A big dig into the stratta of our scrappy little Marketing department. Because, communication is everything in a relationship.
You know the feeling—you walk into a store, idly pick up something beautiful, catch a glimpse of the price tag and kinda feel sick to your stomach? Some of us put the thing down, hoping no one’s watching us too closely. Other’s say it right out loud: “$42 for a plate? Are ya’ll out of your damn mind?”
We know our pottery is not cheap, especially if you’re fresh off a trip to Ikea or Target, where the price of a couple East Fork bowls might get you a whole 8 piece set. Still, as most of us know, but don’t want to admit, companies that can sell a mug for $4 do so by conducting, shall we say, unwholesome business. Try to get on the phone with a customer service rep at Target and you’ll find it near impossible to get answers to questions like where is this plate made? By what factory? And how? Are the people operating these machines paid a fair wage? Where are the materials sourced?
We're not infallible—but as we work toward building East Fork into a viable, sustainable domestic manufacturer, we’re doing our best to be as thoughtful and fair as possible; that fairness needs to extend to everyone and everything in the East Fork universe—our employees, our customers, our landlords, our vendors, our community, and our environment.
So let’s grab a Dinner Plate and serve ourselves up a proverbial piece of Cost Analysis Pie. Here’s how that $42 a pop cost breaks down:
Within each of those 7 categories are dozens more buckets, and in each of those buckets are hundreds of line items that, when all pooled together, make up our Cost of Doing Business. It looks something like this:
VARIABLE MANUFACTURING COSTS: This category includes the pottery’s more tangible ingredients— clay, glaze materials, water—and everything it takes to turn those ingredients into useable objects, like wages for our production team, kilns, gas to fire the kilns, RAM press, jiggers, pug mill, trimming wheels, air compressors, the sanders, safety goggles to use while sanding, and more and more and more.
SALES: This is a big one. This bucket contains Workers Comp Insurance, Rent for our Asheville and Atlanta brick and mortars and all the associated overhead like Internet, phone and electricity, employee benefits like health care and IRAs, packing and shipping, credit card processing fees, and wages for the sales team.
ADMINISTRATION: A bunch of not-that-fun-sounding but extremely essential stuff like taxes, liability insurance, accounting, and legal fees, office and kitchen supplies, meals, rent/utilities for our Biltmore Village factory, and wages for the administrative team.
MARKETING: Website hosting, print, and digital advertising, PR firm retainer, affiliate commissions, camera equipment, events, giveaways, and wages for the marketing team.*
DISCOUNTS: We operate in a DTC model, meaning we sell directly to our customer, so not much of the budget falls in this bucket, but every once in a while we’ll sell our pottery at a discounted rate—either during our seconds sale, to restaurants, other retailers, or designers, or we’ll send a few promotional items to prospective collaborators. The “missing” value—or the revenue that we would have recouped if we sold our pottery at its full retail price—gets dumped into this section. This also includes tax-deductible giving to organizations doing good work in our community.
INTEREST EXPENSE: Interest from loans given to us by people who believe in us!
NET PROFIT: Actual profit..or the change that’s left over after all the bills are paid. That $42 a plate isn’t bringing in any sort of profit quite yet, but John’s got that projected for 2020:)
Our Marketing Department makes up $5.53 of the cost of a plate. Before we get started, do this: sit back, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and conjure up your idea of “Marketing.”
In this ever-changing retail and social landscape, there are a million and one ways you can go about marketing your products—and new ways are popping up all the damn time. We can’t keep up! Maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that no one on our marketing team comes from an official marketing background (are you noticing a trend here?) because we come into this with zero preconceived notions for how it’s supposed to work.
Our basic philosophy around marketing is something kinda like: tell the truth, show what’s real, be ourselves, be respectful, throw fun parties, take our customers seriously, nurture relationships, and if someone new expresses interest in buying something we make, give them a little nudge of encouragement to go ahead and convert :) Here’s how that translates to our budget!
The largest Marketing expense is Wages and Salaries. It takes real humans to come up with creative and scrappy ways to sell plates. Our team makes a living wage so that we can buy groceries and pay our rents and mortgages and maybe one day pay off our college loans. We pay our incredible professional, Whitney, to artfully capture our pottery. We pay our super talented Graphic Designer, Nicole, to cook-up creative fonts, illustrations,GIFS, print collateral, and newsletter layout. We pay our amazing editorialist to write product descriptions, journal entries, blurbs, social media captions, and press releases. We value our employees immensely, and want them to feel that in their hearts and wallets!
Wages and Salaries
WebsiteOur Website, hosted by Shopify, is, as Corey puts it, “a living, breathing organism.” Connie says it’s more like “a toddler being asked to push a boulder up a mountain.” It does a lot of work for us, but it needs nearly round-the-clock nurturing. We pay an outside development team called Onsight Strategies to do things like build a new pop-up modal to collect email addresses or redesign our Registry portal. We are constantly updating, adding, curating and moving stuff around in response to how many of you visit our site, how many of you invest in our pottery, how much pottery you invest in, which of you is a new face versus which of you is a long-time fan (we’re grateful for each and every one of you), etc etc.
Digital AdvertisingAnother good portion of that cost ends up in Digital Advertising, which is exactly like it sounds. These are the ads that pop up on your Facebook feed or Instagram feeds, or alongside a website. When East Fork ads pop up on other websites, it’s because that site makes money on selling ad space. These retargeting ads help us re-engage with folks who visited our website but didn’t make a purchase. We do very little Digital Advertising compared to other companies who share our market—so this is a pretty low margin. We reserve our small digital ad spend for when we launch new products, glazes, and the like.
GiveawaysHosting Giveaways has been a big component of our marketing strategy lately. They’re managed by our inimitable Brand Manager, Erin, and serve the purpose of growing our audience and mailing list by tapping into the audiences of other aligned brands, makers and media outlets. Basically, we and others,give away the chance to win free, beautiful objects in exchange for your email address.
We recently hosted a successful giveaway with the coffee experts at Stumptown, where a long list of people entered to win two mugs and a year supply of coffee. We like the excuse to get to work with other companies we admire. When we add a new email address to our list, we always send new subscribers a little welcome note explaining how we got their email address and we throw in a free shipping or discount code as a little thank you. Which leads us to…
NewsletterThis is one of our favorites! We send a newsletter once or twice a week to about 65,000 people, but we hope to double that number this year. Our newsletter is the tool we use to let our community know when items are back in stock (if you want in on this Mug relaunch this March, please sign-up!), announce new glaze colors and seconds sales and flash sales, share recipes and poetry, tell stories, bear bad news (like when glazes get retired or our kilns stop working), and sell tickets to in-person events. Sending emails is an essential component of selling anything online for most companies. Getting spammed with a bunch of click-baity, sales pitchy newsletters around the clock is just terrible, we know! We do our best to not bug you more than we need to and spend a lot of time making emails that are fun, informative and worth opening.
Social MediaPerhaps our most visible initiative is our Social, a.k.a Social Media. It’s a huge, massive endeavor with over 90,000 followers and growing. It’s run totally and completely by Connie, the Goddess of East Fork. That’s her actual title. Just kidding, it’s Chief Creative Officer, but she is the brains and brawn behind all creative-marketing endeavors, the big one being: our Instagram account. She spends a lot of time with her phone in front of her face, responding to questions in the DMs and writing captions which are more like fine prose. Here’s where she communicates the vision, ideas, goals, and reality of life at East Fork, whether that is debuting the launch of a new seasonal glaze, explaining how our company is making efforts against systemic racism, or just a cathartic little ditty about the joys and tribulations of being a mom and business owner. Being the voice of a company is no small undertaking, and she handles it with grace, humor, and intelligence.
Affiliate MarketingIn 2018 East Fork finally jumped onto the Affiliate train. Affiliates are bloggers or publications who work with companies to make and publish sponsored content in exchange for a little kickback. Our Affiliate partners will post a link to our website on their site, then get a small commission on sales that come from that link. If someone clicks on a link from their page/blog/what-have-you, which leads them to us, and the customer makes a purchase within 30 days, they get 5 to 10% of sales! It’s a super new-fangled sect of marketing birthed from the dawn of social media and bloggers. It took us a while to commit to this tactic, because truth be told, there’s a whole lot of really sleazy Sponsored Content and brand-affiliate relationships, but we do our best to work only with those super aligned. But, it’s really a win-win for everyone.
Fast Company) or a shout out on a gift guide. These little exposes have been crucial to our growth as a company. Luckily, people enjoy reading them, which is a good sign. This way, we don’t have to spend millions of dollars on a subway ad, and instead, we work with our stupendous PR firm, Camron, who helps get the word out about East Fork to publications galore. It’s like the old-school version of affiliates!
With so much of Marketing being enacted on the world wide web, it’s nice to have a party or a dinner once in a while, to remember our like, you know, humanity. In all seriousness, Events are a big part of our mission to bring people together and cultivate community. After all, dinnerware is reflective of the East Fork’s value to gather around warm food and drinks with people we love. It’s a big reason why we do what we do, and it comes full circle when we engage in the ancient art of feasting together with friends old and new. It’s an opportunity for us to feature local chefs, collaborate with important organizations, and invite the larger community into our new space. If everyone ends up feeling loved, heard, and fed, well, that is all the success we could ask for.
Some marketing efforts are ongoing, others are Big Moments that require all hands on decks. When we launch a new glaze or a limited run of a new form, it takes the whole dang family to get it out there. Let’s say we come out with a gorgeous new Cornflower Blue for spring/summer (wink, wink). The drill is: make a plan, take photos, create digital assets, add the product to our website, shuffle stuff around, write copy, make ads, write press releases, give interviews— the list goes on. Connie used to do this all herself, but with an ever-blossoming team of dedicated people, it’s getting easier, even when it still feels like a juggling act.
All of these many little bits and bobs make up that $5.53. Through it all, we’re reflecting back on our mission and vision and making sure we’re not straying off that path.
And we’re asking ourselves a lot of questions, like:
We know 42 bucks for a plate is a big investment, but we hope all this info helps illuminate why we charge what we do. We’re sharing this information with you because we want you to be able to make a guilt-free, regret-free, informed decision about the products you invite into your home. If that decision-making process leads you to shop with us, we’re very grateful!
If you have any other questions about our pottery, please ask. We love chit-chatting about clay and fairness, so, really—anytime.