Friday, August 19, 2011

Math is Tough

Sometimes I agree with Teen Talk Barbie: math is hard. Or not so much hard as immutable, inexorable, and scary. In fact I didn't even do the math, except in a most general way, before I quit my job, because if I had I am certain I would have been intimidated out of taking the step. Sometimes it's necessary to burn the boats.

But now the boats are smoking hulks, and I need to make my new situation work. So I figured out how much, in clay & glaze materials & propane, each firing cycle costs, how many firings I can do per month, and how much income I need to replace.

Skipping all the overly personal stuff about what my precise income needs to be, I determined that I need to take $1100, wholesale, of salable ware out of each kiln load. My last load added up to about $750, or would have if everything had been salable, which it wasn't and it never is. We have a gap of about $400 between ought and is. I am at this time selling every single item that comes out of the kiln: for the last 3 or 4 firings, every single piece has already had a destination - a sold destination - when I loaded it.

First thing I notice: I need to charge more for the big pieces, big bowls and platters especially. They have a high failure rate and they occupy kiln space inefficiently; I can make twice as much, or more, money from a shelf full of mugs as I can a shelf full to serving bowls. Bowls are also magnets for little bits of debris that would bounce off a casserole or mostly likely miss a mug altogether. But I can't change that yet, since I am filling orders the prices of which are already set.
What I can change: I just purchased (from Ebay) some kiln shelves that fit my space better. I was still using the old shelves from my old kiln, because I couldn't afford all new furniture on top of the expense of kiln building. But these were a bargain & will increase the two layers on which I can use them by about $100 each. So there's half the problem solved.

I also need a few new stilts; I need some 6 inchers, I've only got soaps & half soaps, and not many of the halves. I also have a few bits of broken kin shelves to act as spacers. I've got about one million soaps, so I don't even have to buy brick, I jist need to get down to INFAB in Lewiston and get tehn to cut my brick. I think I can fit another layer in, doing that; that's around $100 depending on what is on the layer. So that's 3/4 of the problem, also for short money.

Which leaves a $100 gap. I have a couple of ideas - miniatures? - and of course there's always the ol' price increase option. I could also try to replace some of the income through classes & workshops, which seems like cheating, somehow, but whatever works. I am stone out of things to cut back on, so increased frugality is not an option.

Anyway. This is just the beginning of the math process, so I am sure other ideas will occur to me. I wonder: do other potters do this, or is it more seat-of-the-pants?

I am not tempermantally well-suited to seat-of-the-pants.


Sue Pariseau Pottery said...

Pendants and buttons make great kiln fillers and are pretty simple from clay scraps. With fiber arts make such a huge upsurge, hand made buttons are more sought after and can sell for as much as $5 each in some markets.

barbaradonovan said...

Doing the math makes me feel like hyperventilating. *sigh.

Patricia Griffin Ceramics said...

Always interesting to read how other artists work on the business side of things. This post led me to your other business-related entries. I read your "goodbye" to Etsy and it reinforced my thinking on it too. Every once in a while, I think "mmmm, maybe I should give it a try." And then I think about the time-suck... Great idea from Sue in the comments about the pendants and buttons.

- Cindy - said...

I was going to say EXACTLY what Sue said. If pendants and buttons aren't exciting to you, there are tons of other miniature things you could make out of ceramic and sell. Napkin rings, tiles, coasters (just a time with some cork or something stuck on the bottom), soap dish, beads, spice jars/bottles... mini pots have unexpected uses too. Espresso cups, bud vases, shot glasses- I just had a couple tell me a miniature pot of mine was perfect for holding their wedding rings when in bed or the shower. Let those little wasted bits of the kiln inspire you! :D And yes, raise the prices on big stuff in the future. People will pay for it.

Sean Benson said...

Hi Lori, I'm sort of in the same situation and trying to build my pottery into a business. I've started selling through other businesses. We have a paper-flower company here that is unique. They buy my bud vases at $6 a piece and resell them at $12. An ice cream shop gets small bowls for $3 and gives people the chance to buy them with ice cream in them for $7. It's not perfect but has gotten me commissions :) And I get lots of practice.