[Clayart] selling pots

Robert Briscoe rlbriscoe at gmail.com
Fri Dec 13 22:19:09 EST 2013

Great topic and this does need a deep and serious debate because this is 
all changing.

I am getting slightly towards the tail end of this adventure (selling 
pots and making a living).  By this I mean I am not feeling very 
creative about the marketing piece, or at least my longer term future, 
involving me actively working on new promotions. Even though I do hope 
to be able to do this for at least another twenty years at some level.

I always felt to make a living we unfortunately had to give up about a 
third of our pottery brains to getting people to know we exist as hand 
makers.  Somebody has to send up a flare, bang a drum or raise a flag or 
they won't know you exist.  For me art fairs did that for me very well 
for years (provided me with an audience), all I had to do was, get in 
the events and show up with my best work in a good quantity and see if 
anyone liked my story I was trying to tell.  I did local, regional and 
national events, as well as a now 25 year old studio sale in the Fall 
each year.  I have exhibited in galleries and exhibitions all over as 
well as teach workshops.  I still do all of these things but a lot less 
of each.  The one thing I was clear enough about was I needed to keep a 
mailing list.  My list is now about 5000 names and is updated 
(freshened) usually three times a year.  I do get email addresses but I 
am not actively sending email blasts as yet.  I probably will do more of 
this in the future, but then maybe I won't pay any attention to that 
side at all.  I have a website for updating my schedule and put 
information specific to my self-generated events at my studio.

Twenty two years ago we (8 Minnesota potters along the Eastern side of 
the state north of Minneapolis) started the St Croix Valley Potters 
Tour, http://minnesotapotters.com/  which started well, but sales were 
slower s than my art fairs and my Fall sale which was taking off 
successfully.  The first three or four years of the tour it was a full 
time job keeping all of us going forward with the event.  By the fifth 
year it started to make real sense as a viable way to have good numbers 
of sales in our backyards. On the tenth year it was a beginning to 
become a real regional pottery phenomenon.   We began inviting guest 
potters from all over the country around the fifth year and have 
expanded that part every year as we felt the show  could stand the added 
potters and pots.  The audience has grown along with us, and now has 
become a national audience (we estimate it to be about 5000+)  One very 
smart decision we made early on was to keep the tour as intimate as 
possible, so we kept the number of studios small (7) and expanded the 
show internally by inviting guests.  Next year there will be 51 potters 
at seven studios.  Each studio chooses their guests without an overall 
jury system, we trust each other to pick great potters to show with us.  
We have encouraged and convinced all the potters to keep bringing more 
pots (come deep in inventory), they have and I think conservatively last 
year we had 10,000 great pots on display.  We, for some reason never 
required the guest potters to share a mailing list until four or five 
years ago.  Now we expect full mailing lists to be shared no matter how 
far away the potters came from.  We do not keep anyone's lists, but 
rather ask for them each year and make a new list.  We did a zipcode 
study the last two years at the moment a purchase is completed and found 
over 20% of our customers traveled more than 300 miles.  Our Spring 
mailing is now over 30,000 copies of our Tour posters sent nationally.

I really love selling pots to my local audience and try hard to nurture 
that particular part.  I have spent forty years, half on the road and 
half here locally so I have a mail list that is from all over the US, 
and they all matter.  I am shocked when I talk to potters that have not 
kept a list from the events they do away from home, or when they teach 
workshops that they don't keep the workshop attendees names and addresses.

I also am writing all this to encourage potters to view themselves as 
national figures if they have customers on their mail list from outside 
their region, and invite other potters to share the event as guests and 
send their addresses along with yours.  People will travel to see great 
work.  Make it memorable when they come to honor you and your guest 
potters by appreciating you and your works.  Be generous and make 
hospitality a key ingredient to that experience.  Even though I am still 
doing all the types of events I mentioned, I am so thankful we started 
this Tour and that I have established my Fall sale (with three guest 
potters) as cornerstones in my income foundation.

I do not believe there is an accident happening here in Minnesota we 
have invested a lot of work, creative juice and money.  I believe this 
can be duplicated most anywhere in different degrees depending on the 
size of the regional audiences. There is a great event happening North 
of Omaha, Nebraska http://www.omahanorthhillspotterytour.com/ that does 
a very similar event to ours and is highly successful after only six or 
seven years.  It can be created in your neighborhood as well.  Sorry 
this was so long winded, but this is just scratching the surface of this 

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