Port City Pottery & Fine Crafts – whose business is creativity – is looking forward to an unusually creative year, thanks to its recent designation as an American Small Business Champion. Rather than just turning out more artwork, however, the four owner-artisans will be rethinking their business and planning for its continued success.
The downtown gallery cooperative, which specializes in three-dimensional craft arts, is one of 102 small businesses in the U.S. to be recognized through this program hosted by SCORE, in partnership with Sam’s Club. Winners each receive a $1,000 Sam’s Club gift card, an all-expense-paid trip to a small business training event, SCORE mentoring for one year and promotional exposure all year through SCORE, a national organization of volunteer business professionals.
The key element of Port City Pottery’s application for the award was to answer the question: “What sacrifice have you made to help your business succeed?” Co-owner Pat Holleman believes she and fellow owners Sybil West, Pat Hart and Mary Holden-Hall had a very compelling response.
“We do not take a salary, and have not tried to recover our original investment,” Holleman said. “All four of us are potters, and we get only the commission from sales of our own work.”
When the original seven-owner team proved unwieldy, the current owners bought out the other three to create a leaner organization and easier decision-making process. While the business is not technically a non-profit, its initial funding and its cooperative, collaborative model do borrow from the non-profit world.
The gallery, which will celebrate eight years in business April 1, has minimized operational expenses by asking its exhibiting artisans to share staffing duties. Those who do put in a shift or more receive a higher commission on the sale of their work. That model has had benefits beyond those of keeping expenses down, Holleman said.
Working together, getting to know each other and everyone’s needs has created a “culture of caring,” she explained. “We’ve been graced by that culture and it has enhanced our success.”
Last year, Port City Pottery exceeded $1 million in sales, and hope for a continued increase in revenues. To prepare for growth, Holleman said the owners have added several more people to the organization’s board who bring specific skills.
Holleman said that she and the gallery’s other three owners would like to use this year of mentoring, publicity and training to explore how they can best grow the business, in terms of both size and sales.
“We’d like to expand our square footage,” she said, noting that if larger space or adjoining space comes available in the Cotton Exchange, the gallery’s home, they have secured the right of first refusal from landlord Nancy Bullock.
Enhancing the existing space is a priority as well. The owners have just installed new carpeting. Port City Pottery will likely spend its $1,000 from Sam’s Club on better lighting, display fixtures and other physical enhancements, said co-owner West.
“Displays and lighting are critical here,” she said.
Then, envisioning the gallery’s future, the owners will attend the SCORE small business training session in May, at which Holleman expects to get a refresher on small business management, some gallery-specific coaching, and some big-picture ideas about how to take Port City Pottery to the next level.
One issue on the minds of all four owners is succession planning. All are past traditional retirement age and have indeed retired from other careers, while pursuing their pottery. They want to ensure a bright future for Port City Pottery.
“I think we have a wonderful gallery and have demonstrated our success,” Holleman said.