Johann Munro - Shed Pottery

Johann Munro

Location: St. Catharines, Ontario, Canada

Age: 35

Job Title: Ceramic Artist, Owner at  Shed Pottery

Education: Niagara College - Business

Background

I am a second generation potter. My grandmother taught me the craft. I was born and raised in the Niagara Region. I spent over 10 years in the hospitality industry, primarily working in fine dining as a server and later in my career I transitioned into restaurant management. I was laid off very unexpectedly in November 2014 and took that opportunity to hone my skill and craftsmanship as a potter, ultimately deciding to open my own studio and retail galley. Shed Pottery was established in June 2014.

Since opening a little over a year ago, I have been fortunate to collaborate with local chefs and create over 1800 custom wares for 3 different restaurants.

I am a woman with immense passion for clay. I work every day in my studio from the moment I get up to the moment I go to bed. There is absolutely no other place I would rather be, then with my hands in the clay. 

Without an able body and mind I cannot create - without my health my business would suffer.
— Johann Munro

What attracted you to pottery?

I was drawn to clay because of it's calming qualities.  Working with clay is reminiscent of playing in the mud when I was a child.  It feels good between your fingers and the messier the better.  My style as a potter, is a little country, a little primitive, earthy and feminine. 

Clay can turn you into whatever artist you want to become; a sculpture, a painter, an illustrator.  The possibilities are limitless. 

Why did you choose to start your own business?

I decided to invest in myself, to work hard for myself. I decided to be happy.
— Johann Munro

I had worked really hard for my previous employer.  I sacrificed time with my family and I worked long hours.  I assumed ownership in my position and stressed on behalf of someone else's business.  In the end I was laid off when I left for surgery.  I promised myself that I would never give my time and my life to an employer again.  I decided to invest in myself, to work hard for myself.  I decided to be happy. 

How difficult was it as a craftswoman to be at the helm of a business in a niche market?

The most challenging part of being a one woman show, is finding balance between creating and operations.  I do have experience in business management, and I am a highly organised person, however, sometimes the demand for my work has made it difficult to stay on top of the operations side of my business.  The flip side to that statement is, if I did have the extra time to spend in the office working on marketing, finances and all other administrative duties, that would mean there weren't enough people interested in what I am doing.  So, as it stands I am thankful I struggle to keep up.  Also, I now have extra attention that I place on my physical well-being.  Without an able body and mind I cannot create - without my health my business would suffer. 

What outlets do you use to sell your goods - online, direct or retail?

I have a small retail gallery out of my home.  We are located just on the outskirts of town, in a country setting.  I am located on the Niagara Wine Route, which puts me on the map for tourism.  I focus attention into photo blogging on Instagram about new wares and my process.  I post current works on Facebook, which links to my Twitter account.  I feel social media has played a large roll in generating and establishing a customer base.  People like to be enticed and informed with new ideas and creations. 

I have also linked up with an extraordinary young woman, Dominique Del Col.  Originally a local farm girl she has moved to the Beaches in Toronto and opened an Apothecary called, ROWAN Homespun Market.  She makes her own holistic skin care products and she carries my pottery.  It is a "match made in heaven", as Dominique puts it.  She trusts in my vision and allows me to send whatever I feel inspired to make.  I am grateful for this freedom because I think that is what draws people to my work, they are interested in seeing fresh ideas. 

I have had three large contracts between three different local chefs in the area.  The wholesale side of my business has been the biggest portion of my revenue this year.  I have made almost 1800 wares in total between the three chefs/restaurants.

No online sales at this time.  This might be a side of the business I look into developing over the winter of 2016.

You've collaborated with local chefs to create custom ranges for restaurants - what can you tell us about the process and what you did or didn't enjoy?

The restaurant projects have been overwhelming in a thrilling way!  I have been working everyday since I began the first large contract in February, taking on the second in April. I have allowed myself a day or two off during the last seven months, but not much more than that.  I have had to increase the amount of space I work in, and the only way for me to do that was to turn other rooms in our house into secondary studios.  Also having more than one kiln was absolutely necessary, so I purchased 2 additional kilns.  The firing process can take anywhere from 24-30 hours from load-in to cool down, and each pot must be fired twice.  I hand-paint three to four coats of glaze onto each ware and each pot must be completely dry in between coats.  I can only work as fast as the pots will dry and the kilns will fire. 

I have definitely had many mental obstacles along the way.  I agonise over each creation and I can easily get caught up in subtle differences between wares, whether it be in it's form or the glaze results.  I have had to learn to let go of wanting everything to be precise and now I embrace the story each pot tells through their differences.  I feel very connected to each piece and I want each pot to succeed in its function and its beauty.

I have had to keep my head down for the last seven months.  It has been work since the moment I get up in the morning until I am exhausted in the evening.  I have had to decline invitations to events, we cancelled a trip to Europe and I have neglected time with family and friends, but unlike when I worked for someone else and had to make similar sacrifices, this is far more rewarding.  I absolutely love what I do, so I am grateful there are people who enable me to work everyday at my passion.  

Do you have a preference as to whether you're working with a local family or local business?

I have met so many interesting and wonderful people since I opened shed in June 2014.  I work with both businesses and families, but there has always been a connection to Niagara.  Local is important to me.  I want to support my community, just as the people in my community support me.   I find Niagara is booming with lots of young ambitious entrepreneurs, and everyone supports one another.  There is a new generation of people with like-minded intentions building up our community.  There is a focus on being authentic, and getting back to our roots.  We are living as our grandparents and great grandparents did - farming, building, creating, and working hard.  

What support was there when you were looking to set up your business?

I have incredible and unwavering emotional support from my parents and my husband.  There has been a great deal of blood, sweat and tears that have gone into gaining momentum at shed, and during the tough moments is when my family stood by me the most.  Proud and happy for me they have never shown a moment of doubt that I could live my dream.  

St. Catharines has excellent resources for people wanting to start their own business.  The Enterprise Resource Center of St. Catharines offers free consultations, start-up information, programs and funding information, business plan development, and other valuable tools.  I accessed this resource and used the consultations to help build my business plan.  I looked into funding programs as well, but I was fortunate enough to hit the ground running with work, and in the end funding wasn't needed to grow my business. 

What are your goals for Shed Pottery?

The ultimate goal is to keep moving forward.  I intend to build a large working studio gallery on our property.  I would like to expand the retail side of my business and continue to collaborate with local chefs and businesses.  When the time is right I would also like to work on strictly art related projects, I would appreciate an opportunity to put my work in galleries.

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