The audio file for this article was produced by the Ceramic Arts Network staff and not read by the author.
Yellow Springs Pottery (YSP) is a retail cooperative founded in 1973 by four part-time potters who saw a need to find an efficient and profitable way to sell their wares other than at the periodic art fairs. As a cooperative, we are owned and fully operated by our artist members. YSP began by renting a very small downtown space that was only open four afternoons a week. Today, 50 years later, we display the work of 8 full-time potters, 1 part-time member, and 1 non-member visiting artist. The 600-square-foot store is on the main street of Yellow Springs and is open 357 days a year.
Growing the Business
Growth of the business over the years has been a source of satisfaction to us all. We credit our success and longevity to two factors—the cooperative business model and our location. The original concept of shared store sitting and expenses has continued. Maintenance is shared by all. At regular meetings, decisions are made by consensus.
The village of Yellow Springs is culturally diverse, progressive, and very supportive of the arts—offering plays, festivals, concerts, and educational programs throughout the year. A total of 1700 acres of parks and nature preserves, plus a 50-mile bike path, are added attractions. Artsy and eclectic shops, restaurants and cafes, and a variety of overnight lodgings attract visitors from three major cities, all within an hour’s drive.
Marcia Cochran: I was a store member for 23 years and retired in 2018. But I returned very soon as a visiting artist and am now a part-time member. Sharing with other potters the effort to market and sell our work is so rewarding—we have built friendship among a group that feels like family.
Jerry Davis: I joined YSP 40 years ago and was greatly relieved to then have a steady source of income. After doing art fairs for many years, I discovered YSP was the best way to sell my pots. I am very appreciative of YSP and proud to be a member.
Michele Dutcher: I jumped for joy when I was invited to join YSP. For the last 36 years, I have enjoyed working in the store. Since members do all the different jobs ourselves, we are secure in knowing the day-to-day operations are running smoothly. That’s a great feeling!
David Hergesheimer: After apprenticing at a rural studio in Japan, my family moved to Yellow Springs and I joined YSP in 1988, where I found the same community feeling as in the Japanese workshop. The COVID-19 pandemic was a challenge. We instituted many safety measures, including a new fresh-air supply system. We stayed healthy. The customers were appreciative of our efforts, and sales went up!
Jane Hockensmith-Reich: My 34-year membership in YSP has allowed me to be a full-time, financially independent artist. I greatly enjoy the balance of the solitude of producing in my studio, the camaraderie of being a member of YSP, and interacting with the huge diversity of interesting customers who visit our store.
Brad Husk: YSP is a small-town treasure. I was initially a visiting artist. Displaying and selling my work gave me the confidence, energy, and drive to make more pots! I joined as a full time member in 2020.
Kate Lally: A visiting artist in 2017, I joined YSP in 2019. Everyone is so supportive and friendly. I love to meet our customers and help them select a piece made by a local ceramic artist.
Evelyn LaMers: Being able to make a living as a potter is due in no small part to my 50-year membership in YSP. My work has been for sale here year round and in an attractive setting. The co-op has been wonderful.
Janet Murie: Over my 42 years of membership, the technology has changed, but the human connection are the same. We make good pots, we welcome people into our shop, and give good service.
We are located in a repurposed factory building and began with concrete floors, rough pine-board paneling, and shelves made from boards and bricks. As time passed, we upgraded our space—adding carpeting, painting the walls white, constructing displays, and replacing utility-style clip lights with track lighting, later converting to LEDs. A big change came in the early 2000s when we repainted the store in bold colors. The shelving displays and pedestals remained white.
There are ten sections of wall-mounted shelves around the perimeter and three free-standing displays in the center. Each potter exhibits in one section, which will hold about 50 pots. The center displays hold an additional 500 pieces. Best sellers are kitchenware, vases, and nature-themed wall tiles. The members use earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain clays, and fire in electric, gas, and wood-fired kilns. Customers respond well to the large selection and the eclectic mix. The price range of our pottery is $4–250, with an average piece costing $25–75.
Balance Within the Business
Display policies have evolved over the years. Our current practice is to rotate all members monthly. We do this because some areas are more prominent; it keeps the store looking fresh; and we thoroughly clean the store in the process. The section near the sales desk is most prominent and slightly larger, so that is designated as our feature space. Each of us has our work featured there for one month per year. The rearranging/cleaning is performed by three members on the first of the month. The center displays are also rearranged, perhaps with a color theme, or product theme, whatever that month’s display committee decides. As members bring in kiln loads during the month, they respect the existing arrangement. While we all have our own display section, members with more to sell may overflow into the center displays, though crowding is to be avoided! Extra pots may be left in the back storage area for future restocking.
Initially, store sitting was done on an equal basis. Over time, however, some of the members greatly increased their production and sales. Others reduced their potting time to raise small children. YSP restructured the store sitting time to be proportionally based on annual sales, with a minimum of three days per month. The flexibility in scheduling has worked out very well.
Except during sale events and the December holidays, we staff the space with just one sales person. We are open 12–5:30pm. We have tried evening hours, but the sales have never justified the time. The sales person restocks, sweeps outside, keeps the books for the day, makes the bank deposit, takes special orders, answers questions, and assists customers. We accept checks, and we guarantee 100% satisfaction with a very liberal returns policy.
Expenses are listed on below. Rent, utilities, and credit-card processing fees make up 70% of our expenses. The total expenses are equal to 20% of sales. In the beginning, we divided the cost of running the store equally. However, like store sitting, we eventually changed to a proportional division with a set minimum fee.
The members of the store choose new members. We look for someone who has salable work, marketing experience, and a fully set-up studio. We also look for artists who live within commuting distance, enjoy being a sales person, and have a commitment to producing high-quality, professional-looking pottery. If we have a vacancy, and if we have a good candidate, they are invited to join YSP for a 3- to 6-month probationary period. A store member mentors the new person to help them get started. Upon completion, the new member will pay an entrance fee equal to one month’s store rent, which is distributed to the other members. Store members make YSP their exclusive outlet in the village, though they may sell elsewhere—at art fairs or to distant shops (two members also sell their work online via Etsy accounts). Members may produce the quantity of pottery they choose. Pricing is totally up to the artist.
Our visiting-artist program began in 2017. Several store members had retired, and we were looking for new potters. We formed a committee that drafted guidelines and publicized the program. Five visiting artists per year each display their work for 2 months. YSP handles sales and charges 30% commission. The program adds variety to the store, allows a potter living far away to sell their work here, gives a very modest producing potter an outlet, and possibly serves as a trial run for a future store member. In fact, our last two potters to join YSP were visiting artists first. The program has brought a lot of excitement to the store for us store members and customers as well.
The Regular Tasks
Each member assumes one or more tasks associated with running the store. At our annual January meeting, the jobs rotate. These include the following:
- Shipping: We double box and ship UPS. Customer pays only direct costs.
- Bookkeeping: Tally daily sheets, pays expenses, balances bank statement, writes monthly store checks.
- Advertising: Newspaper, public radio, website, Facebook and Instagram, store postcard. Group ads are placed with the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce. In the past we also advertised in Ad Rack (hotels and restaurants in 50-mile radius) and at Ohio Welcome Centers (2006–2012), as well as placing some 20-second TV ads.
- Packaging: Stock white newsprint, bags, and gift boxes. Boxes are sold at modest prices. Yellow Springs merchants bring us packing peanuts. Ordering printed instruction/care cards for teapots, ovenware, etc.
- Gardener: Tend to outside planters.
- Store flowers: Buy fresh flowers for vases weekly.
- Calendar: Create store-sitting schedule every 3 months, based on previous 12-month sales figures.
- Yellow Springs chamber of commerce: Liaison working on group advertising, two street fairs, village guide brochure.
- Charity: Collect donations for silent auctions of chosen
- Landlord: Negotiate rent, report maintenance issues.
- Taxes: Work with the paid accountant for annual tax returns and filing as an LLC.
- General supplies: Stock printing, cleaning, and office supplies.
- Special Orders: No extra charge. Sale subject to customer approval, no deposit.
- Gift certificates: Good forever. Refund any portion unused.
- Sales: Twice a year during Yellow Springs street fair. Selected half-price items and seconds.
- Holidays: The store is closed for 8 holidays. We open for extra hours in December.
We strive to offer customers high-quality work in a peaceful, no-pressure atmosphere. Our customers return year after year from all over the country. They take our pots with them when they travel. Our pots are all over the world! We are all separate individuals, but pull together to make YSP a success. One of the four founders and former store member, Lynn Eder, recently reflected on YSP’s 50 years, “I guess people will always love well-made, aesthetic clay pieces. I am very glad the co-op is doing so well.”
the author Evelyn LaMers studied ceramics at Antioch College and opened her studio after graduation in 1969. A successful production potter for 53 years, her work features handbuilt, textured, and geometrically shaped vases and teapots.
All photos: Marcia Cochran and Evelyn LaMers.