Business innovator and entrepreneur Lori Neff from As You Wish Pottery is interviewed by bestselling author and speaker, Ken Sherman from GoPro Local. Lori has seen great success with her business; growing from 4 locations to 7 in a very short time. Her business focuses on family fun and entertainment.
Ken: Today we have Lori Neff from As You Wish Pottery here with us to talk about how she got started in her business, what her business does, and how she’s been able to grow her business to 7 retail locations here in the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix, Arizona. Lori, welcome to the show.
Lori: Thank you, Ken. It’s good to be with you.
Ken: Lori, can you describe a little bit more for our readers and listeners what your business does.
Lori: Our business is basically a paint your own pottery store. Our customer is anyone who enjoys an entertainment outlet and spending time with others. If they want to come and escape their troubles or celebrate with others, there is something for everyone. Painting pottery can have a very soothing and therapeutic effect on our customers. Then the pleasure of seeing their completed creation a few days later brings happiness back all over again.
Ken: So they paint the pottery and then you fire it, or how does that work?
Lori: They come in and they paint their pottery and then we fire it and its ready three days later.
Ken: The painted pottery pieces could be used for gifts, mementos or just regular everyday household stuff like bowls and all kinds of different things to paint?
Lori: You are absolutely right. We actually have something for just about occasion. We can do things for your kitchen, or your garden, things for gifts; we also do birthday parties. It’s always a great way to celebrate with people.
Ken: It’s a pretty unique business. How was it that you got started in the pottery painting business?
Lori: It’s funny because in the beginning of 2007 my husband and I were both in the business world. He was the CFO of a retail company and I was over human resources and the accounting department for a small health care company.
My husband came to me one day and he said he was tired of working for someone else and wanted to own his own company. I was a little surprised to say the least, because at that time he was forty-two, we have three kids, one was in braces, and I’m like, “Oh, my gosh, what?”
Then as he started looking into companies to buy, through mutual friends we actually came across As You Wish Pottery. I had taken my oldest son to paint at As You Wish when he was small so I had an idea of the concept, but it had been a long time since I had been in.
After we started researching it, we both liked the concept of having a venue for our customers to spend quality time with those that are important to them. As you know, in this crazy world it is nice to have a place where you can actually spend time with others. A lot of times we find ourselves with not as much quantity time, so we have to fill it with quality time now.
After much discussion, we decided to purchase As You Wish. At the time, As You Wish had four locations with a fifth location under construction. We finished building out that fifth location and opened it just a few weeks after we bought the company. In 2012, five years later, we opened another, and then in 2014 we opened a seventh studio.
Here’s a funny story I just wanted to share with you. About a week after we bought the company we were headed to a convention, which is where all of the suppliers were going to be and other studio owners. The previous owner went with us, thank goodness, because I still remember walking around the convention hall looking at all of the pieces for sale and I leaned over and I asked her, I said “Everyone keeps talking about this stuff called bisque. What is that?” She just kind of looked at me funny and she said, “That is the stuff you sell.” I knew right then that I had a lot to learn and very quickly. My head was spinning.
Ken: So the previous owner was sort of able to teach you the language of your industry then, right?
Lori: Yes. She was actually very helpful. She had some great staff on that really just took me by the hand. I had never glazed pieces before, so I actually had to have a crash course in everything really fast. For the staff, there’s nothing like, “these are the new owners and we know more than they know”, so we had to get up to speed really fast. That’s a challenge for those people that buying an existing business versus actually start their business. We had a lot to learn.
Ken: A common thing I’m hearing from a lot of the business owners that I talk with, is that they’ve all had some sort of mentor or somebody that knew more than them- that they were able to feed off of and get information from to further their own education and further their own business. Let’s talk a little bit about your clients. What are some of the biggest mistakes or common misconceptions your clients might have when they’re looking to paint pottery?
Lori: The biggest misconception is they fear that they lack the ability to create the piece that looks exactly like the sample that we have in the store. We have a custom artist who paints all of the samples that are in the store and naturally they look amazing. But we offer many tools to help the customer to be able to achieve that success. Thank goodness we’ve got well-trained staff and they can break it down easily. A lot of times the customers just don’t give themselves the confidence to be able to create a masterpiece. They feel that it might just be too hard. I’ll tell you, with a well-trained teacher they can certainly let what we like to call their inner artist out.