Thursday, December 1, 2011

Birds In The Hand

Jar from yesterday's firing

I've been asked about my post concerning taking special/custom orders. So, fellow potters, Why is a special order not the proverbial "bird in the hand" and, as such, better than two in the bush, you ask?

It took me a number of years to finally figure out why taking orders didn't work when, on the face of it, it seemed that an order was exactly that "bird in the hand" -- a sure thing. But most potters I know figured out some time ago that two birds awaiting in the bush are already going to be theirs just as soon as we can get to them. And the perverse thing is that the order is not actually a bird in the hand, rather, it is bird repellent.

Why, you ask?

I've come up with at least four reasons:

1. Not everything a potter makes is equally cost effective where production time is concerned. And the perverse thing is that orders are, more often than not, the least cost effective thing we can make. We rarely have the benefit of practice over multiple pieces to get the order as perfect as the body of our regular work. As a special order, it likely has elements we've never even tried. Those factors all add up to a very non-cost-effective piece.

2. It is not possible to match the order to the expectation. When pottery, by its very kiln-fired nature is unpredictable, it's never going to come out as the customer imagined it when they ordered it. Sure, it might come out even better than they expected.

Yeah, right.

3. And somewhat connected to #2. What taking special orders does is culls from the pool of possible customers a sub-group of customers who are the least satisfied with your work as currently presented. If they loved what you did as a potter, they would likely take pots from your stock of already made pieces.

4. And here's the real clincher: Most potters I know are already going to sell all the inventory they are capable of making in a year's time. Most potters I know have one predominant determiner of their annual income, and that is how much inventory they can make in a year. Therefore, taking an order does not increase a potter's income -- it merely predetermines what he/she will be making next.


  1. Agreed. That said, I still let myself get sucked into taking custom orders...need to practice saying 'no' more.

  2. That pretty much sums it up.... The only qualifier would be for folks who can't sell their inventory in that amount of time. If you are used to seeing some things languish on displays, a certain amount of self doubt can creep in and commissions would definitely take on the appearance of a bird in the hand. But your other points are pretty much universal. I sometimes need to make double the number for a commission just so I can hedge my bets on things working out in these unfamiliar ways. That's a lot of extra effort, especially once the bird has flown and you are left with these pots that are just a bit out of place and hopefully close enough to other people's tastes.

    Good luck on your holiday sales!

  3. Kathy, I end up taking them too. I almost always regret it, but I could easily come up with a longer post than the previous as to why I DO take orders (when I do) even though I know it will never work out.

    Carter, you're right. And one other reason I take orders when I do is that I have some faithful customers whom it is a pleasure to try to accommodate. I just wish it worked out better when I do.