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wholesale and pottery (way long)

updated sat 31 aug 02


Tom Wirt on fri 30 aug 02

----- Original Message -----
From: "Mark/El Rossier" Subject: Wholesale and Pottery

I have definitely noticed the shrinking numbers of potters at the wholesale
shows and have been wondering myself what is happening.


Hi Mark....

Having been at Rosen with you, we've seen the same trend, among others. I
would suggest that the decline of potters at wholesale shows is not the
result of one, but many coincidental factors.

In no particular order....

We've especially seen the decline of the functional versus art/functional
ratio. And seen a shift to reproduction pottery from hand-formed. (Please
do not get this thread started again...both are legitimate). We suspect
that part of this is that as the size of the buying stores gets larger, the
handmade work can't fulfill supply and gets relegated to smaller shops and
artists own galleries/shops. I think we are seeing less and less
artist-made work in the metro shops/galleries except at high prices. I'm
reminded of the anecdote when MacKenzie had a gallery show in NY and wanted
to offer his work at his normal prices. The gallery owner forced the prices
up because he couldn't begin to cover his costs selling at the regular
prices. This would also suggest that everyday functional is better off in
small shops/galleries anyway.

I think there's a natural pattern to be able to do a wholesale show 3 or 4
times as a one-off potter, and then not have to go back. IF you take care
of your customers, and ship on time, you will have more accounts than you
can handle given natural account growth from just 2 or 3 shows. Many have
done it in just one show.

With few younger potters coming up the ranks, there becomes a natural
attrition. Wendy actively tries to get more people into her show, but you
need some help (the Rosen mentoring program) to do it. Otherwise the
learning curve is long and expensive and will probably fl;ush you out in the
first year. There are a lot of marketing and business skills needed to
succeed at the wholesale business.

This lack of new functional people ties back to other discussions on the
list of the art educational system not teaching the skills needed to succeed
at being a potter.

Betsy went to the summer Rosen and was disappointed in the lack of potters,
but more, the unpreparedness of some of the new ones there. They were
obviously not ready to do a big wholesale show.

These shows are expensive...and it's not a big money maker for the
promoters. The costs of presenting and publicizing these shows is
astronomical. But a few thousand dollars to do a show is a big chunk of
change for an artist/potter. And I'm not including display, materials and
collateral costs if you don't already have these. While the costs tend to
keep the unprepared out, this may not be all bad. You really gotta wanna go
this route to get in. And once you're in, you need to deliver in a
professional way or you've just squandered your money.

I would suspect that the internet, and especially has
cut into these shows a little. I know several who have slowly started
building viable wholesale businesses through this venue. Shops are finally
starting to use the internet to find new work. The downside from the shop's
side is that you can't tell quality, and doesn't jury.
If you've got slides, (along with a few hundred bucks) you're in.

Many of our best accounts are potters who have started their own galleries
or expanded their own showroom. Customers are beginning to rely on these
stores as the source for local (North American) handmade work. They have
realized that the big city stores are having to carry imported and
manufactured work. ( negative, just a difference in how the work
is made.) If someone is specifically looking for handcrafted, they don't
want to later find the same piece on another shelf. The customer relies on
the artisan to tell the truth on how the work is made. Some reproduction
work is our biggest seller after our own stuff. We tell them exactly how
it's done and point out the incredible craftsmanship of the work and what
the balance of reproduction and hand work is. Given an accurate
representation of the processes, they have no problem with it.

So how do we change this (if we even want to?)? Mentoring and the education
system are probably the two main ways. It may just be natural evolution of
the market. We saw last year (People's Pottery) what happens when you try
to mix mass marketing/big business with hand-crafted supply. They just
don't mix. People who want hand-crafted work will have to get off their
duffs and go find it. We've been talking about developing a guide to
Minnesota Artisans galleries as a marketing tool for the hidden galleries
and showrooms all over the state. Maybe next year.

Don't know if this helps, Mark, but if you get any other interesting
theories, we'd love to hear them.

Tom Wirt
Betsy Price
The Clay Coyote Pottery