and/or a couple of soft chair/s,
Coffee pot and/or hot plate,
Airbrush/s and small compressor/s,
Large compressor incl storage tank,
Slip machine and/or reclaimer,
Phones… probably 3 extensions (checkout, pouring area and classroom)
A paint dipping vat
Peg board and/or Slot wall to hang supplies and products for resale or for shelving for products and/or displays.
Pricing gun and/or tags
Industrial size shopvac
Other vacuum for carpeted areas
Trash barrels or cans

The above list can run into a lot of money, but a little creativity and you can save some money by shopping for used or by making your own.


As recommended earlier, you should make every effort to carry a full line of product from one company. You can get better pricing if you can order large enough quantities, but do the best you can to offer a good selection and good variety. If you start with one full line, you can slowly add others. It may not be possible to stock your store with a large number of supply items, but a good assortment and then add to it as you build is a good start.

Some supplies you should include in your full-service shop for resale

A full-line selection of both fired and non-fired paints
Specialty products like glitter, metallics, gold, mother of pearl, snow etc.
Spray and brush on sealer for non-fired items.
An assortment of decals
Wiring kits – selling components is better than pre made kits in most cases.
A full-line of good, quality brushes. (See article on brushes)
Plastic bulbs and stars for Christmas trees
Music boxes (assorted types and tunes)
Turn tables for music boxes
Stoppers for Salt & Pepper shakers and banks
Assorted cones (large and small)
Bathroom supplies
Cleaning supplies incl. vacuum bags, trash bags, Windex, etc.

And the list goes on. Try to have the accessories available that fit the bisque and greenware items you are selling. (clock works, water pumps, etc) You do not need to have A LOT of everything, but a few of each with a large assortment will be better. You will soon find out what your customers will want you to carry. DO NOT try to have everything or you will wind up with too much that won’t sell. Each shop will need different things than another shop somewhere else.

At the same time, be sure to order supplies you will need to run your shop and classes to include: bulk glazes, slip, casting tools, teaching aids,

Search for a local wholesale supplier or one on-line who will give you good discounts and low or reasonable shipping. Some will offer free shipping with orders over a specific dollar amount. With your business license and/or tax permit, you should be able to secure a 40-50% discount on most of your ceramic products. Many manufacturers will give you the greater discount if you make a minimum purchase of their full-line of product. I recommend you go for a name-recognized brand with proven credibility and quality as your basic line.

Some paint manufactures offer stacking racks designed to hold their paint products which are great in that you can usually replenish inventory by placing newest in back and customers pull oldest from the front. Also, some of the manufacturers provide or sell ceramic color chip charts that show what their paints should look like when applied (and/or fired). This is a great aid for both teacher and customer when selecting products for a specific project and are much better than the paper charts.

TIP: Stocking and storing paints upside down extends their shelf life. You may need to modify your shelving to enable you to do this, but the tip should be passed on to the customer.


I believe it is about time to get your orders in to turn on your utilities. You may have to leave hefty deposits and remember – Commercial utility rates are almost ALWAYS higher than personal or residential rates. So, if you are doing a home-based business, do not change over your utilities to a business name. The IRS allows you to pro-rate your monthly bills for a portion to be applied to business expenses.

Another perk for the home-based business owner is the ability to add a phone number to your residential number that will signal you when a call comes in that it is a business call. This is great because you will not need a second line. Besides most phone companies offering this dual service on one line, there are several on-line network companies that offer a similar service free. See Google voice. The drawback is that unless you get a business line and number, you will not have a yellow-pages presence in your local directory. Often times, home-based businesses opt out of having that feature in order to keep costs down.

You can also add this second line feature to a business line so that you can have after-hours or personal calls that you can easily identify and accept when you might not want a business call. Technology is changing too fast to keep up with it all; but you are encouraged to try. It can only enhance your business. More about technology in a later session.


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How To Start A Ceramic Business - Seminar - Part 5

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