1/6/2021

Small Business Spotlight

The Night Potter: Mammoth & Minnow

Financier by day, potter by night, Mary Lee shares how she used Instagram to grow her pottery business, Mammoth & Minnow, on Etsy while maintaining her full-time job.

Katie Lee

Marketing Manager

We're excited to present this exclusive interview with Mary Lee, maker and owner of Mammoth & Minnow. Mary shares how she used social media to grow her pottery business, Mammoth & Minnow, on Etsy while maintaining her full-time job in finance. Find Mammoth & Minnow on their Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, or website.

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Hatch:

Hello, and welcome to Hatch Small Business Spotlights, where small business owners share stories about getting started, lessons learned, and victories they've won along the way to building their businesses. I'm John from Artifact, and today we're joined by Mary, the maker and owner of Mammoth & Minnow. Mary has turned her passion for ceramics into a thriving business and shares what she's learned about using online platforms to grow and the secret to launching the company while maintaining a primary job.

Mary:

My name is Mary. I am the maker and the owner behind Mammoth & Minnow. I make and sell pottery on the sideway really of my full-time job, but I made it a formal business back in 2017 and I've been growing it ever since.

Hatch:

Very nice. So, let's go back to 2017, what led you to make that decision to turn this into a formal business?

Mary:

So, my pottery practice actually started maybe a year and a half before that, and it started with a Christmas present for my now husband. It was a six week wheel class at a studio in Midtown Manhattan. After the six weeks, I loved it so much, I chose to continue on as a member of that studio, so I would pay monthly to have access to their equipment, to the studio and be able to make pottery there. And after a while, I just ended up... I had so much pottery on hand and I realized that as I'm getting better, maybe this is something that I can put online and see if people would be interested in. So, after selling on Etsy for a little while and being so encouraged by the reception that I got and just loving making more pottery, I decided to make it a formal small business just so I can really track those expenses and just think about it in a different way. Set those business goals, see how I'm growing year over year and start to collect data on this side passion of mine.

Hatch:

What has it been like to take something that's been a creative outlet for you and turn it into a business?

Mary:

It's been really rewarding. I do get more of the balance of the artistic exploration where I'm making things because I want to make them, but also fulfilling the needs of customers in a business setting. So for example, I have certain mugs and just kitchenware that is really popular. So, I'll do pre-orders on those and then it ends up being an assignment like with any other job I have to make to fulfill demand, but I also get to make vases and larger art pieces that I can put up as one of a kind item. So, it's a nice balance. I do want to make sure that I'm still satisfying that kind of creative drive within me, rather than making this just a production business wholly.

Hatch:

And so, when you turned it into a business, rather, what were some of the early struggles you faced when making that transition?

Mary:

I think it's something that I still am working on because I do it on the side, along with my full-time career. So, I work in risk management in the financial industry, so it's a pretty demanding job. And the end of the year actually happens to be the busiest time of year for my day job, and also, obviously busiest time of year for my pottery sales because of the holidays. So, really balancing the amount of time I'm able to devote to Mammoth & Minnow, has been something that I'm working on. The other part that was tricky in the beginning was really understanding how much I wanted to make it a business that was about my pottery or a business about me and really deciding how much of my life and my point of view and my inspiration I wanted to share through Mammoth & Minnow.

Hatch:

And talk to me about the process of getting on Etsy and using that as a selling platform. How has it been like on that platform to drive people to your product?

Mary:

So, Etsy, there's just so many items on Etsy. It's a huge marketplace. It's really easy for your items to get lost. So, in the beginning I really posted things on there, I tried to focus on having really beautiful photos for my Etsy listings. And I started an Instagram for Mammoth & Minnow, I started Pinterest for Mammoth & Minnow, trying to get my product images out there in as many ways as possible, hoping to drive traffic to my Etsy shop. Although Etsy is a huge marketplace with hundreds of thousands of mugs, let's say, it also does provide you access to a worldwide customer base, so that is helpful. As I've watched my Etsy sales over the years, they've grown just because I think not only through Etsy, I was doing Etsy ads towards the beginning, and then I shut those off once I was able to kind of drive traffic on my own, but also through social media, I think that really helped get my shop noticed.

Hatch:

Can you speak to what it's been like running your business in 2020 during a pandemic year and how has that affected either what you've been able to do, in either a positive way or a negative way?

Mary:

So this year has been really crazy. So I mentioned I've... This year has been the best for my business in terms of sales than my prior a few years, but it's also been fairly stressful. So, I am based in New York City and we were hit first with COVID in terms of being a hotspot. And because I'm a member of a studio in Manhattan, that studio shut down in early April, didn't open back up until around August, and even then it was on a limited schedule, so you could only get a time slot to go work. And that basically shut down my production for the spring, and most of the summer. I wasn't able to fulfill any orders, I had some pre-order sales that had come in just before everything shut down, so I was very stressed during that whole time, not being able to fulfill those orders, trying to keep the customers up to date on where I was at in terms of being able to start making again. For the most part, customers were so patient, so understanding and so supportive.

Definitely, I'm sure I lost several sales because I had to put up a banner on my site saying, "This is what is going on right now. I can't make anything. If you do place a pre-order, I will be in touch with you about any updates, but don't expect your product for who knows how long, several months it could be." But because I think the people who were shopping small have an understanding, and I think as long as you're being very communicative with them, for the most part, I didn't really get any cancellations, which is amazing.

Hatch:

So, can you speak to what's the secret of growing a small business while you have a primary job in your life?

Mary:

I think the biggest thing is that it has to be something that you love. I spend a lot of time on Mammoth & Minnow when I have free time. I go to the studio now that it's open, I go to the studio and I spent eight hours there every Sunday. And I'm wearing my mask the entire time, because there are a few other members who are working there as well. And I don't even notice that I'm wearing a mask. I don't even notice the hours go by. And it's because I love doing what I do so much. And I think if you don't have that love for what you're doing, it's very difficult to take that initiative and grow your business. And it's something that I want to nurture, it's something that I get a lot of fulfillment out of, especially when I get a positive review from a customer or somebody reaches out and says they were really happy with seeing their item in real life.

Hatch:

Can you speak to anything that maybe surprised you once you started it, that you didn't expect when you were envisioning bringing this company to life?

Mary:

I would say that I was surprised by how easy it would be for me to outsource the things that I couldn't do myself. So I'm somebody who likes to DIY. So if I feel like I need to figure out how to file for my business, like I did all of that myself. But there were certain things that I knew that I didn't really have time to train myself on. So for example, when it came time to creating my brand imaging, so my logo, branding elements around that logo, I went and I outsource that. I felt that I would always want to do it myself because I wanted to have control over it, but once I did decide to outsource some of these elements, like building a logo, as soon as you find somebody whose style you click with, it actually becomes very easy to put trust in that person and work with them and get something that you're very happy about in much less time than it would take for me to learn Photoshop or Illustrator on my own and be able to use, start using it right away.

Hatch:

What's the best way to go about finding these people to collaborate with and outsource certain aspects of your business too?

Mary:

So, what's amazing now is that I think there are so many channels through which you could do that if you needed to outsource some part of your business. So for example, even on Etsy, you can shop logo design and find lots of options. There's Fiverr, there's also, if you just go on Instagram, or on Pinterest and you search logos, you can really get lost in all of the options that you find there. So I found somebody through Fiverr, just browsing through all the different artists that are listed on there and went through that platform.

Hatch:

Can you just talk about some of the ups and downs of running a business that does not have a physical storefront, that is an online business?

Mary:

So, it would be great to have a physical business. I think the dream is to have a little shop that I can design and just fill with things that I love and that I find beautiful, and hopefully, mostly things that I've made. Being online does give me the flexibility of working out of my home, which is amazing. What I do miss about that is the face-to-face interaction. So there have been a few times where I set up a booth at a holiday fair in New York City. And when you see somebody pick up your item and you see their reaction to it, it's really amazing, and that's something that I don't get to see being only online.

I think it's also something that you have to manage by making sure that all the data that you have is good and that's more admin and it's not as interesting, like your product descriptions, you have to measure items when people know what they're expecting, you have to price everything, you have to manage your sales. Everything is done in just a way more technical way, and it's probably good, it does make you get organized, but there are just more requirements in terms of data management.

Hatch:

If you could give advice to other small business owners or people who want to start their own small business, what would you say to them?

Mary:

So I think my advice applies to... It may not apply to all small businesses and that is to start where you are. So, I launched basically by just listing a few items on Etsy. I didn't have a logo at the time, I still use recycled packaging. I don't have a lot of branded material to send out, I hand write my notes. I don't think you need to be absolutely prepared and absolutely professional in every single way when you're starting a small business, I think you need to think about what's important based on what you're selling. So for example, if I was launching fine jewelry, then I probably would want a branded jewelry box ahead of time. But it really depends on what you're selling. And for handmade pottery, I think just getting started, so you can get that feedback right away, start getting revenue in, hopefully right away, and start growing your business that way, and then you can invest in things along the way as you need them.

So for example, my logo, I didn't get that until a year and a half after I started the business. And at that point I felt that I'd grown to a point where it would make sense to do that, but it wasn't something that I needed and it would have just held me back if I had to save up to invest in that before I launched.

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