Clay Culture: Cost for Private Classes

Interested in teaching ceramics classes from your own studio, and wondering how much to charge for a private class? Here are a few tips to help you get started.

I wish I had asked someone for advice on determining how much to charge for classes 20+ years ago when starting my business, Bareclay, which is a small teaching studio that started off in my garage, graduated to my basement, and now resides in a rented commercial space in Columbus, Ohio.

My instructors and I teach two- and three-week class sessions as well as single open studio classes on a regular basis. In addition to the regular offerings, customers can also book private classes with individual instructors. Although there is a lot of customization to be done with class design and pricing for private classes based on individual circumstances, there are some best sellers that can work for almost any studio.

1 Lisa Bare Culp teaching a small private class for children at Bareclay.

Know Your Costs

Before I describe the classes and discuss profit, I will offer a tiny bit of advice to artists like me who hate to manage the money side of the business. Know your costs. I am going to oversimplify my cost breakdown to make it easier to explain, rounding numbers and making estimates for the purpose of this article.

First, look at your fixed costs: rent, electric (including firings), gas, water, sewer, WiFi, and miscellaneous (this includes things like labor for studio maintenance, insurance, office expenses, etc.). Come up with a number for each of these costs per month, then break it down per day, and finally per hour. I refer to this as my facilities costs.

In addition to these facilities costs, you should add the material cost of clay and glaze. In my calculations, I use full retail cost and assume there is no recycling of clay here. In fact, I do recycle clay and I do not pay full retail because I buy in bulk. The ability to recoup just a little of this money boosts my profits each year. I bought a pugmill in 2017 and it paid for itself very quickly.

2 Participants in one of the small group classes at Bareclay, working on decorating vessel forms.

Finally, I add instruction. I have three talented individuals who are willing to work on short notice, on weekends, and over holiday breaks. I pay them hourly plus they can make tips. (Yes, customers tip my instructors for private classes all the time!)

Popular Classes

My most popular private classes are the one-on-one, the couple’s class, and the small group. These classes can be for kids, adults, or mixed groups. Even the couples class is often attended by a parent and child. Attendees can customize the details but basically, students have the whole studio to themselves with their own instructor. They receive a demo and then they can make a bunch of pots. At the end of the class, customers can edit down to their best two pieces to be kept for firing. The customer chooses from three dipping glazes I keep in the studio for this purpose. We bisque fire, dip the pieces into a glaze, then fire them once more. The work is ready to pick up in three weeks.

In order to justify hiring an instructor to come out plus opening the facility for private sessions, I have a minimum fee of $225 per class (materials costs are added to this total afterward, based on usage). This works itself out to $45 per person based on a 5-person group. This is affordable for the customer and still profitable. I use the same pricing minimum for all private classes (with some market-driven tweaks) so if a group is smaller, the margins tend to be even better. I will explain this further in the couple’s class example of costs and profit below.

3 The Bareclay studio, showing wheels, work tables, and storage shelves.

Sample Costs and Profit

  • Retail price for a private couple’s class is $120/hour, with a 2-hour minimum if using the wheels; the customer pays $240 total.
  • Material cost (clay and glaze for two people): $16.
  • Facility cost: $10 for 2 hours. Since these private classes are scheduled outside of my work-week hours, I base this number on a 24-hour day.
  • Instruction: $80 for 2 hours
  • Total costs for the business: $106
  • Net profit: $134

This is an example of the minimum profit per class, but I also have a few options available that bring in more money. Tips are one way to extend earnings for the instructors. I let customers know that tips are accepted by enabling my point-of-sale unit to suggest tips and tip amounts. Hosting larger groups boosts profits (my small group class has a minimum of 5 people and a max of 15 and starts at $45 per person). An upcharge option that increases revenue is to allow customers to fire extra pieces for a fee.

4 Lisa Bare Culp pictured with one of her wheel-thrown pieces.

While it is difficult to compare my small studio to others in the area that are associated with universities or recreation centers, the idea is to keep costs low for customers and pay my instructors fairly while making a profit. I have spent years of trial and error creating the structure for my prices. I hope that my experiences can help those of you who are starting out on your own business venture.

the author Lisa Bare Culp is the owner of Bareclay in Columbus, Ohio. For more information, visit www.bareclay.com.

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