Hey folks! I asked our Instagram followers if there are any burning-business related questions folks had. As more flow in, I'll add them to the top here, and once there are enough to justify it, I'll spit them into categories.
A head's up—the formatting in this blog is KOOKOO BANANAS (I yoinked that phrase from Atlanta Sales Associate Sarah Kennedy and I can't stop saying it—try it. It's fun) so please forgive. This blog code needs to be rebuilt from the ground up, but no one's got disposable income for stuff like that these days, so we're gonna have to deal.
Have more questions and aren't on Instagram? Feel free to ask in the comments below!
How much space do you operate in?
In October 2018 we left our 4,000 square foot workshop that we built with friends, in Madison County, North Carolina, to a 15,000 square foot space that, until recently, housed our offices, fulfillment, and production.
Our fulfillment and inventory storage just moved down the road to a 16,000 square foot warehouse that we're occupying about half of.
How did you learn to write?
I learned to write by reading a lot of fiction. I was an English major at UC Berkeley and always thought I'd work in magazines or be a journalist before I joined the family pot business.
I've been seeing your products all over the BA test kitchen. How did that even happen?
Oh geez, I'm not sure exactly. These things happen in such roundabout ways. I used to transcribe interviews and copy edit recipes for The Editor at Large there a few years back, Christine Muhlke. At some point maybe I sent her some pots? And then when Alison Roman was still at Bon App she bought a bunch of stuff and then we sent her pots to use for photo styling. Then Molly Baz and I started talking over DM and when we launched Celery, I met up with her in NYC and we went on a celery eating tour of Lower Manhattan. A few other editors just liked the work and started buying it for their own homes. When we realized that so much of the team was enjoying our pieces, we reached out and asked if we could have a seconds sale in the Test Kitchen and they said yes, so a few of us lugged massive totes of pottery into 1 World Trade Center and sold pots for cheap to the whole staff, and left some behind for folks to use in the Test Kitchen.
How did you decide what colors to make next? And if you plan or re-issuing retired colors?
This is a very organic process for us. Kyle, our Glaze Chemist, is constantly developing new colors. They work in color families—making a "quad blend" of reds, and then yellows, and then oranges, and then pinks.
About 12 months before launching a new palette, I start squirreling away images and objects and paint chips and playing around with them at home or at my desk while on conference calls and start to get a mental picture of the color story we want to tell. When I'm feeling confident about the general vibe and I've narrowed it down to maybe 4 or 5 complimentary shades, I circle up with our Art Director, Nicole Lissenden, and get her input. She and our photographer will make mood boards with images of textiles, glass, nature, whatever, and we'll start developing a vision for the mood we want to evoke with the palette.
Then I bring the palette to Kyle and we bust out the Quad Blends. We take a look at samples that have already been created and we decide if we want to go a little lighter, a little darker, a little greener, a little pinker, a little more saturated, a little more opaque, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Then we get to testing! If we're trying to end up with 2 colors we might test 3 or 4, just in case one of them proves to be unviable/problematic. It might reveal itself to be too prone to stippling or too viscous—so many things can go wrong.
We put our glazes through an extremely rigorous, 4 stage testing process. Once I answer a few more questions I'll try to remember to come back here and link some of the documents we use to track testing.
We re-issue colors when we realize we have an opportunity in the production calendar to make people very happy!
Who writes the evocative product descriptions on the website?
I do :) (I'm Connie, one of 3 Co-Founders and EF's CMO). Before COVID-19 smacked us all, I was on the lookout for a copywriter to bring onto the team full-time, since me writing all the newsletter and product copy is not super sustainable. I'm tired. But we, like most companies, will be putting a hiring freeze on all "non-essential" new hires, so looks like I'm gonna be writing product descriptions for a bit longer.
I get a lot of help from Lindsey Zinno, who joined us in September as our Brand Associate and quickly transitioned into a role as a Content Marketing Manager. Lindsey's got a tremendous array of skills and is my go-to girl when we need copy quick.
How do you incorporate data analysis into business making decisions?
Big question! I'll do my best to answer it succinctly (shoutout to Corey Reid, our Senior Director of Revenue, for pulling a bunch of info together for me here.)
We have gone through many iterations of how we collect, process, share (internally!), and analyze data at East Fork. Until fairly recently it was hard to trust any of the data we had; our company is so new, and we're growing so quickly that data that felt relevant one week became quickly irrelevant the next. And so a lot of our decision making was intuitive or based on anecdotal information we'd gathered manually from a pretty small pool of customers.
The longer we're at it the more reliable our data becomes, and the more we can lean on it to help make business decisions. But we're really careful about how we use it. About a year ago we started feeling some serious imposter syndrome and, to combat it, started overusing data that wasn't all that helpful. We were worried that if we weren't' poring over data day in and day out, we were doing "business" wrong.
We've reached a happy medium lately where we've aligned on the data we feel is relevant to gather, have set up processes through which to report on that data, and call upon it to make business decisions large and small. Always with a grain of salt. If the data is pointing us in a direction that doesn't align with our mission or values, we throw it out the window.
We're going to share with you the KPIs—"key performance indicators"—that we use to track success, department by department. But before that, here are a few things our leadership team considers when reporting:
KPI’s are mutually agreed upon between managers and stakeholders.
Reporting should be thorough and context should be provided with metrics while being cognizant about making the data reporting process unnecessarily laborious. i.e. We want people to understand and be able to provide a narrative around their data, not just stick numbers in a template.
Reporting should mix micro and macro in a specific area. ie. We look at overall site conversion rate to track the health of our site, but we also track conversion rates on specific product pages. This will help find trends and actionable changes in the micro to help support the macro.
Reporting should be produced on a consistent basis.
- We have sales by dollar projections by day for the rest of the year in all of our sales channels based upon different tent pole moments we have set up.
- We track traffic online and in stores to make sure that we are getting the right number of people to the place to purchase. We track this on a weekly and a monthly basis.
- Conversion rate: We watch how many people come to our stores and of those people how many buy. We track this on a monthly basis. A week is never a big enough sample size to make any decisions.
- AOV: We track our average order value to know how many packages we will be shipping out if we continue with trends. AOV also helps us have a good feeling for how many customers need to be coming to our site. If our AOV dips we either need to see a higher conversion rate or more visitors and in my experience, it can be simpler to get more visitors. The conversion rate takes incremental growth.
Here is an example of a weekly reporting doc we use. See that every section has a summary page. This is really important. We want to make sure every business leader is absorbing and writing a little about their different KPI's.
- We track new customers/repeat customer percentages. We have a good handle on how many customers we need to be acquiring to see long term growth.
- Newsletter Subscribers: We spend a lot of time crafting a very thoughtful newsletter that converts at a high rate. To see our growth follow the curve it needs to we track how many new subscribers we are getting.
- Email Open Rate: This helps us get a gauge on some of the email client algorithms as well as helps us understand what content are people responding to.
- We also report on new press that has come through and how it is driving traffic and sales.
- Production tracks daily targets along 3 major categories. Forming, trimming, glazing. They have live dashboards that can give them this information so they can quickly make changes or identify bottlenecks.
- Production also tracks seconds rates across all forms and glazes. This helps a lot when bringing on a lot of new team members because we can see where there is more training needed for different forms or helps when testing new glazes to see if they would work for our production standards.
- Our fulfillment team tracks 4 major metrics. Breakages, incorrect shipments, overdue shipments, QC errors to customers.
- They also track our money lost by zone to give more feedback into how are shipping rates are effecting the bottom line. We lose money generally from shipping especially big boxes to the West Coast.
- CSAT: Our CX Director reports on how many tickets we received that month and, of those tickets, the percentage that were positive, negative, neutral, or negative turned positive.
- Return/Exchange rate
- Incident Reporting
- Our forecaster reports on how we did making inventory compared to what our goals were across form and glaze.
- We also will look at how stocked each channel was and how many of our forms were out of stock by day.
There are lots more metrics we use to track the health of our business and the success of initiatives—but those are the big ones :)
What is the ratio of pot sales vs third-party items in the online store?
Last year about 89% of our revenue came from the sale of pottery and about 11% came from the sale of "other stuff"—objects that we don't make but feel really, really excited bout selling. This year we set a goal to bring that percentage of non-manufactured goods up to about 15%. We'd been CRUSHING this goal prior to getting smacked with the reality of COVID, and were up around 20-25% of non-manufactured goods some weeks, but we're expecting to see that percentage decrease this month and next.
Ok, that's it for now! Need to go get some sun on my face. I'll be answering these questions a bit later:
What is the ratio of e-comm to brick and mortar sales, historically?
Off the top of my head, last year looked kinda like 65% eCommerce, 25% Asheville brick and mortar, and 10% Atlanta brick and mortar or thereabouts.
Do you purposefully make muted quantities or do you operate at full capacity?
We make as many pots as we can possibly make. I get pretty bristly when people imply or assume that we make our work in at an artificial limitation to intentionally create an environment conducive for scarcity marketing. We would never!! It's so entirely against our ethos as a company. Since we started operating, the demand for our product has outpaced our ability to produce it while maintaining the material and aesthetic integrity of our work. Every week we make more pots than we did the week before (or so it evens out when you're looking at those data points plotted over time) but as our ability to make pots grows, so too does the demand for them.
It's a strange thing hearing over and over again that this is a "good problem to have". It was fun for a while, but it's gotten old! For our long term business security, we're hustling to get to a point where we can put pots on the shelves and let them sit there for a minute before going out the door. Not being able to meet minimum stock on hands has waterfall effects on our longterm financial planning and inventory forecasting, and seriously limits the scope of our customer acquisition and sales strategies.
Making pots the way we make them is hard. It's labor-intensive. It's time-consuming. When we hire new folks on the production team, we see a decrease in productivity for about three months before the time invested in training starts to "pay off".
Prior to shutting down production to help curb COVID-19, Alex and Daniel, our Production Director, and Cierra, our Production Supervisor, were hard at work designing schedules for second shifts. Eventually, we see ourselves opening production to second and third shifts, but we've watched as other companies have rolled this out with crushing results. We're overthinkers. Sometimes this means it takes us way longer to make decisions than it should. But other times it saves ourselves and our team from prematurely embarking on an initiative that hasn't been thought through from every angle.
Our plan is to be making a lot more pottery next year than we did the year before. And a lot more pottery the year after that. To grow how much we make and how much we sell in sync with each other, to curb superfluous spending, is a wild game of Tetris that we get better at playing ever year.