Opening a Contemporary or Paint Your Own Pottery Studio
Part Two - More on Locations
By Connie Speer - The Pottery Consultant
Okay, so you’ve read the first article Opening a Contemporary Studio and you haven’t opened a studio, but you are still thinking about it! Let’s just assume you did everything the first article told you to do; you have the perfect location picked out, taken the tax courses and read everything you could on how to run a small business.
What next? Hold on there! Let’s talk about that perfect location a bit more. Knowing some of the following issues and pitfalls could save you a bundle. Again, my disclaimer: These aren’t all the issues. They are just a few that seem to crop up over and over again and can cause you headaches and anguish. The good news is that once you overcome the lease and construction phase of opening your studio, everything else sure does seem a lot easier. Here’s a truth/tip: no matter what they say in terms of how long it will take to finish out construction, whether you are going into a shell or an already established store that requires an over-haul, it will take longer. If they say four weeks, plan on six to eight.
The space -There are a few items that I would love to assume are givens, but just in case, let me state them here.
The space has a front door, and hopefully, a back door. You’ll need to make note of the door openings. Most doors are 36” wide or less, and if that is your case, unfortunately, at this writing, you might be limited to kiln brand selection. Some kilns can be taken apart, some cannot. There have been incidents of whole door frames having to be taken off to get the kilns through the doors. Most kilns that most studios buy today can be taken apart to get through the smaller doors.
So, are there spacious front display windows so walk-by traffic can peer in and be enticed into your studio? The electrical boxes are usually at the back of the store. Make note of existing electrical stats such as amps coming into your space, volts and phase. I usually recommend 200 amps. Most studios start out with two kilns, some with three, some with as many as four or more. If you have two kilns running, air-conditioning, vents, fax machine, computer and/or cash register, lights, etc., it can all add up. You’ll need to know volts and phase to order the kilns. Get the landlord or their electrician to put it in writing. Don’t take their word for it. Re-wiring a kiln can cost up to $500.00 or more. It shouldn’t be your liability, and neither the distributor nor the manufacturer should have the liability. An ideal situation for the restroom(s) would be for them to already be handicap accessible. Bringing them up to code if they’re not can cost dollars. And lucky you, if there is also another sink outside the restroom for your customers to wash their hands before they start picking up all your bisque. Natural body oils, hand lotions and food can cause color and glaze to repel from the bisque.
Floor plan-Ideally the kiln room and/or dipping room will be towards the back of the studio close by the back door, as will be the restrooms. The restrooms don’t have to be in the back. Sometimes having them in the middle of the studio works out great. Keep in mind that if the restrooms are close to the kiln room, you will have to have someway to section them off from the public, especially little children. You don’t want a lawsuit because a little child wandered up to the kiln and touched it and burned their hands. If there is not already a sink or stubs for the additional sink, pulling plumbing can be expensive. We usually try to place the paint bar sink close to the existing plumbing to help save costs on build-out.
This brings up the subject of kilns and fires and the fear of the unknown. So many potential new studio owners, and the many city officials that will be part of their new business certifications and inspections, don’t know much about kilns and therefore, have many misconceptions about fear of fires or explosions. Kilns are made to be safe. Over firing a kiln doesn’t mean a fire on the outside. It means an over firing of the pieces inside the kiln. And usually that only happens if you get in a hurry when you are programming the settings. Yes, there have been fires before, but these have only happened because the electrical details were not adhered to in the beginning. Ovens in restaurants present greater hazards than ceramic kilns. Yes, you can burn yourself. So, keep the public out of reach when you are firing. And don’t open the kiln or take the pieces out until the temperature is below 100 - 125 degrees.
The key is: if you can’t touch it with your bare hands, don’t. Wait. You just can’t be in a hurry with ceramics.
An additional room, which can be your party room, can be essential to your studio. Going over floor plans to simply extend a wall or add a wall to create this element of your space can end up to your financial advantage in the long run. Depending on your overall square footage, they usually will take up to about a quarter of your studio. Allow for a minimum of 20 adults. You can fit even more children into this space. Think of using folding tables in this room for versatility and some kind of buffet or hutch to store party supplies.
Walls, floors and ceiling-When you are walking through your potential location deciding if it really is the perfect home for your studio, pay attention to the floors first. Carpet is not ideal for a contemporary studio. Linoleum or other kinds of tiles may or may not be your idea of perfect either. A lot of studios have opted for the polished concrete or painted concrete floors because they are cheaper and easier to clean. Taking up the carpet or vinyl can sometimes be a major pain. Sometimes certain kinds of glues are used that will require you to do extra work to get down to the concrete. Kilns sit on kiln stands, and kiln stands need to sit on concrete, not tile, and definitely not carpet. I have been in studios that the kiln (on a stand) was on tile, and after years of service, no apparent damage was evident, but since you have the opportunity, do it right in the beginning according to code. Kilns need to be situated 18” away from non-combustible walls, and 36” away from combustible walls. Also, the closer the kiln to the electrical box, the less expensive will be your wiring.
In your walk-through of your potential space, pay attention to the walls. Existing built-ins such as shelves, cubbies, rickrack and other wall ornamentation may or may not work, but before you decide to take them down or put up something else, give yourself some think time. Allow your mind to wander outside of the box, so to speak. You just might come up with some wonderful, creative use of what exists, and save some time and money. Know now that your bisque shelves will need to be a minimum of 18” deep. I usually recommend a combination of some 12” deep, some 18” deep and even some 24” deep. Some of your bisque bowls and platters will need that extra room.
Ceilings may or may not be dropped. If they are not dropped, your electricity or gas bills can be very high. Ceiling fans are a plus, of course. There may be lighting already installed, but realize you probably will want additional track lighting of some kind that you are able to direct towards the bisque and/or finished pieces, down towards the painting tables, on the check-out counter and on the paint display/serving area. If there are sprinklers already installed, you have another issue to contend with. Sprinkler heads over your kilns are not recommended. Code may insist on them, and you will have to make some adjustments. Most sprinkler heads are calibrated quite high to boiler room temperatures, but you still may not want the risk of walking into a flooded studio some morning. Options are: move the kilns from directly under the heads, make sure the heads are a minimum of 10 feet above the kilns or change out the heads that are over your kilns.
Finish out-Most leases include a finish out in which the landlord agrees to pay for some of the construction to make the space to your specifications. It can vary greatly from simply taking up carpet and painting a few walls to completely overhauling the space for you. Somewhere in between is usually what you get. You should expect this and negotiate for as much as you can. Naturally, the longer your lease agreement, the longer the space has stood empty (probably not a good location if this is the case), the better your relationship with them, the tougher and firmer you are, and the fact that a Starbucks is not asking for the location, will all stand you in good stead. You should not be expected to use the landlord’s construction crew. You should be able to get bids yourself. Get several, and I cannot overemphasize checking the references. Don’t get 3 references. Get ten. Call all of the references back a couple of times. You don’t hear the problems the first time. Go see the construction crew on another job they are currently working on for someone else. Note if they are working, on time, at budget, etc. Unfortunately there is often the issue of the cart before the horse when it comes to your budget and/or your loan and the finish out agreement in your lease. Ah, the fundamental joys of starting a new business.
The lease-Obviously there are many, many other points to discuss on this topic, but I just want to get across a couple of very important items. Make sure you don’t have to start paying rent until all jobs are finished that the landlord originally agreed to take care of as his part of the lease. If the landlord agreed to overhaul the air-conditioning and this keeps you from opening the doors and the rent is due, make sure the lease agreement is ironclad that you are not liable for the rent until this is taken care of. Make sure you know ahead of time if certain signs and their upkeep are your responsibility. Make sure that if anything in the building goes wrong that will cause discomfort to your customers that would therefore cause them to either not come into the store or leave, you will not be responsible for rent during that time. An example of this could be a neighbor tenant’s plumbing backup causing your studio to smell badly or be flooded. I’m sure you can imagine a myriad of other disasters. Some of these items may come to play in your insurance. The point is that you use vision and foresight to plan for the worst possible scenario so that you don’t have to face a financial crisis. Yes, it is important that you think positively, but don’t be a fool and say, ‘it won’t happen to me,’.