Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in arts and crafts but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Joel Cherrico, Owner of Cherrico Pottery LLC, located in St. Joseph, MN, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
We make handmade pottery in a 3000-square-foot pottery studio behind my home. A small team of full-time employees, a.k.a. Our Magic Pottery Elves, helped me create the unique pottery catalog that I’ve spent about a decade refining. It’s full of coffee mugs, cups, plates, and more pottery in my custom, rustic colors.
It’s kind of like Santa‘s workshop, but instead of making toys for girls and boys, we make mugs and bowls for people's homes. Need a snazzy mug for your office? We’ve got you covered. Plus, instead of only delivering presents on Christmas, we work to ship our precious pottery packages to people 365, 24/7. Our bestseller is definitely my “Cosmic Mug” from cosmicmugs.com, which is a unique, spiral coffee mug I designed with colors inspired by galaxies in outer space.
If they don’t make you espouse “Wowsers!” then contact me, and I will personally offer you a full refund. But so far, thousands of customers globally have embraced the Cosmic Mug for their morning ritual. And at $195 retail + shipping per mug, they’ve developed a reputation for being not your grandmother's teacups.
Tell us about yourself
Also, like Old Saint Nick, I’ve made it a regular tradition to perform epic feats of stamina in a single day. Last Tuesday, I decided to handcraft over 1,000 cups on my pottery kick wheel in one day. In 2016, I set a Guinness World Records title for ‘most pots thrown in one hour by an individual.’ The word “throwing” is what we potters call the act of making pottery on a spinning pottery wheel…please don’t huck your pots airborne. Anywho, I handcrafted 159 pots in one hour, also on my historic style pottery kick wheel. Both of these feats are out on YouTube if you desire to be among the spectators.
More seriously, pottery has been my calling for about half my life. When I was 18 years old, for some crazy reason, I decided that I wanted to do whatever it took to make a living as a full-time potter. Sixteen years later, here we are! Twenty thousand hours practicing my craft, just under $2 million in lifetime sales, and a team of full-time employees. This is just the beginning of the big plans we have for the future.
I’m pretty sure my “Moon Mugs,” with their orb shape, would do a damn good job of holding liquid and zero gravity. Why subject astronauts to a bag of cold coffee when they could slurp their floating java from a piece of art while gazing down onto the dirt and water planet from whence it came? Also, part of my 20-year plan is to create a “Mars Mug” literally made from the iron oxide on Mars’ surface.
Business was never my primary goal. It was more like a way to power my passion. Of course, I’m no stranger to the giddy feeling of someone handing you their hard-earned American greenbacks after you close a sale. And when they fork over cash for something you handcrafted, even if it’s just a couple of bucks by the college bus stop (seriously, I once made a $2 pottery sale for a huge line of people), it’s humbling and gratifying.
Now that I’m 34 years old and consistently selling pottery mugs for over $100, some for even over $500 per mug, it’s mind-blowing. There is something special to this ancient art of pottery. Having a deep respect for every customer, regardless of how much they spend, motivates me to share this art with the world.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
I’m most proud of collaborating with world-renowned author Steven Pressfield, who dedicated his life to writing both fiction and non-fiction books. “The War of Art'' is required reading for anyone attempting to succeed in any creative field. Oprah interviewed Steve about it. Joe Rogan kept stacks of it to hand out to guests. I don’t recommend it. I consider it mandatory.
I reached out to Steve to thank him for his writing, and he generously replied to me and even included a challenge. During his research for his next book, Steve discovered an ancient mug in a 2,000-year-old text by the philosopher Plutarch. It told how the Spartan warriors, at the Battle of Thermopylae and more, carrying a mug with them to battle. It was prized for being used to dip into streams and rivers, with a unique shape that let dirt and mud settle at the bottom. It had a black interior to make the water easier to drink and was prized by soldiers on the campaign trail.
Steve challenged me to recreate a modern-day version of the mug. We sell it alongside a copy of Steve’s book, “The Warrior Ethos,” at cherricopottery.com/kothon. We gave away dozens of podcasts that Steve appeared on during his last book launch, “A Man At Arm,” which is a new novel that also relates to ancient warrior history. It’s one of my proudest accomplishments.
Here at Cherrico Pottery, we’ve shipped about 30,000 pots from our pottery studio directly to people's homes all over the world. Knowing that every day people are picking up this art, drinking coffee from it, and living with it. I’m lucky enough to spend every day filling the world with beautiful, useful art, and that’s a massive privilege.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
You’ve got to see every problem as an opportunity and learn to love every moment: failures, successes, and everything in between. It's easy to get upset at a rude customer or at employee mistakes. It’s hard to accept that no one will ever care as much about your business as you.
When you learn to love problems and really try to see things from the viewpoint of your customers, staff, and publicist… empathy becomes a superpower. You begin to generate far more money, more sustainably, when people can feel how much you exude a sense of deep, honest caring.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
First, never make money your primary focus. There are WAY easier ways to make money than running a business: go work on Wall Street. Become a banker, lawyer, or accountant. Work at a tech company. Businesses are about serving people. To me, money is more like fuel. It’s necessary to go anywhere. The more that you have, the further you can go. So, by all means, make lots of money and explore new frontiers with your business, but never lose sight of the fact that you get into business to serve humanity, not just giant mass quantities of fuel.
Second, practice using business books. I didn’t say “read business books“ because anyone can take a business class or read a book, but very few people have the gumption to actually test those ideas in a real business. Gather ideas, test them, double down on the ones at work and kill the ones that don’t.
Third, ask BIG questions often. What might your business look like in 20 years, and how might you accomplish that faster: say, in three months? What are most people in my industry afraid of? What does 100x more profitable look like? There are usually always opportunities in bold, uncomfortable questions like these. Don’t be afraid to spend time on them, as long as you have established strong cash flow first. With cash flow, you can do anything.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Man, making pottery is so damn delightful. People always ask me if it’s “relaxing” because when they watch my live pottery demonstration videos, they say the vibe of watching me handcraft pottery to groovy music is very relaxing to watch. It’s definitely not relaxing, but I would call it “therapeutic.” It takes both your hands, both feet, and my full attention.
Knowing that you can use water, mud, and fire to handcraft something that people will eat and drink from still makes me smile. It’s humbling to know that you can learn the skills to handcraft a quality plate for someone to chow down their scrumptious sandwich or a mug to sip their morning latte.
I’m just tickled every time I see someone use and enjoy a piece of pottery in their home. It’s unlike any other art form. Mad props to all other potters out there who have taken on the challenge of filling the world with beautiful things for people to eat and drink.
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
Turn your craft into recurring revenue with Subkit. Start your subscription offering in minutes and supercharge it with growth levers. Get early access here.