Jonathan Martin | Episode 355
Originally, Jonathan was looking for a shape he could put his hands to, perfect, and then create something both beautiful and functional. Thus, the signature Black Oak coffee mug was born. Shortly after creating his first round of mugs, Jonathan was approached by a local coffee shop owner, who asked if he could create a custom logo design to sell in their shop.
As demand for the those mugs increased with multiple other customers, his line has expanded to all types of functional pieces. And although the volume of pieces being produced each week has increased dramatically, something that makes the studio unique is that each piece is still handmade. Rather than a production assembly line, Jonathan has gathered together a community of artists looking to perfect their design and craft and work at an inspiring local business with other like-minded individuals. They work together to create quality handmade goods.
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Instagram question: What is one thing that would make the business of being a ceramic artist easier for you?
Oh gosh, I can think of about ten things. The word that comes to mind is predictability and so the better we are at being able to predict, whether it’s production or whether it’s orders or what’s coming up, that’s huge. When we have failed to predict well, whether it be a ramp up or a slow down, or different problems that come up, I think as much as possible what we try to do is increase our predictability. And that is even financially with storing that money, retained earnings was a new phrase I learned that helps you get through the slow times. Yeah, I think from the business side, I think just trying to figure out all those things so you can predict as well as you can what you need and what you are going to be able to actually produce. Because customers don’t like it when you overpromise and underdeliver. That was a tough one to learn.
Instagram question: What is the advice you wish you would have received but didn’t when you started working with ceramics?
Oh man, that’s a good question. I would probably have to say dealing with the form and function question I think is the biggest thing. That is kind of a divide that you have to decide where you are going to go if you are going to straddle that. I think it is a process I had to fight with even through art school because art school tends towards form but I love the function of it. I love making functional stuff. Someone giving me a heads up and maybe a confidence boost that there could be a combination of form and function. I think pottery already lends itself to that anyways.
How do you market yourself and your business?
Well, one of the good and bad things of riding the coattails of these guys who created this national TV show is we haven’t had to a ton. Just as far as business volume goes. But for trying to get business outside of that, that has been something that we are still working on. It is mostly email is what we do now. We have emails that have examples of our product and what we do and so my sales guy will send those out. We do mostly wholesale so we don’t really have a big retail space. We try to find companies that would appreciate quality, handmade goods.
What qualities do you look for when you are building a team?
We have a whole list and we are actually going through some hiring right now, so we have just been talking with people about this. We have four core values as our business: Attention to detail, efficiency, passion for our work, and integrity and that is kind of the four that we really look for. Integrity is a big deal when you are working with a team and what we mean by that is kind of owning up if you make a mistake or if you don’t know how to do something and just being honest.
Instagram question: What cup do you drink your morning coffee from? Who made it and why is it the one?
I broke my favorite cup that was given to me about a year ago and the potter is gone. So I actually use one of ours now that we made but either way I always pick handmade mugs. I mean we have non-handmade mugs in our pantry but there is just something about it that enriches life when you are drinking from something that someone made.