94. When the Fish Are Running
Some readers may be unfamiliar with the idea of “running” fish. It may seem as unlikely a thing as a fish ladder but both are indeed real. Salmon, in particular, will migrate in from the sea to swim back upstream to the fresh water riverbeds where they originally hatched. It only happens for a few weeks each year, but when it does fishermen of all sorts, including bears, have a field day. In the nineteenth century the fish ran in such numbers it was said that you could walk from riverbank to riverbank on their backs.
I know a woman who owns a children’s bookstore on Cape Cod and her life bears some similarity to that of an old time salmon fisherman. During the tourist season the streets of her little town are packed, the store has lots of visitors, and the cash register heats up from the constant activity. The same is true for most of the rest of the town. From May to September the fish are running and the local folk have to work ceaselessly to land as many of them as they can before the end of the season. Summer income pays the bills for the entire year.
Once the season has ended, traffic drops off dramatically and some days there are no customers in the bookstore at all. This is the time when you rest, and plan for next year’s season, and make your savings last by living frugally.
It’s no different for potters.
For instance, I have my biggest fair of the year every August in western Pennsylvania. I sell hundreds of pots there. And afterwards, I don’t have a major fair scheduled again until March. I need to do everything in my power to do well at that August fair. Anything I do in September will be too late.
Further, while I’m at the fair I can not afford to be sloppy or inattentive. Sure, I can survive an off year, a poor harvest, but it’s worth my time and effort to do the best job I can with the conditions I’m offered. Slacking off is not an option.
Luckily, I’m not selling bananas or paper products. If the weather turns nasty, or business is slow, my inventory is not ruined. A slow day today just means more inventory for tomorrow or for the next fair. But I don’t want inventory just now. I want sales. I want to travel home light, with lots of happy customers carrying my pots to their homes. I want to have packed my pots for a one-way ride.
Whether you travel to just a few fairs a year or have a full time sales gallery attached to your studio, your customers are only available during business hours and only during those times of the year when it suits their purposes to be buying. Those times are different in Cape Cod than they are in Key West. They are different everywhere.
Study the ‘fish’ you are selling to carefully. Learn how to present your work to them attractively. Plan for their feeding frenzies and be ready when they happen. Learn to live frugally during the lean times and expect to work with extra effort when the money is coming in.
In business, tomorrow is not just another day. Tomorrow is a different day. It may be better or worse. It may be spent driving sixteen hours straight home. If the fish are running today, today is when you fish.
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