Open Door Policy: Strategies for Successful Holiday Studio Sales

A customer browses a sale at Ellen Shankin’s pottery studio.

A customer browses a sale at Ellen Shankin’s studio.

Today’s post is a two parter. Recently, I have been following a thread in the Ceramic Arts Community Forum on getting ready for your holiday studio sale. With the holidays fast approaching, I thought I would share some of the helpful information in today’s blog post, and hopefully, expand the discussion.

I was also flipping through the November 2010 issue of Ceramics Monthly and I realized there is a ton of valuable information on open studio tours in general (not just holiday related), so I thought I would throw that into the mix as well. Now if I only had enough work to put into a studio sale this season, I would be in really good shape. – Jennifer Harnetty, editor.

Potters Council President and colored porcelain artist Chris Campbell.

Potters Council President and colored porcelain artist Chris Campbell.

Potters Council President Chris Campbell’s Holiday Studio Sale Tips

Give a very nice door prize, collect names and addresses on entry forms, and keep those addresses for next year.

Make sure everything is clearly priced.

Take credit cards — make it easy to buy multiples!

Create your mood with music — Jazz, blues, rock — I don’t play Christmas carols.

Scent the air with an apple, vanilla, cinnamon mix, kept out of sight.

Serve good food — not a bag of store-bought cookies and weak punch.

Spread the treats around and people will follow the m&m’s trail!

Get a friend or two to help with wrapping and check out. The most crucial thing for my sale was getting them rung up and packed when they were ready to go. We had a place set aside where they could set stuff down with their name on it to hold it so they could shop more or visit. I had three people working there to make sure they got out quickly.

I put a large sign on my front door inviting people to just walk in, then, just inside, another simple sign with an arrow showing them where to start.

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Mea Rhee (right) invited Nan Rothwell (left) as a guest artist for her studio sale last year.

Mea Rhee (right) invited Nan Rothwell (left) as a guest artist for her studio sale last year.

Ceramic Arts Community Forum Moderator Mea Rhee’s Holiday Studio Sale TipsFor me, one of the fundamental motivations for doing a home show is to be cheap!! Don’t spend money trying to be fancy. Maximize those profits instead.

Invite a different “guest artist” every year, so the event is always different from the year before. I tell my guest artists that there is no cost for them to participate, their only responsibility is to advertise the event to their customer base. Sometimes this can be totally symbiotic. This year the person I invited to do my open house invited me to do hers as well.

I once provided a big table full of fancy food, including wine, and nobody noticed. I find that homey snacks, like a plate full of homemade brownies, makes folks feel more welcome.

I spent a little money on a decent vinyl banner that says “pottery sale” that I hang on my front porch starting a week before the event. Now I can reuse it for free.

Platters by Mea Rhee.

Platters by Mea Rhee.

I will also spend money to print and mail a nice postcard to my local mailing list. And at all the other shows I do in the fall season, I hand out the postcards and tell all of my customers about the event. It only takes a small number of motivated customers to make the event a big success, so I target my marketing efforts to people who have already demonstrated their fandom. But that’s all the advertising I do. I would welcome other opportunities for publicity, but only if they’re free.Most important tip: shoppers might feel a little awkward walking into a private residence, so make them feel welcome! There’s lots of good ways to accomplish this, make it a priority. It doesn’t have to cost any money.

Chime in with your holiday studio sale tips in the
Ceramic Arts Community Forum!

Customers browse Robert Briscoe's outdoor pottery studio sale.

Customers browse Robert Briscoe’s outdoor pottery studio sale.

For many years now, potters have been lamenting the demise of the craft
fair as a viable way to make a living. At one point, there were
thousands of fairs all over the US, in every small park or church
basement that needed a little fund raiser or traffic-building event.
And many potters espoused the vagabond lifestyle of traipsing around
the country, pots in boxes bouncing around in the back of a truck or
van or wagon, in search of a customer base. It can be argued that it
never was the greatest way to make a living, and that most of those
fairs were often break-even propositions at best, but for many it was a
good way to get their clay feet wet. Lately, those potters who still
count on these kinds of sales tend to have their mainstay shows, and
the “extras” have long since fallen off. The pop-up shows couldn’t
sustain themselves, and the larger, more established events are
increasingly more difficult to get into. This is not necessarily a bad
thing, but it does mean fewer retail sales opportunities for a lot of
makers. Some went the gallery route, some went online, some
concentrated on wholesale, and some are still doing all of the above
(and I have to believe those are very tired people).For those
who are not interested in pursuing gallery sales, online storefronts,
or wholesale marketing, what is left? That’s right: hang a sign outside
your studio door and wait for the customers and sales to come rolling
in. Sometimes this actually works, but anyone who has made it work
knows that it takes more than that sign on the door. So, in true
pottery fashion, potters did what they always do; banded together,
joined forces—started their own darn pottery fairs. But they didn’t
want to leave the studio (one of the big drawbacks to running around
the world selling pots is the time it takes away from making pots), so
they found other potters close by, invited the customers to come to
them, and so was born the age of the studio tour. In a way, it is the
culmination of what most potters profess to believe: We make something
of value, and it is worth your effort to pay attention to it, worth
your money to possess it, and worth your time to come and get it. And
it’s working! We begin with a bit of perspective from an organizer of
one of the longest running studio tours, Robert Briscoe, and then
explore our survey results and best advice from the participants in
twelve tours of various sizes and structures.—Sherman Hall, Editor, Ceramics Monthly.

Read the rest of this article here!
  • That is so fantastic how i wich i open my samll factory to be seen all this beatifull wares keep it on.
    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!

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