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Museware Pottery

Naming a Business: Branding

Sheree BurlingtonComment

I am a project driven person. I approach each new {big} idea with single minded purpose - throwing myself into my work to the exclusion of everything else, including sleep. Some might call this a form of OCD. Whatever. It's what I do and I've been this way for so long, I'm barely aware of how insane I may look to others. Just get out of my way and let me get this thing done. Once I'm done, my interest, energy and adrenaline are depleted. I'm cooked.

After completing the launch of our new Sketchbook Collection last month, I found myself in my usual directionless, post-project funk. My desk and work table are littered with the remains of that project - piles of sample plates, brochure rejects and a growing stack of unanswered, un-dealt-with correspondence. Which includes my 2014 taxes and worker's comp insurance. I know. I publicly promise to deal with them Monday morning before I do one single other thing. Pinky swear.

What's been keeping me up these days is our new line of art prints. When I first got the art print idea, it seemed like such a simple thing. Design some prints. Put them up for sale on our site. Ya. No. That was before my Number One, Nicole questioned my un-thought-out decision to sell them under the Museware Pottery brand name.

Naming a Business: Branding - Wing+Tree Creative Business Blog

She pointed out that because we are known as Museware Pottery, some might be confused by the new offering. Kind of like Coke all of a sudden deciding to sell batteries. Or that they might choose a print over pottery wedding gift - effectively causing us to cannibalize ourselves. While I did not agree with the latter, her observation combined with My Guido's relentless insistence that Art Print Company be a completely separate entity - gave me pause. Thoughtful Sheree is a student. Don't tell me what to do Sheree barrels ahead and does whatever the hell she feels like doing. Because she knows everything. Just for the record, I don't. I just act like I do, which explains why self employment suits me better than getting fired from yet another job.

Student Sheree recognized that she needed to understand branding before she made any more decisions. One of my first Google searches led me to Iowa State University's Building Your Brand page. I have to tell you, I fricken love the internet. Everything in the whole wide world, the good, the bad, the sacred and profane - all of it - right at my fingertips. And me, in my bathrobe. Anyway, the post helped me to define, from a business perspective, what a brand represents to the consumer mind, and why I should care.

Recognizing the importance of branding led me back to my go-to place for learning creative and business stuff, Skillshare. In the last months, I've taken dozens of classes through Skillshare and almost without exception, have come away learning really important stuff for refining and developing my business. My last two classes - Branding Your Creative Business and Branding the Logo - Crafting a Brand Identity made me realize that Art Print Company needed its own identity. Possibly even its own website. Which meant I wasn't just selling art prints. I was starting a whole new business.

Once I got over the enormity of this revelation, I realized that Art Print Company needed a name. Naming a business may be one of the most challenging tasks an entrepreneur faces. Names are permanent. And people respond to them as if they matter, which means they do. My first inclination was to name it after myself. I've been in this business for 10 years and a quick Google search reveals pages of stuff associated with my moniker - none of which I'm ashamed of. Thank God the internet did not exist in the 70s. Since I have at least some name recognition, it seemed like a good - if uninspired idea. Armed with direction and resolve, I grabbed my reserved shereeburlington.com domain name and applied it to my new, unbuilt Squarespace site and called it done.

Then, like a bop on the head from The Universe, I found the blog post Naming A Business After Yourself: When Is It A Good Idea? by the practically famous Emily McDowell. She did exactly that. She also made a credible case for not doing the same. Since her entire fan base finds her by her name (or by Googling "the Emily that makes cards") she had to find a way to transform her one-woman-show self into the growing, staff supported, product producing powerhouse she and her brand has become.

Once I read Emily's argument, my whole running with scissors momentum ground to a slow, disappointing WTF halt. Once I got over myself, I enrolled in another Skillshare class called Naming Your Product in 60 Minutes. In spite of being poorly organized (videos uploaded in reverse order) and difficult to follow (sorry, Sorin) it did contain enough useful information to get me all excited about finding a real, lasting name for my new ... stuff.

Sorin introduced me to the concept of mind dumping - brainstorming ideas by drawing them out rather than linear list making. While my efforts were not nearly as clever as this one, they were a useful way to organize a ton of random information. I spent the entire week brainstorming - writing out pages and pages of ideas in a form known on the interwebs as MindMapping. In some ways, it was the same kind of fun as giving birth - an analogy I regularly apply to the creative process. In other ways, it was a creative project just begging to be developed. What I eventually came up with makes me so happy, I can't wait to share it.

On Age & Beauty

Sheree J. Burlington3 Comments

I turned 60 on April 10th. Becoming 60 and being 60 are two different things. The first is somewhat entertaining. The latter is something of a surprise. First, and I know it sounds cliche - it sneaks up on you. I've stared at a motionless clock. Endured an endless week. Wondered how much more winter or summer or rain or waiting I could take. But the years - they slid by like a deep, silent river.

My 19 year old son, Neal, used to tell me I had no idea what it was like to be a teenager. To him, the decades that separated us were lifetimes. In some ways they were. One gathers a lot of wisdom between 19 and 57. But the heart, the fundamental part of our being, the part of us that always was and always will be - that part doesn't change. I may not be the wing nut I was at 19, but my core self remains unchanged by the passage of time. Nineteen may seem a lifetime ago, but to me, it was yesterday.

It was yesterday when I stood in a featureless brick building, raised my hand and took an oath to serve in the US Navy. I was 19. Yesterday when I carried a sleeping newborn into a tiny, empty apartment and began my life as his mom. I was 38. Yesterday when I watched them lower him into a grassy lawn, surrounded by our family and friends. I was 57.

When I started this post, I was laughing - at the passage of time, the saggy boobs, the chicken neck, the absurdity of how little time we have. Right now, I'm crying - a little over the loss, but more over the sheer beauty of life. Of his smooth, handsome face, smiling at me from the lock screen of my phone. Of the fact that he picked me - imperfect, wonderful me - to be his mom. I'm crying over the overwhelming love I feel when I think about him, and how he continues to return it, showering me with feelings so intense, crying is the only way to bear it.

While searching Facebook for a picture of Neal to add to this post, I came across a note I'd placed on his page:

I wish you could just come home. I wish your leaving was a bad dream. You can't. It wasn't. Here are my wishes for you:  I wish you by my side every day, guiding my hand. I wish to always hear memories of your laugh and the way you called my name (mom mom mummy mumma ma mom mom.) I wish to find the wisdom of your new life in the choices I make for mine. I wish for your happiness, your fast and free flight, your knowing. I wish to spend the rest of my life honoring you - my only son and my absolute best teacher. I love you, Neal.

I turned 60 on April 10th. I've lived more years than I have ahead. And as the days unfold, I'll use the wisdom I've gained from the long road, the forgiveness I've received from my mistakes, the softness I've learned from the loving. I'll use the wishes I had for my son and the hopes I had for his life to guide me. And I earnestly, sincerely share those wishes with you, whoever you are.  To quote Abraham - there is great love for you here.

Art Print Mockups

Sheree BurlingtonComment

I've spent the last couple of months shopping around for a mockup program to feature our new, in development line of art prints. Yesterday I purchased Mockup Scene Creator from Creative Market and am very pleased with the results. This program includes a resizable desk that can be personalized with accessories like lamps, plants, books & magazines, coffee cups, Chinese takeout and even a fluffy grey cat. Particularly cool is the large selection of posters, photo and picture frames, which was the whole point of my search.

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Placing our art prints in the frames was easy - it just took a couple of clicks and and the results are pretty credible. It's also easy to switch up the scene to reflect the use of the room for which the print was designed. The items give the print a sense of scale, which will be useful to potential buyers.

I'm kind of psyched about these art prints. We've been pottery people since the beginning, so having a new, well priced offering that can ship in a couple of days will be a refreshing change for us. It will also give Nicole and Kris a break from me and my big ideas. A couple of months ago, this stuff was all tucked away in a photo box. They encouraged me to find a way to use it in my work. I thought they were nuts. If the early response to this new work is any indication, we may find that I'm the nut. Which would not be news to a lot of people.

Designing For Museware

Sheree BurlingtonComment

At the end of the month we launch a large new pottery collection called Sketchbook. The last time I introduced new designs was back in 2009. My retailers long ago stopped asking us what's new. What's new is that we cut our lead time in half. Launched a new website. Produced our first print catalog in 6 years. Found out that there's life after the loss of a child. Learned that if you hire enough meh workers, eventually a gem named Kris will materialize. 

The bulk of our business is wedding gifts, which means that from April - November, we are balls to the wall. Come January, we clean. Paint. Organize. Tweak the site. Count the weeks til wedding season. And since I am the designer and the only one who produces any designs, if new work doesn't happen in Q1, it's not happening until the following year. 

This year, it happened. I got over my fear, lethargy, grief - whatever and made a decision. 2015 is the year of Finally, New Stuff from Museware. This decision was followed by a creative block that lasted for weeks and made me question myself as a designer. Getting over it required my stepping out of my comfort zone and sharing stuff I do in secret when no one is watching - my own really naive drawings.

Our new pottery collection is based entirely on my own Sharpie on copy paper while watching bad TV sketches. So is my in-development line of art prints. Or fabric panels. Digital downloads. Clip art. Or anything that we can offer during Q1 when everything grinds to a halt. I don't know where this work will lead, but I do know that that I find that little owl up there so stinking cute, I just wanted to show it to someone. Anyone.

Making Lists

Sheree Burlington1 Comment
museware pottery
museware pottery

Museware Pottery is a really small company. Like, micro. We are a group of three (occasionally four) women and honestly, we get a ton of stuff done. We each have multiple jobs and are all really good at them. Nicole & Kris (& in summer, Melissa) do all of the physical work - their hands are all over your gift. They've read your invitations and have gathered and spelled out your names.They know when you got married and where. Sometimes they even know your favorite song. By the time they've finished making your gift, they've been thinking about you for a good while. 

Me? I'm the woman behind the curtain. While I no longer do the physical stuff - painting, glazing, firing - most days I'm here, in the chair in front of the computer. The wearer of many hats, I do marketing, design, product development, social media and whatever else comes up. I'm the woman behind every Pin, Post & Photo. I promote Museware Pottery to a ridiculous list of 15 different online places. I call myself a shameless self-promoter but what I'm actually promoting is my work. To anyone who will listen. Or not. 

Last week, I spent the entire week making lists of things I need to do. And then remaking them. I have pages of notes so dense that they're overwhelming just to look at. So, in an attempt to prioritize, I made yet another list. That little notebook up there? An exercise in futility. Lists of lists. Remade lists. Crossed off lists. Highlighted lists. I got depressed just looking through it and decided I needed a new  way to make lists. Enter index cards. OMG. I love my index cards! One card for each category. I can lay them all out in front of me and see everything  I need to do. It's fricken depressing. That pile up there is just a fraction of the wad of cards I now carry around with me - tucked into my notebook of lists. These little cards are islands of sanity in an ocean of too much to do. Their collective thickness is daunting, but when I'm considering the items on one, the others don't even exist.  

Next month, I move into my newly purchased home (a project with a whole new category of lists.) Once settled, one of my first projects will be setting up my home studio (I know, right?) An integral part of my studio will be a large scale inspiration board - like, big enough to cover an entire wall. Upon this wall, I'll hang my cards, move them around, re-categorize, reconsider and re-purpose them. I'll do this instead of actually getting things done. Crap. I'd better make a list. 

A day in our Studio

Sheree BurlingtonComment

I'm always looking for new ways to promote Museware Pottery. My most recent find are slideshow videos. This one will introduce you to the MP Makers and take you on a tour of our Manchester, NH production studio. We are in love with these new videos and can't stop making them. Watch our video:

Help Wanted. Sort of.

Sheree Burlington2 Comments

Hiring is one of my least favorite things to do. Inviting a stranger into our tight-knit world is a crap-shoot. We went through too many studio assistants in 2010. Two got better offers. Three were fired. Having people quit sucks. Firing people really sucks. It makes us question our judgement. In almost every case, I could have predicted their demise after a week. That's about how long it takes for some to realize that what we do here is work.

The fact that we're dressed down, listening to music and laughing - that's the window dressing. Behind the curtain, we're on a mission: Paint, glaze, fire, pack and ship as fast as possible. Many days, we drag ourselves out of here. We're hot, tired, sweaty and gratified in a 'we just kicked ass' kind of way.

Working at Museware Pottery is possibly one of the coolest jobs ever. We're wicked busy and the work just keeps coming. Write those 50 cursive platters and here come 50 more. Stamp out all those plates then turn to find another pile waiting for you. Empty those blazing kilns and load them again while they're still hot. Then do it all again - oh, and faster please?

We need help and have for months. We put it off because training a new employee is time consuming, expensive and disruptive. Did I mention disappointing? We finally gave in last week and ran an ad. Our application doesn't ask where you worked and when. Filling it out is more like on-line dating than applying for a job. We ask who you are, what you care about, why you want to work here. What we really want to know is - can we trust you? Will you fit in? Will you work out or break our hearts?

We'd like to start interviewing next week. We like this local gal. Her natural hand writing looks like ours, she's artsy and articulate. Her application was thoughtfully completed, her plans open enough to include us. If the stars align, she'll become an important part of team and we'll wonder how we lived without her. For The Women of Museware Pottery, training a new employee is like starting a new relationship. Everyone's all excited and hopeful. Finding the right combination of heart, determination and creative thinking in our new hire, well that will be kind of like falling in love. Only different.

Inside Our Studio

Sheree BurlingtonComment
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Our studio is in a battered historic mill in downtown Manchester, NH. This mixed use mill is the home of an eclectic group of other creatives - jewelry, mixed media art, quilting, cabinet makers, musicians & recording studios. Dozens of light industrial business operate here as well - machine shops, printers, cabinet suppliers, telecommunications suppliers, more.

We share our corner of the block with World Packaging. A busy day for WPI involves power jacks towing 50+/- pallets up and down a wrecked wood hallway, honking as they pass our door. We often have to ask callers to repeat conversations. WPI is headed up by David - a smart, energetic & noisy ball of New Jersey. His assembly line business is all about faster, faster. It's common to hear him clapping and bellowing at his temporary and largely Cambodian workforce. Come on! Clap Clap Clap. Let's go! He also loves talking business and has inspired us to make major cost saving changes to our own production line. We raise a glass of beer to you, Mr. Harp.

Our space is awesome. One of the things that makes it awesome is this kiln room. This 31' long, totally brick space is only 8' wide, exactly wide enough to work. It tapers down to a 5' hallway just beyond the kilns. We just had a brand-new big-ass whole-house fan installed in the window. That thing moves some air, keeping it below 90* in there. A veritable autumn zephyr.

In our old space, the 3 kilns fired right in the production area. They automatically shut off when they reach 1835* but not before heating the room up to 115-120*. We joked about working in our underwear, but it wasn't a joke. When temperatures soared, we locked ourselves in and took it all off.

Faced with the prospect of 100* indoor temps for the 6th summer in a row, we finally hired someone to install two A/Cs. We lost the fabulous light from this 5' square window, but gained the ability to wear clothing at work. Sincere thanks to Tom Hopkins, the Macgyver of carpentry and of just about everything else.

This is a late afternoon shot of our production area. The new light is a bit artful we think. The entrance to our kiln room is hidden beyond the forested veranda surrounding Nicole's desk.

Our studio is a place of music, conversation and laughter. We are part of a small & growing handful of women working and creating in the noisy, dusty maze of Manchester Mills. We humanize the place, encouraging (with the stink-eye) men to close and lock the unisex bathroom door behind them. A few even look sheepish when we hear them use language we're guilty of using ourselves. Last week, one fast moving pallet ripped the corner off of our newly installed exterior wainscoting. We were 100% sure this was going to happen. Because everyone knows you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.

The Museware Pottery Women

Sheree BurlingtonComment

Here are three of the five Museware Pottery Women. That's Sara on the left, Nicole in the middle and me on the end. People think MP is all about me - I am the owner & designer. I'm the one they interview. True, everything about MP, the designs, the site, the marketing - comes from me. But I'm not doing the work. The real workers are The Women.

Nicole has been with me for nearly 5 years. My partner & I hired her back in 2003 to manage our first paint your own pottery studio, You're Fired. Years later when we'd both moved on, the pieces clicked - I needed to replace a key employee and Nicole needed a job. We're both Aries. We sing. We talk. We dance. We tell stories. We get wicked excited about stuff. Nicole is much easier to get along with that me. She's accommodating. Organized. Linear. I'm bossy and eccentric. Like many creatives, I come with a head full of big ideas, tons of creative energy and the attention span of a fruit fly. Nicole is my rock. And no, you cannot have her.

Sara Louise (affectionately called Sara Jane) is our youth. She joined the MP family almost 2 years ago. We snagged her from a national craft chain where she'd worked the early morning shift receiving & stocking for nearly 3 years. You know how hard it is to hire young people who know how to work? It's taken a couple of years and a lot of responsibility to hone her into the gem she is now. We're proud of our little Sara. You can't have her, either.

Missing from this photo are two important cogs in our pottery machine. We affectionately call cursive artist Jill "Ninja" because she quietly slips in out of the studio like stealth painter. Her lovely & nearly flawless cursive has spelled out the invitations and favorite songs of many newly married couples & families. She's also a skilled graphic designer and has her hands on our upcoming catalog. We don't scare her one bit.

Our bookkeeper, Karol Carroll, who we always call KarolCarroll, comes in once a week. She pays our bills, takes care of payroll and other hateful bookkeeping tasks like taxes. When those miserable state of NH forms come in, she fills them out, hands them to me for signature and then mails them. She's like a fricken angel.

Also missing but forever in our minds is Leslie. Leslie was our third leg for years, cheerfully answering the phone, handling cumbersome order entry and even unloading and sorting kilns. She was also the only one who ever cleaned the refrigerator. Family called her home, but they won't keep her forever. We miss you, Leslie.

We are The Women. We used to be the Wicked Crafty Yankee Chicks, but we've grown up. Collectively, we've turned Museware Pottery into an industry leader. We've survived those terrible & clueless first years, a misguided move and even the devastating effect of the 2008 bank failures on the giftware industry. We've streamlined production, automated ordering and reduced our lead time. We are strong. We are invincible. We are The Women. Hear us roar :)

Goodbye, Opinionated Broad

Sheree BurlingtonComment
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Inspired by a friend's blog and subsequent fame, I started OOAB in October 2008. Thinking I'd spend a few minutes a day on it, I soon found it consuming my days and nights. I lost momentum in 2009, but not before writing posts that continue to entertain me today. Is it PC to laugh at your own jokes? 'Cause I do. Laugh. 

Today, I find myself with 8 blogs. They all contain different content and nearly all are in a state of chronic neglect. So when I decided to blog to my retailers & social media followers, I returned to my roots. Opinions of a Broad is filled with true stories of  my past life, peppered with occasional good writing & often bad language.  There are many more stories - unwritten but ready for the telling. While I'm waiting for the words, I'll tell the stories of my current life, which evolve around my work, a handful of awesome and loyal employees and the MP customers and fans, who give us purpose.