Pottery shop owner puts love for art to work
"Don't sell this place without telling me first," Katie Laux implored Pottery by You founder Liz Welter as they wielded brushes together late one night last fall.
As they discussed the fun of owning a small business, Laux shared her enthusiasm for the paint-your-own pottery shop where she'd worked off and on since 2002.
She loved the friendly atmosphere and the pleasant surprise when customers discovered their own creativity, and she enjoyed the work, which she called "challenging but never impossible."
Two days later, Welter took Laux up on her offhanded offer. The 27-year-old Welter, who had been considering selling for about a year, wanted the business "to go to another young entrepreneur who would keep it going and take care of it."
Laux, at 23, fit the bill. With the help of supportive parents and bank financing, she assumed control in January.
The transition from part-time employee to owner went fairly smoothly, but "it was an adjustment when everything fell on my shoulders," Laux said.
She also had to learn about the seasonal peaks and valleys of the business-a new experience for her since she had never worked at the shop for an entire year.
Laux worried about telling customers about the ownership change because Welter had been well-liked, but they accepted her readily enough. A few customers did a double take when they realized the owner was so young, not knowing whether to take her seriously.
"I ultimately won them over," she said.
Customers buy unfinished pottery at the store and pay a studio fee to use the store's supply of paints and other resources. The staff helps out, glazing the decorated pieces and firing them in kilns.
Employee Rebecca Schachter, who also started working at the shop in 2002, has noticed some differences between the owners' styles. Welter maintained a more relaxed, studio-like atmosphere, whereas Laux is more organized.
Schachter applauds the new ideas, such as Diva Night, when women can paint late and receive a discount, and the summer camp, which she describes as more "consistent" than a previous version.
Still, from the customer's perspective, "not a whole lot has changed," she said.
Longtime client Joan Thornburg is certainly content.
"I love it. [Laux] has all the supplies for whatever you want to do," she said. "I've made holiday things, serving dishes, gifts for friends, and I've taken my grandparents."
Like many business owners, Laux works long hours, and often spends days off doing odd jobs and kiln work.
For as long as she can remember, she has always "wanted to do something with art," so she studied the subject at both Indiana University and IUPUI's Herron School of Art. She plans to complete her art history degree eventually.
For now, the challenge is to "keep things refreshed" and build business in the slow summer months. She has tried traveling to businesses to offer employees a midday pottery party where they paint their own coffee mugs, and hopes to increase that clientele.
Later this month, Laux will attend a national convention of her peers-an opportunity to "network and explore different ideas" with hundreds of other paint-yourown storeowners from around the country.
Right now, she feels her business has a lot going for it: hours, pricing, location, and a large returning customer base. Even so, she is almost surprised at everything that has happened in the past year.
"I never would have guessed in a million years that I could undertake something like this," she said.
But she did, and she would advise other entrepreneurs to give it a shot.
"Follow what you love," she said. "Anything is possible."
Pottery By You owner Katie Laux is hoping to grow the northwest-side business she bought early this year. The 23-year-old is learning the ropes as she goes.