Handmade ceramic plates, bowls, and dishes

April 08, 2020
Indre Beganskaite and Rasa Juskiene
Mr. Bowl Ceramics
ceramic
clay
pottery
bowls
plates
dishes
Revenue: $8000 / month
People working: 2

Hey! Please introduce yourself and your business.

Hi! We are Indre and Rasa, two long-time friends, both 35 years old and together we run Mr. Bowl Ceramics, a ceramics studio based in Vilnius, Lithuania. We create and sell handmade ceramic plates, bowls, serving dishes and dinnerware sets.

White handmade ceramic dish Black handmade ceramic bowl White handmade ceramic dish with brown sugar
Mr. Bowl's handmade ceramic bowls and dishes

Our brand reflects our own values: the importance of being together with loved ones, having dinner together and creating family traditions - the idea of slow living.

It’s already 3 years since Mr. Bowl Ceramics became our full-time job. Every day we go to our studio where we work with clay and make all our pottery. Our products are made for those who cherish handmade ceramics and love to cook and spend time in the kitchen. Our clients even say that after they purchased our dishes they started to cook more! So we can say our mission is successful as we help people form better habits.

Indre & Rasa
Setting the table and searching for the right look is one of our favorite things to do.

Our dishes are made for those who like exclusivity, every piece has a different look and feel. When sliding on the surface of our bowls and plates with your fingers, you can feel the uniqnueness. We do not hold any stock, every dish is made specially for each customer. Our clients know that and have no problem waiting for 4-8 weeks to get their dishes done.

How did you come up with this idea? What’s your background story?

When we were still working at our previous jobs, we felt like we were trapped in the rat race - working long hours, and having no time for hobbies and family. We were tired of watching the days just passing by.

Since we knew about each other's passion for ceramics, one day we sat down and decided it’s time to make a change.

Before Mr. Bowl Ceramics, Indre worked with music projects, was a marketing manager in one of the largest retail chains in Lithuania, a creative manager in a printing house, and last but not least - communication manager in the biggest e-tailer in the Baltics.

Rasa worked as a transport manager and gained lots of experience in that field. So now it’s quite easy for us to take care of our product delivery or import all the materials we need directly from producers factories.

We both finished the Ceramics profession training in the Vocational training center of technologies, also we are attending Vilnius academy of arts lectures.

A funny story - in the beginning, when we started thinking of what we want to do from clay, we thought that plates will be the easiest thing to make and sell. Unfortunately, we were so wrong about the plates being "easiest part", and now we always make jokes about this. When we started making plates we had so much breakage, so much spoilage and it took us a long time until we learned how to do that right. And when we told this story to one of our professors at the Vilnius Academy of arts, she laughed as well as it turns out making ceramic dishes is one of the hardest things to do.

How do you design and make your product?

The process that goes into creating plates and bowls is something we’ve been working on for years. It may seem simple but we do our best to be as thorough as possible when crafting every piece.

Glazed dishes ready for kiln firing
As soon as dishes are glazed we leave them for some time to get dry and only them we can load them into the kiln for the final firing.

We start with a slab of clay that we shape, mold, and rub as much as we can until we achieve the desired look we’re looking for. When the dish is made, we leave it for a week to dry. Plates usually need more time to get dry, bowls less. Once the dish is dry, we begin the biscuit firing process which makes dishes hard. That takes around 24 hours.

Once that is done we have to wait till dishes cool down and then we can wash them from all the dust and have to wait until they get dry again. Then we can start glazing the ceramic plates and bowls from top to bottom. And as soon as they become dry again, we can load them into the kiln for the last firing for another 24 hours. Everything we do, we do by hands without the help of any fancy machines or equipment. We want to make dishes by hand and give them the authentic touch.

Opened kiln after biscuit firing
Kiln is opened after biscuit firing - this is the first firing during which dishes become firm. Now they will be washed, dried and then ready for glazing.

We can not say that we do not face challenges now, after many years of making dishes. Sometimes things just happen and you do not know why. For example, we always made our black dishes from specific clay. The process was always the same, but after 2 years, dishes started to crack during the firing process. We didn’t change anything - same materials, same process, but something has changed. So we had to do tests, find different clay and solve this situation. In the world of ceramics challenges are always near you. You just never know when they will appear.

Describe how you launched the business

In the beginning, we had a Facebook page where we posted pictures of our works. We shared pictures with our friends and first orders came from them.

A few years later we decided to open an Etsy shop, and that was done in May 2017. At the beginning of August, we got our first order. We were super excited. But we have to admit that it’s not so easy to get orders on Etsy. The competition is huge, there are so many beautiful ceramics, so you have to work hard to get visits to your shop. But with time you get used to that - you learn how to work with Etsy and it stops bothering you. You just do your work daily and hope to get some sales. So since our first sale, we have 630 sales and we hope to have 1000 by the end of this year. So now we sell products on Etsy and our e-shop MrBowlCeramics.com.

pile of dinner, lunch and side plates
This pile of dinner, lunch and side plates is called a 'potter's cake’.

I wrote earlier that we try to stress the importance of being with a family and creating traditions together. So we have our traditions too. We celebrate every small victory - whether it is 100 sales, or 500 sales, or 100 reviews or just reaching any of our goals. We celebrate every small achievement as we believe it’s very important to live now and notice every little thing we made or step we took.

How do you grow your business?

Now we are in a stage when we are creating new products. Our assortment has a wide variety of plates, bowls, serving dishes and dinnerware sets. So now we decided to create a collection of pots and vases for home decor. We want some decorations for our homes, so now we are searching for new shapes, sizes, materials, and trying to build something beautiful.

Regarding paid advertising, we use Etsy ads only. But now as we have so little control on Etsy ads, it’s hard to share any tips. We believe SEO is the key here and you just have to spend lots of time on this to figure it out. Also, we are happy our sales are not seasonal. Luckily, people need plates and bowls every day.

It’s hard to name one thing that boosted our revenue as we believe there is no such thing in our case. We believe that the whole bunch of things work - product pictures, descriptions, great communication and attention to customer needs reviews and of course good products.

We have many customers who return to order more dishes, and they do that several times, so we believe our strategy works. The plan for the future is to reach 1000 sales and 100K eur revenue at the end of this year.

How do you market your product?

On Etsy, we invite people to subscribe to our newsletter and get a 10% discount. Also, we offer to subscribe to our newsletter on our website. We do not spam our subscribers and send newsletters when we have some news. We want to do things on a purpose, not just to make sales. We believe that when you do everything with love and passion - people value honesty and when they decide they need a new plate or bowl - they will find us.

We post on social once or twice a week. Viral sharing techniques or free giveaways is something we don't do.

When SEO is done right, it works like magic. We have a friend who is a master in SEO, so sometimes we ask her for help. Etsy SEO is a bit different and here we try to do it ourselves. We use Makerspro to search tags because it’s impossible to come up with unique titles and tags for every listing.

Regarding competitors - we think we don’t have competitors. We see other potters as partners and like-minded people from whom we can learn. We always recommend other potters when we know that they will do the work better. We all make different products, work with different clays and glazes, our experience is different, so we prefer sharing our knowledge and learning from each other. And yes, we have many potters we follow, we belong to pottery groups on Facebook because it’s a source of inspiration. It’s so overwhelming to see what beautiful things other potters make.

How do you keep your customers happy?

First of all, we try to make great products. Without that there are no tricks to make your customers happy. We always try to talk to our customers, share some pics from the process so they knew how their dishes were made. Also, we share pics when dishes are ready for shipping.

Ceramic and dishware packaging
Packing day with Rasa. It took us almost two days to pack all this.

When we pack dishes, we add thank you notes and care instructions. Sometimes we add small gifts when we have something matching the order. We care about our customers, so we just try to give the best service we can. And in exchange for that customers leave us beautiful reviews.

What do you recommend to others who want to start a handcrafting business?

Our advice would be - just do it. We knew about Etsy for a long time, but it took us 2 years to open the shop. We were afraid, it looked difficult and challenging, there were things we didn’t know. But now, when we look back, we wouldn’t wait for 2 years to make a move. Because it’s a waste of time. So if you want to sell your handmade product, or want to find out if there is a demand for your product - don't wait. Set your goals, and try to make a small step every day towards them. There will be good days, and some bad days on your way, but the idea is step by step move forward. And in a few years, you will be surprised how far you got.

We believe it is very important to find your way to get inspired. Because inspiration brings us wings, and then there is nothing we can’t do. So we recommend finding people you believe in, whether it’s a businessman, doctor or sport player and follow them.

My inspiration comes from books - I enjoy reading biographies, and it's almost half a year passed from the day I finished the Elon Musk story, but I still find myself thinking about it. I’ve got a great inspiration to follow my dream no matter how hard it may become. Also, a great discovery for me was Jesse Itzler and his book Living with a seal. This book reveals the limits of our capabilities, and actually, there are no limits. Also, I am a fan of Simon Sinek. I've subscribed to Simon on YouTube and even though I watched all his videos, I still bought his book - Leaders eat last. You can find a lot of good advice in the book as well as in videos about personal qualities. Also, I would recommend following Bill Gates. His ideas and works are stunning. I love to watch documentaries about his works, read his articles, and listen to his interviews.

And the best advice I can share is to start sharing your ideas and talk to people. Sometimes problems are solved by simply talking to other people. What may look to you like a challenge at first, could be solved with a simple conversation.

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