Student Shop: Selling Handmade Pottery Online At CherricoPottery.com

This is a guest post by one of my students, Joel Cherrico. Joel signed up for my Create A Profitable Online Store course without knowing anything about websites or online stores.

Quite frankly, I’m absolutely amazed at what he’s been able to accomplish so far without any technical knowledge. Here’s his story about how he created an online store selling his own handmade ceramic pottery.


When my Dad first sent me the website MyWifeQuitHerJob.com I was skeptical. I thought it was just another get-rich-quick scheme, but I decided to shoot an e-mail question anyways.

Steve replied to my email within a day, and after a couple dozen emails back and forth I knew that Steve had true passion and talent for online sales. In this post, he asked me to share my passion for handmade pottery.

I started making pottery in high school and then studied as an Art major for 4 years in college. I did everything I could to get out of my other classes and sit at the pottery wheel.

I practiced pottery making techniques like throwing off a hump and custom glaze mixing. Most importantly, I learned how to critique.

Whether evaluating a piece of pottery or proofreading my next e-mail newsletter, critique is a tool that I use everyday. My goal is that my newest work will always my best work yet.

Here’s A Video Of Me Hump Throwing A Spiral Cup


Finding My Niche

I fell into my niche through passion for ceramics. I’ve wanted to make a living from my artwork since my first year in college. During sophomore year I began selling at regional art festivals and organizing single day sales on my college campus. This gave me research about what types of pottery sold best, proper selling prices and how other potters made their living in the area.

There are many great potters in Minnesota, but very few sell pottery as their primary source of income. Determined to pursue pottery as a profession, I decided to take management and entrepreneurship classes to find answers to my financial questions.

I knew upfront that there was no way I had enough money to open a physical shop or gallery right after graduating. I had a few thousand dollars saved from art festivals and 1-day sales, but that still wouldn’t be enough to run a business.

I kept brainstorming with any college professors and classmates that would talk to me. Pottery is functional artwork. How else could I get my pottery in front of people when I don’t have a store?

The answer turned out to be simple. I would show off my pottery at local restaurants and open an online shop.



At the Local Blend coffee shop in St. Joseph, Minnesota (pictured above), customers can eat and drink from my pottery everyday! And if they want to buy my pottery, they can make a purchase directly or from my online store.

Introducing My Online Store!

Here’s a link to my online store where I sell my own handmade ceramic pottery. My website is composed of 2 parts, a blog and a shopping cart. My blog is hosted on Bluehost and operated through WordPress.

I built my online store using BigCommerce. I have the simplest plan available and it costs about $25 per month. I went with BigCommerce because I wanted to maximize my time on the pottery wheel and not have to deal with website design.

I can work well with a computer, but I used customer service very often when building my online store. Likewise, I frequently used Bluehost customer service when setting up my website. I think that access to support staff is well worth the fees. I also can’t read .html or .css coding, though I’ve tried to learn the basics.

For me, using an open source shopping cart would’ve taken too much time away from the pottery wheel, especially if a problem arose and I couldn’t immediately call or chat with customer service to get it fixed.

I get my pottery online with a photography setup in a small office space that I rent for $300 per month. Ironically, this is the highest expense of my online work and has nothing to do with my online store. In fact, I could run things from my own apartment, but I’m convinced that this will be the most efficient way to sell online.

I also employ student interns from my alma mater college, and they need a space to work. They work unpaid for 1 semester, in exchange for 4 college credits and fulfillment of their internship requirement. This has been a great system of working.

I could write another post on my photography process, so I can’t get into details here. Basically, this office space allows me to consistently shoot photography, edit photos, and get them online. It also provides storage space and a way to keep everything organized for the online store.

I’ve owned and operated my blog since sophomore year in college (over 4 years) and I’ve been working with Steve to build my online store for about 1 year and just finished (though I could have launched sooner if I had more time to spend on it)! I see potential for most of my sales to occur online in the future. In fact, sales have already started trickling in online!

Steve’s Coursework is Definitely Worth the Cost

The best part of Steve’s course has been the Wednesday night question and answer sessions. I think that Steve is a great teacher, and I’m comparing him to 4 years worth of college professors at a liberal arts school. He always provides recommendations on what I need to do next to improve my online store and get sales.

Steve’s coursework taught me the right and wrong ways to get pottery online. I used to have a website hosted through www.jimdo.com, which is much less popular than WordPress and not optimized well for search engines. I also used Etsy to sell my pottery. Check out this blog post by Steve for a few reasons why you could be missing out on lots of sales by using Etsy:

Why Etsy Stores Are At A Disadvantage Compared To An Online Store That You Own

I think the most challenging part about starting an online store is getting sales. Unlike most businesses, I manufacture my own product. I have a limited amount of time that I can spend marketing. My plan is to focus my efforts on my current customer base, and expand my customer base by getting published in the contemporary ceramics scene.

My Long Term Plan

My next step is to pump out both blog and video content that will lead people to my online store. I may not be the best writer but I’m not afraid to write lots of content about my pottery and sculpture. I plan to follow Steve’s coursework on SEO and marketing, and also to approach magazines about publishing my pottery.

I’ve contacted about 10 magazines in the ceramic world and across Minnesota. I pitch them an idea to publish an article about my pottery in the Local Blend coffee shop. I think this venue is my key to getting published; no other potters are making restaurant pottery in this way. Also, my pottery is about half the price of most professionals.

Getting published in a magazine like Ceramics Monthly or Studio Potter is a big deal in the ceramic world- it’s kind of like getting on the cover of Rolling Stone for a band. If I get published in a national magazine, then pottery collectors from all over the country will see my pottery, my prices and my age. I think this will lead to 100% online sales in the near future, because these collectors know that the value of my pottery will increase over the
years.

So far, my online store has been a drain on my time at the pottery wheel. Setting up the store took a long time, but seeing as sales are already coming in I’m convinced that the financial success will be worth the effort. Just like my artwork, the business will improve over time.

I never break a pot on purpose, even if I think it’s a bad pot. Pottery is functional, and I know that someone out there will enjoy drinking from a mug that I think is ugly. This is a philosophy that I take into my online work. Every pot that’s posted online may not be the best example of my work, but at least it’s online and has a chance to get out into the world. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

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20 thoughts on “Student Shop: Selling Handmade Pottery Online At CherricoPottery.com”

  1. Michconnors says:

    Great stuff. Question – why not have both an Etsy shop and your own online store?

    1. I believe that Joel still has both but he plans on only promoting his BigCommerce shop.

    2. Etsy has a good structure for driving traffic, so I’m going to do a campaign this spring for just cups and perhaps mugs. In the long run, I plan to only sell through BigCommerce. But in the short term, I plan to sell just cups and mugs through Etsy to see if I can generate more traffic. Every pot will probably have a link to other pottery on http://store.cherricopottery.com

  2. Hi,
    This article is very useful. I am trying hard to promote my on-line shop on etsy. But not so successful. I have posted this article and links onto my blog and FB Page to share with my readers. Can you give me some opinion why my on-line shop is not successful??
    My blog:

    http://www.etsy.com/shop/ShineKidsCrafts

    1. My Etsy store has not been very successful either. My goal is to find some big way to differentiate my work, especially through my personality. Why is your craft different from other craftspeople? How else can you show off your personality? What makes your pieces special? What makes you as an craftsperson special? are you doing anything innovative? How could it be more innovative? Do you have youtube videos? A blog? Do you show process shots anywhere?

  3. Joel (Hi, Steve, too!),

    I hope I am not being inappropriate when I say you ooze ridiculous amounts of sexiness! Having video on your site has got to be a super idea for you.

    I am considering signing up for Steve’s course, too. I just came up with an idea for a video blog today, and I’m pretty excited about it! But I also know that I will need the support of a community, and some hand holding from someone who knows what’s up, if I am going to make this work. Some of my favorite posts on this blog are the contributions from Steve’s students! So…we’ll see!

    Anyway, good for you, Joel! Thanks for sharing your story!!! -Colleen

    1. Gee thanks Colleen but I’m already married….oh wait…were you talking about Joel? I’m so embarrassed:)
      Joel is the man and I think he might still be single but you might want to check:)

      In any case, if you have any questions about the course let me know!

    2. Hahaha Thanks Colleen, I’m flattered. Sorry to break the news, but my girlfriend and I have been dating a few years and we’re pretty serious. But if you ever buy a pot from my online store I’ll throw in a special extra pot for free just because you’re sweet. Haha! Good luck with your store!

      Joel

      1. Joel, have I taught you nothing from the class? You should say that you are single because it will lend some mystique to your pottery:) Oh well. Too late now:P

    3. Steve and Joel,

      You are both hilarious. And let me just say that I have been with my husband for about 20 years, and am not on the market. But that doesn’t mean I’m dead, either!

      I am someone who is moved by beauty and watching you make pots is beautiful, Joel. Use what you’ve got, while you’ve got it, baby! Your lovely mug (pun intended) can only help you in your business.

      Thanks for the free pot offer! I might have to take you up on it someday! :)

      Steve, thanks for continuing to offer us great free content in your blog. I always get so much out of it!!!!

  4. I think you have a great business and a solid plan for getting traffic there. I mean the pics make it look really fun! Personally I don’t think I have any talent whatsoever and give you a huuuuge amount of credit for taking a project like this on. It really is awesome! I can’t wait to see the content that you keep putting out for it :)

  5. why Steve does not give any reply to me?? You don’t have any opinion??

    1. Hi. You have really cute products!. However in general it’s difficult to get visibility on Etsy since there are so many others who make similar items.

  6. Amy says:

    Joel — Congrats on getting going! I’m curious — how are you handling shipping since I’m guessing pottery is pretty fragile? I’ve considered a store with glass items but figured there’d be so many breakages or that packaging would be cost-prohibitive.

    Best of luck!

    1. Hi Amy, I deal with packing and shipping pottery by double boxing everything, and charging anywhere from $5-$50 per pot just in shipping and handling. Bubble wrap is the best and can almost guarantee survival with double boxing, but I rarely buy any packing materials. I collect boxes, packing materials and bubble wrap from college and university recycling centers, and newspapers from city recycling centers. For more information on packing, I would search around the USPS, UPS or Fedex sites for their regulations. I find that mugs and cups are very easy to ship, but large serving bowls are the most difficult and require really big boxes.

  7. Nice! I have a small collection of bakeware from a ceramic studio that I treasure for it’s handmade beauty and functionality. It lasts *forever* unless you drop it, of course.

    The tall cup in the coffee shop photo above looks like a latte cup and there doesn’t seem to be any for sale on your site. More graceful than a beer mug or the cup that looks kinda medieval. I don’t drink latte but I bought a bunch of those tall cups back in the 90s when they were popular. I use them daily because they are the right size for tea or coffee with one stevia packet. A smaller cup would render it too sweet. Also, I typically buy items in pairs or sets because it’s a better value in terms of shipping costs. Maybe that’s just me, I’m not a marketing guru like Steve :)

    I find that Etsy is useful for selling supplies. There’s a site that tracks top sellers on Etsy and beads are usually #1. Doesn’t say much for the artisan crowd, eh?

    1. Thanks for your opinions! I’m definitely going to make some future listings with sets of 2-4 cups and see how they do. I also plan to do a few listings in Etsy just to test the waters, but I’ll keep these types of pottery separate from my Bigcommerce store. Most likely cups and mugs in Etsy, and larger bowls and bakeware in my store. I don’t expect my store to take off until I get published nationally and internationally, but this May I’ll be published in Ceramics: Art and Perception – an internationally renowned magazine! I hope this will lead to Art collectors starting to recognize my work.

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