The Muddy Start

We started Mean Mugs Pottery in a small community clay studio in Salt Lake City. The studio was comprised of a storeroom, back storage area, glaze area, and throwing room with about 8 wheels. Because we both taught there, we were able to strike a deal with the owners in exchange for teaching.

We worked in the mornings and at night when the studio was closed to the public. These first few months of operation opened our eyes to so much we needed to learn and the more we learned, the more we realized we didn’t know. We had business before we were even a business, our capacity and facility were limited, and we were quickly wearing out our welcome in the studio. We needed a new home, capital, and a plan; and we needed all these things yesterday!

The real estate market is tough in Salt Lake City. Many landowners have been quietly and patiently sitting on their vacant buildings through the recession with the hopes of maximizing value in a better economic time. The available properties are expensive and for start ups, it’s nearly impossible to find someone willing to negotiate favorable terms. Since we’re a manufacturing operation, we needed industrial space where we can store raw materials, house our kilns, and a safe workspace for us to create in. We also needed capital to get us started and neither of us were in a position to drain our bank accounts to bank roll this operation.

In January of 2017, we successfully received a small community micro-loan to start our operation. These funds allowed us the working capital to purchase some needed equipment and do the necessary improvements to a new home, problem was, we hadn’t found one yet. We had our sights on a lease in a great location however it was a bit larger than we needed and it was a stretch for our budget. We devised a plan to lease some of the unneeded space to other artists and were planning to move forward.

On the morning we were planning to sign our lease, a friend called and encouraged us to meet a friend of his who owned an industrial space on the edge of downtown. I had mentioned to him previously that I was nervous about the lease we were about to sign for a couple of reasons. One, managing an art space while starting up a manufacturing firm was more than I wanted to take on and secondly, the rent requirements on top of the necessary leasehold improvements would have wiped out our bank account. It was risky to say the least.

On that morning, we decided to check out the alternative space. It was an old warehouse, it needed a lot of work, and it was perfect! We immediately declined the other space and started work on making the necessary improvements to move in to the industrial warehouse. We worked quickly and moved in on March 1st, 2017. We brought with us one renter from our old studio, took on an apprentice, and the four of us started work making the space functional. Our new landlords helped us with everything and seemed to enjoy the new life we were breathing into the old building.

Since moving in last March, we’ve experienced the ups and downs of starting a company. We work long hours and have had many failures which in hind site have taught us so much. And, with some of these hard lessons, we’re continually making improvements to help grow our little business. We’ve made some great relationships with new clients and are continually improving our processes. In hindsight, although our initial start-up path was muddy and full of uncertainty, the last year has lended itself to be quite productive. As we begin 2018, our future is bright and we will continue to manage our growth by taking one step at a time.