In 2020 my online Etsy business, Red Barn Pottery, grew 100% so I spent most of my year as a workaholic. My pottery business that originally began as a hobby had been growing steadily for the past several years. I juggled teaching, (my first profession) and making pottery, but I had gone to part-time teaching so it had a nice balance until it wasn’t anymore. I was working too many hours trying to do both.
In June 2020 I retired from teaching. After over 30 years working in education, it was odd to end my career by teaching on Zoom. I taught a mixed aged group of 5-8 year olds, and even by the end of the year some of them still showed up for “class” in their pjs without a pencil or paper and sometimes they were even on their beds. It wasn’t because of Zoom teaching that I retired, but it helped make things clearer. Even though I miss the kids and I miss the colleagueship of being part of a school, I am in my happy world creating things from clay and running my own business from home at this stage of my life.
I had already stopped selling pottery at in person shows as of 2018, so I was well positioned for the pandemic. When I saw things starting to shut down I rushed to stock up on supplies, and throughout this time, sourcing supplies has been one of my biggest challenges. Keeping up with orders has been tricky too. Apparently people are willing to wait up to 10 weeks for me to custom make dishes for them, and I was still down to the deadline on more than a few. So I decided to hire help for shipping which is new and scary. It is super weird not to do everything myself, but I would have had to shut down more than the times I already did to stay on top of all of the orders.
In 2020 I decided it was time to get a new kiln, as my original was used when I purchased it 18 years ago and felt small for my current needs. Because of the pandemic I had to wait for it for 4 months for delivery, and then it got sent to the wrong state. It felt in keeping with all of the craziness of the times. In 2020 I also invested in new lighting. I literally had light bulbs on cords in my work places, and I never had enough light. Real lighting is amazing!! I am grateful for electricity and my electrician who listened to my needs and scenarios and helped me get a system that works great for me. Who knew that light switches for all those new lights would be so exciting? And now I have a heater for the winter months I spend working in the basement instead of my barn that is too hard to keep heated during the coldest times. In the winter I used to feel like I was going down to the dungeon to work in the basement. Our house was built in 1812 and has a stone foundation. Thankfully it feels brighter and warmer now.
On numerous occasions in 2020, especially in the past months, I had a carload of parcels I couldn’t even imagine carrying all inside the post office. Since I print all the shipping labels at home, I started calling the post office ahead of my arrival and my sweet and friendly postmaster met me at the back door with a scanner and a big mail cart to fill. My daily trips to my wonderful post office makes my job a little brighter each day.
As much as possible I try to collect packing materials from friends and neighbors to keep what I can out of the landfill, and in 2020 I needed more than ever. I am heartened by all the folks who drop off packing materials to me or contact me for a pick-up. If you live near me, or if I see you from time to time, packing peanuts and bubble wrap make me very very happy!
I am forever grateful to my husband Ken for all his help and support. Ken now does my clay pick ups for me south of Boston at least a 1000 pounds at a time. It is Ken who listens to me when I need to process about my growing pains. It was who Ken helped me turn our old barn into a studio and built me my giant hand-building table. He embraced Clay Play Studio Art Camp at our house for over a dozen years which was started as a way to bring camp to us when my children were small and to offset my costs for my expensive hobby. A few years ago I realized that I couldn’t take time from my studio for camp anymore, and I felt grateful this summer that I didn’t have to worry about running camp during a pandemic!
I was riding the wave of growth all year, feeling a bit guilty that things were going so well for me when others were struggling so much. I was thrilled but also a bit overwhelmed at times. I have ended this year by closing my on-line shop for several weeks so I can regroup, relax. reflect, and envision what I want for 2021. I have never had a business plan, but I am thinking about one now. I am not much of a social marketing net-worker and this probably won’t change. I am busy enough without it. My main goals have been to be authentic and true to myself and to make what I make to the best of my ability. I try to treat customers as I would want to be treated, and when the few bad eggs come around, I try to move forward and not let their energy take me down. (It usually takes me a day or two to get there. Thanks Ken for always reminding me of what is important and steering me back on course!) Fortunately almost all of my customers are wonderful. And even though I don’t usually get to meet my Etsy customers in person, I have gotten to know many of them. Many keep returning to add to their collections or to purchase gifts.
So 2021. Here we are. I am still in reflection mode. I have not been taking new orders while I work to get my orders queue down to start the new year fresh, but I am back to making pieces in a peaceful way in my brighter and warmer winter basement studio. The winter months are my least favorite, but I try to spend time outside every day. It’s good to have a dog. I look forward to the spring each year when I can move back into my Red Barn Pottery studio.