Saturday, January 9, 2016

Wise words From Westcote Bell Pottery

Westcote Bell Pottery is located in Lahave, NS.  Vaughan Smith sent me this letter describing his own journey as a craftsman.  Be sure to visit Vaughan and Jackie on your next trip to the South Shore.

Dear Anna

I hope this explanation will help in your fight for sensible building code rules. We started our studio in England in a 9x11 basement studio with no windows, based on a whim and a wish that someone would like our pottery. Living from overdraft to overdraft we worked two jobs and made our pottery into the wee hours of the night, living in a residentially zoned house we did craft fairs to sell our pieces, but we did have a few sales out of our back door. Then we moved to Ohio and had a ranch house basement studio large enough for three cars, still residential and still selling at craft fairs, with a few garage door sales. Then back to a basement studio in an old town house for a year, selling at fairs and with the occasional home visit. Working over two years with no pay checks coming in and no health care or benefits that 9-5 regular employment brings, just the hope and dream of customers appreciating our craftwork kept us going. To be brief we have moved several times since this modest start and as sales increased we were able to improve our work area and introduce a retail showroom in the building. The cost of a building that includes retail space is such a leap of faith, it would have turned us off the idea of developing our ideas and art work. We would have given up before we got started. Only after years of slowly developing our art work were we able to save some money and add a retail studio space. Our first attempt at a retail showroom was from the beginning a risk, the cost of accessibility and parking spaces was a stretch for us but we put it all together and opened. We were walking distance from four restaurants, a museum, shops and a waterfall but it never paid off. The craft fairs continued to support us but opening a retail showroom was not worth the start up costs. Then we moved here. Burned by the last experience we started the old way, minimal investment and low annual expenses, just to see if it was a viable business location here. Renovate an old barn just enough to get us going, without the risk of bankruptcy if it fails again, with craft fairs still a reluctant option and no steady income or security, it is always a risk and a sacrifice. We had cashed in life insurance and savings to take this risk, it was not an easy decision. We based our business model on the craft fairs, the internet, wholesale and what we thought would be a few people coming to the studio. During the first year we had a fantastic response form the local community, they were asking to come in while we were still renovating, they wanted to take pottery classes and the first tourist season was double our best year in the last studio/retail space. We had gambled but it paid off. We were so busy that we were visited by the building inspector and given a list of what we had to do to upgrade the building. We knew that it was zoned commercial, but it was registered as warehouse, not retail, even though it has been used as a shipping warehouse moving cargo for 100 years or more. Although the upgrades for accessibility, totalling $25,000 were more than my salary that year, we had proof that it was a viable business investment. The decision to upgrade made sense.
Though different from your situation it is similar in that the bureaucrats and enforcement personnel have no idea how risky it is to follow your dream and start up a small business. The creative community is selling things people do not need and usually at a greater cost than the cheap imports in the stores. However we are why thousands of tourists flock to Nova Scotia each year. The building department needs to be a partner in developing small businesses and allow them to start up in garages or basements, home offices and green houses. Startups keeping costs low have a much greater chance of becoming viable businesses. Reading the comments from the town meeting made me smile, I have operated a highly visible business for four years now and am still waiting for the feared coach to pull up outside and unload 60 people into my studio, I guess that happens a lot in Lunenburg, strange I have never seen one as I walk around the side streets. I say pass a bylaw that allows small home businesses, limit there size to minimize congestion, and as to accessibility, apply that rule to commercial locations only.

Yours Sincerely
Vaughan L Smith

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