Ceramic artist Tim Carlburg makes Custom Handmade Growlers and has created a successful business in an interesting niche. Here is his story.
ABI: What is a growler and how do you make them?
TC: A Growler is a half-gallon beer jug that is used to bring fresh beer home from your local brewery. I make each and every growler that goes out of my shop; start to finish, by hand. The entire process can take anywhere from 2 – 4 weeks to complete one growler (although I usually many in various stages of the process).
The actual process of making one of my completely custom ceramic growlers begins with a concept sketch. From there, I throw the actual vessel on the potter’s wheel, using white stoneware as my clay body of choice. Once the growler has been thrown, it is then altered, sculpted, modeled and finished. The growler is then left to dry for anywhere from 4-10 days on average. At that point the growler is fired in the kiln for the first time. 24 hours later it is removed and washed.
The following day, the process of under glazing, waxing, glazing, waxing, dipping, pouring, stamping and re-firing the piece happens. Depending on the particular piece, it may go through a third decal firing if necessary. From there, the growlers are removed from the kiln, the bottoms are sanded, final quality checks are made, the bail tops are attached and checked for a good seal. At that point they are photographed and ultimately put up for sale.
ABI: What is your business model?
TC: Recently I switched to 80% (retail) / 20% (consignment) model. I like to keep a small presence at a few (5 or less) regional galleries that sell my work on consignment; as keeping in touch with and working with gallery owners often leads to and presents other avenues of sales and opportunities that might not be as readily available.
On the retail side, I am in a completely niche market where the demand for my growlers far exceeds the rate at which I can create them. I hold a “first come – first serve sale ” approximately once a month, offering the growlers I have just created. The longest it has ever taken to completely sell out on a given month has been just under one hour.
ABI: How are you distinguishing yourself in this niche market?
TC: When I first began making growlers in 2008, there was only one other potter in the country (that I know of) that was creating anything similar. Now, there are a handful of ceramic studios that are creating growlers for micro brewing industry. To stay ahead of curve and continue pushing the envelope of the niche market, I actually shut down the production side of my business. I let go of a handful of employees and downsized the business. That change alone allowed me to once again focus on the creating aspect.
I was able to dedicate all of my time to making extremely unique, one-of-a-kind (never to be replicated) pieces that cannot be found elsewhere in the market. Because my clients, fans, and followers know this (as I shared my story via social media) they understand that for me to give them a truly unique piece of artwork, I had to go back to my roots.
This move also brought awareness to the artwork, that it truly is hand made and one-of-a-kind. I still get commissioned requests and on rare occasions I will work with the customer, however, I have found that my most creative and inspired work comes out when I am passionately involved in pursuing an idea or series. Currently I am working on a large series of individual face jugs and smaller more refined series based on old, beat-up gasoline cans.