Caleb Zouhary | Episode 630
Caleb Zouhary was born and raised in northwest Ohio, where he first discovered his passion for clay in high school. After receiving his BFA in Ceramics at Ohio University, Caleb pursued post baccalaureate studies at East Carolina University and worked as an artist in residence at St. Petersburg Clay Company, primarily focusing on soda-fired functional pottery. Under the instruction of Elmer Taylor, Caleb received his MFA in Ceramics from the University of North Texas in 2014. Caleb’s graduate thesis explored the relationship between functional pottery design and food presentation, and it was during this time he began to experiment with layering glazes and resists, techniques which have persisted in his work and continue to be the foundation of his signature abstract surface designs. With support from his wife Casandra, Caleb owns and operates a community retail pottery studio and spends much of his time working in his personal studio in Chagrin Falls, Ohio.
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How important does casting a vision for the business come into play for growing the business or the success of the business?
It’s very important. Everyday I am thinking of new things, I am tweaking ideas that I have had, as the owner, as the person building the business I make the rules. I will have an idea and then I will kind of let that flesh out and then if it doesn’t work out or if it does work out right I will adjust as needed.
How do you go about keeping the accounting for both of your businesses, the at home studio and your brick and mortar space? Are they all in one pot or are they separate businesses?
They feed each other. So I have an LLC and that is kind of the umbrella business and then I have DBAs. So I have the kiln which is one of my DBAs that’s the brick and mortar studio and then I have Zouhary Pottery which is my other DBA which is my personal studio. It is kind of nice because I will go and do a show and be at a show for three days with horrible weather and no one showing up but horrible weather is really good for the brick and mortar studio because they can’t go out and play so they are going to come to my studio and they are going to make something. So for that week end I have the two businesses going at the same time and they feed each other.
The public is hard on property. How do you go about the maintenance part of it so everything is running smoothly?
That is another hat that I wear. I am the maintenance man. I do a lot of work on kilns so for people that are at their house and their kiln is broken down, I will go out to their house and I will fix their kiln for them. Same with wheels and changing a florescent light, I mean I have to do those things to keep the business going. But yeah, it can be fun and it can be a little tasking at times. But it is nice too when I have something that I don’t know how to do…so when I first started working on kilns I paid someone else to work on my kiln and I would sit there with them and ask them questions and I would watch what they were doing. And I would think, Oh, okay that is not that difficult. I can do that. And then I kind of picked up that skill by watching the professionals and then becoming a professional myself.
You are also the HR guy. How do you keep your employees happy and prevent turnover?
I try to keep an open conversation. I talk to them while they are at work. We kind of come up with a game plan day to day. We come up with a game plan month to month and year to year. I try to get their feedback and I try to give them as much input as I can. So it’s like I have an idea, I run it by them, see what they think and I will come up with a game plan from our conversation.
How did you train your employees to be great representatives of your company so that your customers want to come back? Because we all know the least expensive customer to find is the one you already have not the one you have to go find.
That can be challenging. Depending on the personality of my employee, I will have to teach them hose to talk to customers. I have to teach them, when you are writing an email put one exclamation in there so it gives a little bit of joy and it is not so…I don’t know…you don’t want to come off as too joyful, you don’t want to scare them away, but you also don’t want to be sad and gloomy. You have to teach them these things.
How do you keep your own creative juices going?
I just have to keep working. A lot of my work is based on experiments. A piece will spark an idea so I will put it in the kiln and I see a tiny part of a piece will sparkle, and I will think, Oh there is a crystal right there. How did that grow? And then I will take that idea and I will expand on it. Yeah, it’s a lot of give and take.
What do you like to do with your free time?
Right now a lot of my free time is hanging out with the baby. But, I mean, I really like music. I really like video games. So something for me to sit down and have a beer and play some games and just relax and just kind of kick back. I enjoy that. I also enjoy hanging out with friends and stuff like that but I think that video games are something I can do right now.