This post is part of a series in which we interview successful makers on how they built their business. Today we are interviewing the owner of LennyMud, the number on pottery shop on Etsy.
What is the name of your business? And what do you do?
My name is Lorrie Veasey and I live in two worlds: one as an entrepreneur and maker of my own handmade goods , and one as a designer for a giant corporation that sells giftware.
My Etsy shop is Lennymud and that is where I sell my handmade creations, and I am the top ceramics and pottery shop on that platform. I also work for a large corporation on a brand I founded called Our Name is Mud, which is sold worldwide in venues such as Hallmark and Hot Topic.
I describe myself as a potter in either situation- I make stuff out of clay for people to use and enjoy on a daily basis.
When did you start your business? What inspired you to do so?
My mother was a potter and I made my first vase on her lap at the age of 3. It wasn’t until I was forced to supplement a meager NYC school teacher’s salary that I began taking the business of ceramics seriously in the early 90s.
I sold at street fairs and festivals and was successful enough in those venues to open a retail shop on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. A second, third, and fourth location followed and then a wholesale business- I built the company from a card table to an eight million dollar brand over the course of ten years, then sold my stores and the company to a large corporation. I stayed with my brand and became an employee of the corporation that purchased my company.
I became interested in Etsy in 2009 and was really interested in the idea of being able to try out new designs and playing in other mediums on an online platform. I loved being able to invent a new persona- Lenny Mud.
The name really came from my studio cat, but most people assumed I was a male artist who made pots. The same way authors have found incredible creative freedom in using pen names, being able to make items without attaching my real name or in response to a corporate initiative was just amazing. It reignited my passion for what I do on so many levels.
Did you always know this would become a full-time business?
I love kids- so becoming a school teacher seemed like a very stable, sensible choice at the time. But after working the job for several years I had to be honest with myself that the parts I enjoyed most were the artistic aspects like putting up a bulletin board or designing a worksheet.
Teaching is a creative and fulfilling profession, but I didn’t have the passion for it like I do for ceramics. A snow day for me meant a chance to work more on my true love.
I knew things were serious when I was approached by the NBC experience store to design ALL of the ceramics sold there when the store first opened. I designed one of the iconic coffee mugs used on FRIENDS and got to meet the entire cast of Saturday Night Live at the opening party. It was the first, last and only red carpet I ever walked- but it was sooooo awesome.
How did you find your first few customers?
My first sale on Etsy was really not a sale at all. I had made a series of paintings and in 2009 there used to be chat rooms. I was in one with several people and a woman mentioned that she loved a painting of a princess I had made but could not afford it. I offered to give it to her. I remember another artist in the room said she had to leave because she was disgusted at how I was devaluing my own work- but that “gift” created a customer who has purchased items from me for the past 7 years and has told many many people about me. And so that one transaction has sort of created a philosophy for the commerce I do on Etsy- that the work I do flows out and through me in a direction that is towards other people and creates connections. I call it a “pebble in a pond” sales strategy and it has really worked for me. My customers are my best PR people and they send a steady stream of friends and family my way. 70% of my customers are repeaters.
I also have to say that my “time on the streets”- where I had to sell a table full of pottery to literally be able to afford to eat dinner or buy a carton of milk- helped develop an approach that is more responsive than indulgent. I listen to people and I try to make the things they want. If you are standing in front of a table of mugs you made and you need to sell them in order to buy food, if you hear enough people say “I would have bought that if it was blue,” you would be wise to have a blue one next time.
How did you come up with your first product idea?
The piece that built my business originally was a copy of the iconic NYC greek coffee cup that says “We are happy to serve you” in ceramic. I had the idea after throwing one away- how it would be interesting to make something disposable in a material that is so lasting that it provides archeologists with information about civilizations thousands of years later. Plus, I love kitsch and irony.
Where are your products sold?
My commercially manufactured pieces have been sold at Hallmark, Staples, Hot Topic, Papyrus, and thousands of independent retailers in the USA and Internationally. I do not currently wholesale my Lenny Mud creations. I sell on Etsy and Amazon handmade and just recently launched Lennymud.com on the shopify platform.
How often do you launch new products?
I make new products every single day. I approach creativity with the same sort of discipline other people might bring to a sport— the more I do, the better I become at what I do. My average day begins at 5:30 am where I wake with my family, get the kids ready for school etc. then get to my studio by 6:30 am and work on ecommerce – shipping– managing conversations etc. until 9 am. At 9 am I leave my studio and walk upstairs to my office and enter the corporate world where I design an average of 600 unique skus a year and am lucky enough to work on shared licensed products such as Pusheen or disney.
I head back to the studio at 5 and work for 2 hours there- then home for dinner, homework and family time. The kids are typically asleep by 9:30 Pm and I may then continue working in a second studio I have at home until midnight. I am constantly trying to balance everything and sometimes I have to make myself walk away from my work and put my family first. I adore my amazing husband and incredible kids, but pottery can be a demanding mistress.
The one thing I would tell people starting out who are working day jobs and saying that they don’t have the time to build an online business is: You will never find time- you must MAKE time. You can have ANYTHING you want- but you can’t have EVERYTHING. I don’t watch television and I don’t work out at a gym—those are the sacrifices I make. Most people spend 20 hours a week on screens that they could invest in their business.
How do you come up with new product ideas? What inspires you?
Everything inspires me. I am a learner and a listener. I love to read, to watch, and to explore. I am an introvert with a very rich interior life. Clay work keeps you very present and very mindful, and I like to think that I am just open to whatever the universe sends my way.
What type of marketing activities have had the biggest impact on your business?
The usual suspects: Facebook, twitter, Tumbler, blogs, and Instagram. But I def. recommend signing up for HARO which is a service that sends inquiries from media regarding things like gift guides. I’ve gotten many amazing opportunities through that. I show my work all the time- just keep putting it out there in the universe.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to start selling their pottery online?
Less thinking, more doing. And if you know at the gate that you won’t find the “business” of selling your items online – photographing, writing listings, promoting, as exciting as making a vase from a lump of clay then try to partner with someone who can bring the same level of passion to that aspect of the endeavor. And keep in mind that it is a marathon- not a sprint. One of my favorite quotes is: “There are many who are far more talented than I, but few who are as determined to be talented.” Hard work pays off.