Ceramics Artist Gopi Shah Shares the Secret to Pricing Her Products
Moving to a new city gave Gopi Shah the chance to turn her love for ceramics into a new business venture. Her eagerness to hone her craft led her to a mentor, a friend and a supportive community of makers.
We caught up with Gopi to learn why she decided to strike out on her own, and the lessons she had to learn the hard way about how to best display her products at craft events.
I was living in Los Angeles when my partner got relocated to Austin for a new job. I had been taking a ceramics class on the side in LA and really enjoyed it. I was working for theNatural Resources Defense Councilat the time and toyed with the idea of starting my own business, but it wasn't until we moved to Austin that I really had the opportunity to start fresh. As the cost of living was much cheaper in Texas than it was in California, we decided we could afford to live on one income, which would give me the chance to start building my own business.
I started by cold emailing all kinds of ceramics artists in the area. I foundJennifer Pritchard, who eventually became my mentor. She and I have very different styles. Her focus is on ceramic installations made of these tiny pieces that make up an entire wall or ceiling. She had a studio that was about a mile away from our house, so I went and helped her a little bit. When half of her studio opened up, I was able to move in and start working on my own personal projects. She taught me a lot about being an artist outside of an academic setting.
Who was your very first customer?
I don't actually remember!
I originally started by giving my pieces to friends and family and attending my first craft fair in Los Angeles. I do remember that my display at that first event was pretty horrific. My partner does woodworking and made a shelf for me to show my products, but I hardly had enough to create any kind of real display. After we set up I looked around at the other stalls and thought, "I need to leave." It was so funny — I spent pretty much the entire event hiding behind the table.
I've gotten a lot better at displaying my work since then. It all depends on the products I’m selling at my booth. My ceramics are all really heavy, so I need a table that can support the weight of all the pieces.
I come in the night before an event and make sure my products are out and displayed properly, then leave them overnight. That way, my booth is going to look really different from that of someone who sells paper products or jewelry. They have to bring everything in first thing in the morning and unpack quickly while still making the items look good on the table.
At what point did you know your business was going to work?
I feel like sometimes it's working and sometimes it's not. I'm in a really awesome period right now where things are just starting to take off.
I've faced a lot of challenges I've had to work through over the years, like trying to find the right studio space after we moved from Austin to San Francisco. It took me months to find the ideal place so I wasn't working during the holiday season, which is the most lucrative time of year for me. But once I found my studio, I started to hit my stride.
San Francisco has been a great place to own my own business. Austin was amazing, too — it was where I found my mentor and met all these great small business owners who were very supportive of what I was trying to do. San Francisco is more competitive, but it's also where I can get more wholesale orders.
What has been the biggest surprise so far after starting your own business?
The big surprise is how productive I've become. I have a temp job at an office and the efficiency in an office environment is so different from what it's like in the studio.
If I'm not working, I'm not making money. Sometimes, even when I am working, I'm not making money! I've gotten really good at going in and getting the job done when I can, because there really is just so much time in the day.
How do you price your products?
I have this crazy formula that I use. Basically, it takes into account overheads and the cost of materials, as well as my time.
I have an Excel sheet where I'll plug in how many pieces of this one product I can make in a month if I'm working 40 hours a week. It takes into account what clay I use, what glaze I use, how much I pay to rent my studio and everything else. Then I'll double the price for retail.
It's not the best method, but pricing is always difficult and there's a lot of variance in the market. For example, I could put my costs into the formula and it could tell me to charge $100 for a cup. But no one is going to pay that much, as they can find similar items priced anywhere between $12 and $50.
When customers buy things, they'll always compare them to something similar they've seen elsewhere. Rather than getting caught up in that mess, I've tried to differentiate myself by making items that my customers don't see every day.
What would you like to learn today from a community of other small business owners and self-employed professionals?
There's so much! I think it's really interesting to learn abouthow other people started their own businesses.
I'm in this period now where I think I might be able to hire someone, but I have no idea how to move to that next step. Hearing about how other people did that would be very helpful to me.
Do *you* have a story to share about how and when you decided to hire your first employee?
If you have experience finding and hiring rockstar help for your small business, share your story with us below!
We can't wait to hear more about what you've learned. :-)