026 – Your Market / Customers

MudTalk Podcast
MudTalk Podcast - Pottery, Ceramics, Business
026 - Your Market / Customers

Who is your market and how did you find them?


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Finding a market for your pottery

Welcome to episode 26 of the mudtalk podcast. In this episode we’re talking about your market, or, the people who buy your work.

Who buys your pots? How did you find them? Why do they buy your pots? How do you find more of the people that will buy your pots? These are the questions that any potter should start asking when they get serious about selling their work. Thanks to @stonecropstudio for suggesting this question a very long time ago.

This episode will be interesting because there were only a handful of responses. Literally 5 responses. Now it’s hard to judge what that means for certain. Maybe the social media algorithms didn’t put this question in front of very many people. Maybe a lot of us clay people have never thought specifically about our markets. Maybe we don’t know who our market or ideal customers are. Maybe, as Little Blackberry Creek Pots says later, we just want to create, instead of thinking about things like this. Maybe we can get by if we just put our work out there without precisely defining our market.

I’ll be completely honest with you. I have no idea who my market is. I just put my pots on instagram and facebook, list some of them on Etsy, set up my booth at events (remember those?), and hope for the best. Okay, maybe I’m not quite that lost. I have some ideas. For example, the map mugs would probably be perfect for someone who likes to travel. Or who enjoys history or geography. But I know I could target certain people more specifically. So at  the end of the episode I’ll talk about a few ways that I may be able to find my market..

First, let’s hear what other potters have said about who is your market and how did you find them?

Ibtispottery @potterymakinginfo Markets is where I sell my pottery and people who have seen me at markets would contact me to buy more.

This is an interesting point from Ibtispottery. The word market has a few different meanings. Market could mean the group of people that are looking for products like you are making. Market can also be a physical location or event. Usually these markets are already set up for you. I’m thinking of a farmer’s market or art fair. But the question is, are these predefined markets actually YOUR market? Technically, these are the people in front of your pots but are they the people that will be most interested in and most likely to buy your pots? Probably not all of them. We will explore this idea later.

Spectorstudiosporcelain A very smart friend told me that a market for your work is something you create. Working on that.

This friend seems very wise. You could probably argue about the words “create” vs. “find” when talking about your market but I think the idea is the same. It takes work and usually some kind of plan to figure out who your market is. And speaking of creating and finding a market, it was interesting to be part of the Michiana Pottery Tour this year. The previous 8 years it was an in-person event in the region around the Michigan / Indiana border. It was a self directed tour with 6-8 stops where potters would open their studios and often invite other guest artists to display their work. This year, being the pandemic year, we offered all our work for sale online and promoted to a nationwide audience. We could change the idea of our market because we were shipping pots instead of expecting people to drive and see us in person. There was still a large concentration of website visitors that were from our region but we also had visitors from just about every state in the US. In fact, we had over 400 visitors from the combination of California and NY together. So we definitely expanded our market to a wider geographic audience. On the other hand, are there people that are willing to drive and see us but don’t like to buy things online? Under our current circumstances, these tradeoffs were acceptable.

Littleblackberrycreekpots Everyone is a potential Little Blackberry Creek Pottery lover. I do 4-7 shows a year, two studio tours, and follow my business plan of 1/3 wholesale, 1/3 consign and 1/3 direct. When I see a dip in one area, that’s where I target. At the end of every promotion day, I realize that I would have much rather have been creating

This is an interesting strategy. I like the idea of having different markets because markets change and, as the saying goes, you may not  want to put all your eggs in one basket. And I agree, as I’m sure many of you do as well, we just want to make stuff, not promote and sell stuff. This response could be a whole new discussion but we will explore more at the end of this episode.

L2fee7 I view everyone as having a potential interest in L2A pottery! I began w/ gifting to family, friends & co-workers. I now have two “home shows” each year & have had amazing sales as a result. I am in 4 retail locations; two outright purchase orders & two on consignment. I continue to be humbled by “strangers” having an interest in & purchasing my work. Hustle = Sales

I love the last part: hustle = sales. That, for the most part, seems to be true. And I agree, it is still humbling sometimes to have other people love your work because of the work and not just because they have some other connection to you. It is interesting that LittleBlackBerryCreekPots and L2fee7 both consider everyone as potential customers. To some extent this is true. You never know for certain who will like and even buy your work. But a big step is finding people who are MORE LIKELY to like and purchase your work so you can minimize the time and money you spend marketing. More on this in a minute.

Benjamin W

I started really selling and going for it during grad school. Started with a really good weekly sat market locally. Helped to get my feet wet and figure things out. I developed a good customer base and 14 years later still attend when im not at an art fair. It’s never an insane amount of sales but a steady amount i can count on.

This is a good point from Benjamin. It is a good idea to find an outlet or build a following that will provide you some consistent sales that can be counted on. I think the most important part is just to get started. You will figure things out as you go. And then being consistent pays off.

Thank you to everyone who shared their thoughts. If you are going to be a full time creator or even have a serious side gig, it is important to think about your market.

After researching branding over the past few months (check out episode 25 for more on that) I started to think a little bit about who my target customers are, or my market. Knowing your customers is part of building a brand, and really it’s probably part of finding as much success as possible for your business. But, you may think, I make my work for everyone! And I agree. Everyone should appreciate, buy, and use my pots! But guess what, there is actually a very small percentage of people that will even consider it. Just think about what my own work is not. I’ll even just focus on my mugs. I don’t make pink mugs or use rainbows and unicorns. There’s a chunk of the population that won’t be interested in my work just because they would only consider buying a brightly colored mug. I don’t make political pots. There goes what feels like 90% of the people on social media this year. I don’t make smooth white minimalist mugs. I don’t make sculptural work. I don’t put cartoon characters on my mugs… yet. My cheapest mug is around $25. My most expensive mug is around $50. Now, think about the millions of different people and what they are going to buy to drink their coffee or tea. Probably a large portion of the population will go down to walmart and buy a mug for $5 or less and would never think of buying a $30 mug. So the point is, anyone can buy or use my pots but not everyone is going to.

So how do I find the people that will consider buying my work? Here are 6 ideas that can help you get started.

1. Match your work to the venue

I think the easiest step is to consider the kind of work you make and what outlets align with it. For example, if you make big, valuable sculptures, a rural farmers market probably won’t have many people that will be looking for your kind of work. And if you make simple, single color mugs that you sell for $20, you may not have galleries or collectors looking for your work. Some potters even make different lines of work for different venues or audiences.

2. Ask around

Do you know some other clay artists who seem to have a good idea of what they are doing? Maybe you could ask them what kind of shows are good for potters or what kind of people buy their work. Or maybe you know some other artists or craftspeople that use a different medium but have a style related to yours. Maybe they know a show or venue that would be a good fit for your work.

3. Consider your subject matter

If someone is going to buy your work they will have some kind of connection with it. If you have specific subject matter that could be what draws certain people to your work. For example, when people buy my map mugs they often comment about how they like to travel. Whether it is through advertising on social media or the way I write my Etsy listings, I could really focus on the travel theme so people that enjoy traveling will find my work and connect to it.

4. Look for Patterns in sales

As you sell your work, take note of any patterns you see. Do you have an uncommonly high number of grandma’s that like to bake purchasing your work? Maybe this could tell you something as long as you aren’t only selling your work at “Grandma’s Who Bake” conventions. Start to notice different demographics that seem interested in your work.

5. Create customer profiles

Another suggestion is to create an ideal customer profile. You create an imaginary person based on some patterns that you have noticed or how certain aspects of your work relate to characteristics of certain people. After you create this imaginary person with as many details as you can, everything from name to their favorite magazine, you can really get specific on your marketing efforts.

6. Build a following

This goes along with the idea of creating your own market. When you start putting your work out there in an authentic way and do it consistently, people will start to find it and connect with it. These followers are your market and they will be most likely to purchase your work. This can take different forms such as social media followers, email list subscribers, shop visitors, and even snail mail mailing lists. This is what finding or creating a market actually is. But once you have the followers or subscribers you actually have to take care of these relationships. You have to figure out how to keep strengthening the connection. The more connected someone feels, the more likely they will be to buy something from you, or buy something from you again!

So there are 6 ideas to think about as you find or create a market for your work. But one thing to remember, it is not going to happen overnight. Finding or creating a market is a process and it will take time. You’ll continue to improve.

What about you? Have you started to find a market for your work? Do you have any tips to help someone else? Get in touch through social media or email me at brandon@expertclay.com.

So that about wraps it up this time. Thanks for listening. And check in on the next episode where we will talk about sharing pottery information. Until then, stay safe, keep finding your market, and stay muddy.

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