Friday, August 19, 2011

Coming of Age

They say (the ubiquitous "they", arbiters of life) not to make any major decisions for six months after the death of a loved one. We are now homing in on six months after my father's death, my mother moving in with us, and a major tilt of my world axis. Even before then, however, I was straining for a path, balance, satisfaction--searching for that 'click' that happens when you know you're where you're supposed to be and doing what you're meant to do. I've come close before, but the deep, resonating 'click' has eluded me. Now, after a decade of mostly reacting, jumping first and looking later, talking about building my business and slowing down with the same breath, I sit in a calm, centered place (sadly not Montana), and I see what I need to do. And I feel peace and the rumbling purr of a choice well-made and in the right direction. What can I say? I'm a late bloomer (or 50--it's the new 40!).

So here are the personal facts (note how all of them begin with "I"... get it? Personal?):
  • I like people in small doses.
  • I do not like the obligation of five or six days a week of retail, phones, lessons, date nights, classes, and people trampling around in my artistic space.
  • I really don't like being identified to said people as "our kiln-forming instructor" (talented or otherwise) instead of The Studio Owner, Empress Of All She Surveys (I only have my tongue a little in my cheek there--even Artist Extraordinaire, or Author of the best-selling (on Amazon anyway) "A Beginner's Guide to Kiln-Formed Glass" would be better than what I currently get.)
  • I like my production work and have not had any time or spare energy to develop more of it in the past two years.
  • I would like to grow in other artistic directions, e.g., the 3-D printing technique I learned from Steve Royston Brown prior to BECon this year, casting (introduced to me by Linda Ethier in a pre-BECon workshop *two years ago*), silkscreening glass on glass, pottery (glaze is glass, after all, and I am fascinated with integrating glass and clay), etc.
  • I need family time that happens naturally and doesn't feel stolen. If I have to wrench myself away and suffer great guilt when I stop working before 9:00 pm, I had damn well really be raking in the Big Bucks so that I have something to show for all my hard work in my old(er) age and wow is this one not happening!
Okay. Enough whinging about poor, pitiful me (I was going to say whining, but I really like the Aussie term). Now let's look at how I run the studio from the cold, analytical space of business and finance:
  • The most profitable activity in the studio is my production work.
  • Classes (as I have set them up) are profitable if there is only one person eating the tuition pie, i.e., if I want to do all the teaching (and if each class has at least four people in it). Otherwise classes require more time, effort, salary, and materials (money) than they bring in (a net loss). Classes that are profitable (i.e., cost more and last longer--check out the Bullseye Resource Center class lists) do not fill here. I don't know if they fill for Brad Walker, Judith Conway, Paul Tarlow, Kari Minnick, or any of the other studio owners whose businesses I admire, and who seem to be able to pull off all the marketing and community-building required for a good retail business.
  • Date Night is fun, a great concept, and a good way for someone working for me to make a living. It's another net loss for me as it is just not priced (or price-able) to share the income pie (especially when the personal cost of my space and peace enters into it).
Other factors in my decision-making process are the wishes and needs of the people who work for me. Not only do I no longer want to go full speed ahead, they do not want to either. One of them has also moved a significant distance from the studio so a daily commute for a couple of hours of work is out of the question--he needs scheduled, full days.

So it's time to give up on the Kevin Costner model of retail (if you build it, they will come), and move to something a little more 21st virtual century, and, dang it, something a little less at everyone else's whim and convenience (I'm whinging again, aren't I...). My proof on the evidence for the wisdom of the decision comes from last year's Date Night data. Last August was our busiest month ever (!), or so we thought.

However, last August we only offered 11 date slots a week. We were pretty much booked in advance all the time. I thought if we expanded our offering we would book the expansion too because we were booked so far out. Turns out that 14-18 hours a week is about the time Atlanta wants to spend on Date Night at the Glass Studio no matter how many times are available. The extra times just seem to make them feel more sanguine about getting in whenever they want so we get a lot more last-minute bookings than we used to--unsettling for the staff who don't know till the last minute if they will be working or not.

As far as the retail part goes, if I were in a shopping center or other retail area, I would feel much more obliged to be open at least five days a week. But I'm not: I'm in a 1920's Craftsman bungalow that was originally purchased to be my personal studio--not a retail/teaching space. I'm happy to run over to the studio anytime someone wants to buy something (it's not like it's a huge commute). I just don't feel the need to be responsible for being there working set hours each day (nor is it cost-effective to pay someone else to sit there twiddling her thumbs waiting for customers to show up all day every day). I am not--nor do I wish to be--the WalMart of glass open whenever οἱ πολλοί feel like shopping.

Finally, my extended time in Montana this summer shoved my face in the benefits of being able to focus on one thing at a time instead of running around flapping like a headless chicken. And I liked it. Now that I have finally come up for air for the first time since January, I am ready to winnow, to pare down, to divest, to find serenity, joy, calm and my groove again. And my decision 'clicks' down to my toes.

The result: I am changing the studio hours for fall to Thursday - Saturday, 10-5. I am offering regular beginning kiln-forming classes one weekday and one weekend day every three weeks. Glassblowing--both lessons and Date Nights--will be offered Thursday - Saturday (still tentative on those days, but it will be only three days) until the slots are regularly filled and then expansion will be done one day at a time, staff permitting. These changes take effect September 7. I feel better already.


Bill said...

Thank goodness. I thought you were going to work yourself into an early grave.

Forestcats said...

Wabi-Sabi - Slow down, savor, DIY.
Simple is beautiful, like you.

I admire you Empress, your work, your drive, and your expression.

Bill too has been getting clarity and focus, aided by a cat that nails down his lap most evenings.


Tam said...

I enjoy your reading your blog & what you were doing really resonated with me. I did the same thing; owned a downtown gallery for 10 years, had my studio there, taught classes, had a full line /catalog of wholesale products, participated in retail shows in Alaska & all over the northwest, etc. etc.

2 years ago I closed the retail gallery & expanded my wholesale business. I'm LOVIN it! I have a flexiable schedule, no retail/high maintaince customers, spend more time with my 7 year old & can actually breathe!! Plus, I make about the same amount of money (no high overhead, down to 1 employee, et).

Change is hard but often a good thing! Take care of yourself!
Best, T