Ceramic Studio Marketing, Part 3: Who is my customer, where are my customers and how do I reach them?

Based on your definition of your product, which in turn is dictated by the real needs of your customers, you can correctly define what your product or your services (such a teaching) – have to be like.

Types of businesses, by need.

If your customer is looking for recognition, self-gratification, creativity, social interface, entertainment and fun, then a teaching studio could meet those needs.

If your customers seek satisfaction to a need for beauty and aesthetics, then as a potter or decorating artist, you can satisfy those needs and sell the products you create. Those products could be one-of-a-kind, or a line of products made in larger numbers through a repetitive process such as casting or pressing, but with an individual touch in the decorating. Think of ceramic decorating artists and china painters.

If your customers are seeking beautiful, high-quality and unique utilitarian pieces to use at home or in their business, then that is what you need to make and sell, preferably made of stoneware or porcelain. Think of discerning housewives and upscale restaurants.

You need to decide on who your customers are and if making what they need suits your

personality and capacity to produce or teach and, as we will discuss here, how you will reach them.

Teaching Studios

I have visited and lectured in lots of teaching studios working in earthenware, stoneware or porcelain, located all over the world.  Some of them are home-based; some are located in rented space in high-traffic areas of a city or a suburb of a city, where they get street exposure.  Owners need to maintain a steady flow of sales at good profit margins to be able to cover all the expenses, from rent of the space they need (unless they are home-based), to compensation to themselves, to their employees and the multitude of other expenses and outlays that are a part of running a business.

Their customers are everywhere in their neighborhoods or cities, which explains why the ones located in high density population areas tend to be larger with more customers, but also have a higher overhead. It has struck me many times, though, how many studios in rural and outlying areas attract surprisingly large clientele. The many different needs the teaching studio satisfies give the studio the advantage of catering to a broad spectrum of customers and to grow their business in many ways.

When the contemporary ceramic studios made their entry into the ceramic market place the ceramic hobby business went through a revolutionary change. Their streamlined business system with the all-inclusive pricing (see Pricing for Profit article) and ready-to-decorate bisque shapes, opened up a new market for people needing a break from hectic jobs in today’s fast-paced environment. Also, parents found a new, attractive “playground” for their children. Their studios are filled with birthday and other celebrations. It was a new generation’s answer to their need for a quick yet creative break from stressful jobs involving both children and grown-ups. The studio owners belong to a younger generation compared to the traditional ceramic studios.

The customers are reached through storefront exposure in urban areas and the marketing with unlimited and fast reach to their customers through the various tools offered in our new computer-based era. The new concept also demands a new type of management which is stressful but financially rewarding.

Their potential clientel is to a large share of people in their neighborhoods. Even in this context, I have been impressed, though, by their geographic reach. Favorable word-of-mouth and effective internet follow-up and advertising can create a strong following of existing cusomers and attract new ones.  The result reflects the studio owner’s profile, skills in organizing and listening and catering to their needs.

What was started as an industry basically focused on earthenware bisque, has branched out into other ceramic areas such as stoneware bisque, wheel-throwing, clay- and glass- forming and other. This has the good side of offering new products to a broader spectrum of customers, but carries the risk of the owner getting spread too thin and weighed down financially by inventory and equipment.

This market segment has its own professisonal organization, the Contemporary Ceramic Studio Association (CCSA), which offers technical training as well as busienss advice at their national and local conventions and has an increasing international reach.

A similar structure exists for porcelain dolls and figurines, whose association ,The Doll Artisan Guild (DAG) has a long and successful tradition. The same applies to several  china painting studios. The traditonal ceramic studios with their heavier focus on an overall artistic ceramic experience from casting to decorating to firing, are normally found outside of high density urban areas. Their need for molds, greenware, slip, glazes, accessories and larger kilns demands space and are therefor present in lower-cost areas, while stilll maintaining high overhead. There is a large and devoted following for these studios world-wide, each art type having their own organizations, shows, teacher groups, cmpetitions and magazines. Their business model means that word-of-mouth plays a larger role in their marketing mix, along with good Website presence and promotions.

The classic one-of-a-kind potter

The other day I met a potter who has made one-of-a-kind cone 10 stoneware utilitarian items for a long time. Her promotion is essentially by word of mouth. During 45 years as a local potter, she was successfully occupied and at capacity practically all the time. What was her channel of distribution? Her main exposure comes from exhibiting at the local Artisan Guild in the small city where she lives. The orders generated there, through her yearly Open House limited distribution of flyers and some advertising in the local newspaper has kept her busy all those years. Her studio is located in her home with her gas-fired kiln in a small building on her property.

Potters with larger reach – medium to large size potteries

 

There are quite a number of potteries, both in the US and other countries, that are a cross between a medium-sized pottery with a following that is mostly local to regional – some even with a national following – and a full-fledged factory. These potteries have substantial overheads both from manufacturing their pieces, marketing and selling them and at the same time developing new products to keep their established customers buying. They follow the old saying that “Old customers buy new products and new customers buy old products (they are new to them)”.

Some of them maintain show-rooms in large metropolitan areas. Others sell through traveling and signing. Some have local and regional sales outlets. Or – they establish a large customer base with  thousands of names in a region where they are known for their special style or technique and sell through their websites, catalogs, promotional flyers and special events around the holidays.

The super-artist potter

Then there are potters with a national or international reputation who split their time between producing masterpieces and teaching their techniques. They have built a huge name recognition and their prices are high to very high. They get  exposure through participation in exhibitions, press reviews and invitation to appear before audiences, including TV and many other means in our celebrity concious society.

In between these different types of ceramic businesses, there are many variations. We all know of some that do not quite fit into the above listed ones, but have many aspects in common with them

What challenges do ceramic artists have in common?

 

  1. Identifying the profile of your ideal customers. This is a life-long pursuit as customers’ tastes and needs change both with age, experience, geographic location and exposure to new ceramic products and techniques. Consequently it takes time, observation, analysis and flexibility. A business friend of mine says that a good studio owner needs to be “half teacher and half missionary”. The studio owner needs to tend to his/her existing customer and at the same time find new ones. This, you can say, is a challenge to all ceramic artists.

 

  1. Managing your time. Since the business owner is the business, fatigue and exhaustion, which can easily follow, has to be anticipated and circumvented. Both these afflictions are challenging the business owner’s positive attitude, which is essential for the longevity of the business and, above all, to its positive word of mouth. Lack of effective time management can result in the closing of your business. We will discuss that in much more detail when we get to operating your business.

 

  1. Defining your area of influence. This means define where the products can be profitably sold. There is a limit, although the computer age has increased that area tremendously. With help of easy-to-use, inexpensive computerized mailing systems (such as Constant Contact), attractive web-sites, webinars (seminars on the web), socially interactive communities (Facebook, Twitter and other) a studio can reach out to customers way beyond what was the case just a decade ago.

 

In addition, the explosive streamlining of FedEx, UPS as well as trucking and containers traffic has made it possible for domestic and foreign business to expand profitably. Ceramic products are usually heavy but new transportation systems have made them attractive to a wide net of customers. This applies also to how products are brought into the US from foreign markets and, through a network of distributors, made available to teaching studios such as the Contemporary Ceramic Studios.

Credit cards and the PayPal system have made for a smooth way for the ceramic artist to widen the marketing and selling area.

The new supporting leg of a ceramic business

The e-commerce specialist – has become almost a necessity for a small business to reach a growing number of customers – and ceramic artists are no exception. These specialists are crucial when it comes to developing dynamic websites as well as finding new ways to use the internet as much as possible in your business.

They can be found in your proximity but the internet has made them available to you for consultation and training over any distance. It can be an educated member of your family or a business of good reputation with which you enter into a contract. So this e-commerce specialist now joins the ranks of your accountant for financial analysis, support and tax matters, your lawyer for advice on legal matters and the business support an organization/association in your area of operations can help you with.

As with the accountant and the lawyer, search for internet expertise and thoroughly interview with reputable internet specialists.

Questions you should ask the e-commerce specialist

  1. How do we communicate? Are you available for both on-line and phone contact?
  2. How do you resolve your customers’ problems with soft ware and the multitude of challenges and difficulties that come with this growing and changing field?
  3. How much do you feel you need to know about my business?

This is a very important question. If you don’t get a solid answer, such as “your business must be explained to me in details before we can start advising you”,     then be aware.

  1. Would you lead me through your website to show me what different services you provide?
  2. Do you provide regular follow-up on my business, such as statistics on web-traffic?
  3. Do you recommend improvements to my web activity in support of my business?
  4. Do you provide training in crucial areas where I or my employees need help? What would the fee be?
  5. What is your system of charges for your services?

 

Don’t be shy about asking. The expert or firm you are contemplating to contract should answer them straight on and honestly. You need to explain with as much detail as possible what your plans are for expansion or streamlining your business.

Keep notes about your questions and answers and compare your impressions with other contenders for the internet services you need. A good internet consultant would point out areas of assistance that you probably have not even thought of.

Selling through dealers and or distributors

This way of distributing your products is not very attractive for a ceramic arts’ business. Our products are labor intensive and the profit margins too low to offer an acceptable discount (by each party) to any leg of distribution. A distributor’s business is making money through buying and selling, and I do not recommend this as a viable means of distribution in the industry of ceramic arts studios.

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© 2011 by Rolf E. Ericson, Oneonta, New York, publisher. All rights reserved. Photocopying, reproduction , copying, or redistribution of any kind in printed or electronic form is strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher.