Preparing for an Open Studio Tour

ACVtrainetworksign2.161141This past December was my third official Holiday Open Studio Tour with the O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail  As we enter a new year, I would like to do a post about how I prepare for the semi-annual events that both the Tourism of Shenandoah County and the Artisans Center of Virginia sponsor  to bring customers to me and other trail sites in our county. This Spring our county will host an annual event called Gardens, Galleries and Grapes. This is coming up and this post should help give a checklist to other trail sites in my county and others about how to get things going.

  • Find Trail Sites that you can partner with. In the past three years, I have partnered with Kary Haun and the two of us have added other artists over the years. The first and second years we had three artists and this past year we had five. We are all clay artists so that is how we chose to plan our event. I am sure that it could also be done with a variety of different mediums and artists but we did ours with ceramic artists.
  • Set the date of the event…. this is sometimes done by the county. The Holiday Open Studio Tour was set by the artists that are participating and has usually been the first weekend in the month of December. Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes, the county Spring event, is set by the Tourism folks in the county.
  • Put together an invitation.  If you have someone in your group that is familiar with building the graphic for the card that will be helpful. Kary and I  worked together, utilizing Photoshop, to assemble a postcard that will get mailed to the individual mailing lists. Our way of getting group consensus was to utilize the Messenger app in Facebook to send the invitation back and forth to the group to get feedback. You may also get a mailing list to the county so that they can mail out your cards, if you don’t want to deal with this yourself.  Then we had ours printed through VistaPrint, a large online printing source that lets you upload the design to them and then they mail you the finished cards. Having an advertising budget is helpful and divide up the advertising between the artists makes it easier to afford. Each artist benefits from the other artists in this aspect. Try and get the mailing out at least 4-6 weeks before the event.
  • Spend some time keeping your mailing list up to date. I try to do this as an ongoing maintenance project but some years it has been a scramble to make sure that I don’t have a list with bad addresses in it which can cost you time and money. I know stamps are inexpensive but if you have several bad addresses and those cards come back, that is money wasted. I always put a return address on my cards for this reason. I don’t want to waste postage year to year.
  • Make sure you have enough inventory or are planning to have plenty of inventory. Make lists, if you have to, so that you know how many items you need to have on hand to allow enough selection for your customers. Because I use a Square reader, it will tell me at the end of the year what the most sellable item was. Usually it is mugs so I make sure that I have plenty of those on hand.
  • Set up, if you haven’t already, a business Facebook account, so that you can post works in process to build interest in the event. We set up a separate business Facebook page just for the event in addition to our individual business pages. This makes for more posting but it also gives the event more eyes. In the end, you will post to the event page, your individual Facebook page and possibly your personal Facebook page too, if you like. Some of us have felt it necessary to not mix our personal pages with our business pages for different reasons.
  • Contact an additional food trail site, to provide you with the snacks for the event. Try to give them plenty of notice… or make special foods yourself and promote those too. Wine from the local vineyards  or apple cider from a local farmer’s market promotes the local sites too. There are many food sites on the trail and part of the deal for them is to provide food when there is an event. These can include trays of cookies, apples, apple cider or finger foods. Last Spring, I chose to make a special shortbread cookie with fresh flowers10996068_787091418049559_1913959248896130799_n decorated on top and it made the event fun to also share a recipe or new food to the customers.
  • Send a newsletter out prior to the event. newsletterI use Mailchimp. I don’t  send enough of these and need to spend more time doing more of this but I love the way that it has some automation and templates to use. Your newsletter can show a featured item, the invitation to those who are not on your mailing list but opt to only get emails from you. Or if your postcard list makes your mailing too expensive, you could try to go paperless and only use email but I like to combine this due to still enjoying the reminder to be placed on someone’s refrigerator. Combining these may still be a good idea.
  • If you blog, do a blog post about the event. This year I blogged our event in such a way that I started at the upper most site and wrote about the stops along the way, all the way to the lower part of the county with a paragraph about each of the artists. This gives each artist a shoutout and also shows your followers that they have options in addition to your place. The ACV also does a blog and used my posting to put on their blog which goes out to travel writers to possibly be picked up and read by people outside our region.
  • Offer a new item each year and promote that item heavily in the newsletter. This year, I offered Christmas Ornaments and salt cellars and Christmas Frog Mug and Saucer sets and promoted these heavily on social media. The ornaments were so popular that I had time before the actual holiday to make another batch. All but one of the Christmas Mug sets sold.
  • Decorate your house or the gallery where the work is displayed and make things pleasing. I have the kind of house that I can set up a flow where the work is viewed first, then the snacks and then the checkout and packaging can happen in my living room but you will want to figure out a way that your customer can move through your space in a logical way to avoid frustration on everyone’s part and unnecessary waiting.
  • Clean your house or studio in preparation of the event. I am not sure how you feel but I just feel better if I have a clean work space to show off when customers come in. I also try and make the house as clean as possible. And when the event is over, you can breathe a sigh of relief that you are done, sort of, for the season, and can get on with your family festivities.
  • Price the work. Go through all the inventory and make sure that all the work is priced. I like to do this ahead of time because I don’t want to have to be in a position to look like I don’t know what to ask for the piece and I don’t want to have to haggle. It just makes it easier and less stressful on everyone if these are in place ahead of time.
  • Figure out your checkout program ahead of time. We use the Square reader and have been very pleased with how this set up works so that it is tied to our bank account for Laughing Orange. You want to familiarize yourself again with any upgrades before the event so that you aren’t spending time with your customer learning a new section of the program and avoid any frustrations there.
  • Add ideas of use of your products. You know your work better than anyone and you can come up with ways that they can see your work in a usable way. I offered ideas of things to pair with the work to create a special gift for someone. Examples: a baby bowl might be paired with a receiving blanket and a pair of socks or a spoon, a large pasta dish with a recipe or the ingredients for the recipe, a mug with a homemade cocoa mix or teas or coffees. I actually printed up little ideas in a nice font and put beside the items to nudge the customer to see that the work could be put with other items to create a more thoughtful gift for someone.
  • Talk to Your Customers…sell the work! making a mug instructionsThis one is huge! Many customers come to my studio or gallery and think that the work is something that is just cranked out like in a factory. I ask if they are interested in actually seeing the studio and then if they do, I explain the entire process to them so that they understand that this isn’t Walmart. Many times I have had customers tell me that my prices are too high and that they can get the same items at Walmart. I usually let them find the door. But, it can also be a learning experience for them if you can help them understand some of the process. One year, I actually put tags on the mugs with the steps involved in making a mug. If the person buying the mug already understands the efforts of a handmade item, the recipient may not so the tag helps to explain the specialty of the gift they just received.
  • Explain the trail as they enter the house or studio This is to help our fellow trail sites. You can be assured that if you partner with me, I am going to promote you too. I realize that my work doesn’t appeal to everyone and that is okay. I also realize that there are some really fine artists in our county that also are working just as hard as I am and need to have the local population to know about them too. I usually give out a trail brochure and then a map and tell them all about the food that I am offering, if it came from a trail site. This is selling our county. This is bringing in economics to our area, which grows our area and adds interest for the future.
  • Offer a giveaway as a way to capture emails. This is optional of course. I had purchased a cookbook during the year in 2015 and kept it back as a gift option for someone in the family. I had forgotten about it and found it when I began getting the space ready for inventory. The idea came to me to offer it as a giveaway but to be sure to let those know that are registering for it that my purpose was to capture their addresses for future events. I scored with a lot of new people for my database and the winner was pleased as punch to get the book in the mail.
  • Offer a discount to returning customers. This is also optional. I have decided to do this for several years now and most people don’t remember it or ask about it but when I say to them, “Hey, you have bought from me before”, it shows them that I remember them, I appreciate their returning for another item and many of them are grateful. Some of them refuse it, or try to because they recognize that it is taking money away that I could make. But, I see it as a way to building a customer base that is loyal about coming back year after year. I offer 10%. It isn’t much but it is a nice way to tell your customer that they are appreciated.
  • Have a special wrapping or package to send the work away in. stickerBecause I am Laughing Orange Studio, I found some very cheap orange, as in the fruit, bags to put the wrapped work in. I also had tags printed from Moo.com that tell the customers  that the bags are reusable and that they are filled with shredded junk mail. This shows the customer that I am trying to be as sustainable to the planet as possible. I could do an entire posting about this. In this age of consumerism, why would you pay for extra packaging unless it could be reused in some way. This year, I also took all the clay bags that had accumulated in the studio, which are very strong plastic, and ran them through my washing machine. I ordered a sticker to put on the bag saying thank you and adding my logo and contact information on them. I was able to reuse the bags and the customer was told about where the bag came from. I actually had a customer come with her own bags this year, which pleased me to no end. I have also had customers bring back the orange bags and the packaging from their previous purchases.
  • Thank your customer and begin to recognize them. This is important. Sometimes I don’t always remember a customer’s name. I am terrible at that. But if you start to recognize your customers, it makes a huge difference. Recently, I had a customer that hadn’t been here since 2013 and I vaguely remember her. But she purchased some nice things and I added her to my database and in the note section added what she purchased. I will use that information to remember her because, many times, I can remember the work better than a name.
  • Remind them of the other trail sites that are open today and let them know of the wonderful offerings that are still out there for the weekend of the event. As I stated earlier, I always promote the other trail sites that I know are having their event on the same weekend as ours or are partnering with us on our event.
  • Offer maps to the other trail sites. This was the first map I created for the three of the artists at our event.This is where ACV and the Tourism for Shenandoah County has been a huge help. They have printed the maps and got them to us so that we have them to give out. In addition to this map, we have printed maps onto the backs of our invitations for the past two years. I think that has been a big help although I feel that it was a bit confusing to the post office and we may decide to redesign that idea somehow for next year. The map shown at the right is the map I created for the first Holiday Open Studio Tour that we did. It is a simple assembly from Google earth placed in approximation to where each artist was located. I had them on hand to give to people when they came  in or when I saw them about to leave.

New Kiln Equals Business Growth

kiln-e28t-open-950

programmable L&L kiln

During the holiday season last year, I felt that I couldn’t get all the work fired that I needed to fire. I think part of that is knowing how and when the clay is ready to process and not to push it too fast. But, I also didn’t feel that I had the kiln space to push the work through. So, I have ordered a new kiln from The Kiln Doctor and hopefully, in 2-4 weeks, I will be up and running and working harder to fill it up.

The kiln that I currently have is over 35 years old. It has, and continues to serve me well but I feel that I need to upgrade to a programmable kiln and to give myself a bigger goal to work toward. The old kiln will still be used for smaller firings or to do the bisque work. It will continue to be in the basement. I inherited this kiln from my mother-in-law, many years ago, after she tried her hand at ceramics as a hobby.

Originally, the plan was to add a small building to the upper side of my studio to house the kilns. Due to money constraints, I am needing to add the kiln before I add the building. When we renovated the studio, we had the electrician run the wiring for the future kiln and those wires are available on the upper side of the studio, in the wall. Hopefully, he can extract those wires from the building and extend them out to the building that we call the “garage”. The garage has a concrete floor and a good size space to accommodate the larger kiln and then the next upgrade can be a new building so that I am not having to carry work between buildings for the different phases of the process. I can also put the glaze compressor in the garage and get it out of the garden pump room where it currently is. For now, the kayaks and the mower will have to find a new home until we can afford a kiln room addition onto the studio.

The new kiln is now going to be three times the kiln that I currently have and so I hope that, with my skills improving, and my desire to make larger items, that I won’t have any trouble filling this larger space. Growth is good and this is part of the process of growing the business.

 

 

My Studio, myself…

Spring Newsletter 2013

 

 

 

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O Shenandoah County Artisan Trail

“Hand-made treasures, locally grown goodness and breath-taking beauty around every bend”

ACVcirclelogo106x106It is official! Shenandoah County named the trail and the press release came out in February. It seems the entire county is now gearing up to launch the trail and show off our artists and agri-artisans within our county.  In April, Shenandoah County tourism folks are planning a local event and are featuring many of the people who have signed up for the trail. Their partnership with the Artisan Center of Virginia is what has made the trail happen They have named the event “Gardens, Galleries, and Grapes” and it is set for Sunday, April 21, 2012.  It will be from 12-5 p.m. I am going to be set up for this at Natural Art Garden Center here in Tom’s Brook. The County Chamber has a lovely window display in their window in Woodstock, VA and have some of my work displayed to promote this Spring event.

If you are planning a trip to the Shenandoah Valley, you may use Virginia.org to look up all the artisans and plan a trip to the area for a tour of your choosing. It is easy to do!

  • Simply register with Virginia.org
  • Click on the Trip Planner at the top of the page
  • Then Start a New Trip
  • You can search for Laughing Orange Studio and add that to your trip along with other really cool sites in my area.
  • After you have added some neat things to see in your trip planner, you can assemble an itinerary and print it out with maps and addresses.
  • Then just jump in your car and come and see me!

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old building

Laughing Orange is moving out of the basement!

This winter, I have been working on getting a building on my property transformed into a new workspace to house the studio. My basement has been where I have been working and if you have ever been to my house, you know that the basement has a low ceiling. It does have a cement floor, which is nice, because I can spray out the dust, but I have support poles in my way and have really cramped quarters.

I have a building on my property that we have used for storage for years. It is basically a story and a half and the square footage is not much more than my basement, if even bigger, but I will have one continuous room and can set things up in a more efficient way. AND it has normal ceilings which will make it feel bigger… for a while.

My permits are applied for, my contractor is ready to get to work, I am just waiting for a meeting of the town planning committee to meet so they can give me the final go ahead. At that point the building is getting a new look with metal siding, new windows and doors and a new floor. Budget constraints kept me from getting everything that I wanted but as the business grows, so can my upgrades to my space.

If you use Facebook, “like” Laughing Orange Studio and see the progress as it happens there.

Or stay tuned on this blog for updates as well…

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courier article72

Work in Progress

Laughing Orange was featured in a local tabloid called the Mountain Courier. Rich Follett, a regular writer for them, wrote the story for his regular feature called Work in Progress. I’ve included the text here since the paper is not an online publication:

Work in Progress

Laughing Orange Studio

by Rich Follett

In a pre-interview email, I asked Susie Morgan Wilburn for the address of her home studio. The reply came back promptly, with a bit of additional information: “You can see it from space!” Right from the start, I was aware that this would be no ordinary visit. As it turns out, Laughing Orange STudio is indeed a literal rather than a figurative moniker: the house is bright orange, whimsy fills every corner, and I am reasonably certain that, if afforded access to orbit, one cound indeed see it from space. Susie’s pottery offers a festival of imaginative and playful forms, underpinned with an essential functionality that seems, somehow, like a bonus.

Wilburn had been a ceramics apprentice for two years at Berea College in Kentucky and had been hand building pottery in her home since 1992, firing her pieces in a kiln passed down from a family member. Then, for Christmas 2010, her husband gifted her with a second hand potter’s wheel. She took to the wheel immediately, finding that her remembered skills came back quickly and easily. The Universe provided a final nudge in 2011 when Wilburn was laid off from the job she had held for more than 20 years with a printing firm. Faced with an uncertain future and limited job prospects, Wilburn began to question whether her pottery skills might not only support themselves but also help to support her family. In the fall of 2011, Wilburn was asked to make 25 bowls for the area’s annual Empty Bowl soup supper. With her characteristic whimsical flair, she crafted a small ceramic frog into each of her pieces, to be gradually revealed as the contents were eaten. Her fog bowls were a resounding success; the supply was exhausted very early in the evening and patrons were clamoring for more.

Based on the success of the frog bowls, Wilburn accepted an invitation from the Friends of the North Fork of the Shenandoah River, (an organization for which she continues to serve as a volunteer) to sell her pottery at a holiday open house. In three hours’ time, Wilburn sold $1,700 worth of her art. The community had given Wilburn her answer and there was no looking back. Laughing Orange Studio was born in 2012, its name taken from the particular color of Sherwin Williams paint that makes the home studio stand out in the Wilburn’s otherwise sedate neighborhood. The inspiration for the cheerful color scheme was taken from a patch of daylilies that bloom in the Wilburn backyard each summer.

From the basement of their gaily painted Toms Brook home, Wilburn spins her potter’s wheel to create playful pottery pieces designed to enchant and to be used daily. Frogs, fish, fossils, fairies, rabbits and botanical design punctuate an endless array of mugs, butter bells, bowls, vases, and other practical household items made wondrous by Wilburn’s deft, clever hands. Wilburn’s vision is in her hands; she does not see pottery pieces in her mind’s eye prior to throwing them, choosing instead to go into “the zone” and giving her hands free rein to shape each pot directly from her subconscious. With every turn of the wheel, Wilburn endeavors to create artful objects that will be used rather than merely displayed–her chorus of ceramic frogs is joyfully chiming “pick me up and use me!”

Another successful facet of Laughing Orange Studio is the “Fairy Garden” line of art pottery designed for indoor or outdoor use. Fairy houses, fairy furniture, fairy garden ornaments, all are lovingly sculpted and hand painted (no two are alike) by Wilburn to be sold locally and shipped around the world. Lately, she has bee challenged to keep up with a rapidly growing fairy garden clientele in Australia, many of whom are placing custom orders–they can dream it, Wilburn will create it. Laughing Orange Studio has quickly outgrown Wilburn’s basement; in the spring of 2013, she is breaking ground on a project to convert an existing Victorian outbuilding into a backyard studio with increased firing capacity, a separate shipping area and space for demonstrations.

Wilburn credits her success to having ahd a strong community identity and presence prior to launching Laughing Orange Studio. She endeavors to tell stories with her pottery and to have her pottery become part of the stories that those who buy and use her pieces will tell in their own lives. It is a gift that will enrich the community—and the Valley—for generations to come.

Susie Morgan Wilburn is a juried member of the Shenandoah Valley Artisan Trail. Her pottery is available at Natural Art Garden Center in Toms Brook, Shenandoah Valley Artworks in Strasburg, Laughing Orange Studio (3397 Hillcrest Drive, Toms Brook) and online through Etsy at www.etsy.com/shop.laughingorangestudio.com

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1st Annual Holiday Open House was Wonderful!

I want to thank everyone that came to the Holiday Open House. I know this is late but, I really do appreciate everyone coming and sharing my new adventure, having some snacks and getting some Christmas gifts. The weather was beautiful and the weekend was super busy but really lots of fun. THANK YOU ALL!!! I’m looking forward to doing it again next year and showing off my new space.

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Connect with Laughing Orange


Etsy logo

My Etsy shop, Laughing Orange Studio,
is connected to my blog.

facebook
Laughing Orange Studio has a business Facebook presence.
pinterestPinterest, if you are unfamiliar with it, is a great way to bookmark items onto the web for reference or sharing.

googleGoogle + is awesome for the main reason that I can see friends and relatives that are far away. It has a wonderful hangout option that many people can have a conversation all at once.

 

Subscribe to this Newsletter! I am trying to get a newsletter out quarterly just to give an update on new products and my event schedules.

 

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Currently I’m working on:

  • making, making, making lots of new items for the April 21st Spring “Gardens, Galleries and Grapes Event” at Natural Art Garden Center here in Toms Brook and the Blandy Farm Mother’s Day Event in Boyce, VA
  • updating my databases and contact information. If you know of someone that you think would enjoy knowing about me or my work, please share this newsletter and the above sites to find me. Thanks in advance for helping get the word out.
  • Fairy Garden Items are still all the rage and if you haven’t gotten yours started, there are new items for those on Etsy and Lynne Phillips, at  Natural Art Garden Center, is planning some fall workshops to help you build your own. Check out the link here...or contact Lynne at 540-436-3130

Please remember Laughing Orange if you need a wedding or special birthday gift. I love doing special orders and handmade items are always more special than something that has been mass produced.

Happy Spring!

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ACV JURIED artisan LOGOwith orange

Starting the Process of my New Studio

Lot Survey

Lot Survey

Last week I spent some time trying preparing a document to present to my town of Tom’s Brook’s Planning Committee so they could get a visual of what I would like build as a new studio.

At first, I thought I would put a new building in the back part of my yard but the lot size will not allow for the size of building that I want and also allow for the distance that may be needed to put up a new building and include an offset from the property line required by the county. Our house is over 100 years old and has an unusual lot shape. There are sidewalks on the property going to different parts of the yard and we have two outbuildings. One building was, at one time, a garage and we use it to store workshop items and mowers. Another outbuilding is beside the patio and is closer to the house. This is the building that I now want to renovate or take down and replace. I realized that it wouldn’t be a good idea to add a new building when the building that is closest to the house is in bad need of repair and would probably never get repaired if I had a new building added to the lot. Therefore, it only makes sense to add value to my property by fixing the old building as opposed to adding something new to the mix.

So, today I thought I would start what will be a series of posts about the process of putting new working space onto my property.

Old to New image

Old to New image

To see the presentation that I gave to my town committee you can click here and see how I envision the end product to look.

They told me that it could take 60-90 days for the county process to take place. The planner guy will be in touch with me the first of next week to give me directions as to the next steps that I will need to take.

Looking to 2013

basementWith a year under my belt, I am pleased with the ground work that I have put into place for Laughing Orange Studio. It has certainly been a year of things to learn and what to do better in 2013.

In 2012 I learned:

  • how to gauge my inventory
  • how hard to push myself
  • how to pace myself
  • how to do USPS online and how to approximate shipping costs
  • refining my mug design and handles
  • what items I need to take to shows and what not to take
  • that Etsy is not going to make me as much money as I had hoped and it is going to have to be a supplemental source of income and at Christmas I need to think more local
  • to double box my packages to avoid breakages in shipping
  • that this blog is a way to inform everyone what I am doing with a story but can’t dominate the process of making
  • that I am closer to finding my “voice” in the clay but it will take a bit more time
  • that it is okay to only make one of something
  • that my customers need to buy immediately if they want something because someone else will snap it up and it won’t be here next week
  • how to do an Open House
  • how to use a square reader
  • how to shop for the best price on supplies
  • that it is almost impossible to keep the clay from migrating to my upstairs living area and that I really have to take a day a week and clean to avoid having it build up
  • that I need to hang onto receipts for my bookkeeping

old building-4

So, looking ahead to 2013, I am pleased to announce, first off, that I am planning on building a new studio….YAY!!! I go before the planning committee of Tom’s Brook this week and am going to present them with my idea to convert an outbuilding on my property to a studio. My hope is that they will allow me to tear it down and replace it with a new metal building that will be more efficient and will help me to have taller ceilings and more space.

I am also hoping to:

  • do a show locally (within a 200 mile radius) every other month or so
  • build a catalog of work, not just the few items I am making now
  • keep better track of items
  • keep building a local customer base…mailings, another open house, local events
  • add another kiln that is larger
  • work on getting my glazes to better fit the clay body that I am using
  • do some glaze tests
  • show the progress of my year with social media and this blog
  • make a little more money….this should probably be at the top of the list, right?

Thanks to everyone that helped me in this first year. I’m realizing that I am happier now than I have been in years and don’t have to deal with anyone’s rules but my own. Happiness isn’t about money, it is about doing what you love but I realize that I have Herb and all of my friends and supporters helping me to do what I love. I just wish I was a bit younger in starting this new adventure.