Category Archives: Behind the Scenes

Pop Up Shop

This weekend we participated in a pop up sale at major retailer. Essentially, a pop up sale is when an artist comes into a retail space and sets up shop temporarily and runs his/her sales through his/her own register. Pop up sales are a way that retailers can provide an event to draw in more customers without having to do much more than clear off a table or clear out floor space for a table. The artist has the advantage of drawing in new customers and have a sale in air conditioning.

We have had subpar experiences at pop up sales, but we still think they are important to participate in. Below, you will find 3 reasons why we think it’s good practice for an artist to do a pop up sale. You will also find 5 tips for artists and 5 tips for retailers. We hope these tips will improve your (both artists’ and retailers’) experience of the pop up.

3 reasons why it’s good practice to participate in pop up sales

Increase exposure and grow audience

This is probably the most obvious reason for why artists can benefit from participating in pop up sales. When you are showing your work in a new space, you will meet new people. The crowds who shop at retailers can be different than the crowds at art fairs. Even more, retailers can use the opportunity to see how your work does on the sales floor before they make the commitment to take you on as a wholesaler. If you intend to grow your audience through a pop up sale, it is important to promote this event on all your social media outlets ahead of time- making sure you use tags and hashtags connected with the event.

Foster Partnership with Retailers

The time leading up to the sale as well as during the pop up, you are building a relationship with a retailer. By being at the store, you are helping to draw more potential buyers into the space. Good marketing will make it so that you’re the attraction, but hopefully more impulse buys will happen in the store as well. You are there to make the store look good and increase its sales as well as increasing your own sales and audience.

Gain familiarity with selling in a retail space

Many artists’ experience with retail is as a consumer. As a consumer, you are thinking about prices, selection, efficiency, meeting your own needs and wants. Retailers are concerned with margins, attractive merchandising, ample selection, high turn rates. For artists to succeed, we must empathize with retailers. As wholesalers, the retailer is our customer- not the consumer. The more we are familiar with selling retail, the more we can empathize with and anticipate the need of our retail partners. For example, through my experience working in retail, I learned the importance of beautiful packaging. I could not stand it when my wholesalers sent me product that wasn’t ready for the shelves. Participating in a pop up sale will help artists learn what it takes to sell their work effectively in a retail space.

5 Tips For Artists

Accept Payment

The customers who are coming into the retail space are expecting that store to accept all major credit cards. Therefore, in order to increase your sales, bring a mobile register (like Square) with you. If you are serious about growing your art business, you have to invest in a mobile register. The 3% transaction fee is worth not losing an entire sale just because you can’t accept credit cards.

Package Purchases

It is best to bring bags with your business’s name and logo on them. This way, when you package up a sale, your brand can get more eyes. Never underestimate the power of peer pressure in sales. If multiple people are walking around with the goods they purchased from your table, more customers in that store will come to find your table. I hear, “Well, I don’t want to carry it around with me,” as a regular excuse for why people don’t purchase our mugs. So we made it easy for them to carry it around with them. We have nice looking paper bags, with handles, and a sticker with our logo. We also use bright green tissue paper to draw even more attention to the purchase.

Merchandise Effectively

You are displaying your work in a store. Managers and clerks spend almost all of their time creating displays, straightening up after customers, and making their inventory look as attractive as possible. Your table should look like another display in the store. Before you arrive to the pop up, look at pictures of the retail space online. Plan your display to complement the store’s displays. For example, if you are showing in a store that is super into crates and reclaimed wood- bring a couple of crates and a piece of reclaimed wood with you. If you are showing in a sleek and modern store, bring clear acrylic stands.

Clarify expectations

The manager who invited you to participate in the pop up sale should provide you with an informational packet. In the event that they didn’t, clarify expectations with them. Check to find out what time they want you there and what time they want you to pack up. Find out if they have a loading dock or any other specifications for dropping off your wares. Ask if they will have a table and a chair for you. Find out if there’s a restroom on site and if there are any rules about food or beverages. Use this opportunity to clarify your own expectations of them. This is a two-way relationship.

Identify yourself

Assume that customers have no idea who you are. If you’ve made t-shirts with your business name/ logo on them, I recommend wearing them to the sale. This will also help distinguish you from the actual employees of the store. Bring a banner to hang from your table. Bring business cards and flyers so that interested buyers can find you after the sale. Introduce yourself to everyone who stops by and tell them why you are there. They will love that they can meet a real artist in the flesh!

5 Tips For Retailers

Clarify expectations

It’s my personal preference to make assumptions that it is everyone’s first time doing anything. When you invite an artist to come into your store, provide an informational packet outlining your expectations in regards to time, use of space, style of dress, set up and tear down. Providing clear expectations ahead of time will ensure that you will get the results that you want from this pop up sale.

Educate your customers

Your customers don’t know what a pop up sale is and they have no idea why there is an artist standing at a table with a bunch of their work. Teach your customers through marketing, social media, and conversations about this concept of a pop up sale. Teach them why it is important to you to know the maker of the merchandise sold in your store.

Provide signage

Providing signage can be a continuation of “Educate your customers.” Put up a special sign on the sidewalk outside of your store, inviting potential customers to come in and experience the pop up sale. Put signage around the space where the pop up is that says, “Pop Up Sale!” or “Meet the maker!” Put signs around the store directing customers to the pop up sale table.

Practice Hospitality

It is very awkward and uncomfortable for an artist (who spends most of their time alone in their studio) to come into a new retail space. They don’t know where the bathroom is. They don’t what the rules are about use of furniture. They don’t know any of the employees or the customers. Introduce the employees to the artist. Welcome the artist into the space and help them get comfortable. Provide them with bottled water and a comfortable chair. As part of your sales pitch to customers, invite them to stop by the pop up table. You wanted this artist here and you want a happy customer, make it happen.

Value Local

You are so lucky that you know an artist who is willing to come into your store and give up half a day standing at a table, selling their work to a bunch of strangers. Local artists work their asses off for their craft. They care more about the quality and integrity of their merchandise than any factory in China will. Even more, local artists spend their earnings in the local economy. If your artist is successful, the fiscal health of your community will improve. Value your artist. Honor the prices they set on their work. Tell your customers how much you value your artist. Advertise for this event. Make this artist feel special. They sacrifice for their craft more than you’ll ever know. Help them succeed. If your artists succeed, your store will too.

I hope this post helps artists and retailers have successful pop up sales! Interact with us on Facebook and Twitter to share any tips I may have missed!

xoxo,

Grace

Pottery: Innovation in an Ancient Craft

What do you think of when you hear the word “innovation?”

Maybe you think of the future? Do you think of technology? Maybe more generally progress comes to mind.

What if you hear the word, “pottery?”

Do you think of ancient archeological digs? Do images of crafts, arts, or hobbies pop up?

Since the dawn of human history, our ancestors were discovering the power of clay.

This strange malleable mud can be formed into a useful tool. Clay, when shaped, dried and put into a fire, becomes permanent and rigid. Now, with a little creative innovation we can make what we needed to survive. Bowls, storage vessels, and water jugs allowed for a certain consistency in human life. Water could be carried from the river to the campsite. Grain could be stored after the harvest.

I would have loved to see the face of early humans as they worked out the potential of clay. The dawn of ceramics was the dawn of our future. Each generation of potter explored and pushed the limits of what was thought possible with clay. The first potters were our first innovators.

So how do we at Studio 2 Ceramics practice this ancient tradition of innovation?

When we started developing our MN Mugs, it came in fits and starts. We spent many hours in the studio testing forms, process, and techniques to get the results that had been bouncing around our brains. After each new set of mugs came out of the kiln we’d spent some time with the new products and then walk away. We’d let them stew in our heads. Asking, “What worked with this design?” “Are we happy with them?” “What could be improved?” We looked at what other potters were doing and made adjustments.

Many morning and afternoons, usually while walking our dogs, we’d talk about the studio and bounce ideas off one another, trying our best to let the ideas come out unfiltered. These unedited ideas are our spark for innovation. A partially formed thought here, a “what if” question there and hours of testing and observation pushes us to innovate naturally. Many times I’d start my ideas with, “This may be a terrible idea” and often the unedited version wasn’t great. But that didn’t stop us from trying them out and see what worked and what didn’t.

The biggest enemy of innovation is keeping our ideas to ourselves. When we make, we collaborate with each other, with other artists, with illustrators, friends, and our customers. Because we share our ideas, creativity can follow freely.

Our ancient ancestors shared ideas, too. They collaborated on designs and adjusted the forms to best suit their needs.

How will you practice innovation today? Who will you collaborate with on an idea you have?

Share your ideas with us on facebook and Twitter!

– Jim

Finding our voice

When growing a small business and establishing a brand, the first thing the gurus tell us is to find our voice. This is all fine and good, but if we don’t know what we are listening for, how will we know when we find it? And is finding our voice something we just discover by chance- like finding a pair of limited edition Heritage cowboy boots at a consignment shop?

The simile might be a stretch. Do normal people even know what Heritage boots are?

Heritage boots are handcrafted, high end cowboy boots made in Mexico by actual boot artisans. Each boot is custom made and stitched by hand. Each boot is its own work of art. These shoes are made to last and made for class. There is a higher chance of you being hit by lightning while doing laundry in your basement than you discovering a pair of Heritage boots in a consignment shop. Owners do not part with their Heritage boots, nor should they.

The style of these boots is recognizable. The superior leather (they sometimes even use shark skin), the highest skill, the fastidious attention to detail- all make up the finest footwear. And the price, though lower than some boots on the market, can be prohibitive. Again, normal people might not be able to afford a pair of these boots- thus is the cost of superior and ethical craft. Normal people might imagine the feel of slipping on a pair of custom made cowboy boots. The rise of the heel just high enough to feel confident, but low enough to still be practical. The tooling across the leather reminds you that on your feet are two pieces of art. A boot so captivating that you actually think you’re wearing it, but you’re only reading about it on a website.

Finding our voice is like finding this unicorn of a boot in a consignment shop. We’ve seen it before, but only briefly and in part. We’d recognize it, if we were digging through a bin. But no one will just give it to us. Our voice is our own. It belongs to our brand, our work. No one can make our voice for us.

Listening to the stories of other entrepreneurs shaping their businesses, their brands, and finding their voices, I’m beginning to realize that we aren’t just going to discover ours. We are going to try it on, put it back on the shelf. We’ll pick up another and try that one on, too. Eventually, we will get closer and closer. Eventually, we will discover that, in fact, our voice was there all along, being handcrafted, stitched together, piece by piece. We will look back on our journey, and we will see that we were shaping it, together. We will see it emerge, and we will name it.

How did you discover your voice? If you own your own business, how did you shape your brand? Leave a comment on our Facebook or Twitter, or email me at grace@studio2ceramics.com.

xoxo,

Grace

What the heck are we doing?

While Jim has been throwing pots for 15 years, and I (Grace) have been an artist and entrepreneur-spirited gal for 33 years, we still feel new at this whole “own your own studio” thing.

In 2005, I moved into Jim’s studio in the basement of the Thorpe building. He had his side where he threw pots and then took them up to Bethel University to fire them in their soda kiln. I had my side of the studio where I painted and drew and made collages. It didn’t take long for me to come up with an idea to add a gallery to our space. Something Jim learned very quickly about me is that I’m always thinking of ways to build revenue.

We built a gallery, named it Gallery Courbet, had some shows, sold some work. We showed and sold our friends’ work as well and began shaping our “brand.” At the time, we did not know that’s what we were doing. At the same time, I was fresh out of college with  not-so-hireable English and Art History degrees. I was working odd jobs to make rent and Jim was working at Caribou from 5am-11am before coming into the studio.

Eventually, we realized that we couldn’t afford to keep paying rent on our apartment and our studio, so we shut down shop for a few years. We sold the kiln, moved the wheel to my grandma’s house, and worked hard at increasing our cash flow in and reducing the cash flow out.

The next few years were a dark few years. While we were improving our financial situation, we were not improving our emotional situation. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, when you take the studio away from artists, you take away our life force.

Praise the maker for the housing market crash. Not for all the people who were victimized by the banks or lost their homes. But this market crash was our way to buy our life force back. We began looking for homes with unfinished basements. Because of the crash, we were able to buy a historic home with a full, unfinished basement, with a kiln room (root cellar) in the artist district of Northeast Minneapolis. We moved in May of 2012, bought our kiln in August of 2012 and we were back in business.

As we look back over the path of Studio 2 Ceramics, buying our own kiln made all the difference for our business. We now were able to fire in small batches -16 mugs at a time. When we were taking our ceramics up to Bethel, we would only go a couple times of year. The kilns there are made to hold whole classrooms worth of work. We are just two artists- one potter, one glazer. This quicker turn around helped us shape our style, and ultimately, our brand. Firing in small batches, we were able to make tweaks to our designs and our methods regularly. We were now able to turn custom orders in just a few weeks, rather than a few months. We could shape and design our identity as Studio 2 Ceramics. And best of all, we could fire at home, rather than 15 miles away.

We are coming up to our 4th anniversary in our home (and studio) and we still don’t know what we are doing. We are still trying to figure out where we want this business to go. We are still shaping our brand, though we do know we are getting closer. We now have 7 retail partners, a regular booth at the Northeast Minneapolis Farmers Market and an Etsy shop. Our confidence is growing and our partnership is paramount to our business (and of course our life together.) We have a new website coming soon, and a growing social media audience. Looking back over the last 11 years together, there’s no way I would have imagined that we would have sold 200 MN Mugs in one year or that the Minnesota Zoo would want our work!

We might not know exactly what we are doing, but we believe we are doing it well. Jim and I have the fortune to be able to be life partners as well as business partners. We love working together and our creativity feeds each other. We feel so thankful to be able to make pottery together and grow Studio 2 Ceramics.

Going forward, I hope to be blogging regularly about our development as a business and as artists. I am reading a number of books on entrepreneurship and plan to review them on this blog. I also intend to share with you how we think about business development, what struggles we encounter as we grow, and what I’m learning about social media marketing.

Questions, comments, hopes, and dreams? Email me at grace@studio2ceramics.com

xoxo,

Grace