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rustic-pots-header-templateFor almost 1,500 years, the Yixing region of China has been renowned as the source of some of the finest stoneware ceramic products in the world. Perched on the outer reaches of the Yangtze River plains, the area features vast deposits of iron-rich dark clay.

The “Rustic” pottery tradition was among the first to emerge from the shadow of the teapot business, as these coarsely crafted pots were originally intended for local consumption only. The traditional shapes developed as various needs arose, ranging from tall jugs for water storage, to lower shapes for oil, to wider forms used for drying rice. Over time, these containers began to be re-purposed as planters, which eventually led to an entirely new industry in the area. As time passed, production techniques became more specialized, the aesthetic more refined, and a classic tradition of simple, gorgeous, handmade (and often enormous) pottery emerged.WedgingA flower pot always starts with the clay. In this particular workshop, different clays from several local mines are blended together by experienced clay makers to produce a proprietary mix which offers the perfect combination of flexibility, durability and structural integrity necessary for these giant pieces. The mixed clay is then “wedged” or kneaded by apprentices, removing any last air bubbles, before being passed on to the pot craftsmen.Rustic Step 1The wedged clay is combined into long snake-like rolls, which are then slightly flattened by hand.Rustic Step 2These flat rolls are then attached to a previously prepared pot bottom, which includes an inch or two of the pot’s vertical walls. The clay is gradually coiled around the pot, continuously layering upon itself as the walls of the pot rise.Rustic Pottery Construction Step 3As the coil loops around the body of the pot, the craftsmen knead the the sections together by hand, progressing up the pot inch-by-inch.Rustic Pottery Construction Step 4After the pot has reached a certain height, the workers will begin the process of smoothing and shaping the walls of the pots – the smoothing is done with a series of small scrapers, while the shape is gently adjusted with wooden paddles and mallets.

The pots are then allowed to dry a bit to enhance their stability, after which the workers add another long coil to the top of the pot. This process repeats itself over the course of several days until the pot reaches its final height and form.

Eventually, the rim of the pot will be finished by a senior craftsman, and the pot will be allow to slowly, and thoroughly, dry for several days. This slow process is critical for large items, and ensures that structural cracks do not form in in the body of the pot.

Once the pots are “bone dry”, they are glazed in one of a handful of traditional, earthy glaze colors. Typically, these glazes are applied by hand in several layers,  with an uneven application around the pot.Rustic Pottery GlazingOnce the gaze is dried, the pots are loaded into enormous brick ovens, called “kilns”, which bake the pots at temperatures approaching 2,200 degrees. Often generations-old, these multi-chambered kilns are heated with wood fires, which are carefully tended to precisely control the temperatures and flow of air within the firing chambers. This is critically important, as the final colors of each glaze depend on them being fired within specific temperature ranges.Stoking the KilnFollowing a multi-day firing, the kilns are allowed to slowly cool for several more days before the door are opened. At this point, the colors of the glazes are revealed, as are the variations (drips, burn marks, hot spots, etc) that truly make each pot a unique work of art. These variations are thought to be part of the charm and beauty of these magnificent flower pots, and are not considered flaws. Kiln Being OpenedThese giant rustic planters are among the most durable that we sell, and are safe for year-round use in all climates, assuming that basic precautions are taken.

Classic Urn - Snap ShotIn the January, 2015 issue of Green Profit magazine, Jennifer Polanz pointed out that in the current marketplace, “porch pots” have the potential to help boost your off-season sales throughout the winter months if you take the time to properly merchandise the category. A few of the top ideas:

  • Conduct design workshops in which you offer customer a wide range of suitable planters, greenery, and accessories.
  • Have your staff design and build amazing porch pot arrangements – use social media to share them with your customers and drive traffic to your store.
  • Rotate the greenery and accessory offerings as Winter progresses – Jingle bells may be a great addition in December, but they won’t drive sales in February!

Here’s a link to the complete article.

Best wishes from all of us for a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

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Square Orchid Pot- Violet - SnapIt’s a funny thing that we, as a society, have developed of tradition of celebrating love every February 14th by giving those most precious to us a handful of dead flowers.

It really seems that a more fitting horticultural celebration of our everlasting love would be to present them with something alive, something that has a future beyond the next 6 or 8 days – something very much like a potted plant.

If your garden center already has a floral department, you’re probably already pushing bouquet after bouquet out your doors in the week leading up to Valentines, and you are obviously well aware of the massive potential that this holiday offers. But if you’re not offering a selection of potted plants as well, you could still be leaving a chunk of potential profit on the table.

If you don’t have a florist, then Valentine’s represents an incredible opportunity for you to get an early leg up on your spring season. Most likely, you’re already have staff on hand working to prepare your center for the season, and stocking your shelves with suitable plants and containers will give your team something to sell to the swarms of flummoxed husbands.

  • Blooming roses are an obvious selection, but unlike the stereotyped “dozen long stems”, they can last forever with proper care.
  • WEB - Violet Rainbow Cone Pot with Roses - SNAPOrchids are a great choice – they’re gorgeous, they color-coordinate with the pinks, whites, and purples of the season, and everyone loves them.
  • Cacti in brightly colored pots are a popular option for folks with brown thumbs.
  • Dwarf Jade Bonsai are an elegant, sophisticated selection, especially if your market trends towards the upscale.
  • Use your imagination – just about any plant can be turned into a “Valentine’s” offering simply by dropping it into a seasonally appropriate container – look for pinks, red, purple and white glazes.
  • Make sure that your customers know that you’re a Valentine’s destination – even if you’re just putting out email blasts and Facebook updates, your customers need to be made aware that you’re a better holiday option than 1-800-FLOWERS.
  • Some of your customers are still going to insist on bouquets – be sure to stock a range of pots and containers for their arrangements. Their significant others will appreciate a container that doesn’t look just like the one at the grocery store floral counter.

Check out this great article from houzz.com – it’s got some great pointers on incorporating container gardens and pottery into ground-based gardens. Be sure to read the comments too, as there are a bunch of nuggets there too.

Fountain SnapshotIt’s amazing how easy it can be to impact the sales of large planters in your pottery department when you take the time and effort to also merchandise them as fountain components.

For many garden centers it can make more sense to carry a range of large pots and a limited offering of fountain supplies than it does to invest in an inventory of complete fountains. This strategy has several advantages:

  • Your customers have more options and more outlets for their creativity – being able to customize a fountain to their specific tastes and size requirements is a great selling point.
  • It’s easier to control your inventory – selling fountains, pumps and basins ala carte gives you flexibility in your purchasing.
  • It’s generally cheaper to purchase components from your suppliers than it is a complete fountain kit – but your customers don’t necessarily know that, which allows you to build you margins in the category while remaining price competitive.
  • As long as you have some pots on hand, you have a potential fountain.

Here’s a terrific article how-to article and video from “Fine Gardening” magazine which walks you through the step-by-step of building a fountain out of a planter. This technique will work with planters of any size or shape, although we recommend using a purpose-built in-ground fountain basin instead of the tub / cinder block / grate combo they use in the video.

Ceramo 2014 Christmas Grid

2013 Christmas Tree

A really terrific profile in today’s Charlotte Observer highlighting New Hope Greenhouse in Gastonia, NC. This is definitely worth a read if you are searching for ways to compete with the national chains: Link to Story

This post is targeted specifically at garden centers in the northern half of the country – if your store is in the Sunbelt, feel free to ignore the next 600 words. We’ll cover ideas for you in a separate post.

Many garden centers do everything in their power to clear their entire pottery inventory before winter strikes, often moving many of their remaining pots out the door for little more than wholesale cost. While this can be a sound inventory management strategy, and can make the year-end financials look good, it can also be a huge mistake.

Many retailers recognize that early fall can be a great time for pottery sales and offer sales and promotions to capture business from gardeners who are in the process of bringing plants indoors, planting bulbs or replacing old and/or worn pots. Fewer garden centers continue to push the category into the winter months, often costing themselves the opportunity to generate additional profits through the lean months. There are a few keys to doing this successfully, a few of them painfully obvious:

  • Be open: Seriously – if you are closed during the winter months, none of the following ideas will work for you. And if you are open in the winter, be sure that you actually ARE open during your published business hours.
  • On an aside, publishing your winter hours is a great excuse to update your web site or to return to that blog/Facebook page/Twitter account you started last spring and forgot about.
  • Bring your pots inside: Your customers aren’t going to walk around the outdoor areas of your center looking for your pottery department, and they certainly won’t pick up freezing cold pots. Find space for them indoors, and your customers will find them and buy them.
  • Carry a wide variety of pottery: In the winter months, it is particularly important to focus your collection on indoor pots, as those are the pots that the vast majority of your customers will be looking for. Look for pots that range in size from 6” in diameter to 12” in diameter, and that are either have saucers with them / attached to them or are cache pots. Don’t exclude outdoor pottery from the mix, but be sure that any pots which you include in your merchandising assortment are freeze-proof and durable enough for outdoor wintertime use.Classic Urn
  • Offer cross-promotions with seasonal plants: If you’ve managed to establish a business for either mums in the early fall or for poinsettias before Christmas, congratulations – if your customers are choosing your location over the big box prices for these plants you’re definitely doing something right. Whether that’s offering superior quality, top-notch service, or something outside of the norm, these customers are looking to you to steer their buying decisions. Merchandise your remaining pots near the seasonal plants and drop a few into pots – Maybe offer a discount on a pot if purchased in conjunction with a mum or poinsettia? Your customers will make the connections and your pottery sales will bump.
  • Gift Baskets: Empty your shelves of last year’s small items / arrange a selection of them artfully in a flower pot / put a ribbon around it / sell as “Gardener Gift Baskets” / Repeat. This works.
  • Landscapers: Bring in larger freeze-proof pots and partner with local landscapers to get them out in the market. Large-scale glazed pottery offers a great way to add color to a winter garden or patioscape, and they look great when planted with small evergreens or grasses.