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Published Aug 8, 2011

With the economic challenges we all face today, simply having a good business plan and making quality work that people want to buy is sometimes not enough to get a business off the ground.

So, when potter Joseph Sand ran through his initial business loan before getting his kiln built, he came up with an inventive way to raise the funds and finish his 40-foot-long anagama. In the process, he also built a supportive community and customer base. In today's post, an excerpt from the Ceramics Monthly archive, Joseph shares his story. - Jennifer Poellot Harnetty, editor

The funds from Joseph Sand’s initial business loan ran out before he could purchase all of the bricks needed to build his large 40-foot-long anagama kiln. Rather than take out another loan, he and his wife came up with an inventive way to get people to make an immediate investment in their future pottery.

CM: What were the logistics of the buy-a-brick campaign in terms of investment and timeline?

Joseph Sand: We offered certificates in increments of $50 to purchase bricks for the new kiln. This money helped us buy the supplies needed to build the kiln, and the return for the investor was that these certificates could be redeemed for their full value at the first kiln opening sale, or at any future kiln sale.

Investors were also given an invitation to a special pre-sale of pots from the first kiln opening, giving them the opportunity to view and to purchase pots before the general public. We figured that it would be a win-win situation for all involved.

The campaign lasted approximately six months and ended about two months before the first sale so that we could make sure that all investors received their certificates.

Once the investors sent us money, we printed an official certificate and mailed it to them. We kept everyone informed of our progress through email, on Facebook, and on the website. About three weeks before the first kiln opening, we mailed out a special invitation for the sale.

CM: How did you get the word out?

JS: The process began with us putting together a mailing list of everyone we could think of who might be interested in our business: friends, relatives, area art galleries, local businesses, as well as any past and current buyers of my pots during my three-and-a-half-year apprenticeship with Mark Hewitt. We also included potential clients at the art fairs and shows we attended, asking them to sign up to be on our mailing list.

The initial communication was a single sheet flier listing our new contact information including the address, phone numbers, and the newly created website. This flier told about the purchase of our property, the making of our kiln, and the planned first kiln sale slated for the upcoming summer. We mailed this to everyone on the list that we had created, and also placed the fliers in art galleries, museums, libraries, businesses, restaurants, etc.

The information was also listed as a page on my website, on my blog, and on my Facebook account. We made sure to set up a secure credit card payment option for our Internet clients. We found that people responded from all of these methods of communication.

CM: How did the results match up to your expectations?

JS: We were overwhelmed by the response, and by the fact that many people were purchasing several bricks at a time. We were not necessarily surprised when family and friends sent in money, but we were also hearing from people we had never met, some of whom were from out of state. They seemed genuinely supportive and several offered their personal help to get the pottery up and running. Many of these local investors continue to help out at our firings and sales.

We didn’t really have any set expectations of how many people would respond. However, we were amazed at how many people did so. Ultimately, we were able to cover about half the cost of the kiln using the promotion. In the end, sales of work were almost four times the initial investment made by our customers in the campaign.

Although the initial objective of this campaign was to raise immediate funds, it actually turned into a remarkable marketing tool for us. Investors became part of our initial client list that resulted in an extremely successful first kiln sale. In fact, we sold all of our pots from the first firing before the second day of the public sale.

CM: What advice do you have for others who may want to try this?

JS: I believe that our campaign was successful because we took great pains to make everything look very professional, from the printed materials like the initial one-page flier, the redemption certificates, and the kiln sale invitation to the design of our web page. We also spent a lot of time communicating with our investors through email and the blog, making progress reports, including photos and a video of the pots that were being made. A potential investor needs to feel confidence in you and in your intent to produce quality wares, and we feel we created that trusting relationship through constant communication, which emphasized their investment, they have helped to create a solid foundation for our business.

We also felt that it was important for investors to be rewarded for their trust in us to use their investment wisely, so the special preview night sale was our way of saying thanks and also to create excitement around our product. That excitement has continued to this day as we approach our one-year anniversary of being in business.

Besides having a constant Internet presence, we made sure to get out into the community and meet our neighbors by joining the local chamber of commerce. They provided a ribbon cutting, invited local officials to the kiln opening, and helped us get lots of PR in the local newspapers prior to the event. An artist may not naturally have the desire to work on marketing, but it is a must. Having a presence in the community is essential. People buy pottery because it is personal, there is a story associated with their purchase, and they can create a relationship with the artist. We are confident that these relationships we have created will be the foundation for a successful business.