Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Lobby for a Hobby

My brother remains persistent with his questions. Must be love. 

Every time I openly wonder out loud about navigating the maze that is making a living via pottery, no matter how I frame it, the response comes from the assumption that I am needing more places to sell my work. "Have you tried galleries? ...have you tried Etsy? ...have you tried open houses? ....have you tried....?"

The latest: My brother just asked if I might approach Hobby Lobby about putting a stand of my pottery in their store.

I think what it comes down to is the problem I've always had and always will have: The reality is that I probably don't need multiple markets. Multiple means of marketing are so confounding. They defeat each other, and ultimately, they defeat the one thing that means the most to my annual income: How many pots can I make in a year (and guessing the right ones to make)?

This has always been hard to wrap my mind around. Being a potter doesn't work like most businesses wherein if you need more product to sell, you simply order more. In my case, if I need more inventory, I have to make it. And whichever means by which I chose to market cannot monopolize too much of my production time.

And the other side of that equation isn't easy either. That is, if I'm perpetually out of inventory, I can't simply raise my prices (as the corporate businessman would surmise). The market is too small and the alternative too multiple and it always will be. I'm amazed sometimes that I get the prices I get for my pieces. I started as a twenty-year-old no-name with $6 mugs. I sell mugs for $42 now. But it's not like I can simply raise my prices. The market won't bear it. 

Besides, even that is a trap that's hard to navigate. That is: The price of a piece isn't what I can sell it for. The price of a piece is what I can regularly sell it for. So, sure, I can sell one pitcher for, say. $130. Knowing my market as I do, I'd say that wouldn't be that hard to do…

…But the problem is that I most likely can't ALWAYS sell pitchers for $130. The art fair market is uneven – spread as it is over a crazy quilt of demographics, geography, and quality variables. There are “A” shows and there are “C” shows. And those shows are spread out over an uneven landscape of regional expectations ($130 isn’t even beer money in NY, but it’s a week’s groceries in AL). And if you’re not guaranteed a season of “A” shows, your pricing has to reflect your dependence upon “B” shows.

So, if I want to look at, say, a pitcher as a viable "product", I have to figure out how much of my annual income I can make from pitchers (perhaps $3,000 a year?) and calculate whether or not I'm still meeting that annual goal at the current price. I have to find a price at which a pitcher will always sell in any market, and that price has to pay me what I need from it -- annually.

And if I can't make enough from the pitcher (maybe I conclude that it requires too much labor for the price I can charge) then I have to be calculating enough to decide not to make it.

All the while I have to understand that all these lines are quite blurred by the fact that the pottery itself doesn't stay constant. I have good firings and bad and everything in between. And in some markets I'm John Bauman -- known, published potter....and in other (most) markets I'm just one other potter offering pitchers on the street with 25 other potters doing exactly the same thing.

Finally, add to that the fact that it is part of my genetic coding to be more driven by significance than I am by security. That is, it’s hard for me to be calculating about what I should and shouldn’t be making. Honestly? ….if I like to make pitchers (and I do), I am likely going to continue to make them to satisfy my soul. Economics be damned. And, yes, that means I’ll have to work harder somewhere else to pay myself for my pitcher time. It’s not science. But it is survival.

In short: I keep forgetting until reality smacks me in the face that there's really only one thing that matters to my bottom line: How many pots can I make in a year? I am RARELY in need of more market -- more ways to sell my pots. I am USUALLY trying to catch up with my inventory.