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Setting up a Pottery Business

All you need to know about starting and running your business

Business guides » Setting up a Pottery Business

What is a Pottery Business?

Pottery is the process of forming objects using clay and other ceramic materials. The materials are fired at high temperatures to make them hard, sturdy and long-lasting. Pottery is one of the oldest human inventions, originating approximately 30,000 years ago. Ancient pottery can be found all over the world, including in China, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

The person who makes pottery is called a potter. The potter uses a ceramic material, usually clay, to make different objects. The ceramic is shaped and then heated at a high temperature between 600°C and 1600°C. The objects are usually heated in a kiln until they are strong and rigid. Many potters choose to decorate using a variety of techniques. Decoration can be done either before or after the object is fired in the kiln.

Pottery businesses usually specialise in a specific type of pottery. The different types of pottery are usually easily discernible and distinctive from each other. Most pottery types can be either glazed or unglazed.

The most common types of ceramic pottery are:

Earthenware

Earthenware was once the most popular type of pottery. Earthenware is usually made from red clay or red terracotta. Earthenware is used for a variety of objects, including roof tiles, bricks and plant pots. Earthenware pottery is usually fired at a temperature of below 1100°C.

Earthenware is usually more porous than other types of pottery, meaning it often absorbs liquids. Earthenware can be glazed so it becomes waterproof. Because earthenware is fired at a lower temperature, it can be scratched, chipped or damaged more easily.

Earthenware is a popular material for many pottery businesses as it is usually easier to work with and more forgiving. However, it can also be more fragile and less durable than other types of pottery.

Stoneware

Stoneware is a dense type of pottery that is fired at high temperatures, between 1000°C and 1300°C. These high temperatures ensure the object is resistant to water and other liquids. Stoneware is more durable than other types of pottery. It is often coated in enamel, which makes it appear glassy and makes it more durable and water-resistant.

Stoneware is strong and hard. It is also a more elegant material. It is a popular material in kitchens as it can withstand heat from a microwave, dishwasher and oven. It also retains heat more effectively.

Stoneware is often used for tea and coffee mugs, dinnerware, floor tiles and mosaic tiles.

The owners of commercial cleaning businesses may not be directly involved in cleaning. Instead, your responsibilities may include conversing with clients, managing health and safety, managing the cleaning team, ordering and replenishing cleaning stock and advertising and marketing the business.

Porcelain

Porcelain is very similar to stoneware. One of the main differences is that it is almost always made using white clay. Traditionally, porcelain was fired at extremely high temperatures of approximately 1500°C. However, today porcelain is fired at similar temperatures to stoneware.

Porcelain is extremely strong and very heat-resistant. It is popular with some pottery businesses because it can be moulded to more delicate and elegant shapes with greater detail than other types of pottery.

Porcelain is thinner and lighter than other types of pottery, while still being strong and durable. Fine china, also known as bone china, is a type of porcelain that is known for being extremely strong, resistant to chips, and more translucent. It can be shaped into even thinner objects than standard porcelain.

Porcelain is commonly used for decorative sculptures, statues, kitchen and bathroom tiles, sinks, dolls and kitchenware.

If you are considering starting up a pottery business, you will first need to decide the types of ceramics you are going to make and what type of pottery material you are going to use.

Some pottery businesses choose to make custom, individual pieces for their clients, whereas other businesses make multiples, or a large quantity, of the same objects.

Some of the objects typically made by a pottery business include:

      • Mugs.
      • Ornaments.
      • Decorative pots.
      • Sculptures.
      • Jugs.
      • Bowls and plates.
      • Tiles.
      • Jewellery.
      • Figurines.
      • Statues.
      • Vases.
      • Cups and Saucers.
      • Candleholders.
      • Tableware.
      • Plant pots.
      • Teapots.
      • Cake stands.
      • Ceramic art.
      • Kitchenware.

If you are thinking of starting up a pottery business, it is recommended that you are already a skilled potter. Pottery can be a difficult skill to learn and perfect so new or learning potters may want to perfect their skills before beginning to sell their products.

Pottery can also be time-consuming. You will therefore need to be patient and committed to your business. If you are a creative potter with a flair for business, setting up a pottery business could be a great option for you.

Collection Of Pottery

Types of Customers

Customers of a pottery business are usually those who don’t want to purchase mass-produced objects. Your customers will likely want to purchase from a business that sells handmade, creative products. As the cost of your objects will likely be more expensive than mass-produced items, your customers will need to appreciate the time, effort, skill and materials that have gone into your products.

The type of customers you target will depend on the type of pottery business you run. For example, if you produce hundreds or even thousands of the same product with the same designs, you will likely sell them to other businesses or retailers or sell them to wholesalers.

However, if you operate as a craft potter, you will likely sell directly to customers and may even take specific orders or create specially commissioned products.

Your target market will likely depend on the types of pottery you are making. Different types of products will attract different customers.

One of the other factors you will need to consider when determining your target customer base is how and where you will be selling your products.

Some ways you could sell your pottery include:

  • Online through your own website.
  • Online through a third-party marketplace, website or platform, such as Etsy.
  • Online via social media.
  • Festivals and shows.
  • Art and craft fairs and markets.
  • Your own shop.
  • Through another business or shop.
Pottery
Pottery Business Cartoon
Pottery Clay Cartoon

Equipment You Will Need

Your equipment needs may vary depending on the type of products you intend to make and the type of pottery materials (i.e. earthenware, stoneware or porcelain) you work with. You may also require different equipment depending on the techniques you use and the level of decoration you include in your designs.

Some of the equipment you may require for your pottery business includes:

A kiln

Your equipment needs may vary depending on the type of products you intend to make and the type of pottery materials (i.e. earthenware, stoneware or porcelain) you work with. You may also require different equipment depending on the techniques you use and the level of decoration you include in your designs.

A pottery wheel

Pottery wheels also come in a variety of sizes. You can choose a kick wheel or an electric wheel. If you opt for an electric wheel, there are wheels available with various speed controls and settings and different levels of power. Pottery wheels can cost between £200 and £3,000.

Clay

You may choose to work with one type of clay or multiple different types of clay. You will need a large amount of clay for your pottery business so buying in bulk may be more cost-effective.

Magic damp boxes

This is a storage box that contains moisture. It keeps the clay at a consistent level of dampness that allows you to work on your creation over a period of time. You can buy a magic damp box or even make one yourself.

Drying racks

Racks can be used to dry slabs, tiles and other flat pieces of pottery. They allow the pottery to dry without warping or cracking. Racks can be purchased for less than £10.

A clay sink trap

A clay sink trap attaches to your pipes and collects chunks or particles of clay to prevent your drain from clogging or your pipes from being damaged. A sink trap can be purchased for £400.

Pottery tools

There are several pottery tools that you may need as part of your pottery business. These include:

      • Sculpting tools.
      • Trimming tools.
      • Carving tools.
      • Decorating tools.
      • A slab roller.
      • Wires.
      • A wooden rib.
      • A throwing stick.
      • Pin tools.

A work table

You can choose to build or install a professional work table or purchase a portable table. Ensure the table is made of a sturdy, wipe-clean material so the clay doesn’t cause damage or stick to the table.

A ceramic extruder

This is a machine that passes clay through a column and applies pressure. It is used when you want to create a specific shape out of the clay. Extruders are available in different shapes and sizes, depending on your needs.

Display shelves

These are used for storing your pottery. You can build shelves on the wall or choose a free-standing shelving unit.

Glazes

There are different types of glazes – matte, translucent, transparent, opaque, underglaze and overglaze. You may use different glazes for different products. You can expect to pay approximately £30 per gallon.

Colours

You can choose to purchase non-fired colours, which are never fired in the kiln, or fired colours that can be used on the clay before it is fired. Colours can be purchased for as little as £5 for a small pot.

A first aid kit

As you are working with knives, other potentially dangerous pieces of equipment, and extremely high temperatures, a first aid kit is a necessity. A first aid kit can be purchased for as little as £12.

Business cards

Business cards are an important marketing tool and can be handed out for marketing purposes or given to your customers. The business cards should include your business name, logo and contact information. Business cards can cost between £15 and £200 for 500 cards, depending on the materials, the quality and the design.

Other accessories

Some other accessories you may need to purchase for your pottery business include:

      • Cleaning equipment.
      • A till and Point of Sale (POS) system.
      • A computer or laptop.
      • A website.
      • Packaging and delivery materials.
Pottery Being Made

Typical Costs

When starting up a pottery business, you will first need to consider your start-up costs and running costs.

The typical pricing associated with a pottery business could include:

A pottery studio

A studio is not an essential requirement for all pottery businesses. Some pottery businesses can work in any space and will run their business and make their creations in their house or garage. However, as your business begins to grow, a studio may become a necessity. You will be able to install more equipment, produce more pottery, and even invite customers to visit your studio. Some pottery businesses even invite customers to pottery classes or workshops in their studios. The rental costs associated with your studio can vary, depending on its location and size. Rental costs are usually calculated per square metre and can range significantly, from £500 to £15,000 per square metre annually.

Renovation costs

Whether you are converting an area in your house or garage or setting up a pottery studio, you will likely need to renovate the area to work for your business. Your renovation costs could include converting the area, installing a sink and cleaning facilities, improving the air circulation, putting up shelves, and installing equipment. Your renovation costs could range from £500 to £5,000.

Equipment

The equipment costs associated with your pottery business can vary, depending on the size and specifications of the equipment. You can choose to expand or upgrade your equipment as your business grows. You can purchase equipment for setting up your pottery business for as little as £2,000–£3,000.

Replacing equipment and replenishing materials

You will need to replenish your materials – the clay, glazes and colours – regularly to ensure you have enough materials to produce your pottery. You may also need to maintain, repair or replace your equipment if it no longer functions correctly.

Running the kiln

Kilns can be expensive to run, particularly if you have an electric kiln. When calculating the expected costs of running your kiln, you should consider your electricity prices, the amount of power your kiln uses, and how long a single firing takes.

Running costs

Running costs are the costs associated with running your pottery business. Most of these costs will be paid monthly, although some will be paid quarterly or annually. Your running costs could include your overhead costs such as electricity, gas and water.

Branding

When creating your brand identity, consider how you want your business to be perceived by potential customers. Your branding could include creating your business’s visual identity, a logo, business name and website. You could hire a professional to help you with branding or do some of the work yourself. Branding can cost between £500 and £10,000.

Advertising and marketing

Advertising is an important expenditure for growing your pottery business. If you sell your pottery online, advertising will help your business to become more well-known. It is recommended that you spend no more than 10% of your annual revenue on advertising costs. For example, if your annual revenue is £30,000, your maximum advertising costs should be £3,000.

Insurance

There are several types of insurance you may need to purchase for your pottery business. Some of your insurance requirements may include Public Liability Insurance, Product Liability Insurance, Employers’ Liability Insurance, Goods in Transit, and Property and Material Damage Cover. Your insurance costs can vary depending on the type of products you sell, your equipment and materials, the size of your business, and your coverage levels.

Website management

You may need to pay someone to manage and run your website, especially as your business grows. Website management can be extremely time-consuming and can reduce the amount of time you can spend making your pottery. Website management can cost between £20 and £2,000 a month, depending on the size of your website and the complexity of the task.

Entry fees for events and pitching fees

If you plan to sell your pottery at events, you will need to consider the costs associated with hiring a stall or pitch. Some events charge a per-day price, with certain days of the week or times of the year being more expensive than others. Daily costs usually vary between £20 to £100. Permanent markets may charge you a weekly, monthly or yearly fee.

Once you have calculated the costs associated with setting up and running your pottery business, you will need to determine your price points.

There are several considerations you will need to make:

      • The cost of the materials.
      • The type of pottery products you are creating.
      • The time required to create each product.
      • The other associated costs with running your business.
      • Whether you are selling to individual customers or wholesale.
      • Whether there are any postage costs.

Safely Running a Pottery Business

Potters use potentially harmful substances and are involved in potentially dangerous work. Ensuring the safety of everyone involved is therefore essential. Safely running your pottery business can help protect you, your customers, your employees and any visitors to your premises.

Some ways you can safely run your pottery business include:

Prevent silicate dust from becoming airborne

Clay that has dried on your pottery wheel or surfaces can be hazardous to your health. Dried clay contains silicate dust that, when airborne, can be breathed into your lungs. Clean your pottery wheel and any equipment regularly and remove any clay trimmings from your studio as quickly as possible. You should also wipe down your surfaces by spraying them and wiping with a wet cloth to trap the particles and prevent these from entering the air.

Wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Working with pottery and ceramics can result in exposure to harmful substances. PPE can help to reduce the risks to you and any employees. PPE could include protective eyewear, appropriate clothing coverings, and protective footwear.

Making Pottery
Pottery Wheel

Comply with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations

The COSHH regulations require all businesses to control any potential risks or hazards associated with harmful substances. Any potential risks should be identified and minimised.

Keep records

You should keep up-to-date records of any risk assessments, health and safety policies, staff training, and equipment maintenance. You should also record any accidents or injuries that take place.

Ensure the safety of your kiln

A kiln can be a fire hazard. To prevent a fire from occurring, there are some safety considerations you could make. Concrete is the safest material for floors, and metal shelves, rather than wooden, are recommended. You should also keep the kiln away from walls and ensure no flammable materials are near the kiln at any time.

Maintain your equipment

Some of the equipment you will use as a potter can pose a risk. Ensure the equipment and machinery are properly maintained and are safe to use. Creating a maintenance schedule and cleaning equipment regularly can improve their safety.

Ventilate your studio

Ventilation can help to reduce the number of dust particles in the air and remove any toxic fumes.

Legal Requirements

There are several legal requirements you need to comply with when setting up and running your pottery business:

Correct installation of the kiln

Your kiln will need to be installed by a qualified and competent electrician or gas fitter. You will also need to make sure the kiln is regularly maintained. All correct controls and devices will need to be fitted.

Implement control measures related to silica dust

Clay and the glazes that you use on your pottery produce dust particles that contain free crystalline silica. Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (COSHH) Regulations, you must take all necessary cautions to reduce exposure to silica dust. Exposure to silica dust must be kept below the Workplace Exposure Limit (WEL). You should conduct risk assessments and implement any actions. If appropriate, PPE should also be worn.

Comply with the Ceramic Articles in Contact with Food Regulations (2006)

If you are making any ceramics that will have contact with food or drink, such as mugs, bowls or plates, you will need to comply with these regulations. The regulations cover the levels of migration of lead and cadmium from ceramic surfaces that come into contact with food. You must issue a Declaration of Compliance with all of your relevant products.

Comply with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act (1988)

Any original designs are given copyright in line with this Act. This means you cannot use other people’s designs on your pottery. If you create your own designs, you should also protect them by registering your designs with the UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO).

Comply with retail legislation

There are several pieces of legislation you need to follow when selling goods to consumers. You must ensure your products are described correctly and that pricing is displayed visibly. You must also ensure your products are of good quality and are fit for the intended purpose.

Comply with e-commerce legislation

If you sell your products online, different legislation will apply. For example, you must ensure all relevant information is provided on your website, you must comply with regulations regarding a customer’s right to cancel, you must ensure email privacy, and comply with laws on distance selling.

Register as self-employed with HMRC

Running your pottery business as an individual or as a self-employed person requires you to register as a sole trader. You will need to register the name of your business and keep records of all your income, profits and expenses.

Register for self-assessment tax

This allows you to calculate and pay your taxes each year. You will need to track your finances every month and submit any expenses as part of your tax assessment.

Comply with fire safety legislation

As the business owner, you are responsible for fire safety in your premises, even if you operate out of your home. Your responsibilities could include conducting fire risk assessments, implementing fire safety measures, ensuring staff are both informed and trained on fire safety, and implementing emergency procedures.

Pots

Positives of Owning a Pottery Business

There are some great positives to starting up a pottery business, including:

Little start-up costs required

Compared to many other businesses, a pottery business has relatively low start-up costs. You will likely not need to rent premises or hire any employees initially. You can even purchase less equipment initially and increase the amount of equipment as your business grows. This means you may be able to set up your business without needing to find outside investment.

You can run your business from home

Many pottery business owners run their entire business from home. You can convert a space in your home or garage for making pottery and either sell your creations online or attend fairs, festivals and markets. This can significantly reduce your operating costs whilst also allowing you to run your business from the comfort of your own home.

Rewarding work

Owning a pottery business can be extremely rewarding, especially if you are a creative or artistic person. Pottery can feel like a vocation, as you are doing something you love for a career and still earning money.

Set up the business you want

As you are in control of the business, you can create a business that you love and are proud of. You can choose which products to sell, the design and decoration of your products, your price points, and your business identity. This offers you creative freedom and control.

Your business is scalable

You can choose how small or large your business is going to be by choosing the business model you want to implement, your pricing tiers and the amount of pottery you intend to make and sell. This could also offer you unlimited income potential, depending on how big you want to grow your business.

Control your workload

You can choose how much or how little you want to work and how much pottery you make. You can only accept the number of orders you are comfortable with and attend as few or as many events as you choose. Pottery business owners are not limited to working particular hours and can choose their own working hours.

Be part of your local community

You can develop a local following and local connections by selling your pottery at local events. You can connect with members of the local community and secure some loyal customers and recommendations.

No qualification requirements

Running your own pottery business doesn’t require you to have any qualifications or certificates. Although you will need to be a skilled potter, you won’t need any specific experience, making it easier for you to set up your business.

Be your own boss

Being your own boss gives you the opportunity to control the growth of your pottery business, manage your own time, and gain more self-confidence and job satisfaction. All the profits will belong to you and you won’t have to deal with an annoying boss ever again.

Pottery Business Pots

Negatives of Owning a Pottery Business

However, if you are considering starting up a pottery business, there are some important cons you should be aware of:

Low-profit margins

As the materials are expensive and creating a piece can be time-consuming, pottery has lower profit margins than many people realise. For each product you sell, you may earn less net profit than you were hoping. This means you will need to make and sell more pottery to increase your profits.

Work can be inconsistent

Your work and therefore your profits and income are likely to be inconsistent. You may find that certain times of year are busier than others, meaning you could have times where you have very little business. This can make it difficult to predict your income.

High running costs

Your overhead costs, in particular your electricity costs, rent (if applicable) and the cost of purchasing your materials, can be expensive. You will need to plan your finances carefully to make sure you cover your running costs and are still able to make a profit.

Requires a high time commitment

Making pottery can be time-consuming, with one object taking hours, days or even weeks. As well as creating your products, you also need to account for the time spent running your business, including marketing and advertising, running your website, attending events, replenishing materials and cleaning.

It can be stressful

As the business owner and potter, you will have a large number of responsibilities. The pressure of making sure the business doesn’t fail and the time commitment required can be highly stressful, especially when your business first opens.

Can be competitive

Not only are you competing with other small pottery businesses, but you are also competing with huge companies such as Emma Bridgewater. Many people also buy ceramics from department stores, furniture stores and even supermarkets. The amount of competition you will have can make it more difficult for your business to succeed.

Difficult physical work

Making pottery is considered a manual handling activity as it involves repetitive movements, operating machinery and potentially carrying heavy objects. Manual handling has some health and safety risks and can result in musculoskeletal disorders or injuries. Furthermore, as a potter, you will likely be sitting for long periods of the day which could result in back or neck pain.

Planning Your Pottery Business

When planning your pottery business, there are several important considerations you will need to make:

Estimate the demand: Research the market to assess your competition and see which pottery products are likely to be in demand. You may want to focus on a niche pottery product or something that is likely to be in popular demand. Ensuring there is appropriate demand for your pottery can help to protect your investment and increase the likelihood that your pottery business will be a success.

Assess your competition: If you are selling your pottery at local markets and events, you will need to consider your local competition. If you are operating your business online, you should look at other online pottery businesses. When assessing your competition consider how many other businesses sell similar products to you, the materials and techniques they use, how they sell their products, their price points and their typical customers.

Decide what type of pottery material you are going to use: This will be one of the first considerations you need to make as your materials will affect the type of equipment you need to buy and the products you can make. Most potters choose to work with only one type of pottery material.

Decide what products you are going to sell: Are you going to sell one type of pottery product or a variety of product types? You may also choose to design your products around a specific theme or type of decoration to make your brand more recognisable.

Plan your equipment requirements: Plan what equipment you need to start your pottery business and the associated costs. Calculate the costs of renting the equipment rather than buying it to consider all your options. There may be some equipment you can buy later on, once your business is more established and you have begun to make a profit, so consider this as an option.

Calculate your pricing: You will need to determine what your price points will be for all of your products. Take into account your start-up costs, running costs, and the complexity of your ceramics. You must ensure that the pricing of your products provides you with an acceptable profit. You should also consider whether you will offer deals for customers who purchase multiple products.

Decide how and where you are going to sell your ceramics: This will impact the type of pottery business you run and the customers you are likely to attract. You may even choose to sell your ceramics in multiple ways. Think about what is likely to be the most successful sales route whilst still ensuring you can keep up with demand.

Consider ways you can promote and market your pottery business: An effective marketing and advertising strategy is key to the success of your business. Ensuring you have a strong business identity that is recognisable to customers is crucial. Some other ways you can market your products include utilising social media, creating a mailing list, attending festivals and fairs, and advertising online and via leaflets.

Think of ways you can make your business more profitable: There are several ways you can make your business more profitable. For example, you could teach pottery classes and workshops, or run pottery painting sessions. As your business grows, you may even choose to hire more potters or even an apprentice potter or assistant to enable you to make more pottery.

Think about how you will finance your business: Calculate whether you can finance the business yourself or if you need to source outside investment. Calculate your start-up costs and running costs and estimate when you are likely to start turning a profit to help you figure out how you will finance your pottery business.

Determine your business objectives: Your business objectives are crucial for creating a successful business plan. Your business objectives highlight the targets and goals of your pottery business and help you to create a one-year, three-year and five-year business plan.

Your business objectives should be SMART:

      • S = Specific
      • M = Measurable
      • A = Achievable
      • R = Realistic
      • T = Time-bound

 

Ensure you have complied with all legal requirements: Ensure you have filed all your paperwork and are complying with all legal requirements before opening your pottery business. Consult the list above to check you have followed all guidelines and applied for the necessary licences.

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