I have travelled through the GTA and beyond to scope out the Spring pottery sales. My intent was to learn display tips and pointers from fellow potters as I embark on plans to enter a few big sales myself but ultimately walked away with more. The ceramic community in Southern Ontario is filled with talent and extremely generous. I gained many helpful ideas, suggestions and last but not least 5 beautiful ceramic works but more on that in a later post.
My first sales excursion this Spring was to the Hamilton and Region Potter’s Guild Show and Sale at the Dundas Lions Memorial Community Centre in Dundas, Ontario. I was joined by two fellow guild members, Genevieve and Vicki, who like me are also keen to see the work of fellow potters and how they display their wares.
The Hamilton Potters have fabulous marketing and promotions. Upon entering Dundas, we were first met by a huge banner spanning the Main Street celebrating the Pottery Sale and directing us like the piped piper. Next we saw the vertical flag banners outside the community centre like a beacon marking the spot and we knew we had arrived. The Lions Hall building is a charmer and bodes well for the contents within.
Their sales are huge, with the work of over 100 potters on 2 floors artfully arranged within 3 rooms. Each Sale also has a featured artist that has a large display visible immediately upon entering the hall. This featured artist for their Spring sale was Sherry Dresser. What I noticed next was that each potter’s booth was unique, although each started with the same table and table cloth. Building height and accessibility were the key points addressed.
Booth and ceramics by Sherry Dresser
- Make sure that the customers feel safe reaching in to your both to pick up your work, after all that is the goal. Hopefully once they connect with your work they won’t want to put it down. In the past I was so excited to share my work I crowded my table and likely made it too challenging and nerve racking for people to reach in and touch a piece.
- Having mugs and smaller items in the front is a good idea as they draw people in to look at more.
Some guilds have a maximum height for table tops, but potters are resourceful and have come up with great and simple solutions. Some used wooden crates and plank shelving, while others used a variety of glass objects to create vertical risers for their plexiglass shelves. My personal favourite were the antiques repurposed as display furniture. Some artisans also had designed their own collapsible displays that were easy to carry, set up and take down and lug from their vehicles.
Booth and ceramics by Karla Rivera
Many booths also used additional table clothes to accent their glaze colours. One thing to consider is what the sight line is through your booth. Will the back of the booth behind yours dominate your aesthetic? Many people used crates which have dominant lines that could interfere with your vibe. How can you minimize that? Anticipate that it will happen and bring neutral fabric to cover the space.
- Have business cards arranged in your display. People who walk by without purchasing might keep your card and look it over and may come back that day or in the future. Having the customer know your name is extremely important if you are not manning your own booth. If they do purchase your work, they will want your name and website as they are the gateway into your story. Remember, it is easier to keep a repeat customer that find a new one.
One stand-out idea that a few potters do to show more of their work than one can display on a 2 X 8-foot table is to create “look books”. Krystal Speck and Heidi Mackenzie have both utilized that mode. In both cases I felt a bit more connected to them, and their work and creative journey.
Booth and ceramics by Iris Dorton
The Hamilton Potter’s Sale has something for everyone. There is Raku, Woodfire, gas, electric, fired works that are wheel thrown, hand-built, castings, and sculpture. There was jewelry, mugs, berry bowls, vases, garden stakes, décor items and so much more. The best part is seeing people who love pottery totally engaged in someone’s work where they go back again and again, and find something new and thrilling in the artists’ mastery of technique. Best of all, those are the true fans and they buy ceramics. I wonder if anyone has sat outside the doors and determined the overall target market and demographics for pottery sales?
As I look over the photographs I took that day of inspiring displays and marketing ideas, I recall the card tags with sizzle wrapped on Raku decor, hangers and hooks for pendants and succulent pots, stepped and pyramid shelving, leaving me with more questions to ponder. Dark or blond wood, white or grey painted shelving? plinths or shelves? Aligned or diagonal risers? I intend to figure this out in the coming months.